Krugman’s blog, 4/12/17

There was one post yesterday, “The French, Ourselves:”

Still thinking about the upcoming French election. Will Le Pen be the next Trump? I have no idea. But I’ve been interested to note how little resemblance there is between the underlying economics in France and here, which in turn raises further doubts about how far “economic anxiety” goes toward explaining the faux-populist surge.

One thing you have to bear in mind is that the French economy gets terrible press — some combination of conservative bias (with such a generous welfare state they *should* be a disaster, dammit) and cultural envy/annoyance. A few years back Roger Cohen quoted himself about how there is a

pervasive sense that not only jobs — but also power, wealth, ideas and national identity itself — are migrating, permanently and at disarming speed, to leave a vapid grandeur on the banks of the Seine

then noted wryly that he wrote that in 1997; and somehow France is still there.

In fact, the 1990s were something of a low point; in a number of key ways France has done better since then, especially compared with the United States. Official unemployment is high, but that’s somewhat misleading. If you look at adults in their prime working years, they’re actually more likely to be employed in France than they are here:


OECD and BLS

French productivity has gone from slightly above to slightly below the US level, perhaps because more people are employed; but anyway, given the wiggle room in such numbers, we’re basically looking at a country that is at the technological frontier:


OECD

And France has, so far at least, been spared the Case-Deaton epidemic of “deaths of despair”:

If very low inflation is any indicator, the French economy does appear to be operating somewhat below potential. But it’s not in macroeconomic crisis.

And as I wrote yesterday, France is not Greece: the euro was a bad idea, but France is not a nation currently suffering severely from lack of an independent currency, so there is no urgency about exit — and hence no obvious reason to incur the huge costs euro exit would impose.

So what’s it all about? Presumably it’s about identity politics, French style. But my point is that the economic anxiety trope works even worse for France than it does here.

Oh, and let me repeat: Le Pen does not offer any answer to the problems of the EU.

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