“This juxtaposition of growth as mediocre as that of France and much greater inequalities is at the heart of the British crisis”

EBetween public services creaking everywhere, permanent political instability for six years and even the beginning of a financial panic in September, the United Kingdom – and more specifically England – is in bad shape. The world recently devoted a series of six surveys to this “English malaise”. But much of the reader feedback was basically saying: “Okay, but things are also bad in France. » Whether it is overflowing hospitals, insufficient care for the elderly or the wholesale rejection of the political class, the parallels are indeed essential.

Before the quarter-finals of the World Cup between France and England on Saturday December 10, it is therefore an opportunity to replay the comparison between these two countries so similar: two ex-colonial empires with an old superiority complex, the same level of population (67.1 million inhabitants in the United Kingdom, 67.8 million in France), and two economies which weigh almost the same weight. Their gross domestic product (GDP) – a very imperfect indicator but which has the advantage of being simple and comparable – is close: in 2022, at purchasing power parity, British GDP will, according to the World Bank, be 2,333 billion dollars (2,208 billion euros); that of France of 2,279 billion dollars.

Over four decades, however, the trend gives the advantage to the United Kingdom. In 1980, the GDP per capita in France was 20% higher than that of the United Kingdom. The British had experienced the disastrous 1970s, made up of strikes and deeply inefficient nationalized companies, which had provoked the Thatcherite revolution. It was extremely brutal, inequality jumped suddenly, but economic growth returned. By 2005, Britain’s GDP per capita had almost caught up with France and by 2015 was overtaking it.

UK’s dynamism is broken

The novelty, and this largely explains the British malaise, is that the dynamism of the United Kingdom – which has become the most unequal country in Western Europe – has been broken for a big decade. The fracture began with the shock of the 2008 financial crisis, continued with the government imposed austerity between 2010 and 2016, then with the vote for Brexit in 2016, the pandemic in 2020 and, finally, the effective exit of the European single market in January 2021.

It is difficult to distinguish between pandemic, Brexit and austerity, but the facts are there: since 2016, British growth has been 6.6%, that of France 7.1%. Nothing spectacular in either case: about seven points of growth in six years is a very slow pace. But the British catch-up is over. Today, the French GDP per capita is back in the lead, narrowly (by 0.6% to be precise). Worse, British inequalities remain gaping: at purchasing power parity, the poorest 10% in the United Kingdom have disposable incomes 22% lower than those of their French counterparts.

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