Monday, April 10, 2006

"We are used to these kind of problems in France"

Hardly something France should be proud of
Nice unemployment if you can get it
French winemaker terrorists

I couldn't help but arch my eyebrows at that phrase in this Reuters article:
Crisis? What crisis? April in Paris okay for most

PARIS (Reuters) - France's prime minister is fighting for his political survival, Paris streets are full of students screaming "Resistance!" and television flashes images of youths looting.

But with its booming stock market, packed restaurants and efficient public services, France is far from burning. And April in Paris is everything the jazz standard claims it is.

"Everything's pretty cool here," said Pierrot, owner of the small l'Autobus cafe just off boulevard Beaumarchais, one of the students' favorite marching routes through eastern Paris....

"We are used to these kind of problems in France," said Andre Jakol, a souvenir-seller underneath the Eiffel Tower.

"There are strikes and demos all the time. It's normal."

Jacques Capdevielle, a sociologist and director of political research at the Sciences Po institute, argued that many others were putting on a brave face and that Chirac's increasingly accident-prone presidency was souring the national mood.

"Life appears to be continuing as normal, but there is a deep malaise," Capdevielle said. "People are extremely worried."
What a society where protests, demonstrations and riots are considered "normal"! Perhaps Andre, insulated by all the tourists, doesn't realize the severity of the situation, that hundreds of thousands are taking to the street -- all because they're afraid to be fired for not working hard. Or is the country falling apart worse than we thought, that the French accept torched shops and cars, and gendarmes responding with water cannons and tear gas, as "normal"?

A stock market can be booming, but if it's not coupled with economic growth, then it's meaningless. It is not the economy, and hoping its boom means economic growth is like hoping the tail will wag the dog. The reality is that French economic growth has been flat for ages, and only recently did unemployment finally dip below 10%. Between 9% and 10% unemployment, also considered "normal"! Even during our brief 2001 recession, the United States peaked at just 5.7% unemployment, and 6.2% in 2003. Many countries (industrialized and developing) would love to have that kind of unemployment as the norm, such as Germany with its "normal" 11%-12% unemployment.

France's restaurants may be packed, but national economic performance being what it is, perhaps the French would do better to start working, rather than observing the riots from sidewalk cafes.

Finally, famed "efficient public services." Are those the same that didn't save 15,000 French (mainly elderly) from dying in the August 2003 heatwave?



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