By Eric Margolis
Nice, France – I’m just down to sea level from the 2,600 meter high mountain forts on France’s wild, vertiginous Alpine border with Italy.
The Cote d’Azur, or Riviera, is buzzing with summer activity: packed beaches, traffic jams, crowded restaurants, outrageously priced hotels and an armada of yachts jostling for scarce marina space.
Looking at all this opulence and conspicuous consumption one would not know that France is plunged these days into economic and mental depression. French call it "morosité."
French are an excitable people. They often strike me as an unstable mix of Germans and Italians. When French spirits are high, they are unstoppable. Just think of Napoleon’s armies and the "furia francese." But French morale can sink just as fast. Today, France’s spirits are down in the dumps.
Other nations would be lucky to have such problems. In spite of uncontrollable debt, high unemployment, strikes, and declining industry, bountiful France is still one of the world’s most beautiful nations and best places to live.
French have one of the world’s best, most responsive health care services. Its food, wine and culture astound and delight. TGV high-speed trains zip through the beautiful countryside. Unlike much of western Europe, France is a large nation with varied topography, and distinctive regions. Some 75% of French spend their lavish, six-week vacations in their own country.
French still read books, study history, and, for the most part, eat real food. Never mind all those silly academic studies that tell you Auckland, New Zealand is the best place to live, France is the world’s premier destination and place to live.
Now, the bad news. Glorious, beautiful, well-run France may be facing the end of its "bel époque." French industry has been ruined by overly powerful unions and their political allies in the Socialist Party.
One would be crazy these days to open a factory in France with its absurd 35-hour work week, endless vacations, surly unions, strikes, and social costs that add 50% to worker’s salaries. Laying off workers during downturns or closing plants involves siege warfare, with posturing socialist politicians fighting employers at every turn.
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