Main issues of education in France (#3) (credit)  
The French economic illiteracy...   Recurrent problems in the French educational system...
The low level of economic knowledge and the absolute lack of understanding of basic economics of most French people is remarkable and all the studies made on the subject have established it as a fact. It is true for Main Street people but it is also true for journalists and politicians.
Former President Hollande, elected in 2012, illustrated the lack of understanding of elementary economics at the highest level . . .

A few illustrations :

  • Actualization ? Most people do not understand that one Euro today and one Euro in ten years from now do not have the same value. Therefore, it is common wisdom that the difference between paying cash (for example 1000 Euros) and paying over a period of five years (for example five times 250 i.e. 1250) is the net profit of the lender. There is an ongoing controversy about PPP (Public Private Partnership) and for most people, including journalists, the new building of the Ministry of Defence is a rip-off of the State by the mean capitalists. It would have cost 1.8 b Euros if built by the State ; built by a private consortium, it will cost 4 b Euros, BUT with cost of maintenance included (which is very costly), AND over a period of 30 years. However, you read everywhere that it will cost twice more with a private partner, the difference being a scandalous profit of more than 2 b Euros for the private partner.

  • Yield ? By the same token, in 2011, a survey asked a representative sample of French people the following question : "you have 100 Euros and you invest it at 2% a year interest rate. How much do you have after one year?". Do you know how many people gave the right answer ? A mere 44% ! A majority said they did not know or gave a wrong answer….

  • Profit? For a huge majority of people, margin = profit (I'll try to find a survey with the %). For most people, if you borrow money from your bank at 4%, the profit of your bank is 4%, which is scandalously high.

  • More to come ...

What do you learn in High School ?

Economics is a subject in High School but it is taught under the name "Sciences economiques et sociales" and the "social" aspect is emphasized, with all its ideological sides. If you see a textbook, you'll see that macroeconomics will take a huge majority of the book and only one or two miserable chapters will be devoted to subjects like "enterprise and entrepreneur" or "consumer's choice" when full chapters will be devoted to "State policies" or "strikes" or "inequality in salaries", etc…

For example, the official national program for Senior High School students is composed of 9 subjects. One can observe that one third (#3, 4 and 5) is devoted exclusively to social issues and one third (#7, 8 and 9) exclusively to the policy of the State. Program :

1. Causes and limitations of economic growth
2. Capital accumulation, innovation and growth
3. Social classes and inequalities
4. Conflicts and social mobilization
5. Integration and solidarity
6. International trade and globalization
7. Agricultural policy
8. Budgetary policy
9. Monetary policy

(In #4, in the official comments on the program, "class warfare" is cited among the main notions to explain). No wonder the French are world experts in terms of strikes!

To say it bluntly, economics, as a science, is not taught and children are told that economics is what you go on strike against!

Why such a situation ?

  • The French love : the State and not the enterprise, general ideas and not practical ideas, moral judgments and not scientific concepts ;

  • All this is clearly related to the attitude of the French regarding money : money is bad and business is dirty.

  • Most teachers have absolutely no idea of what an enterprise is and what its major issues can be.

  • More to come...


Education is clearly a key issue for today's France.
The whole French educational system is based on principles, established at the end of the 19th century, which are profoundly challenged in today's world :

  • First principle : education is the base of a democratic and prosperous society --> challenged by the economic crisis

  • Second principle : education is the basis to form a French society in which everybody shares the same values --> challenged by immigration issues

  • Third principle : the role of education is to select progressively the best and the most able --> challenged by the negative consequences of social exclusion.

Some basic beliefs should be revised, and among them :

  • "Same education for everybody" : ....

  • "A free education for everybody is a right" :...

  • "More teachers equals better education" : ....

  • "Smart people follow the best cursus and stupid people can have only a technical training : ...

  • More to come ...

The drop-out rate is huge ! (130 000 drop-out of school every year without any diploma or formation)

  • At all levels, from kindergarden to university, the rate of drop-out is enormous

  • Repeat a year is frequent and only recently it has ben considered that the rate should diminish

  • More to come...

The teachers' unions are very powerful

  • The unions are very powerful, which would not be a problem if they had a project for education other than increasing the number of teachers

  • More about French unions.

The result : all comparative studies are very disappointing for the French national pride !

At all levels (primary, high school, college), the French ranking is mediocre. See OECD PISA, PILS, PIACC surveys.

IN A NUTSHELL.... : French education stresses academic knowledge and does not focus on the development of the "whole person". When an American kid leaves home for school, his/her mother says "Have fun" : in France, she says "Be good and work hard". French education produces theorists, analysts, people capable of dealing with abstract situations-but does not focus on professional or pragmatic training. To know more, read AAWE Guide to Education.

French economists and economic schools....

  • The situation in colleges is not as bad as in High Schools! The best French schools of Economics are the Toulouse School of Economics (TSE) and the Paris School of Economics (PSE).

  • Four French-born economists have been awarded a Nobel prize for Economics : Gérard Debreu (Calais 1921-Paris 2004) in 1983 was born and educated in France, but, naturalized American in 1977, he spent his whole career in the US (UC Berkeley) and was the President of the American Economic Association, Maurice Allais (Paris 1911- St Cloud 2010) in 1988, Jean Tirole (born 1953) in 2014 (he is the president of TSE) and Esther Duflo (born 1972) in 2019 (she teaches at MIT).

  • Some French economists are noteworthy In the history of Economics, many of them "liberal" (in the French meaning, like Frederic Bastiat or Jean-Baptiste Say, when the French society itself is not unanimously market-oriented (as Alan Greespan once said about this paradox "it's when you're in hell that you can give the best description of it").

  • The best known French economists today are Thomas Piketty (The author of Capital in the 21rst Century, an attempt to include inequality in the distribution of income into the analysis of capital : read about the passion of the French for equality), Philippe Aghion (Ecole d'Economie de Paris and Harvard), Elie Cohen, and many others....

To related pages : more on education (#1), French attitudes, intercultural differences, etc...

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

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