Debunking The Myth Of France’s Hellish Reputation

Perhaps the French adventurer Sylvain Tesson expressed it best when he wrote: “France is a paradise inhabited by people who think they are in hell.”

However, for two months, the images that have reached us have been infernal: heaps of garbage serve as a backdrop for violent clashes between demonstrators and riot police.

Of course, France is not a literal paradise. It has experienced four decades of structurally high unemployment, a lost decade of income stagnation after the 2008-2009 financial crisis, its population shifts from the countryside to urban centers, and it is in relative decline on the world stage.

But there is a huge gap between what tourists or foreigners living in France see, and the hyperbolic and catastrophic nature of France’s discourse on itself, that is to say French people convinced that their country is in sinking.

France is Overwhelmed by Immigration

In this story, France is overwhelmed by immigration, ultra-neoliberalism or authoritarianism, which does not correspond to any measurable reality.

In fact, the Gini coefficient of France, the measure of inequality in a society, is lower today than it was during the thirty glorious years (1945 to 1975). Life expectancy there is almost the highest in the world, its workers retire there on average earlier than anyone else in Europe (even after the widely contested reform), and the rate of old-age poverty there is the weakest.

At the same time, unemployment, a recurring problem, is less than 7%, hiring intentions have never been so high for 20 years and, in less than a decade, France has gone from being a major absentee in the world of startups to that of continental champion. When adjusting its economic performance according to the climate footprint, France is ahead of all its peers.

But storytelling can make perception more powerful than reality, and dangerously so. On both the far left and the far right, large swathes of the French electorate have embraced a politics of nostalgia — ironically, for a time when the country was less well-off and less egalitarian, but more self-confident. -even.

How sad if this remarkably successful social democracy got lost in the lowest common denominator of the challenges it faces. But what is much more worrying is that a heated debate, often presented in a biased way in the media, monopolizes attention and deprives the country of the social trust necessary for the flexibility, the creativity of public policies and resistance to the populists who spread the siren song of “it was better before”.

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