March 15, 2019


The Problem with No Name: At the heart of the unrest in France is a blackout of rational thinking--and it's driving the country to destruction. (CLAIRE BERLINSKI, March 2019, American Interest) 

Their anger does not correlate with economic facts. Never in French history have so many French men and women been so wealthy and so healthy. They are better fed, housed, and clothed than ever before. They live 20 years longer, on average, than they did at the beginning of the Fifth Republic.

After centuries of intermittent war, including two world wars, France has been at peace for six decades. It is one of the world's wealthiest countries. France's economy is the seventh largest; only three (the United States, Japan, and China) have more companies in the Global 500 rankings. Of the world's very wealthy countries, its welfare system is the most generous. The French enjoy the shortest working week, the earliest retirement, and the best health care system in the developed world. Last year, France's per capita GDP was U.S. $43,800--an all-time high for France. That is 337 percent higher than the world average.

But what about purchasing power, the pouvoir d'achat? It is also at a record high: U.S. $38,605.67. The inflation rate in France is low, and has been declining for several years.

What about inequality? France is enjoying the highest median standard of living in its history.

If the world's wealth were to be redistributed from the rich to the poor, every last Gilet Jaune would become significantly poorer. Life expectancy at birth in France is now 83 years, exceeded only by Japan. In the past 20 years alone, women have gained 3.2 years in life expectancy, men 5.2 years. France's literacy rate is 99 percent. Disposable household income in France is rising, not falling. (When I first came to work in France in 1986, I had neither a private toilet nor a phone; the only kind of phone available--though I couldn't get one--was a rotary dial.) Only one country, Switzerland, has a cleaner environment. Any reasonably compiled list of "best countries to live in," using any reasonable metric, will put France in the top ten, or perhaps the top five. I tried to explain the complaints of the Gilets Jaunes to a Turkish-American friend who moved here recently with her then-boyfriend, a refugee from Syria. "Are they insane?" she said. It's a fair question.

In a satirical treatment filmed at a Carrefour supermarket, a Gilet Jaune marches stolidly before the camera, then unburdens himself of his discontent. "At the end of the month," he says, his wife by his side, "I have to pay the rent, and the gas, and the electricity, and the insurance, and the food, and the car"--his wife begins to look uneasy--"and my wife's car, and the iPhone, and my children's iPhone, and gifts for Noël, and the contractor for the renovations," whereupon his wife says: "Jean, shut up."

Posted by at March 15, 2019 8:54 AM