Do you remember our Country Hotline? It is a service we offer free of charge to sovereign nations. Heads of state can call us any time for advice. So far, the phone has been silent.
Still, a few months ago, we offered some helpful, unsolicited advice to Ireland, which we won’t repeat here. And today we offer advice to France.
Tourism is big business in France. In fact, it may be the biggest industry in the country. More tourists arrive in France than in any other country. Unfortunately, many are disappointed. Not by rude waiters and high prices – they expect those things, and would feel cheated if they didn’t get them. No, the disappointment sets in when they realize that the French are not so different from everyone else.
What makes this world interesting… and what drives tourism everywhere… are local particularities. But today, the French businessman looks just like a businessman in New York or Los Angeles. The uniform is the same. That is to be expected, you might reply. All businessmen are interchangeable parts of the great modern economic machine. But further down the ladder, the lower rungs are expected to preserve a bit of their local color. Alas, you look around France today and you see the same trashy, lower class culture that you’d find in Baltimore or Sarasota. Young women expose chubby midriffs. Young men tart themselves up with chains and track suits to look like rap singers. You walk down the street in Toulouse and, except for the old stones, you might feel as though you were in Toledo or Tulsa.
Rather than wait for Nicolas Sarkozy to call, we will go ahead and give the French government a simple piece of advice: Bring back the beret. We thought of it as we watched a man working on a construction site. He labored without a hat. He could have been working anywhere in the world. But put a beret on him… and he could only be French… and seeing him, you could only be in France. Put berets back on the heads of Frenchmen and you will give the nation’s largest industry a big boost.
Like so many things in life, there may be unintended consequences. When Frenchmen still wore berets, France was a nicer place to live and do business. Taxes were low; the meddlers and parasites were few. As the beret disappeared, taxes and regulations appeared everywhere. Maybe the two were connected. Removing the warm, wool beret caused coagulation in the brain, reducing blood flow and diminishing intelligence. The Frenchman, like the American, has become a bit of a dolt in the last 20 years; maybe the process can be reversed by bringing back the beret. We don’t know, but it seems worth a try.
Markets and Money