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[Opinion] The Electoral Economics of France

Posted April. 14, 2007 07:56,   


French economists are busy analyzing France’s upcoming presidential election on April 22. A grand France, more affluent than Great Britain 20 years ago, and a proud nation that boasted of an economy stronger than that of Germany even in recessions, is no more.

Over the past half-century, the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of France dropped from 7th in the world to 17th. The fast-growing public deficit is eating away 65% of the country’s GDP, and the unemployment rate is the highest in Europe. Economists are raising voices with the urgest sense that the only way to revive the economy of France is by bold market reforms from the new president.

According to a Financial Times report, "Who knows Madame Royal?" is a best-selling book written by Eric Besson, the former economic advisor to French Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal. This book points out that the further the government intervenes and protects the labor market, the greater the negative effects on France will be.

For Royal, this book is a big blow since the author is bidding farewell to her camp, saying that the left wing prescription of Royal is not in line with the author’s inclinations.

Professor Olivier Blanchard of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published a paper titled, “Why I will vote for Sarkozy.” He asserts through his paper that though he himself is a long standing socialist voter, the right wing candidate offers the best economic plan. He goes on to argue that the private sector economy should be revitalized by removing protections for labor market and cutting government expenditures and taxation.

Based solely on economic logic, ruling party’s candidate Nicolas Sarkozy is already the winner by decision. But economics is not the only factor that influences outcomes in elections. In France these days, pro-and anti- globalizationists are carrying out a fierce proxy war. One-third of all multinational enterprises in Europe are France-based and one out of seven members of the French economic population works for foreign firms. But among employees in the public sector, one out of four firmly oppose capitalist logic.

France’s 800,000 jobless youths, nicknamed the S-generation, are the biggest sacrificers, and this does not seem irrelevant to us. The S-generation, a term that originated from the French word for apprentice: “stagiaire,” is aging as interns, unable to find jobs after college. Though economists fail to persuade voters, an economic reform seems inevitable since France has national sentiment stronger than economic theories. The economy of Germany has regained strength. As a nation that always invokes a sense of rivalry against Germany, France will not stand the humiliation of being an economic also-ran any more.

Editorial Writer Kim Sun-deok, yuri@donga.com