There’ll Always Be France

Le Figaro first revealed the plans for the transformation of the Eiffel Tower on November 11, 2011.

“A remarkable plan has been revealed by Le Figaro newspaper which could see Paris’ most famous landmark covered in plants.

“Starting as early as June 2012, the plan would be to cover the outside of the tower’s structure with 600,000 plants which would then be able to grow for a period of four years.

“The plants would add a total of 378 tonnes to the 327-metre tall structure.

“As well as being a striking horticultural vision in the heart of the capital, the project has an ecological ambition with Le Figaro saying the carbon-neutral plan would make the tower “the lungs of Paris.”

“The €72 million ($96 million) plan is a joint initiative by the engineering group Ginger, construction company Vinci and the architect Claude Bucher.

“Work has been going on for two years and a scaled-down prototype of the famous tower has been built in the capital’s suburbs to test out the idea.

“A timetable for the greening of the tower has been established. Plants would be grown at a separate location until June 2012. They would then be attached to the tower in bags, allowing them to continue growing.

“Watering the plants would take place via a system of tubes running around the tower. The plants would be left to grow until being finally removed in 2016.”

The plan is as breathtaking in its boldness as it is in its lunacy. Just who is going to pay the estimated 75 milion euros (nearly $100 million) expense of this showpiece? Why, the City of Paris, of course. Or maybe the French state.

The French state, particularly under recent presidents, has lavished vast wealth on cultural projects in Paris. From Giscard d’Estaing through Jacques Chirac, staggering and staggeringly expensive projects have been built in Paris to transform the capital. From the Centre Pompidou to the Parc Villette to the Institute of the Arab World, the Musée d’Orsay, the Grand Louvre, the Musee Quai Branly, billions of euros have been transferred from the pockets of French taxpayers to the state to finance these grand gestures. (I wonder why the tax payers of Lyons and Lille, Marseille and Metz are not up in arms about contuously paying for the glorification of Paris.)

But even in France, a proposal to entice the state into spending public funds for another grand project may not fly in a year in which the voters will choose their president. Not that the candidates, or at least one of them, is afraid to call for higher taxes. Francois Hollande, the candidate of the socialist party has called for taxing all incomes of 1 million euros or more at the rate of 75 percent. The polls predict that he will be elected at the second round of voting on May 6.

France, without question, has long had a ‘tax and spend’ government. The state now spends a greater percentage of the country’s GDP than any other EU country. But France has a lot to show for it.

Its health care delivery system is generally ranked the finest of any country in the world. Its high speed trains are the global ideal. Its museums are the envy of the world. And its restaurants aren’t bad either. In fact, there are a number of other ways in which France looks a lot better than the United States. Here are just a few:

Amazingly enough, France has recently managed to generate economic growth at about the same rate as the U.S. Here are GDP growth rates.

Country 2007 2008 2009 2010
France 2% -1% -3% 1%
United States 1 -1 -4 2


France also manages to deal more effectively with its international financial position. In 2011, its current account deficit was -2.3 percent of its GDP. The U.S. – global glutton that it is – came in at -3.1 percent.

It is true that Americans have higher incomes than do the French – at least on average:

Country Per Capita GDP 2011 (PPP)
France $35,048
United States $48,147


Of course these numbers are derived by taking the country’s entire national income and dividing by the population. That is no indication of what ‘real’ people actually receive in the way of income, especially given what we know about income inequality. The United States is one of the top ten countries in the world in terms of inequality of income.

Country R/P 10% R/P 20% Gini Coefficient Year
France 9.1 5.6 33 2005
United States 15.9 8.4 41 2000


(R/P 10%: The ratio of the average income of the richest 10% to the poorest 10%. 
R/P 20%: The ratio of average income of the richest 20% to the poorest 20%. 
Gini Coefficient: Gini index, a quantified representation of a nation’s Lorenz curve.)

Income in the U.S. is far more concentrated at the top than it is in France. This is even more the case for income distribution after taxes. As a result, the incomes in the middle of the U.S. income distribution look a lot more similar to the average French GDP per capita than you would guess by looking only at the U.S. national average. Of course after taxes, the French middle class has less to spend than do their counterparts in the U.S. But an awful lot of what they need to consume is paid for by the state. Americans have to pay for those things out of their pockets – doctors, dentists, medicines, schooling, day care – the list is very long.

And Americans prefer it that way. “Free to Choose” was the perfect title for Milton Friedman because that is exactly the way Americans like it.

But in the process, don’t deny the French their way. Nor don’t underestimate the benefits for France as a whole.

Of course, France is on an unsustainable course. But then again, so is the United States. Don’t count out the ability of France both to generate economic growth and to sustain its extraordinarily successful social model.

2 Responses to "There’ll Always Be France"

  1. Stray__Cat   April 10, 2012 at 2:32 am

    "Of course, France is on an unsustainable course. But then again, so is the United States" I keep being disappointed by these articles which praise liberalism and social darwinism. I do not think Economonitor to be the right place for wrong assumptions.

  2. JP Dumas   April 10, 2012 at 6:12 am

    Thank you for your nice article (no Anglo-Saxon bashing as usual). Among your data, one important is missing, public expenditure/GDP: US 41%, France 56% (2011). This makes, in my view, a big difference. Let's asume France zero deficit (which is not the case), it will have to reduce its expenditure ratio, because you cannot have a potential growth of 2-3% as US did in the past with such a huge expenditure ratio (crowding out the private sector). Today we have a Presidential election in France, the socialist candidate (F. Hollande) is talking about increasing tax (51% of GDP) to balance the budget and Sarkozy to mix expenditure reduction and tax increase. To raise taxes in a country overtaxed, can only reduce the potential GDP and increase unemployment. So both countries are in trouble, but one thing is sure, France social model is not sustainable because it prevent economic growth.