President Sarkozy campaigned as something of a radical – promising what he called a “rupture” with past complacency. He was certainly a preferable alternative to his opponent, Segolene Royal, a clueless knee-jerk socialist, as well as to his predecessor, the feckless Chirac. But while Sarkozy did seem to see things pretty clearly, he turned out to have a touch of “French disease” himself.
His “rupture” reforms have been tepid, timid, not biting the bullet, hardly even licking the bullet. Sometimes he talks as though he understands economics, and other times he spouts the conventional French economic nationalism and dirigisme that has been that country’s curse. Such as his silly declaration that “capitalism is dead.” It’s hard to tell whether Sarkozy is just playing the cynical politician pandering to French foolishness, or really believes some of the absurdities he spouts.
So now we have the controversy over raising the retirement age from 60 to 62. Past efforts at reforms of that kind have typically run aground in the face of bloody-minded street demonstrations and strikes (which wrecked the Juppe premiership in 1997 and permanently removed the testicles from Chirac). So the reactionary unions and their allies have once more mounted the battlements to oppose what is, after all, a reform that is obviously necessary and indeed far short of what is really needed. And I must say that the otherwise disappointing Mr. Sarkozy deserves some credit for refusing to cave in.
Apparently there are some people in France who have brains. Unfortunately they don’t have the vocal chords of the ones who don’t have brains. The French mostly seem to have the opinion that they can keep on retiring early with fat pensions after having worked 37-1/2 hour weeks with lengthy vacations and generous family leave allowances, etc., notwithstanding the fact that the working population (if you can call that “working”) is inexorably shrinking and the population collecting public benefits is exploding. They just do not seem capable of comprehending that somebody has got to do productive work in order for society to fund all those generous allowances and benefits. They seem to think they have an unalienable right to do ever less work and collect ever more benefits.
But in fairness to the French, they are not the only ones suffering from this misunderstanding. The connection between, on the one hand, what government or society doles out, and, on the other hand, productive work, is a connection that usually is absent from political discourse. We’ve seen it as well in Greece. And with the American left.
Well, as of now, Sarkozy’s re-election seems unlikely. The leading candidate appears to be Socialist Martine Aubry – who was responsible for reducing the standard work week to 37-1/2 hours. Just the person France needs.