On November 20th, the French newspaper Les Echos (a French equivalent for the Wall Street Journal, basically) published a study from the Fondation nationale pour l’enseignement de la gestion des entreprises (FNGE) testing the skills of French people in economics. This is a very interesting study, but the interpretation the journalist makes of it is catastrophic, which shows that the media is for the most part misusing its power of influence.
What does the study say? Basically, only 33% of them know that CEOs of the CAC40 are elected by the shareholders ; 71% do not know the real cost of a salary for the company (twice as much as the salary); 52% do not know what the field of Areva is; 81% do not know that there are only 50,000 French companies out of 2.6 million that have more than 100 employees; 57% do not know what a dividend is; 82% do not know that almost 80% of the French exports are going to the other countries of EU. And the worst are the following ones : 96% of French people do not know that there are less than 10% of employees having a time limited contract (CDD or interim), and 94% of them ignore that more than 200,000 people find a new job every month.
This is such a terrible study, particularly when we know that most of the burning issues are about managers’ wages and stock options, the power of shareholders, precarious jobs and unemployment. The study shows that people are for the most part ignorant or wrong about those subjects, and this is a serious problem, because it does not prevent them from having a clear opinion about them. Thus (the following is not in the study!) they are easily in favor of increasing the minimum wage without knowing it can affect the economic activity badly and create unemployment; they are very hostile to shareholders without even knowing what their role is, how they choose the managers and how they earn their money (they just think it is too much!); and they think that companies are more prone to outsourcing than to creating jobs in the country. But they do not know what is really at stake in those issues, that the system is usually more complicated than they imagine, and (the most important) that reality is often different from what they see in the TV.
If I sum up the Journalist’s interpretation of those results, French people are ignorant for the most part, and… that is sad, because they are lucky to be served by very good journalists who try hard to educate them about those issues. According to him, French people are maybe either not informed enough, indifferent, or ignorant. He – and he is not alone! – also wonders why the French have a bad image of companies, but thankfully everybody wants to work on improving this image! This kind of analysis really scares me, because it is evidence that the media is completely disconnected from reality.
The statement is easy : French people are not ignorant because they are stupid, but because they are just badly informed! The vision they have of economy is only the reflection of what they see on the TV (and in other kinds of media)! If 94% of them do not know that there are more than 200,000 jobs created every month, it is only because they are used to seeing companies closing and jobs being suppressed on TV and never the jobs that are created. Also, if they believe that people having a precarious status are more than 10%, it is because the media is talking about them in a disproportionate way. According to me, this study does not show that French people are ignorant, it just gives the evidence that the media, and mainly TV, is doing its job very badly and misinforming people about what reality really is. This is very dangerous because it shows the real power of the media and its huge negative consequences when it is misused.
All the French people know the credo of the media saying that people are not interested in trains arriving on time. By giving a biased or incomplete image of reality that they present as reality itself, the media makes people forget the underlying elements that shape reality as much as striking events, but which are supposedly not interesting enough to be tackled on the TV, even in a 1-minute documentary. Thus, instead of blaming the French people for their skills in economics, we would better blame the media for their incompetence and their partiality…