French Not Big on Free Markets—Quelle Surprise!

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What is news, though, is just how ridiculously out of sync with the rest of the world are folk in the land that gave us the term laissez faire. According to The International Herald Tribune:

I was surprised to see that people actually enjoyed working in a company," said [high school teacher Danielle] Scache, who is 59. "Some of them were more enthusiastic than many teachers I know….
In a 22-country survey published in January, France was the only nation disagreeing with the premise that the best system is "the free-market economy." In the poll, conducted by the University of Maryland, only 36 percent of French respondents agreed, compared with 65 percent in Germany, 66 percent in Britain, 71 percent in the United States and 74 percent in China.

The paper also cites a study conducted by the finance ministry to the effect that very few people understand basic economic concepts like "public debt" and "gross domestic product"—though I don't know whether the U.S. would fare that well either. The trouble is supposed to be that while the training econ majors get in college in France is pretty much what you'll find in the rest of the world, the high schools are still reading from a circa-1970 script.

Hat Tip: Marginal Revolution.

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  1. Now we can say that France is more Communist than China!

  2. A higher percentage of Chinese than *Americans* say “the free-market system is best.” And China is nominally Communist. Fascinating.

  3. The average Fremchman and the average American both struggle from time to time to make ends meet. Neither stands any real chance of getting rich, although the American probably thinks he does. The American is more likely to be obese, and the Frenchman is more likely to be alcoholic, but neither is undernurished. On average, the French live longer. The American is freer than the Frenchman to speak his mind, but neither actually has much to say. What’s the big difference?

  4. Both also think they’re inherently better than the rest of the world.

  5. The French enjoy a better quality of life than we do.

    JMJ

  6. But aren’t the Chinese proving–as has Singapore–that free markets and the wealth they generate are not incompatible with a politically repressive state? Also, there is probably more “abject poverty” in the post-communist countries of Eastern Europe than there was under communism. That’s why the former communists, reborn as social democrats, have done fairly well there.

  7. The French enjoy a better quality of life than we do.

    How does one measure ‘quality of life’?

    The French do get more vacation time (6 weeks worth?).

    But I can think of one aspect of the quality of life that we have it in spades over the French: Hot Showers Every Day.

  8. Also, there is probably more “abject poverty” in the post-communist countries of Eastern Europe than there was under communism.

    That is not supported by the evidence. Most of the existing Eastern European poverty is a function of the governments put/left in place after the Soviet collapse. Countries that have more heartily embraced facets of free markets and liberty (such as the Baltic states) have thriving economies that are enriching their populations.

  9. I’ll take the six weeks.

    JMJ

  10. What good is having 6 weeks of vacation a year if you smell bad 6 days out of 7?

  11. And, Jersey, the great thing about the American system is that you can choose the six weeks of vacation instead of more pay. We don’t (mostly) have a class of philosopher-kings telling us what our tradeoffs should be.

  12. good god, will juvenile jokes like this ever die out?

    apparently you’ve never been in the basement of a typical large american office building cramped with people during a tornado drill..or a commuter train..or sports venue.

    unfortunately, by pointing at the supposed smelliness of the french, you reveal the damp, yellowed pit stains of the average american.

    or if we must keep on our juvenile tack – whoever smelt it dealt it.

  13. They all want security, they don’t want risk, they don’t want excitement, they don’t want surprises, they just want to be taken care of. So be it, but, to me, that’s a pretty boring existence.

    The Economist recently cited a poll of young french people in which 75% said they would like to work for the government. And most said the reason was that they’d have a “job for life”. I live in Paris, and thus had the chance to ask some people what they thought– and it’s true! I’ve never heard anything more boring in my life. It should be noted, however, that most people were pretty embarrassed about how unambitious they are. Not that that changes anything.

    But the 6 weeks of vacation is a nice perk (for those who have jobs).

    What good is having 6 weeks of vacation a year if you smell bad 6 days out of 7?

    Where did this thing about French people smelling bad come from? It’s a bizarre myth…

  14. MP:

    You sound a lot like a communist apologist of old. A free market economy produces winners and losers. Granted, communism produced mostly losers, but the gaps between rich and poor were smaller. Many of the “losers” in the post-communist societies are very poor. It’s a function of the market, not some hangover of communism. You can’t have everything and claiming that you can just makes sound stupid and vaguely marxist.

  15. Quality of life? They’re aging into a world they don’t understand, without children to explain it to them and help them out, work jobs they can’t switch if they wanted to, and have retirement financed by a legion of arabs they fear and hate

    That’s quality? Seems like some wierd test tube for humans in a twilight zone episode

  16. You can’t have everything and claiming that you can just makes sound stupid and vaguely marxist.

    I gave you three specific countries that have turned the corner from Communism. The Czech Republic and Slovakia are also starting to realize the benefits of a market economy under a non-autocratic government. Why don’t you show me an Eastern European country that isn’t making progress under a combination of freedom and markets instead of making generic references.

    And don’t try pointing to East Germany (a clusterfuck due to the German welfare state they integrated with) and Bulgaria (a clusterfuck due to their government) and any of the ‘stans (what a mess!).

    And BTW, I don’t give a damn about the gap between rich and poor. As long as the poor are less poor than before, the gap is irrelevant to me.

  17. Uri ben Tzvi:

    You’re good at taking cheap shots but you have no clue when it comes to facts. I worked for an average guy who sold his company for $4 million. My dad was a high school dropout who never made more than $30K a year and he died with a net worth of half a million.

    And there probably is NOT more “abject poverty” in the post-communist countries of Eastern Europe than before. What proof do you offer?

    JMJ:

    “The French enjoy a better quality of life than we do.”

    Then I guess all those riots a few months ago were a celebration of that fact.

  18. MP:

    The gap is important since perception plays a big role in poverty. I would never argue that East European societies are not better off on the whole now than they were under communism, but “abject poverty” is still a problem in those societies, as it is in ours.

  19. “A higher percentage of Chinese than *Americans* say ‘the free-market system is best.’ And China is nominally Communist. Fascinating.”

    Of course, there are obviously some language translation issues in a survey like this. Who knows what the translation of “free-market system” was in Chinese, and it’s likely that there are some subtle differences in what was meant by whatever translation they used.

  20. Six weeks of vacation is great, but a quarter of the people my age in France get 52 weeks of vacation. That’s even better!

  21. but “abject poverty” is still a problem in those societies

    Ah…you must be one who considers ownership of 2 color tvs and weekly outings to taco bell to be “abject poverty”.

  22. MP:

    Oh, I stand corrected. I had forgotten that all East Europeans own two color Tvs and regularly enjoy meals at the Taco Bell. When are you moving?

  23. Do you know what really bugs us about the French? That they get to eat all that rich, delicious food, and they don’t get obese like us…

    I quote from memory from Aaron Ellis “If there was any justice in the world, the French would be dropping like flies from heart attacks”, but he gets to bemoan that the French remain fit and healthy even though they do not suffer through “If it is Tuesday it is Atkins” crazy diets…

    We demand the right to enjoy our food like the French and remain svelte.

  24. Oh, I stand corrected. I had forgotten that all East Europeans own two color Tvs and regularly enjoy meals at the Taco Bell. When are you moving?

    You’re the one who made “abject poverty” relative, and was thus able to claim it as a problem in the U.S.

  25. Adriana:

    Think small portions. That’s the secret.

  26. That they get to eat all that rich, delicious food, and they don’t get obese like us…

    Adriana,

    I think that has a lot to do with the fact that Europeans savor their food and frequently don’t substitute quantity for quality the way many Americans do. Plus, I doubt they have the tastebuds for cornsyrup and other additives that Americans have become accustomed to.

  27. Neither stands any real chance of getting rich, although the American probably thinks he does.

    Actually, it has been absurdly easy to get rich in America for decards.

    All you have to do is (a) get and hold a decent job (which most Americans manage) (b) save at least 10% of your gross pay (which most Americans could manage if they had the discipline of a turnip) and (c) invest it in broad-based stock funds.

    It is almost impossible to retire with less than a million dollars in the bank if you follow this recipe.

  28. Thanks, Dean. I’ll try it.

  29. s.m. koppelman makes some very good points. Russian Jewish emigres in Israel often support the most right-wing nationalist forces and have the most racist attitudes toward Paelstinians.The passion doesn’t always last though. When I worked in Boston, I met quite a few Russian Jews who had left Israel behind.

  30. yes, it does. They do NOT spend more on trashy clothes (I’m sorry, houte couture). They have less to spend on anything. Anyone who has ever lived in Paris, and then any American city (even NYC’s UWS–Paris West) understands this. The French spend all their earnings supporting a racket which delivers very little in return. Thus, thay cannot afford food. Their benevolent “nanny,” however, does make sure that wine is cheap–just as the USSR made sure that vodka was cheap–so that they can drink themselves into believing that everything is OK.

  31. “abject poverty” is still a problem in those societies, as it is in ours.

    The US has a problem with abject poverty? Have you ever been to a third-world country? Correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t the lifestyle of the average homeless person in the US look positively luxurious to the average resident of sub-Saharan Africa?

  32. “Perhaps they spend what’s left of their income after sustenance on haute coture – yet another area where Europe kicks our culture’s ass.”

    um.

    i’ve lived in europe for more than six years – i wouldn’t exactly phrase it that way at all. the unsophisticated parts of vienna or copenhagen sport obese people who have no understanding of culture or anything, either. Go to the “Favoriten” or “Fuenfhaus” neighborhoods in Vienna or “Vesterbro-Sydhavn” one in Copenhagen, and you’d see a bunch of undereducated miserable types that don’t know or care about museums, etc. Nor does patronage of museums say anything about the individual – some prefer other things to museums.

    and when the danish preppy (think: of the 4 CCIS (schools) in cleveland), highly-educated, wealthy class has people making racist jokes that still are socially acceptable there, i’d get even more squeamish about the concept of one culture kicking another culture’s ass.

    nor would i say that one culture “savors” eating while the other doesn’t (the image in my head is that “americans eat like my labrador used to”). there is a lot of fodder for penn and teller to call “bullshit” on how people’s taste in food/meals are influenced and situationally dependent. (the water episode and “the best” episode).

    but this type of topic (or misunderstood EU bashing/supporting), ID, climate change, iraq, etc. are easy targets for high hits 🙂

    cheerio!

  33. When people bring up the fact that Europeans have six weeks of vacation, I just smile! : )

    Being self-employed, I get about 3-4 months of vacation per year. Those Euros are oppressed by my standards! (My German inlaws thought this quite funny when I brought it up.)

    I’ll never be rich, but I’m much happier with the time off. Life is finite. I’d rather die poor after enjoying substantial free time than die rich after working my ass off!

  34. BTW, I want to thank all those folks that sacrifice their lives in the pursuit of wealth. Without them, the per capita GDP of this nation would be much lower.

  35. Everything econ I was taught in high school was dinosaur keynesian bullshit.

  36. joson:

    As for the smaller portions, would you not rather have a few flavorful mouthfuls that all the tasteless gunk that you can eat?

    I still remember the crepe with Apple and Calvados. Small portion, but heavenly, and once my tastebuds got a real workout, then I could listen to my stomach to tell me that it was full and it did not need more.

    It is when food has little flavor that we seek to eat more and more…

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