Mine Eyes Have Seen a Different France Than Paul Krugman


In a column a few days back making the argument that Europe's economy "bears little resemblance" to U.S. caricatures of "a stagnant economy in which high taxes and generous social benefits have undermined incentives, stalling growth and innovation," Paul Krugman plays the eyeball card:

Actually, Europe's economic success should be obvious even without statistics. For those Americans who have visited Paris: did it look poor and backward? What about Frankfurt or London? You should always bear in mind that when the question is which to believe — official economic statistics or your own lying eyes — the eyes have it.

Hey, I can play that game! I was in France as recently as last week, and took a look around as well. Here's what I saw:

* Lots of beautiful old buildings, stylish people, elegantly designed bridges, and fancy restaurants offering delicious food!
* Craploads of ugly graffiti, including on some of the aforementioned beautiful old buildings.
* Lots of drunk homeless people, including in the front hallway of the beautiful old building where I stayed.
* Shops closed, often by government diktat, precisely when you might want to frequent them–during lunchtime, say; or a dinner-only restaurant at 6:59 p.m.
* Routine splotches of dogshit on the sidewalks (though in fairness, the trendlines are going in the right direction on this one).
* Clotheslines galore, since very few people seem to

own dryers.
* Clear majorities among the people I know whose salaries are paid by the state.
* Permanent double-digit unemployment among young people who wish to find work.
* Salaries so low that a full-time teacher I know who commutes from Switzerland makes less in Euros than the Swiss minimum wage.
* Did I mention that French people are considered (according to one source) as "the Mexicans of Switzerland," soaking up all the menial jobs, being blamed for corroding the culture, and otherwise treated like Polish plumbers?
* Little to zero in detectable entrepreneurial activity or spirit.

No, France is not "poor and backward," though none but those constructed from straw would ever say so. Nor does anybody seriously say, as Krugman contends, that "European-style social democracy should be an utter disaster." But one thing you can count on for sure: Neither Krugman nor the Euro-bashers he's shadowboxing here are likely to point out that fully half of the world's privatization in the 1990s took place in…Western Europe! Thanks in part to the very "dogma" that Krugman aims to vanquish. Oh well.