21 March 2011

World Champions at Pessimism (The French)

I was writing this blog a few days ago when I read a report of a ‘pessimism survey’ which concluded that the French are the most pessimistic nation on earth despite the country being  considered by many foreigners as one of the richest, safest and most agreeable places to live on the planet.   

Jean-Hervé Lorenzi, economics professor at the Paris-Dauphine University, said he launched the 'Tous Optimistes' (All Optimists) web site to counter an army of doom mongers who preach that France is inexorably heading for economic and social ruin. But in January, a poll found France to be the "world champions of pessimism", fearful of the future and longing for the past.

The findings suggested the French take a gloomier view of their prospects in 2011 than the worn-torn residents of Afghanistan and Iraq. Believe it or not, Vietnam and Nigeria were the most wildly optimistic. Britain came fifth in the pessimism stakes, i.e 5th pessimistic.

The French pessimism is being led by a group of ’declinologists’, claims Prof Lorenzi. Their ‘high priest’, Nicolas Bavarez, wrote an article in Le Point magazine last month proclaiming that ‘France's economy is going up the spout, a strangely English phrase.

Its businesses are being subjected to ‘euthanasia, its industry is ‘heading for extinction’, its trade deficit is enormous and its heavyweight multinationals make 80 per cent of their profits abroad, he wrote.
Prof Lorenzi, however, is convinced there are signs France is finally freeing itself from the declinologists' clutches. His website gathers a raft of books, essays and articles that support his claim that France is ‘in a far better state’ than the declinologists claim and is ‘potentially one of the most dynamic countries in the Western world’.

Among the arguments in France's favour, he cites France's birth rate – the highest in Europe alongside Ireland (maybe because of France’s tax breaks for having a large family), the ‘record’ number of new businesses created last year – around 630,000 – and the country's huge amount of untapped personal savings (again probably because the government sponsors tax break savings schemes for everybody – kids and ex-pats alike).

And then, almost as if I’d made up the TV schedules myself, a British TV programme about Nicolas Sarkozy came on and started by declaring that France has, ‘the biggest budget deficit in the G7’, they ‘only work a 35 hour week’ and ‘virtually everybody still has a two hour lunch’. France has the worst riots in Europe when the masses don’t like something the government is doing and most of their ultra-high earners have moved domicile because of France’s high personal tax rates.

Make of that mixed bag what you will.

My view? I’m afraid I don’t know because the only French people we mix with live in this comparatively well-to-do part of France and many of them have been left either land, houses or inheritances by their family.  
People in the bars seem quite happy (and not because they drink their troubles away – the French don’t do that!) and any unhappy people I meet are probably ‘unhappy’ because they have to deal with difficult Brits!
I’m tempted to say that compared to people in Britain I talk to, the French seem happier by comparison – but then most of the Brits cannot afford the time for two hour lunches every day! 

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