A modern French economy leads Europe into the 1980s
Here's a quiz to see how far behind the times you are in your economic knowledge of France: Which country has the higher per capita real gross national product, that is, the higher output of goods and services per individual -- France or West Germany?Skip to next paragraph
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France. A recent calculation by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development puts French "real" per capita GNP in 1976 at 78.5 percent of that of the United States, while that of Germany was 76 percent.
The calculation, an extrapolation of some 1974 figures, might well be challenged by some economists. But there is no doubt that French living standards are catching up with and may even have surpassed those of West Germany. French prosperity is visible to the eye here in the multitude of cars, the high quality of clothing, the richness of retail window displays, and the vast improvement in housing standards. In material goods, France has been "Europeanized" -- the goods found here are often the same seen in the shops of Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Britain. The European Community's common market has become a solid reality. Which country, France or West Germany, has grown the faster over the past two decades?
France, by far. Indeed, among the industrial countries, only Japan has grown faster economically since 1955 than France. Once it rid itself of its colonial burdens (Algeria became independent in 1959), the French economy took off like the Ariane, the sophisticated French-designed rocket that was launched for the first time last month.
Between 1967 and 1973, French real GNP grew at an average rate of 5.7 percent a year, compared with 4.5 percent for Germany and 2.9 percent for the United Kingdom. From 1974 to 1978, the comparative figures were 2.8 percent for France , 1.9 percent for Germany, and 0.8 percent for the United Kingdom. Growth has slowed for all these nations in this recessionary period. But the margin of French superiority over West Germany increased.
Edmund Stillman, director of Hudson Research Europe Ltd., comments: "From an economy based on inefficient agriculture and small-scale family enterprise, France has moved forward in the . . . years since the Second World War to join the ranks of the most advanced industrial nations. Yet, while acclaiming the West German, the Japanese, the Italian, the Brazilian, and even the quite fictitious Iranian 'economic miracles,' the world has allowed the sustained and dynamic character of French growth over more than two decades to pass virtually unremarked." Which nation is the world's fourth-largest exporter?
Japan. France used to be fourth, but last year its exports exceeded in value those of Japan, to come third after West German and US exports. Moreover, those exports are not primarily perfumes and cheeses, but sophisticated machines, transport equipment, armaments, chemicals, farm equipment, and so on. Which country produces more passenger automobiles, France or West Germany?
Some years West Germany, other years, France. In the first half of 1979, West Germany was running ahead, making about 336,000 cars per month, while France manufactured around 330,000 a month. german cars on average tend to be higher-priced than French cars.
The quiz could go on. Few Americans are fully aware of the enormous economic progress made by France. "I don't know of any country of which there is more misinformation and more prejudice," says Mr. Stillman, an economist who astonished even the French with a bullish economic report on France published in 1974.
One reason may be the French themselves. Many have a habit of being pessimistic or verbally negative. Although often charming, they are not usually the happy-go- lucky people imagined by foreigners.