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In Praise of the French - Joost de Jong

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  • In Praise of the French - Joost de Jong

    In Praise of the French

    by Joost de Jong - January 15, 2009

    As we gently slide toward the second dip of our roller-coaster recession, it may be time to consider our oldest ally across the ocean. Britain, you might think, but alas, that is a relationship that took some time to develop after the nascent United States decided to take its own course some 234 years ago. No, I mean France, that stubbornly self-serving nation that enjoys a level of economic growth and stability that the US has yet to attain.

    Much of the iTulip editorial for the past decade has been dedicated to identifying the poor monetary and regulatory policies that lead to a never-ending sequence of financial bubbles. In the spirit of offering constructive alternatives, we are compelled to look outside US borders for a better model, to another nation that appears to manage its responsibilities to its constituency better. For that, my choice is France.

    Now, I am by no means blind to that nation's shortcomings, whether the dreary and depressing banlieues or the exaggerated francophone pride in the fading importance of their language. No, I mean to refer to their status as the 5th largest economy on the planet, the enduring success of both the entrepreneurial middle class and large corporations, excellent standard of living, good public services, and stable economic performance in these years of financial crisis. What is France doing right?

    Forget all the nonsense about “Freedom Fries” and Bart Simpson’s “Cheese-eating-surrender-monkeys.” France is an unabashedly capitalist economy for which politicians are unafraid to claim special status and exemptions, especially if they consider them to be of national economic interest, and will advance their diplomatic agenda regardless of outside opinion or public outrage. How American!

    Although home to strong unions, complex labor laws, strikes, and any number of social, environmental, and animal rights movements that are often at odds with corporate interests, France is in reality a well run corporate nation. An empowered central government manned by professional technocrats plans for the long term, yet without surrendering to the temptation of soviet style five year plans.

    French banks are reasonably well regulated with clear rules on disclosure, remuneration, reserves, and investment advice and insurance. Remember, those French banks that got into trouble in 2008 – as well as other banks in Europe, got ithere by investing in mis-rated US financial products, the insurance for which turned out to under-capitalized as it fell outside the bounds of the existent regulatory regime. It would have been impossible for the French, or any other EU bank, to issue securities anywhere near as fictitious as those that were sold to them in the years preceding the credit market crash.

    As a result, France has been able to avoid the more extreme cycles of excessive valuations and investment bubbles. Corporations operate within stable markets. Investments in technology and R&D are rewarded. Overall tax policy can be deemed reasonable, especially compared to some of the more confiscatory regimes in Europe.

    Similarly, France benefits from a well thought out energy policy. As other nations swayed back and forth with the tides of public opinion on nuclear energy, France steadily invested ahead to become the world’s largest operator of nuclear power. Over 78% of France’s electricity comes from nuclear power, making it both cheap and reliable to the point where France has become a major exporter to the rest of Europe. Meanwhile, it has used its diplomacy well and pragmatically to maintain positive links with some unsavory regimes, if only to secure long term supplies of natural gas and petroleum.

    Paradoxically, for all of its trappings of Socialist chaos - such as the near permanent strike of French Air Traffic control, French Farmer highway blockades, not to mention the many Paris bound civil servant marches - France operates in reality according to a fairly tight capitalist script. The result has been that France is weathering the global economic crisis better than any other economy on either side of the pond.

    After two negative early quarters in 2009, the country’s GDP returned again to growth for the second half. Emergency government stimulus spending, in addition to adherence to social programs that are standard for a modern European nation, as not been excessive. The overall government debt level has remained reasonable, reaching some 76% of GDP. Hence, there is little risk that France's economic growth will slide towards a second dip in 2010. Unemployment has similarly remained at manageable levels.

    There is much to be learned from France. With long-term plans and competent execution from a well funded public administration, much of the excessive gyrations we experienced these last few years could have been avoided. At the same time, France offers an enviable standard of living to its citizens. Food quality is excellent, education solid, health-care fine, environmental management good, investment climate reasonable and philandering politicians discreet. So, the next time when in Paris, before you complain of their arrogance, consider that perhaps they have a point, and a few lessons that we can learn.

    Joost de Jong is an American economist and friend of iTulip who occasionally writes from Spain.

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    Last edited by FRED; 01-15-10, 02:27 PM.
    Ed.

  • #2
    Re: In Praise of the French - Joost de Jong

    Thank you for the perspective and information.

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: In Praise of the French - Joost de Jong

      Originally posted by FRED View Post
      In Praise of the French

      by Joost de Jong - January 15, 2009

      A couple of posts from an old Sapiens thread. The first from "World Traveler" explains a lot...

      http://www.itulip.com/forums/showthr...88364#poststop

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: In Praise of the French - Joost de Jong

        I like how the French play their "cards" and love their food. Their one of a few people in Europe that know what is best in THEIR own interest

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: In Praise of the French - Joost de Jong

          Ah! But they enjoy Force Majeure http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Force_majeure

          and as a consequence, can find their way around any problem that grows a little too forceful; too big to handle.

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: In Praise of the French - Joost de Jong

            Originally posted by Shakespear View Post
            I like how the French play their "cards" and love their food. Their one of a few people in Europe that know what is best in THEIR own interest





            Speaking of food...FRED, that's the oddest looking baguette I've ever seen. Must be the global financial crisis recession version?
            Last edited by GRG55; 01-16-10, 07:38 PM.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: In Praise of the French - Joost de Jong

              Before I praise the French, I'll be watching closely to see their response to the crisis in the former French colony: Haiti.

              So far, I haven't seen much of a French response, but that may be just media bias or merely media 'noise' overwhelming news of their on-going humanitarian efforts.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: In Praise of the French - Joost de Jong

                Since the Iraq war (which the French opposed as I recall) I have already had a favorable opinion of them. It is not that I terribly like France or the culture, but I certainly respect it. Sticking to their culture in the face of overwhelming odds as been to their benefit. They do not eat shit food. They seem to understand real democracy (isn't that where our Constitution came from), and workers appear to have rights.

                However, they definitely believe they are the superior culture/race, and they will let you know it. In other words, their reputation for being rude assholes is true, at least in Paris. I was told people are nicer outside the city. I won't go back to check.

                France is a great place to live if YOU ARE FRENCH (white native-born speaker).

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: In Praise of the French - Joost de Jong

                  Thanks for posting this. I am so sick and tired of reading in the American press how all the countries in Europe, especially France and the Scandinavian countries, are socialist hell-holes where nobody is employed and legions of bureaucrats have no other function than to stifle innovation. But that's the standard cookie-cutter rant that appears in American "news" articles whenever they discuss anything whatsoever having to do with the European economy.

                  A few of us think that America could use just a tad less "innovation" when it takes the forms of Credit Default Swaps and "Death Star" energy scams. Hey it's nice that we have cutting-edge medical innovations like gene replacement therapy, Viagra and in-vitro fertilization for 90-year-olds. But that's small comfort when 98% of the time, most of us walk into a doctor's office needing a hangnail removed or something equally mundane, and get charged $850 for it.

                  I certainly don't believe that France is the best country on Earth, or anything like that -- I just have to echo what Michael Moore said at the end of "Sicko". American tradition is to take the best of everything. If somebody makes better wine than we do, we buy it and drink it. If somebody makes better cars than we do, we import them.

                  But for the past decade or two, anyone who suggests we import an idea, a philosophy or a way of doing things, is reviled as an ignorant America-hater. If the French have found a way to provide healthcare to their citizens, well then, that's proof enough that healthcare itself must be a bad thing -- or else we would already have it by now. Didn't you know that America is the pinnacle of justice, democracy, and markets, and everywhere else is a primitive backwater by comparison?

                  In that respect, it's the Americans who are arrogant and parochial, not the French.

                  Somebody else once said that, although the Germans invented the word "Angst", it's the Americans who are living it today, what with our total job and economic insecurity, and our chip-on-the-shoulder foreign policy. So I guess we Americans do import ideas after all -- arrogance from the French, angst from the Germans.
                  :rolleyes:

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: In Praise of the French - Joost de Jong

                    Originally posted by reallife View Post
                    Before I praise the French, I'll be watching closely to see their response to the crisis in the former French colony: Haiti.

                    So far, I haven't seen much of a French response, but that may be just media bias or merely media 'noise' overwhelming news of their on-going humanitarian efforts.
                    France was among the very first of the countries to respond. You don't have to do a lot of work to find out what the French have been doing. Two samples below from the Government of France, including excerpts from a statement by President Sarkozy.

                    In addition, Médecins Sans Frontières [Doctors Without Borders] surgical stafff have treated more than 2000 patients, put 20 more staff into the country yesterday, were trying to get 15 more into Haiti today, and are installing another "inflatable" 100 bed surgical hospital now, all while they try to figure out the logistics to secure more water, fuel for the generators, and dealing with the loss of some of their own people from the quake.

                    Earthquake in Haiti – Summary of French humanitarian aid for Haiti – Statement by the Foreign and European Affairs Ministry Spokesman

                    Paris, 14 January 2010

                    I can now give you details of France’s emergency humanitarian relief for Haiti:

                    1. A 71-strong detachment from Martinique and Guadeloupe, tasked with helping in the search for casualties and provision of assistance to the stricken people, broken down as follows:

                    7-member Crisis Situation Support Mission (MASC), including Lieutenant Colonel Cova, head of the detachment;

                    60 fire-service personnel (28 firefighters, a doctor and nurse from Martinique, and 27 firefighters, a doctor and nurse from Guadeloupe). The two search-and-rescue and rubble-clearing units will have 3 sniffer dogs;

                    5 SAMU [mobile emergency medical service] personnel.
                    This detachment also includes 18 gendarmes responsible for the Embassy’s security.

                    The command team and first operational elements were transported by 3 military CASAs [transport aircraft]. They arrived in Port-au-Prince at 6.35 p.m. (0.35 a.m. French time).

                    An Airbus A310 will today take the other personnel, arriving at 6 a.m. (local time) so they can start working late morning.

                    2. A second detachment of 67 soldiers of the Brignoles FORMISC [armed forces emergency services] and a 5-member Crisis Situation Support Mission including 2 communications specialists left Istres at 10 p.m. for a scheduled arrival at 11 a.m. (6 a.m. local time) so as to be able to start work before the end of the morning of 14 January. The plane made a stop at 5 a.m. Paris time in St John’s, Newfoundland (Canada).

                    3. A third 70-strong detachment from Ile-de-France [Paris region] and the south of France tasked with deploying an advanced medical post and 10 mobile medical teams, will leave from Roissy at 2 p.m. today, Thursday, to arrive on Friday morning at 3 a.m. (local time).

                    This detachment also includes 24 sécurité civile [emergency services] personnel tasked with supplying water for up to 20,000 people a day, 11 gendarmes to ensure the security of the detachments on the ground and
                    5 Germans from the THW (Technisches Hilfswerk) to assist their nationals.

                    4. The provision of a fourth 70-strong detachment of the sécurité civile rapid medical response unit to provide logistical support and medical care for the disaster-stricken people has been confirmed. This detachment could remain there in the longer term, with a remit extending beyond the immediate emergency mission. It is scheduled to leave France today.

                    5. So nearly 300 sécurité civile personnel will eventually be in Haiti with several dozen tonnes of equipment. They will be working in close cooperation with the teams deployed by the European Union and United States.

                    6. As regards the situation of the French community, around 300 people out of the 1,200 French nationals in Port-au-Prince are gathered at the French Embassy and Residence, heavily damaged by the tremor, and the French lycée (intact). Active efforts to find around 60 French nationals are continuing.

                    91 French nationals, including the injured and families with young children, left Haiti last night on transport mobilized by France and have just arrived in Martinique.

                    7. Bernard Kouchner has today announced the appointment of Pierre Duquesne as ambassador responsible for interministerial coordination of aid and reconstruction in Haiti. The Minister has also decided to strengthen our diplomatic and consular staff in Port-au-Prince by seconding several more Ministry officials to support the exemplary action of our ambassador in Haiti, Didier Le Bret.


                    Earthquake in Haiti – Statement by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic

                    Paris, 14 January 2010

                    Ladies and gentlemen,

                    There are tragedies in the history of nations that immediately elicit both horror and enormous compassion, and, of course, the duty to show solidarity. The earthquake that struck Haiti on Tuesday – the most violent in two centuries – is one of these.

                    It is too soon to assess the human and material toll of this latest tragedy that has struck this country and its people, one that sadly follows so many others. But the scale of the quakes, the scope of the damage, the initial reports we are receiving from the ground, clearly lead us to fear the worst.

                    In these extremely painful moments, my thoughts go to the Haitian people who are exhibiting great courage in the face of the implacable adversity of nature. My thoughts go, too, to the large Haitian community in France, who have rallied together in an exemplary fashion in these past hours. Yesterday I wrote to President Préval to assure him of the deep sympathy of the French people, who have developed such close ties to the Haitian people through history, culture and language.

                    I assured him of the French authorities’ mobilization to save lives, save the injured, free those trapped in the rubble and find those who are missing...

                    ...At the end of the meeting, I took the following decisions to deal with the humanitarian emergency:

                    1) More sécurité civile detachments, including search-and-rescue and rubble-clearing teams and doctors, will be sent to Haiti by military transport to add to the teams who will already have arrived there in the coming hours. They will be deployed from France and from the French West Indies. Moreover, I want to underline the outstanding mobilization of the French West Indies. Within 48 hours, we will have nearly 400 sécurité civile personnel on the ground to conduct rescue operations...
                    Last edited by GRG55; 01-16-10, 11:40 PM.

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                    • #11
                      Re: In Praise of the French - Joost de Jong

                      No, I mean France, that stubbornly self-serving nation that enjoys a level of economic growth and stability that the US has YET to attain.
                      Is this a joke? Or are we only counting the last two years?:rolleyes:

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: In Praise of the French - Joost de Jong

                        Originally posted by reallife View Post
                        Before I praise the French, I'll be watching closely to see their response to the crisis in the former French colony: Haiti.

                        So far, I haven't seen much of a French response, but that may be just media bias or merely media 'noise' overwhelming news of their on-going humanitarian efforts.
                        Why would France, or any civilized nation, care what happens to that geographic region? It hasn't been a colony for two centuries, and it is only a "country" in the sense that it is a geographic region populated by people no one wants.

                        The sad reality is the existence of the human inhabitants of Haiti is inconsequential to France and the world. If every Haitian were to die tomorrow, it would have no impact on the average death rate of the world population.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: In Praise of the French - Joost de Jong

                          Originally posted by Serge_Tomiko View Post
                          Why would France, or any civilized nation, care what happens to that geographic region? It hasn't been a colony for two centuries, and it is only a "country" in the sense that it is a geographic region populated by people no one wants.

                          The sad reality is the existence of the human inhabitants of Haiti is inconsequential to France and the world. If every Haitian were to die tomorrow, it would have no impact on the average death rate of the world population.
                          I have to state that is a dreadful thing to say.

                          But then, you citizens of the United States do not get accurate news in the US; let alone the quality reports and associated debate we regularly watch on TV here in the UK, (for example). You will not know that France has an excellent record of continuing to keep dialogue with many Middle Eastern States, for example, and thus have remained in direct contact with, and understand, the problems many nations endure when faced with the constant attentions of both sides in the current war on terror.

                          France has an educated and peaceful population. We Europeans travel throughout their nation and have the greatest of respect for their Independence of thought and tradition.

                          Haiti is plagued by a very tiny minority of extremely wealthy who refuse to invest their wealth back into the nation. I will not be surprised to discover that many are from the US.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: In Praise of the French - Joost de Jong

                            A small counterpoint.

                            The French blackout and the Byzantium delusion

                            The American press probably hardly noticed but southern France has experienced a major blackout around Christmass and in my own region – Brittany -local authorities have urged people to reduce their power consumption, lest the whole regional grid catastrophically fails. The lights are still on in the small Breton village I am writing this from, but it is probably a matter of time before they go off. No matter what nuclear power fans say on the other side of the Atlantic, French power plants are not aging well. They need more maintenance, and this takes longer. To make things worse, EDF, the French national power company has outsourced most of said maintenance to independent contractors whose employees are less paid and less well treated than its own. The result has been a row of strikes, which paralyzed operations and forced EDF to delay maintenance until the end of the year.

                            France, which used to be a major power exporter has now become a net importer and since the grid is undersized, this is becoming a real problem for those of us who don't live near a power plant. In Brittany, where the population has refused – and is still refusing – nuclear power, this has become a major political subject – we are nearing a regional election, remember – and local politicians push for the building of a gas power plant on the northern coast. Another – built in a low-lying coastal area - will be put on line in a few days, but everybody agrees it won't be enough and that we are only a cold day away from darkness.

                            There is more to this than the failure of a short-sighted energy policy, however. It is not unusual, indeed, to see France, and its all-nuclear policy, proposed as a model for a supposedly oil-addicted and oil-starved USA. It is also not unusual to see Europe considered as a kind of new Byzantium, set to survive, because of its sensible energy policy, a doomed America.

                            Needless to say, this has nothing to do with the reality of the European situation. It is true than European economies are more energy efficient than the American one, but there are reasons to that. With the exception of the North Sea, European resources are long exhausted. France, the country I know best, has no oil, almost no uranium and gas, as for its coal mines, they have all closed down. Moreover, its agriculture is heavily dependent upon fossil fuel... and European subsidies.

                            The mass transit network is certainly more extensive, and more efficient, but it is also very brittle and quite dependent upon foreign resources – uranium or gas mostly. Should the light go off, so will the train. Besides, the quality of the local service – vital to local economies but rarely if ever talked about in papers – is steadily decreasing.
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                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: In Praise of the French - Joost de Jong

                              Originally posted by GRG55 View Post


                              Speaking of food...FRED, that's the oddest looking baguette I've ever seen. Must be the global financial crisis recession version?
                              Looks like a "bolillo" to me...

                              In my perspective, France has con and pro points, being the pro points considered here interesting, from down here, some of the models that would be worth copying, would be:
                              - Chile handling of elections and democracy, and its forefather, Spanish "Pacto de la Moncloa" and 1975 to 1990 political development.
                              - Brazil joint effort and commitment to country development.
                              - French support to R&D.
                              sigpic
                              Attention: Electronics Engineer Learning Economics.

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