The first round of the French elections is on Sunday, and it's going to be close. What we will witness is how a country that has been in slow decline and even longer denial decides if it wants to wake up or die in its sleep. I say that because there is no way France can survive the presidency of socialist candidate Francois Hollande.
He is making populist promises that resonate but just cannot be done in a nation with a mountain of debt and slipping economy. Still, Hollande says he will hire 60,000 more teachers, hike taxes, hike the minimum wage, and lower the retirement age.
The problems, however, scream for lower taxes, lower minimum wage and a much older retirement age. The nation's public debt to GDP is 90% and its unemployment as of the last quarter of 2011 stood at 9.8%. French unemployment averaged 9.54% from 1983 to 2010 and has been above 7.0% for the past 30 years. France's share of global GDP has tumbled 25% in the last 15 years.
For all its bragging of open-mindedness and forward thinking, its MPs are on average ten years older than counterparts in Germany and the UK and 15 year older than the average French citizen. The country has serious problems with opportunities for its non-white citizens, and there isn't a woman CEO at any of the country's top 120 companies.
Yet, the French still take pride in not wanting to be rich. They consider it vulgar and believe bone-crushing taxes are the right medicine to punish the rich.
That mindset is why gobs of French money have found a home in Switzerland and Belgium and only 30% of the country's billionaires are self-made compared to 80% in the U.K. The French take pride in their anti-globalization stance, but the fact is they can't compete on the world stage because of costs associated with running its gigantic welfare state. That same welfare state that attracted people from all over the Middle East who now find themselves stuck with no upside hope and seething resentment.
France is in a ton of trouble, and yet, the candidate looking to implement the Buffett Rule on steroids is leading going into the weekend. Heck, the candidate looking to hike minimum wage 30%, hire an army of civil servants and implement a 100% tax on income above $300,000 is polling 15% of the vote.
European Society and Vulgarity
The European Social Survey made the statement: It's important to be rich, have money and expensive things," and asked if it's "like me" or "somewhat like me" or "not like me."