We need to thank Newsweek for filling our New Year with joy.
There is so much ineptness in a recent article by Janine di Giovanni aimed at destroying France -- now a specialty of the magazine. "French bashing" is trendy again among Anglo-Saxons! Yet this time, it comes from a supposedly reputable journalist, known for the quality of her war reporting in the Middle East. She must have mixed up Paris and Beirut after a New Year's Eve full of Dom Pérignon or Château Margaux.
Di Giovanni is a hip journalist. Chic and all. Her article, named "The Fall of France," is worth reading. The title was widely used in the U.S. during the summer of 1940, when France was defeated in a month. Our American colleagues seem quite worried about us!
Di Giovanni is not happy: The American journalist left London's poshest neighborhoods, where she was living 10 years ago, for a Parisian apartment located in front of the Luxembourg Gardens. She tells us that she now lives in the middle of the Sixth Arrondissement, where the price per square foot is the city's highest. She sends her son to L'École Alsacienne -- one of the most reputable private schools in Paris -- but yes, she has problems. Not so much her, mostly her friends.
Her friends are bankers or corporate lawyers, and they were "forced" to leave the country after being hit by high taxes when President François Hollande took office. She tells us how, one day, she was with one of her friends at a Japanese restaurant and he saw Pierre Moscovici, France's finance minister. "You see that guy in the corner?" her friend whispered to her. "I'm going to kill him, he destroyed my life."
There is no historical reference too strong for our stricken journalist. The flight of France's wealthiest today reminds her of the Edict of Nantes' revocation by Louis XIV, a historical moment that led to bloodshed in French society and the forced exile of Protestants under threat of persecution. They left with nothing, fearing for their lives. It took a long time for France to recover from this moral and political mistake. We would smile if the comparison wasn't appalling.
We can of course blame the tax pressure in France, which even Hollande questioned after creating it. We can -- and we must, as a democracy -- criticize a state that spent too much over many years and that, today, heavily charges -- too heavily, even liberal economists say -- businesses and wealthy citizens.
We can criticize elite schools, such as the École Nationale d'Administration (among others), where so many business and administration executives have graduated from for the past 60 years.
We can point out certain problems in the complicated French benefits and maternal leave systems. We can debate the welfare state, a French asset the world envies -- as is evidenced by Obamacare, a policy aimed at offering health care protection for millions of uninsured Americans. Today, as we live longer, we don't have the same resources as we did in 1945.
But it's embarrassing to caricature the French welfare state to the extent Newsweek does in this appalling article. Especially when France counts three million unemployed workers, when the gap between rich and poor is widening, when young people have precarious jobs and the elderly face a severe lack of work. Di Giovanni should visit the national employment agency, Pôle Emploi, from time to time instead of telling us about a cameraman who works five months a year and spends the seven remaining ones in southern France thanks to his benefits. And as she makes fun of the Social Security benefits that allowed her to get reimbursed for her physiotherapist sessions following her delivery, we would like to ask her where she found her free diapers! Probably in the same ghost supermarket where she pays $4 for a half liter of milk.
In what kind of world does she live? Of course, she can think what she wants, but the quality of journalism she probably aspires to when she writes about slaughtered Syrians or Hezbollah should have made her get out of her comfort zone before bashing France. She likely would have found just as much to say, but in a less ridiculous way.
When we take a closer look at this British "heaven" all of her rich French friends go to, we see that the GDP per capita is actually slightly higher in France, according to IMF data from 2012: $41,223 in France versus $39,161 in the U.K. The British GDP grew by 0.2 percent in 2012 and is expected to grow by 0.6 percent in 2013. No room for complacency in the U.K.
Mark Carney, who replaced Mervyn King as the head of the Bank of England, said in April that the British economy was one of a "crisis country," just like the Eurozone and Japan. It is true that the unemployment rate in the U.K. is lower than in France, but it comes at the cost of so-called "zero-hour contracts," under which employees must go to work every day but are not necessarily given work by their employers. This is the kind of contract that creates what we call "the working poor."
As for London, it is the second most expensive city in Europe after Moscow. Paris is ranked twelfth, according to the Eurocost index for expatriates. London is ranked fifth among the world's most expensive cities. Paris is not even among the first 20. This should cheer up our journalist, who thinks the cost of living in Paris is higher than anywhere else on the planet. And we can reassure her by telling her that she can still buy groceries in our capital. Unlike her latest purchases -- for which she should sue for fraud -- she could find a liter of milk at the exact same price here and across the Manche: less than $1.80, far from the $4 half-liter mentioned in the Newsweek article!
And since she doesn't know any high-profile French entrepreneurs except Christophe de Margerie, the head of the multinational energy company Total -- "Where is the Richard Branson of France? Where is the Bill Gates?" she wonders -- let's tell her about Xavier Niel, the CEO of Free, an Internet service business, who even praised France's tax policy in the daily French newspaper Le Figaro. And if she ever wonders about tech businesses in France, she'll be surprised to learn that Dailymotion is the world's number two streaming video platform -- and an affiliate of the telecommunications corporation Orange. Of course, he is no more Bill Gates than David Cameron is Obama. But still...
Alright. Let's stop this fake, 100-year-old war that keeps starting again and again. We are about to celebrate the alliance that took place a century ago, the alliance of our two peoples in the trenches. No more French rooster, no more British lion. This was for yesterday's caricaturists, not for serious people. Let's please leave Jean-Paul Sartre to his admirers and denigrators. Let's not make him "the champion of a navel-gazing France" as Ms. di Giovanni did.
I would finally like to cordially invite our journalist to go see, if she hasn't already, "The Selfish Giant," a movie by Clio Barnard based on a story by Oscar Wilde. She can see it at the MK2 Hautefeuille theater, in the Sixth Arrondissement itself!
Arbor, who is 13 years old, lives with his best friend, Swifty, in a working-class neighborhood within Bradford, located in northern England. Expelled from their school, the two teenagers meet Kitten, a local iron worker. They start working for him, collecting all sorts of metals. It is like one of Ken Loach's movies, except even more powerful. It is almost a documentary, a description of the British urban misery. Such a beautiful film, but almost unbearable to watch. This drama can show our journalist another face of England, far from "Notting Hill" and where she used to live. Even if Conner Chapman isn't Julia Roberts...
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