The CSS Blog Network

What’s Ailing France?

François Hollande, courtesy of MD Photography

PARIS – France is gravely ill. So ill, in fact, that Standard & Poor’s recently cut its sovereign-credit rating – the country’s second downgrade in less than two years. The decision was accompanied by warnings that the budgetary and structural reforms that President François Hollande’s administration has implemented over the last year have been inadequate to improve France’s medium-term growth prospects. Now, the pressure is on for structural reforms covering everything from labor markets to taxation.

While the S&P downgrade was unexpected, it was not exactly shocking. The recent downturn in France’s industrial output has created large trade deficits, and is undermining the competitiveness of small and medium-size enterprises. Unemployment stands at about 11%, with a record-high 3.3 million workers registered as jobless in October. » More

Reinventing the European Dream

Bonn - EU flag

EU flag, Bonn. Photo: R/DV/RS/flickr.

PRINCETON – The euro crisis and Queen Elizabeth’s recent Jubilee seem to have nothing in common. In fact, together they impart an important lesson: the power of a positive narrative – and the impossibility of winning without one.

Commenting on the Jubilee’s river pageant and horse parade, historian Simon Schama talked to the BBC about “little boats and big ideas.” The biggest idea was that Britain’s monarchy serves to connect the country’s past to its future in ways that transcend the pettiness and ugliness of quotidian politics. The heritage of kings and queens stretching back across more than a millennium – the enduring symbolism of crowns and coaches, and the literal embodiment of the English and now the British state – binds Britons together in a common journey. » More

How to Make Trade Easier

WTO Ministerial Conference 2011

WTO Ministerial Conference 2011. Photo: World Trade Organization/flickr.

WASHINGTON, DC – The world is now in the fourth year of the Great Recession. So far, the economies belonging to the World Trade Organization have resisted the kind of widespread protectionism that would make a bad situation much worse. But protectionist pressures are building as weary politicians hear more and more calls for economic nationalism.

The WTO’s best defense of open trade is a good offense. A new WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement would benefit all by increasing developing countries’ capacity to trade, strengthening the WTO’s development mandate, and boosting global economic growth. More than a decade after the launch of the Doha Round of global free-trade talks, this agreement could be a down payment on the commitment that WTO members have made to linking trade and development. » More

The Great Recession: Sliding Out of Memory?

World economy cracked beyond repair? Photo: Jack Keene/flickr

As Asian economies keep posting positive growth numbers with the momentum for a full recovery shifting irreversibly to the East, and as banker’s bonuses and Wall Street profits return to pre-2007 days, the temptation to look away from the root causes of the global financial crisis is as great as ever. But has the chance to learn a valuable lesson really just been lost in the face of a fragile recovery?

Some resources from our Digital Library to help you answer this key question:

The Push for Pensions

Marching for work and retirement, photo: marcovdz/flickr

Europeans are talking about retirement. Yet, in France at least, it’s the youth who are most angry. Today the biggest protest movement since President Sarkozy took office continued for a tenth day. Airports have been disrupted, health risks have reached ‘pre-epidemic levels’ with refuse collectors on strike, even the Louvre was closed as staff blockaded the museum entrance.

The cynical readers among you will view this tête-à-tête as more déjà vu than coup d’état. Nonetheless, there remains a fundamental question in the developed world over how to balance the right to a ‘long and happy retirement’ against the gerontological and economic realities of modern times.

In financial terms it’s hard to argue with the figures. According to Allianz, a leading German financial services company, public pension expenditure for the European Union as a whole will increase to 12.8 percent by 2050. Compare this with France, Greece, or even Italy – where expenditure will increase to 25 percent of GDP by 2050 – and it seems inevitable that the budgetary axe should fall at this time of fiscal ‘belt-tightening’ across the continent. In Britain, for instance, the new measures are projected to save £5 billion a year. Furthermore the financial crisis has hit one rather traditional quirk of European retirement rights, namely that of a gender-based pension entitlement, with both the UK and Greece removing a woman’s prerogative to beat her husband to the pension pot.

However, this is one problem we can’t blame on the bankers. Aging populations are a direct result of our successful economic development – as the social, technological and cultural effects of modernization and urbanization mean lives are lengthened and people have fewer children to keep their populations youthful. As the New York Times put it in response to the protests, “it is hard to conjure a situation in which people move back to the countryside and again have larger families.” In fact, the Oxford Institute of Ageing – which published the seminal 2008 Global Ageing Survey – predicts that the West’s future search for a younger workforce will be instrumental at improving lives in the developing world, where in Africa only five percent are projected to be 65 or older in 2050 – compared to 29 percent in Europe.

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