Vive la France?

By Emma Brooks

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that in Brazil, Carrefour supermarkets were huge and very popular, and also all over the country. “But this is a French brand, my local supermarket….” I thought to myself, still a little confused on how my regular local brand of supermarket made it all the way out to Brazil. Then I remembered that Carrefour is actually a French super champion and is widely exported all over the world. And little by little, more and more signs kept cropping up reminding me that France actually is one of the world’s “superpowers” as it has been self-proclaiming for years.

Now, to boost its ego even more, it seems that amidst the financial crisis people are turning towards the French economic model of government intervention as a solution. France is not suffering as badly as the UK or the US in terms of mortgages and debt, and its economy has not taken as big a blow as in other countries. Even Time and the Economist are looking to France as a model of success in these hard times. Apparently, this type of government intervention, protection of national champions and economic planning (amongst other things), is what has saved France from the worst of the crisis.

But what is it about France that is so great? They may have a good social and welfare system, but what people seem to have forgotten is that for many years before the crisis, most countries were supporting economic liberalism and criticizing France for being too interventionist, protectionist and generally a little old fashioned…
And if the French model works so well, why is it that people who live there seem so dissatisfied? Yes there is high unemployment in France, a lack of flexibility on the job market, salaries are not always competitive but not all strikes are meaningful.

So perhaps in this time of gloom the French model may suddenly look like the knight in shining armour, and the US and the UK could probably learn a few things from it, (such as not making a nation crippled with debt due to over enthusiastic lending). But let’s not forget that the French are still unhappy. Sarkozy has made a lot of bold changes and has created a clean break from the Chirac era, but he has also done a lot to disappoint the people who originally voted for him. Just because unemployment hasn’t increased during the crisis doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been exceptionally high for years, and that even though higher education might be free in France, its graduates still struggle to find jobs.

France is in deep need of reform, and as soon as the crisis is over, people will be just as quick to go back to pointing the finger and criticizing its policies. Instead, perhaps the Anglo-Saxons and the French should learn from each other and cease the pointless game of one-upmanship.

The content of this article is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views and beliefs of The Vibe.

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