Yet again. Here’s what the BBC has to say in its updated-for-the-upcoming-elections online background article about France:
But France’s economy has grown more slowly than any other developed country in the world. In 2006, its 2% growth was the worst in Europe.
Well, sorry to beat a late parrot, but one year does not a trend make: if we look at, say, the 5-years period between 2002 and 2006, the average annual rate of growth of France was a meagre 1.6%*, but that is equal to the euro area average and higher than what the Netherlands (1,4%) and Germany (0,9%) and Italy (0,7%) and Portugal (0,6%) managed over the same period. I’ll spare you the 10-years period (1997-2006) which is even more favorable to France.
But even if we grant the Beeb’s dubious premise that 2006 growth is the ultimate yardstick to measure the strength of an economy (and in that case I have an old “US has grown more slowly than nearly every other developed country in the world” headline from 2001 to sell you), their claim isn’t even true. Or, if it is, we can safely conclude that Italy (1,9% growth in 2006 according to Eurostat) and Portugal (1,3%) are neither European nor developed countries.
The Beeb goes on:
[France] also has one of the highest unemployment rates – 9.8% – of any European country.
Well, it’s true there is a heated debate right now in France about the accuracy of the latest unemployment figure (8,4% at the end of February). But the latest, unfudged, Eurostat figures put French unemployment at 8.8%, a whole percentage point under the number reported by the BBC. I guess those Portland Place keyboards are quite slippery.
Public finances are coming under strain from the pension system and rising healthcare costs and the tax burden is one of the highest in Europe, at nearly 50% of GDP in 2005.
Seriously, why is is impossible to, you know, check the number? Eurostat put the tax revenues iin France in 2005 at 45,8% (pdf). This stiffling level obviously explains the French economic underperformance (there’s little dispute among economists on this, after all) but it is “nearly 50%” only in the sense that it is also “nearly at the EU average”.
… and on :
Although frequent strikes and demonstrations have been an effective way of achieving – or objecting to – reform, unions are relatively weak in France.
Maybe I’m reading a bit too much into this, but this is another pet peeve of mine, and I’m awfully sure that a reasonable interpretation of this sentence is that strikes are a lot more frequent in France than in your average developed country (less Italy and Portugal, obviously). But, in fact, they aren’t: according to the British Office of National Statistics, the average number of working days not worked per 1,000 employees in all industries and services was at 34 in France for the period 2001-2005, less than the EU 14 average (53) and just a whisker higher than the OECD average (33). The thing about France is that strikes, though a lot less frequent than in Spain or Italy or Canada or Denmark (to say nothing about those crazy commies in Iceland), are heavily concentrated in sectors where work interruption is highly visible (transports, utilities) and usually accompanied by demonstrations conveniently organized in Paris, just under the windows of your average foreign correspondent. I know, we suck at PR.
Look: I guess we all agree that French economic performance has hardly been impressive of late (though strangely it was better under the rule of those raving leftists of ours) and that some -sorry JÃ©rÃ´me– reforms are badly needed. But I don’t see how that should allow just about every journalist on the planet to casually disregard official statistics in order to pander to the prejudices of a public already convinced that France is the.worst.economy.ever. Just because it’s France doesn’t mean it’s ok not to do your homework.
* I’m calculating arithmetic mean here, based on Eurostat figures, and I humbly ask my numerate readers to cut me some slack on that one. I know it’s not the proper thing to do (though that doesn’t change relative positions), but geometric mean is just a pain in the ass to do with Excel.