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Research Report

Companions in Competitiveness:: How France and the United States Can Help Each Other Succeed in the Twenty-first Century

Nicholas Dungan
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2014
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 28
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. V-VI)
    Frederick Kempe

    Competitiveness—the full range of strengths that makes a country successful—carries as much importance for the Atlantic partners in the twenty-first century as our common victory over tyranny did in the last century. In a globalized world, unless we prove successful as societies and economies—and thus as nations—we shall see our ability to act as models to others, to exercise soft power, and to maintain the appeal of our democratic principles increasingly undermined. Competitiveness constitutes a subject of undeniable strategic significance.

    In their pursuit of greater competitiveness, the countries of the Atlantic community will gain enormously by...

  2. (pp. 1-2)

    Competitiveness—the full range of strengths that will make our countries successful—constitutes an issue of strategic national importance in the twenty-first century. This is especially true for France and the United States, democracies which claim adherence to universal values and are expected by the rest of the world to demonstrate their embodiment of those universal values. Whereas the challenge we faced as emblematic democracies in the twentieth century was to achieve victory together against foreign tyranny, our object in the twenty-first century must be to display to an interconnected world that we are capable of being successful ourselves—and therefore...

  3. (pp. 3-5)

    In the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report, France notably ranks ahead of the United States in healthcare, primary education, and infrastructure.

    Life expectancy in France, using the WEF figures, is twelfth best in the world, at 81.7 years. The United States, by contrast, stands at thirty-fourth in the world with a life expectancy of 78.6 years.³ The United States also performs worse than France on all major health indicators: obesity, chronic diseases (including diabetes), multiple chronic diseases, healthcare costs, health disparities within the population, infant mortality (almost twice as high in the United States as in France), and the...

  4. (pp. 6-8)

    In the World Economic Forum rankings, the United States surpasses France in “efficiency enhancers” and “innovation and sophistication factors.”

    Analysis of the components of the WEF pillars in these categories suggests that much of France’s relative lack of dynamism stems not so much from technical factors but, above all, from attitude and culture. The French are less opportunistic than Americans and appear less inclined as a result to identify, seize, and exploit opportunities, preferring a greater adherence to structure and custom.

    On certain technical criteria, in fact, France ranks better than the United States. For example, in France, there are...

  5. (pp. 9-10)

    French and US industrial strengths also lie in different areas. For example, France leads in nuclear power and in water and environmental services, both of which reflect its engineering culture. The United States maintains a commanding lead over France (and indeed all other countries) in information technology. Moreover, in certain industries, such as national defense or life sciences, France and the US face similar challenges. In all these industrial areas, an enhanced dialogue between French and US leaders could pave the way for benefits to both.

    France has world-leading companies in nuclear energy, particularly AREVA (construction and maintenance) and EDF...

  6. (pp. 11-13)

    The World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report also compiles for each country a list of the “most problematic factors for doing business” which demonstrate, in the case of France and the United States, a strong overlap. The top six of those factors in France are:

    restrictive labor regulations

    tax rates

    tax regulations

    access to financing

    insufficient capacity to innovate

    inefficient government bureaucracy

    The top “problematic” factors in the United States are:

    tax regulations

    tax rates

    inefficient government bureaucracy

    access to financing

    restrictive labor regulations

    inadequately educated workforce

    The two countries share five out of the six most problematic factors for...

  7. (pp. 14-15)

    France needs to increase its dynamism, building on a solid base. The United States needs to build better foundations, to support its dynamism. In both cases, the challenge is to get the balance right between the public interest and private initiative.

    France’s superior ranking compared to the United States on the fundamentals results in part from the historical difference between a consensus-driven planning model in France and a business-driven competition model in the United States. France benefited from a guidance-based planning process for fifty years beginning with the first postwar plan developed by political economist and diplomat Jean Monnet at...

  8. (pp. 16-18)

    Against the background of such complementary competitiveness strengths, weaknesses, and challenges, we recommend that France and the United States expand and intensify their cooperation so as to become closer partners in enhancing their competitiveness. To that end, they should undertake the following initiatives:

    The United States already engages in a form of planning through the Quadrennial Defense Review of the Department of Defense.30 This was augmented in 2010, under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, by a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review at the Department of State.31 The national competitiveness plan, in the US context, might be modeled on these two...