France vs US per capita debt : LUSENET : Economic History (and Related Observations) : One Thread

I'm in high school & am doing a paper on France vs the US. We've had class discussions about how the US system is so much better & that France is in horrible trouble because of their shorter work days, vacation time, their pension & health care systems, their schools & how they've gone so far into debt to provide these social programs for the French people.

I was there & the family I stayed with was just about equal in every way to my own, but they seemed so much better off & so much happier. I saw no homelessness there. I didn't see people scavaging in garbage cans for anything to recycle, like I do here. Everyone was much less unhappy with the medical care there than here & everyone had access.

I brought this up & then was told that's because they don't have to have such a big military like the US does. Somehow that doesn't cut it.

What I want to know is are the French living on a balloon, while we in the US aren't? How much national debt per person does each French citizen carry vs the US. I've read that here if you divided up the national debt per person it would be $17,000 for every man, woman, & child... not counting the state & local debts.

I can't find any websites that tell me anything in a way that I can understand it. I'm not a Harvard MBA. I'm a Junior in High School.

Thanx... mlg

-- mimi gibson (, May 27, 2003


The answer you were given "because they don't have a military as big as ours". Is probably your best bet. Just take a look at how many billions of dollars our government is putting into the military and their useless and needless military operations which only breed more trouble and cause the US to put yet again more money into these campaigns. Think of all those billions of dollars used monthly to support these middle-east wars and put all that money into public health care and business loans for small businesses. And put into public education, as in higher education, scholarships, you name it. Billions every month back to the people would make a huge difference in this country. It is military spending. Just look at the figures. Money being flushed down the toilet out of paranoia, and the need to maintain this country as a "superpower". Look into that. Japan uses all their money to subsidise companies. If we'd do that also, business would not have the kinds of troubles they have today. Things would be very different.

I think you were given a very good lead. Pursue it.

-- mia (, August 18, 2003.


i am also looking into finding the national debt of france... and having a tough time with it as my french is not as good as it was in high school and college.

some pointers, as this is a area than interests me a lot. i always hear the same excuse, "well western european countries have a much higher debt than the u.s. because they have to pay for all the 'socialist' programs." well is just not true. i live in the netherlands and i did some research into this statement. here is what i found, and some misnomers and things to watch out for.

national debt vs. national deficit: national debt is how much money a country owes and deficit is the amount of money a country is short vs. income in any given YEAR. so the important one to focus is on debt, as this is the total owed.

compared to the u.s. holland has very little crime, affordable health care for everyone, affordable housing for everyone, virtually free education (even post secondary), and comprehensive and cheap public transportation, to name a few things. these are not what i would consider "socialist", these are things every society should do for its people if it can.

so what is the national debt, you ask, of holland - that socialist nation? well, less than the u.s. as a whole number, but more importantly, LESS AS A PERCENTAGE OF GDP! here are the numbers, roughly (conservatively).

u.s. GDP: 10.4 trillion dollars u.s. debt: 7.6 trillion dollars debt as a percentage of GDP: 72%

dutch GDP: 435 billion euros dutch debt: 225 billion euros debt as a perventage of GDP: 52%

thats, as you can see is a big difference. why you ask? priorities. the dutch believe the best way to take care of your people is to take care of your people. the u.s. believes the best way is to let markets take care of your people, and to spend money on corporate tax breaks and the military, not on schools, housing, and healthcare. that is why over 17% of the children in the u.s. are living in poverty. it's disgraceful.

hope this helps and if you find the french GDP and debt, let me know.


-- Lennard van Dijkum (, October 11, 2003.

Here is some help: french public debt per capita, according to internet pages, is € 15 000

-- Francois BONNIN (, October 13, 2003.

If the U.S. sytem is so bad and poor how come our GDP is bigger then the next five largest contries "combined" ! The healthcare in the U.S. is #1 in the world.

And the number of children in poverty number is bogus, stats that are skewed based on locations (rural area where cost of living is very low) poverty is the u.s. is defined as anyone living on less the $17K per year of "reported" income. While there are certainly poor here and everywhere else _ I have been to France and there are homeless same with Japan.

-- Pete Luhrs (, December 12, 2003.

I agree, the united states healthcare is the best in the world.... provided that you have a great income and don't suffer any serious disability that would keep you from getting health insurance.... hmm so that means that the healthy and rich can get access to the best healthcare system in the world, yet the poor and sick can go to "free" clinics and be lucky if anyone cares. I guess that's survival of the fitest... Isn't it?

I can't believe you can state that the united states has the best healthcare system in the world. The united states healthcare system is great, for those with money. I believe i heard that as many as 30% of americans don't have health insurance, and can't get it. What about them? I think they too should be as "fortunate" as us to experience the "worlds best healthcare system". We put less money into healthcare than the rest of the G7 countries on a per capita basis. Instead we'll spend $17,000 on a missile to drop on someone in the middle of nowhere. Having the greatest GDP in the world doesn't mean much when the average person can't take advantage of it. When our average quality of life is lower than that of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, the Icelandic countries and so on (as rated by the United Nations) I think we really have to look hard at ourselves.

-- Dalip S. Jawanda (, February 03, 2004.

Overall health statistics (longevity, morbidity and mortality) in the U.S. lag sadly behind a number of other industrial nations. Childhood health statistics are considerably worse in the U.S. than France. I can't help but wonder how many Americans are suffering the illusion that they can expect to outlive people in other countries.

Perhaps something would be done about public health care and health policy in the U.S. if people actually knew the facts?

-- Jim Robins (, February 26, 2004.

If you really want to know how the US rates in health care check the World Heath Organiztions website at The last time I checked the stats about a year ago we where listed as something like 28th amoung industrialized nations. So we are far from 1st in health care. And if anybody wants to talk about manipulating stat's take this in for consideration; in factoring in unemployment level for this country I've heard you are only considered unemployed for the first 8 months. After that you just plain don't count. If this is the case, than our true unemployment level are very possibly a lot greater than is projected to the rest of the world.

-- Richard Voegtlen (, March 25, 2004.

I am often confounded when I speak to folks I meet about this very same subject. People in general, even those who are fairly well educated have no clue about the rest of the world. What percentage of our population have been to Europe (other than a one week tourist fling!)? Most US citizens know nothing about the rest of the world but love to mouth the platitudes which we are feed each and every day. The USA is #1!!! We lead the world! We have the best health care! The truth is we work ourselves to death to buy more and more crap from WalMart, we have NO job security, we have great healthcare if you have the money and if you don't you are a 3rd class citizen. We are used to the USA because we live here. Friends from other countries love to come here, try to make their fortune, and run for the hills --- Because the USA is only great if you've got money! (sort of like a microcosm of Manhattan!!)

p.s. This isn't sour grapes! I have money and I think that each decade the gap grows larger the pain increases!

-- Brian B. Canin (, May 25, 2004.

I understand your plight. My wife is British while I am American. I was having a discussion with my mother in law on the magnitude of the US national debt and what a threat it is to the US. She wanted me to put that debt into context with other nations' debts. Sadly, all I could say was it is significantly worse than that of other first world nations.

It seems that the problem with the numbers is that no one can agree on the actual figures, what they mean, and how they should be related to each other. In other words, no one really knows what is going to happen. Every one can agree on one thing: a significant economic downturn in the US is bad for the entire planet. So to some degree, the numbers might not be so hard to understand but people might not want to understand them because they don't bode well for the future

As for the medical system, anyone who deals with the medical system in the US not covered by a great health care plan can attest to how bad it is. While the treatment is fantastic, the cost is fantastic as well. These costs, in fact, keep most people away from the doctor which in turn leads to greater medical problems later on in life because of untreated disorders. Hence the WHO rating. You could probably liken the US medical system to a bank. Everyone has access to a bank, but not everyone can get something out of it.

Homelessness is strong and prospering in the US. States and local governments are largely responsible for dealing with panhandlers and the homeless. New York City used to bus them out of town but I'm not sure if that still goes on. There is no social welfare net for these people who often suffer from mental disorders preventing them from buying into the American dream. I work in a high crime area near a homeless shelter and it seems to me that the solution has become jail. We trespass the panhandlers, wait for them to come back, then have them arrested and usually never see them again.

As to the French living on a balloon, I would stay right where you are. More than 70% of you power production is nuclear with a good transit system being powered by that electrical grid. Hence you are not tethered to foreign oil like the US and your public is not spoiled by gas prices controlled by huge government subsidies. While your country might be in fiscal difficulty, at least you are confronting it. The US attitude is 'National debt doesn’t matter!' (Yeah, I'm still coming to grips with how they sold that one). Your debt goes to schools, pensions, health care, programs that benefit the future. Ours is going to bombs, subsidies, weapons research and foreign bribes to implement regional planning such as what is going on in Iraq. You are in a much better position for the future than the US can even hope to be.

-- James Murgolo (, June 02, 2004.

The problem with all these comparisons between the US and Europe (or the rest of the world for that matter) is that none of the other coutries would enjoy their standard of living without the US. Whatever faults the US has, everyone benefits from it. The economies of the rest of the world would collapse with the disappearance fo the US. The reverse cannot be said. To me it seems like all these quasi-socialist european countries rely on the US to buy their crap, and provide them with security. So it is no wonder our debt is higher, we support 1/3(probably more) the world's population, but we comprise only 1/20th.

-- (, July 08, 2004.

After WWII the US took the lead as the as protector of the free world because of world state in 1945. This lead position made sense becuase the US government was in tack and its production facilities were humming along unlike most of Western Europe. As a result, NATO came into existance with US and Great Britain taking the lead. The communists push for expension and the lack of military power and to a degree a lack trust in the recently defeated axis powers (Germany, Japan, Italy) required the US to take the lead roll as free world protector.

This leading country (hegemon) provides protection for free countries allowing those countries to spend more of their GDP on other priorities such as social programs. The US gets to protect the world how they see fit so that countries continue to participate in free market theory which benefits the US. The US benefits by having cheap imports mostly raw materials low skill products (oil, textiles, plastic toys) while selling higher valued goods to other countries (cars, computers, software, military weapons).

This all made sense until the fall of communision. Now those that were protected (France, Germany, Italy, Japan) don't feel threatened enough to pay the price for protection (free market costs and political support). So now come the anwers to all the questions...

1)The US is the most productive country in the world by far. This productivy is the result of a domestic free market economy where jobs are not guaranteed. Higher productivity allows for higher standard of livings and its not even close when compared to Europe.... But this productivity and higher standard of living comes at a cost of less time off and less vacation time.

2) The US can stop spending on the military to pay for underfunded pensions or social programs but France and most EU states can't stop spending on social programs. This is becuase the people expect these social benefits and would vote out such politicians or would start a revolution. The pension plans are greatly underfunded in most European state and its just a house of cards that will collapse over the next 5-10 years.... Various papers support that without major changes in benefits and/or shift into a more domestic free market system most EU countries will not be able to support itself effectively becoming (bankrupt). This only makes sense folks - as the saying goes there is no such thing as a free lunch.

3) Medical cost are high in the US but medical care in the best in the world. Our life expectance is not a reflection of the quality of medical care but a reflection of our free society and quality of life. The US eats too much good tasting foods (because the US has the cash to do so), does not get enough exercise because US jobs are less labor intensive (tech jobs) and entertainment has become more sedimentary (computer games and big screens)and since it does cost to see a doctore many don't go as often as they should. All US citizens can obtain health coverage but all don't have health insurance nor is either required. This is something the US must work out. As other social medical programs show if the US goes to a social medical program the quantity of medical care will increase but the quality will decrease.

4) Making unrelated comparisions... Some comparisions just don't show the underlying facts. Countries with small populations with one social majority or one rich in resources is not a fair comparision to a large multi racial industrialised country such as the US. Taking Sweden, United Arab Emirates, or Switzerland and comparing it to the United states in like taking one state like Florida, Texas or Nevada and compariing its economy, medical care, and state tax structure to the United States as a whole.

Hope this helps put this subject into some perspective...

-- Ed Z (, August 09, 2004.


You really cut through the opinionated responses and presented a truly fair, balanced and substantiated response to the comparison between the US and France on debt. They and most of the rest of the civilized world are living in a balloon that will explode in the next few years as they get more and more retirees and less population to support the extraordinary promises of their governments.

Ed, you are also right that people do forget that without those missiles and armies, the rest of the world would be thrown into chaos a lot more often than one expects. We've already had a repeat of Hitler the Nazi Party in the last 10 years. (Yugoslavia: Montenegro, Croatia and Serbia). If the US had not stepped into to fight that battle, neither France, Italy or Germany would have stepped up to the plate.

Back to the original quesiton: The CIA world factbook that derives it's information from the countries themselves reports:

Debt as a % of GDP (2003)

Japan 154.6% Italy 106.4% France 68.8% Germany 64.2% US 62.4% UK 51%

There is another aspect of this debt, trade deficits and another aspect: cultural imperialism, that is setting the US apart.

In Running Money (a book by a hedge fund manager Andy Kessler) he tells a story about a Toshiba laptop. For a typical Toshiba laptop, made in Japan, it sells for about $1,000 US$. Of that, about $50 is profit for Toshiba, $450 goes to Intel, who only pays about $75 for the chip that is their design and built in Taiwan. $50 goes to Microsoft for the Windows operating system that costs them $0.50 to install. If the notebook is built in the US, This is a $1,000 trade deficit with Japan. Our exports were only the email of one copy of the Microsoft Windows software for the Toshiba factory to copy and place into the machines (virtually no value) and the email of the chip design between Intel and their chip manufacturer in Taiwan (also no value to export). So, out of the $1,000 for the laptop, $425 of it came back to the US in profit, but it was considered completely an import from Japan. Less than $75 went to all of the other component manufacturers including Toshiba.

Who cares about trade deficits?

The countries that don't have these good deals going on, like France. These laptops, and millions of others, are built from countries around the world and the VAST majority of profits are being reconstituted back in the US. This makes us richer and richer (and more willing to buy imports) while other countries can do less and less with the money they have. It's gotten so out of balance, that people are now being FORCED by the invisible hand of Adam Smith (An American economist out of the early 1800s) and market forces to buy American built items (that are now extremely cheap due to the exchange rate. The exchange rate is cheap because we keep giving away American dollars to buy Japanese laptops. We spend $1,000 into yen and only convert $425 of it back into $ as the profits come home.

This is repeated especially with US movies (exporting a copy is the price of a FedEx, yet it makes dozens of showings and sends pure cash home.), video games and here's a strange one: toys. Because countries like France can't seem to export their culture with movies, video games and toys, they can't collect the profits and they end up in a worse place.

Although almost all of the toys in the world are NOT made in the US, Mickey Mouse, Homer Simpson Barbie, GI Joe, Superman, Spiderman are all US inventions. The toys are designed here, a "no dollar export" of an email of the design is sent to China or India, the toys are made and then "imported" to the US. The $25 toy is $5 paid to the manufacturer overseas that maybe profits $0.45 The other $20 goes as profits to Fox for Homer Simpson and Disney/ABC for Mickey Mouse. This still means a trade deficit of $25. If the toy is sold in another country, like France, the same thing goes. US companies make $20 on a $25 toy and the toy is counted as a trade deficit between France and China or India.

The reality is that in many European countries life is so expensive, and food, taxes and shelter take up so much of their spending, they have extremely little left over for buying Homer Simpson dolls, movies, videos or any other important.

Why is the US in such a good position?

Cultural imperialism. Quick, name any French: Movie actor? Cartoon character? Rock Star? videogame character? One Japanese actor? If you went to those countries, could they do the opposite and name a US Movie actor, Cartoon character, Rock star or Videogame character? Of course!

This is cultural imperialism. we invade a country with our ideas, our philosophies and our thoughts by bringing in items such as cute dolls, movies, music and games that are REALLY fun to watch and play. They are creative, original and unlike anything they've seen before. With time, the children first, begin to believe in what they see. Subliminally, they are being marketed in the "American Way". Before the last few decades, you never heard people talk about their "RIGHTS!". Now, globally, people believe that their are certain unalienable rights. Sometimes, they don't believe in the same rights as in our constitution, but they do get the concept.

Culture is as much a part of economy as money is. Watch out, with the new information age, we are experiencing a tidal wave that is slowly filling our basements and will come up so high that the unprepared will drown.

In the 1920's and 30's we had this happen with the global industrial economy. It's now happening with the information economy. The scary part is that we don't have the econometric tools to measure what is happening. This results in the false trade deficits like described in the Toshiba notebook computer are nt reflecting what is really happening economically. It will be interesting (but probably not pleasant) to watch the events unfold over time.

-- Larry O (, November 24, 2004.

In my 7th paragraph I wrote: "If the notebook is built in the US, This is a $1,000 trade deficit with Japan."

I meant: "If the notebook is SOLD in the US, This is a $1,000 trade deficit with Japan."

Larry O

-- Larry O (, November 24, 2004.

what a great discussion and site. i have several observations after reading all the responses so things will probably bounce around. its nice to see someone remind us that not to long ago there was an iron curtain, berlin wall.... and the usa had alot to do with their fall. it was costly but we have alot and gave alot. we believe people are entitled to be "free", able to make the important CHOICES in life. thats alot different than being entitled to this and that. we raise are kids to be responsible for the consequences of their choices. we're average americans. my wife and i choose to work 45 hrs. a week, no more. we choose a modest house by some standards, to keep our average 4 door sedans for ten years. we choose to work within 30 minutes of home. we have time for family, friends, service, charity, recreation. me make choices to spend our time with whats important. i can't for the life of me understand the knock on an average lifestyle in the usa. just look around most of the world. and the comparisions to many european countries are absurd when you look at suicide, depression, alcoholic rates in alot of the countries that are held up as models of what we should be. there is always progress to be made, yes, but the average american can have alot to do with that if they choose. we are a very diverse nation and to compare us to a country like switzerland is absurd. answers to economic systems and the like are complex but in america, where we are given sooooooooooooo much choice i believe most of the responsibility for happiness is in our hands. hooray for that.

-- martin funk (, November 24, 2004.

Larry, You bring up great points especailly how the balance of trade numbers are way off the mark.

Great discussions folks Ed Z.

-- Ed Zastawny (, November 30, 2004.

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