December 19, 2014

Letter From Paris: ‘French-Bashing’ Doesn’t Add Up If The Numbers Are Wrong

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The latest round of “French bashing” has been circulating on the internet, touching a nerve among the French social networks .  On January 3rd, Newsweek journalist Janine di Giovanni  published on the magazine’s website (Newsweek has ceased to appear on news stands for around a year) an article titled, “Fall of France.”  She is a successful correspondent covering the war scene in the Middle East, but her only qualification to write about France is that she has been living in Paris for 10 years.  Two days later, the Newsweek editor reiterated its attack on France in another article, this time, “How a Cockerel Nation became an Ostrich.”  That article, in fact, repeated the recommendations addressed by the European Commission to the nine countries of the EU (European Union), France among them.

Di Giovanni’s general message is that the decline of France has greatly accelerated under the Socialist government of François Hollande and that the “French model” of a providence state (the author calls it a “nannie state”) is not sustainable.  This is not an original point of view and the French themselves are frequently criticizing their own system and trying to modify it.  The American-born journalist has written an entertaining and clearly poorly researched article.  She backs her arguments with a mixture of true, false and, sometimes, outrageous information, which make the piece quite entertaining.

Challenges, a well-established French weekly magazine dealing with economy, and reliable web sites, such as Decodeurs.com, have gone to the trouble of analyzing point by point di Giovanni’s story.

The most glaring mistakes she makes concern the excessive taxes.  She writes: ” Since the arrival of the Socialist President François Holland in 2012, the income tax and social security have rocketed. The top rate is 75 percent and a great many pay in excess of 70percent.”  In  fact, in 2011 (that is under Nicolas Sarkozy) the top income tax bracket was 43.7 percent and today it is 45 percent.  The tax of 75 percent is only paid by the very rich with an income of over one million Euro.

By decision of the Conseil Constitutionnel, the tax of 75 percent  is not considered as a separate tax bracket.  It has only been paid by 11,960 households.  Furthermore, the tax is not paid by the individuals, but by the firm which employs them.   Finally the Newsweek journalist may have mixed up income tax with the amount paid by the employer  (including social benefits), which resulted in a doubling of the numbers.

Commentators had a field day with some hilarious statements made by di Giovanni.  There is no word for entrepreneur in French, she claims.  Apparently she forgot that the word entrepreneur is French!  Another is quoting the price of a liter of milk as being six euros when it is only 1.33.  An online reader commented that the author must shop at the most expensive gourmet Grande Epicerie of the luxury department store of Bon Marché.

From her bourgeois apartment near the Luxembourg garden in the 6th District – the most expensive in the capital – she has a strange perception of what real life is like for the working population.  Talking about nurseries, for instance, she writes that they are free, can be found in every neighborhood and provide free diapers.  In fact, only some 13 percent of the middle class can afford nurseries and they have to pay roughly 9 percent of their income for using them.

The French seem to regard such “bashing” as stimulating … and it certainly keeps them on their toes.

About the author:  Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries.  She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe.  Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents.  Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.