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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Crying in their Brie

Interesting piece in the Boston Globe today about France struggling to come to terms with their falling world influence. They are taking a hard look at why a country that called the tune for hundreds of years in Europe is now fading in influence.


Some quotes:


"There is agreement these days that a national rigidity and an aversion to risk have stunted France's development."


"The French economy is static relative to those around it, especially Spain and Ireland and the UK," he (author Nicolas Baverez) said. "The GDP in these countries is growing, unemployment is steadily diminishing. But France is stuck at the same levels."


"The French are aware that they need to find a new energy. They take satisfaction in believing that the American model is wrong, or at least flawed, and that their new energy may be to define themselves against America."


My favorite: "The most frustrating aspect appears to be the waning influence of the French language. The French obsess about this and seem offended that the de facto official language in the European Union is clearly English. A European Commission report found that 83 percent of its officials and staff speak English and only 24 percent speak French.



The French have reacted defensively. In May, the National Assembly issued a resolution on preserving the use of French in EU institutions, urging the body to pump millions of dollars into French lessons for officials and staff."


You can read the rest via the link, but I think you get the gist of it. The French are fading, they're upset about it, and their solution is to be less like the US and artificially stimulate the use of French.


Which is why they'll never get anywhere.


The reason France is slipping into the second-tier of nations is their obsession on NOT being the US. When you define yourself by what you are not, you're pretty much setting yourself up for disappointment at every turn.


Look at the economies. The United States has the strongest economy in the world. It's built on the free flow of capital and labor, the ability for entrepreneurs to start and develop businesses, a strong banking system and a myriad of other reason. But the key to it all it that we are a capitalist society.


France? Well, France has strict labor laws that limit labor mobility. They have a confiscatory tax system. They believe in the pervasive arm of government having a major role in the economy. In other words, socialism. Which is most definitely in opposition to the US vision. The result is a moribund economy, elevated and rigid levels of unemployment, and a lack of growth.


So is it any surprise that English has taken hold as the de facto official language of the EU, and is the language of business worldwide? Of course not. Who wants to talk in the language of a dour, moribund nation with no vision beyond not being something? If I'm the Czech Republic, or Estonia, or Poland, and I see Ireland and the UK blossoming while France is suffering yet another transit strike, I'm most definitely learning English. It's a no-brainer.


Their solution to a fading world influence isn't to reform their practices, but to pay people to speak French. How screwed up is that? They're still living off of 19th century glory and the thrill of DeGaulle telling NATO to cram it with walnuts. Hardly a long-term revitalization plan.


France needs to face a vital fact: They are not on a par with the US. Heck, they aren't on a par with China or the UK either. Until they can accept this reality, they'll never find the stimulus and energy they need to become a great nation again.


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