Reflections on the (Non-)Revolution in France

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.


4 Responses to “Reflections on the (Non-)Revolution in France”

  1. Steven Says:

    The most amazing part about the demonstrations are the students… they have the least to gain and the most to lose. Are they really that stupid or is demonstrating easier than studying, working or being a hooligan at a football match?

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I’m french, but faaarrr from this country (if you know you boat is going to be wrecked, you just leave as soon as possible), in Hong Kong.
    It’s pretty easy to understand France (yes) you just need to remember that

    _Not knowledge about economy for the general population, at best you have keynesian talking, most of the time, it’s socialist, never people advocating liberalism. Even if we had a really good economist in the XIX nammed “Bastiat”, nobody, talk about him…

    Bassically people are not more stupid than anywhere else, they just have no clue about economy, therefore they believe the brainwasher from the government, the syndicate and other communist “capitalism is dead” “free market is like a jungle”…

    _The students are on strike, because they want to avoid going to school (now its holliday in France, student stopped the strike… strange right)

    _Most people on strike also, do it because they want to preserve their own interest, they have special retirement plan etc…

    _probably less than a million people on strike, a country of 65 millions people……..

  3. Lee Says:

    I know nothing about what’s going on in France, but I do know a little about the parallel issue in the USA. In the USA we need to raise the retirement age to reflect actuarial trends in lifespans, but we can’t because social security is too low. That is, social security is indexed only to inflation instead of the per capita Gross Domestic Product. The latter, which measures the average amount produced (and hence the average amount consumed by or sold by) a person in the US, is the perfect yardstick for indexing social security. Whey don’t seniors deserve a standard of living proportional to that enjoyed by their average neighbors?

    If we correct social security to the right index, retroactive to Reagan who got us on this wrong track, and simultaneously raise the retirement age, we may be able to keep benefits roughly where they are (for those who insist on retiring at an age that is “early” by today’s standards). And we’ll also be on the right course for the future.

    That’s my 2&cents;, anyway.

    It’d be cool to index the minimum wage to the per capital GDP for exactly the same reason.

  4. Lee Says:

    I apologize to Ronald Reagan. The indexing to CPI-W began before him, in 1975, which is during the Ford administration.

    And a clarification, per capital GDP tracks the combination of inflation and increased productivity, which is why it makes a good number for indexing benefits.

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