The sick man of Europe

There’s an old joke that can be applied to any bad team in any sport. Here is one variation: “The Baltimore Orioles are only three players away from contending for the American League pennant. Unfortunately, those three players are Ivan Rodriguez (baseball’s best catcher), Alex Rodriguez (baseball’s best infielder) and Pedro Martinez (baseball’s best pitcher).” Something similar might be said about France. As I have tried to make clear over the past year, France is only two leaders away from becoming a first rate power again — unfortunately, those two leaders are Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
Some in France finally seem to be grasping this reality. Right now, the book “La France qui tombe” (“France is falling over”) is a best-seller. Author Nicholas Baverez argues that a conspiracy of interests involving France’s political class, its bureaucrats, and its union leaders is perpetuating a state-heavy economic model which is ruining the country. For example, French GDP, which during the 1970s exceeded Britain’s by 25 percent, is now 9 percent lower. Indeed, France ranks 19th in the world in the OECD wealth-per-head table. Instead of facing up to this decline, says Baverez, French leaders such as Chirac have attempted to conceal it by finding scapegoats — globalization, immigration, the reunification of Germany, the hegemony of the United States. Until France finds leaders with the courage and the skill to persuade it of the need for shock treatment, France will continue to fall. As I said, though, France is only two leaders away.


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