Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Mysteries of Growth: France & Germany

The latest data on French household spending show that it rose rather faster than expected in April. This suggests that consumer spending is still supporting economic growth in sharp contrast with the pattern in Germany. In Germany the domestic economy actually *contracted* in the first quarter. True the German economy grew, but this was due exclusively to the export sector. So while the German domestic economy has been struggling France has been one of the eurozone's best performing economies, with consumer spending and a booming housing market supporting growth. The French consumer is, it seems, considerably more robust than the German one.

So the big question is why the difference? They are both economies which according to the criteria of the Lisbon agenda are badly in need of reform. My own view, almost inevitably, is that this might well have something to do with the differing demographies of the two countries. Fertility is much higher in France - at nearly replacement rate - and over the years France has had a lot more long term immigration. Surely other factors are important: but which ones are they? Any constructive suggestions anyone?

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