France can console itself for its World Cup loss with the knowledge that it is enjoying stronger economic growth
and falling unemployment. But this is in spite of a deep-seated French
scepticism towards the market system; earlier this year, a University of Maryland survey
found France was the only one of 20 countries where a majority
disagreed with the statement that “the free enterprise system and free
market economy is the best system on which to base the future of the
world”. (The country with the largest majority in support, of course,
was China.)

So, how to deal with the problem of popular hostility to the system
that keeps them fed and clothed? A government program, of course! Yes,
seriously. The BBC reports
that the French finance ministry is to launch a “Council for the
Diffusion of Economic Culture” to teach people “the benefits of wealth
creation” and to “try to boost financial literacy”.

“The new body will seek to promote financial education through popular
culture including television, the print media and computer games.” One
might suggest that if the French business sector is unable or unwilling
to perform these tasks for itself, then that just shows how serious the
problem is. But French businesses would certainly not be the only ones
to look for ways of getting the government to do their work for them.

The BBC links the educational program to the views of France’s interior
minister and likely centre-right presidential candidate Nicolas
Sarkozy, who is widely seen as the most pro-market of the country’s
politicians. But Sarkozy is having to work hard to hold together the
various strands of his popular appeal. Last week he told a rally “I am not an ideologue. I am not hostage to anyone.
… I am neither Mrs Thatcher nor Mr Reagan, I am Nicolas Sarkozy.”
Whether he can, as he hopes, “create a new political synthesis” out of
these negatives remains to be seen.

Peter Fray

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