Two things you may not know about the French economy
They're good globalizers:
It's true that French corporations are leading globalizers and do very well abroad. It's not noted enough in the United States because these corporations often aren't in the US. Carrefour is the world's biggest retailer after Wal-Mart, and the biggest foreign retailer in China, but it's nowhere in the US. BNP Paribas is, depending on how you measure it, the biggest bank in the world by assets, but it's small in the US. AXA is the world's second biggest insurance group by assets, but nowhere in the US. Etc. etc. etc.
But bad shoppers:
The French (or, rather, a small subset of them) are very discerning consumers, but they're lousy consumers.
The economist Amar Bhidé argues in his book The Venturesome Economy that consumers play a great role in the innovation economy, by being willing to try new things and take a chance on new products. We think of innovation as being the province of scientists, venture capitalists and heroic entrepreneurs, but consumers actually play a very important role. Think of the early adopters that fuel the adoption of services like Twitter.
The French, with their aversion to risk and new things, are particularly awful at this. We may be very good at picking the right food or clothes, but whenever a new service is introduced, the typical French person's answer is "Why would I use that?", "That's useless", etc. This is a huge drag on the French economy.
| January 24, 2011; 10:05 AM ET
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