Is France as productive as it used to be?

“Newsweak” and a gallon of milk 

Gallon of MilkFrench bashing by Anglo-Saxons has been a tradition from Vice-Admiral Nelson in 1798 – “my blood boils at the name of a Frenchman” – to the Sun’s memorable front page headline “Up Yours Delors” in November 1990.

French ideologies are different from more pragmatic mindsets but inventing “facts” does nothing to corroborate otherwise credible stories of French economic decline. The CEO of American tyre manufacturer Titan, Maurice Taylor, claimed that French workers only put in “three hours a day”. Yet Dr Bob Hancké reported to the London School of Economics in February 2013 that French workers are more productive than their German counterparts and only marginally less productive than the top-ranked Americans. The UK comes sixth in what he calls the “low-productivity trap”.

France is often criticised for its 35-hour workweek but OECD studies show that French workers put in an average of 1495 hours annually compared to just 1431 in Germany and 1393 in the Netherlands.

France is faltering and has been called the new “sick man of Europe”, a title that had previously been attributed to Britain (which recovered under Margaret Thatcher) and to Germany (rescued by the courageous Social Democrat, Gerhard Schroeder).

Newsweek’s Janine di Giovanni may have thought she could illustrate the current “Fall of France” with a few unchecked “facts”. Milk costs $4 for a half-litre, rents in Paris are higher than in London, and a “great many” Frenchmen pay 70% in tax.

The unsettling truth about French bureaucracy, public debt, high unemployment, rising business taxes and shrinking welfare advantages is proof enough. Di Giovanni’s inventions were neither necessary nor helpful.