Back from France

Hi, everybody ! Back from my holidays in beautiful sunny Brittany.  The more often I go to France, the less I believe the stuff in the UK press about how France is a basket case, and we must undertake every nonsensical austerian policy in order to avoid the dreadful fate that our Gallic neighbours are enduring.

Just for the record, where we live in France is not the richest nor the poorest area of the country.  Our neighbours are not rich, but have an astonishingly high standard of life.  The roads are well maintained.  I cannot remember coming across a single pot-hole in the 6,800 hectares of the Departement of Morbihan, or anywhere else for that matter.  The police seem to be invisible but effective.  The public spaces are clean, and there are still libraries, and swimming pools, and leisure centres.  Your local doctor can see you now.  The farms are prosperous and well managed.  Ditches and verges are scrupulously maintained.  Local produce – walnuts and plums, cherries and tomatoes, and, yes, apple brandy – is shared between neighbours, even English neighbours like us.  Industry and retailing are organised into clean and effective zones, with good access and parking.  Cycle paths follow former rail lines for miles and miles.  The town centre is spotless, apart from one piece of obscene graffiti, in (inevitably) English.  There is no public drunkenness, and virtually no begging. The work of school teachers is respected and reinforced.  Local democracy works – we know the mayor, and members of the council, in a way we do not in England.  This may be because there is still a lively local and regional press, as opposed to tired free-sheets we endure in the UK.  Artistic events (including excellent opera) are brought to our small market town, whose population of 9,000 or so – the size of Ledbury, or Cockermouth, or Shanklin, or Worsley – would not put it in the top 600 UK towns.  If this is failure, let me have more of it.

The numbers also suggest France is not the worst economy in Europe, not by a long chalk.  Some bits need sorting – some labour laws are daft – but the motivation is a respect for labour. Productivity – output per worker – is much higher than the UK.  So why does France get such a consistently bad press ?  This is a question asked by Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman here.  His conclusion is pretty much the same as mine:

It’s hard to escape the suspicion that it’s political: France has a big government and a generous welfare state, which free-market ideology says should lead to economic disaster. So disaster is what gets reported, even if it’s not what the numbers say.

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