Currently, we have a young French woman staying with us. Her comments on France's economy have been enlightening and disheartening. Whenever we suggest that she start her own business, invest in property, or proceed to such and such course, all we hear is that it is impossible in France. Now, some of her replies may reflect her ignorance, just as many British people do not know how to empowers themselves financially through an ignorance of the laws and what is possible. But her reactions belie a deeper malaise affecting our neighbours:
The French have lost all understanding of la liberté.
Freedom means being able to compete without regulatory impediment for work, as well as meaning the rights to religious freedom, freedom of speech, association and conscience. It means being able to offer oneself and one's services in the marketplace in quantities and at prices of one's choosing, and being free to adapt to market conditions.
What I am hearing about France suggests that those basic freedoms are thin.
The United States has been going the same way for a long time too. Reagan at least talked about the importance of freedom - now the President talks about needing to raise the debt ceiling on the overdrawn US credit card. The principles of freedom have been lost.
In the UK there are many regulations and impositions by government, but the general thrust in our political culture is pro-commercial. Sure, not everyone understands the role that markets and the private sector play in creating the wealth necessary for government to be funded in the first place, but we are still relatively free to set up in business and make money.
France's unemployment has just passed three million; youth unemployment has remained steady for many years around a quarter of the population.
The French government has made no secret of being anti-business and anti-rich. The economy is suffering as a result.