France is wonderful…but not rich

My friend Emmanuel Martin sent me this interesting link from Les Echos on how, among the top forty regions of Europe for wealth, only one is in France, and that is the region that includes the capital city, Paris: “Une seule région française figure parmi les quarante et une plus riches de l’Union européenne“. It may be amazing to some, but wealth is not widely available in France, despite the glories of French life, which I don’t deny. It would just be even more glorious if the French people were richer, too, and that just might be more likely if there were fewer bureaucrats and less interventionism keeping people from gainful employment through minimum wage laws (Germany has none) and taxes.

Some years ago I was interviewed on an ABC TV Special with John Stossel, with the provocative title “Is America Number 1?.” Here’s a part of the discussion:

STOSSEL: (VO) Another reason she won’t go back [referring to a French entrepreneur who left for California to start her business] is that French bureaucrats, to try to protect workers, are so busy passing labor laws that stifle entrepreneurship. One seemingly worker-friendly law says employees may not work longer than 35 hours a week.

TOM PALMER: They actually come to businesses, and stop people from working.

STOSSEL: (VO) Tom Palmer, of Washington’s Cato Institute.

STOSSEL: They’re protecting people from overwork.

PALMER: What they’re doing is turning the whole country into a big theme park. You go to Franceland. You have the cheese, you have the wine, you look at some castles, it’s a lovely place to visit.

But does much new come out of France anymore, is it dynamic? No.

I got some interesting hate mail from that exchange, from French government employees. (And yes, I do love France, the French language, and French culture. I just wish that they had a more liberal government and more freedom to enjoy all of those wonderful things.)


6 Responses to “France is wonderful…but not rich”

  1. The mimimum wage in France is very high, i-e close to the median wage. As it’s a national measure it treats all places of France the same way. But of course in poor place with a “small market”, it’s very costly for businesses to hire people on a profitable basis at this rate (especially as the real cost of work, i-e social contributions, in France is twice – yes, twice – the net received by workers). Minimum wage laws treat a nation which is vastly heterogenous in terms of development, like a homogenous whole. No wonder France’s progress is stifled.

  2. Mathieu Bédard

    And I might add that the glories of French life have nothing to do with their social security or health insurance schemes, but with their tolerance, their open mindedness, their passion for discussion and debate, and how highly they value friendship.

  3. I would agree on some criticisms on the lack of economic dynamism in France and the lack of creativity in businesses. But I am not sure this is only a problem of taxes : I think this is very much a cultural problem too. The best students of one elite school such as Polytechnique in France start their carreers as civil servants and directly work for the state; later in their life they might become “entrepreneur ” in the French way, i.e. they just become important people within more or less privatized French companies just like Veolia, Vivendi, Total, etc… My point is that there is an historical in-breeding beetween the state and the very big private companies in France, and I think that explains some things and in particular why spontanously people would rather dream of working in big companies with the hope to go as high as possible rather than starting their own business. I would add that there are very few incentives in most French school for scientific or technological innovations : Google could never have been created in France, and this has nothing to do with the taxes but everything to do with the fact that France despises scientific research.

    Otherwise, there are other aspects of life than cheese and wine worth mentioning related to that. For instance, education in France is virtually free, this is a public service paid with our taxes (and one of the reason there are so many civil servants in France is that all teachers and professors are civil servants). I live in the US; after paying my health insurance, my retirement plan, the daycare for my kids, etc… I am not not so rich compared to what I would get in France while the quality of life is defintely worse; honestly, if tomorrow my wife and I get a job in the French academic system, given the fact that we have a toddler and given the quality life, we would seriously consider coming back to France. Besides, all these restictive laws you tell about can somehow protect people and the economy in some periods : if all the world was like France, believe me, there would be no subprime crisis and the stock market fluctuations would be much smoother (in both directions). This is certainly bad to smooth fluctuations in some domains of the economy, but this is not always bad, especially for the “normal” economy in which most peoplae live …

  4. Elizabeth Burke

    I am an American lawyer living in Paris.
    The quality of life in France is beyond the wildest dreams of most Americanswho would gasp from disbielf at what the French enjoy as their “basics”. I too love the medical system, the metro, the fast internet, the phone system, no ads, lots of vacation time, the civility, the helpfulness, the food, the wine, the dance clubs, the museums, and the country side.

  5. Ms. Burke,

    I note that you are an American lawyer living in Paris, which is in the Ille de France, the only region of France to feature in the top 40 wealthy regions of Europe. That was the point of the article.

    I agree that life in France is wonderful, certainly in Paris, where so very many of the rich people (you included) live.

    So enjoy the life of Paris, but please consider also that many of the things you do are subsidized by much poorer people in other parts of France.

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