There are a lot of people in the US who want us to believe that France is an economic backwater and generally a bad place to live. Why is it so important to them that we believe this? Paul Krugman, who wrote an editorial about the quality of life in France in the New York Times on Friday, July 29th, helps to answer the question. He compares the standard of living in France and the US, finding that the determination depends very much on one's definition of "quality of life." He writes:
"The point is that to the extent that the French have less income than we do, it's mainly a matter of choice. And to see the consequences of that choice, let's ask how the situation of a typical middle-class family in France compares with that of its American counterpart. The French family, without question, has lower disposable income. This translates into lower personal consumption: a smaller car, a smaller house, less eating out. But there are compensations for this lower level of consumption. Because French schools are good across the country, the French family doesn't have to worry as much about getting its children into a good school district. Nor does the French family, with guaranteed access to excellent health care, have to worry about losing health insurance or being driven into bankruptcy by medical bills. Perhaps even more important, however, the members of that French family are compensated for their lower income with much more time together. Fully employed French workers average about seven weeks of paid vacation a year. In America, that figure is less than four. So which society has made the better choice?"
(The rest of the article can be accessed at: https://www.nytimes.com )
The answer to his question, according to many of a certain political persuasion in the US, is that there can be no comparing the two. The US blew past the French several decades ago and left them in the dust. But the reason conservatives don't want anyone to even contemplate such a comparison is abject fear. As Krugman points out, many of the things that the neo-cons in the US say could never work are working very well in France. France is the extreme right's worst nightmare. France's success makes it a target of those idealogues who do not want US voters to know that higher taxes and greater protections for workers and citizens can contribute to a society that is modern, humane, and still prosperous. In case anyone should notice that things are not really so bad in France, spokespersons for the right wing often throw in an extra dose of French-bashing, usually related to French cowardice, French rudeness, lack of personal hygiene, or all of the above--just for good measure.
Krugman's knock-out punch, however, relates to the family values to which the right pays lip service. Policies and customs in France conspire to set boundaries between one's work life and one's personal life. Work is considered important, but not all-consuming. Krugman exposes the hypocrisy of the "family values" crowd that does not tend to support policies that would actually allow family life to flourish, especially among the working poor. Krugman concludes: "American conservatives despise European welfare states like France. Yet many of them stress the importance of "family values." And whatever else you may say about French economic policies, they seem extremely supportive of the family as an institution." But don't expect conservatives to point to France as a model in terms of support for family life. If American voters were aware in greater numbers that there were workable alternatives to the conservatives' version of so-called "family values" (i.e. no gay mariage, no right to privacy concerning abortion, little support for family planning, etc. ) their ideology would be exposed as the fraud that it is.