France: Extremely Costly Public Services, High Taxes Are The Root Cause Of The Country’s Malaise

France's economy malaiseFrance's economy malaise

Brigitte Grainville takes us through the latest books published about France by famous French economists, beginning with the Nobel Memorial Prize winner in Economic Sciences Jean Tirole. He defines very well what “malaise” is, saying that “the French have the best paid jobs and are the most protected in the world and yet they are not happy.”

Seen from the outside, France is a stunning country, beautiful, clean, which fits very well into Unamuno’s definition: “France. The office of good taste”. It’s one of the countries with the highest income per capital, although this has now been stagnating for several years. Perhaps one of the most important virtues France has is the real cause of its malaise: the public services work very well, but they are tremendously expensive and financing them is eating into the rest of the country. Taxes represent 56% of GDP, even higher than in Sweden. In an interview translated into Spanish, Jean Tirole trys to explain why there is so much beauty in tandem with so much malaise. It’s worth listening to him because a lot of things could be applied to Spain, as well as to other European countries.
The problem is that so much protection for people in work is at the cost of those who don’t have jobs. There are also many sectors of the population sick of paying out over half of their income to the State without seeing any decline in debt, nor obtaining any clear advantage for the future. It’s the complete opposite: the future is grey, almost black, and everyone knows that clearing the debt is going to mean sacrifices and less disposable income. Too many advantages for some, too many costs for others, including productive business owners, favouring those who currently live on private income and follow the stock market.

On the other hand, as we have seen in the recent elections, there is a predominant idea that income and wealth are increasingly badly distributed, which is true – and it’s the same throughout the world – since the crisis broke out. These ideas have destroyed the parties which were always around, leaving a political panorama split between Macron’s centre – the big hope – and Marine Le Pen’s fascism. The latter showed she had very few useful ideas on how to govern France and take on its problems. The complete opposite. She demonstrated a lot of confused ideological baggage, without any sign of a transition towards a programme for implementing this ideology. At least when they voted, the French showed a huge preservation instinct, preferring something similar to what they had before but with new ideas to the fascist subversion, which would have destroyed Europe.

Can we compare this situation with Spain? Obviously not. The origins of the malaise in both countries is completely different. The French feel the malaise but are proud to be French and, in this sense, their feelings are not flawed when they stand before their flag and sing their national anthem. Our breakdown is more serious. We are not unhappy about how the country works, but about the country itself. We are reluctant and it’s very hard for us to defend it. That’s why the nationalists move around at their leisure. It’s as much about the lack of convictions on the part of others as it is about their convictions. Where there are similarities is in the deficiencies in the teaching and study of the Economy.

Yes, here we are almost on a par, but France at least has two Nobel prize winners for Economy: Maurice Allais and Jean Tirole. Apart from that, they have outstanding economists across the globe, with many in the US, like Piketty. It may be that in France there is a link missing in the education chain, but here they are all missing or, even worse, lead directly to Podemos’ idea of the economy.

About the Author

Miguel Navascués
Miguel Navascués has worked as an economist at the Bank of Spain for 30 years, and focuses on international and monetary economics. He blogs in Spanish at: http://