We have piles of old magazines here at Les Fragnes. And by old, I mean very old. Many are one hundred years old, some nearly one hundred and fifty. I have an ongoing dilemma of what to do with them. For now they can continue to gather dust and provide occasional inspiration for blog posts.

I accidentally knocked the November 1909 issue of Bonne Lectures off the pile upstairs just now, and so had quick glance through it when I picked it up. (I’ve looked at Bonnes Lectures before here. It’s noticeable that since April 1909  illustrations have been dropped. There’s only one in the whole journal which makes it look rather dull. It seems to be rather more serious too.) A quick paragraph about the national debt of European countries caught my eye. How do those figures compare with today’s, I wondered. So I’ve chosen a few of the countries to compare.

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First up France. In 1909 the dette globale (national debt) was 30,350 million francs. For useful comparisons, I needed to convert that to euros with today’s purchasing power. My brain refused to co-operate at first as I attempted to work this out from assorted tables I came across online. http://www.histoire-genealogie.com/spip.php?article398 But then I found a formula saying that a franc in 1910 was worth €2.69 in 2006.  This is close enough for the purposes of my quick analysis. So, 1909’s debt equals €81,641,500,000. The population in 1909 was 39 million, so that gave a debt per capita of 780 fr, the equivalent today of 2,098 euros.

Now, INSEE, the statistical body in France, reckons that France’s national debt at the end of the first quarter in 2011 was 1 646,1 milliard (billion i.e. 1,000 million) euro. France’s population in 2009 was just under 63 million, giving a debt per capita of            €26,129. The national debt has increased twenty-fold, but per capita only twelve-fold because of the increased population.

Quick look at Great Britain. In 1909 it had debt of 19,530,000,000 francs for its population of 43 million. This equates to €52,535.7 million euro and a debt per capita of €1,221. Today the unadjusted measure of public sector net debt £2,252.9 billion i.e. €2,569.5 billion. The UK’s population is around 62,300,000 so this gives us €41,244 per head. Britain is in a lot worse financial state than France.

Let’s just throw Belgium very quickly into the equation as well. Belgium had 3.28 billion francs of debt for its 6.5 million inhabitants in 1909, equating to €1,345 per head. Today it’s €31,560 per head, 342 billion euros in total. Ouch.

I won’t go into the reasons for today’s debt levels. But Bonnes Lectures had no doubts at all as to what was causing it 102 years ago. It was because of the godless régime that was ruling and under which France was dying. There was more crime, more ignorance of religious truth, a deterioration in people’s souls, as well as this increasing level of debt which everyone was having to pay for in their taxes. A link between debt and society’s morals? Now that’s something to think about.