From the Economist ( I was reading it on my vacations, what a great read to kick start my vacations...)
Among the dinosaurs
France’s Socialists have yet to come to terms with the modern world
Aug 27th 2011 | from the print edition
BLISS is it in a financial crisis to be a socialist. Or so it ought to be. In speculators and ratings agencies, Europe’s left has a ready cast of villains and rogues. In simmering social discontent, it has an energising force. A recent issue of Paris-Match inadvertently captured the mood: page after full-colour page on Britain’s rioting underclass were followed by gory visual detail of the bling yachts crowding into the bay near Saint-Tropez. Time, surely, to put social inclusion before defiant decadence.
The oddity is that almost everywhere the European left is in decline. Among the large countries, Socialist parties rule only in Spain, where they look likely to lose November’s election. The only big place where the left has a good chance of returning to power is France, at next spring’s presidential election. Yet France’s Socialist Party also stands out as Europe’s most unreconstructed. Hence the contorted spectacle of a party preparing for power at a time when the markets are challenging its every orthodoxy.
For a hint of French Socialist thinking, consider recent comments from some of the candidates who will contest a primary vote in October. Ségolène Royal, who lost the 2007 presidential election to Nicolas Sarkozy, argued this week that stock options and speculation on sovereign debt should be banned. Denouncing “anarchic globalisation”, she called for human values to be imposed on financial ones, as a means of “carrying on the torch of a great country, France, which gave the world revolutionary principles about the emancipation of the people.”
Ms Royal, believe it or not, is considered a moderate. To her left, Arnaud Montebourg, a younger, outwardly sensible sort, argues for “deglobalisation”. He wants to forbid banks from “speculating with clients’ deposits”, and to abolish ratings agencies. Financial markets want “to turn us into their poodle”, he lamented at a weekend fete in a bucolic village, celebrating the joys of la France profonde with copious bottles of burgundy. No one seems to have told him that there is a simple way to avoid the wrath of bond markets: balance your books and don’t borrow.
Next to such patent nonsense, promises by the two front-running candidates, Martine Aubry and François Hollande, seem merely frozen in time, circa 1981. They want to return to retirement at the age of 60 (it has just been raised to 62), and to invent 300,000 public-sector youth jobs. Each supports Mr Sarkozy’s deficit-reduction targets, but refuses to approve his plan to write a deficit rule into the constitution. More taxes, not less spending, is their underlying creed.
The party is not out of tune with public opinion. The French are almost uniquely hostile to the capitalist system that has made them one of the world’s richest people. Fully 57% say France should single-handedly erect higher customs barriers. The same share judge that freer trade with India and China, whose consumers snap up French silk scarves and finely stitched leather handbags, has been “bad” for France. The right has held the presidency since 1995 partly by pandering to such sentiments.
The causes of French left-wingery are various, but a potent one is the lingering hold of Marxist thinking. Post-war politics on the left was for decades dominated by the Communist Party, which regularly scooped up a quarter of the votes. In the 1950s many intellectuals, including Jean-Paul Sartre, clung to pro-Soviet idealism even after the evils of Stalinism emerged. Others toyed with Trotskyism well into the 1970s. François Mitterrand, who mentored Ms Royal, Ms Aubry and Mr Hollande, was swept to the presidency in 1981 by offering a socialist Utopia as a third way between “the capitalist society which enslaves people” and the “communist society which stifles them”.
Given such a tradition, it is possible that today’s Socialist leaders believe what they say. At any rate, there is a debate to be had about the right amount of market regulation and fiscal consolidation. Yet the problem with their promises is this: for every bit of conviction, there is a shameful share of pure posturing.
In truth, France’s Socialists have often had to be pragmatic in power. As prime minister between 1997 and 2002 Lionel Jospin, himself an ex-Trotskyist, privatised more assets than any of his right-wing predecessors. Even Mitterrand was forced to abandon nationalisation and embrace austerity. Should the Socialists win in 2012, it would take them “about a month, or maybe a week” to confess that they “have no choice but to keep the deficit under control”, says one well-placed party figure. Retirement at 60? Nice idea but, quel dommage, we can’t afford it.
Please allow us a moment of madness
All this requires heroic faith among centrists considering voting Socialist that reason will triumph over fiscal folly. Moreover, experience suggests that the Socialists, if elected, may feel compelled to introduce some signature policy as a sop to their disappointed base. Under Mitterrand, it was the wealth tax. Under Mr Jospin, it was Ms Aubry’s 35-hour working week. With France’s recovery fragile, the prospect of more such lunacy is chilling.
A further danger touches Europe, where France traditionally generates many ideas for integration. At a time when leaders are inching towards more economic co-ordination, with oversight of budgets and even tax harmonisation, a Socialist victory would put the shaping of such a project into uncertain hands.
With Dominique Strauss-Kahn out of the running there is just one French Socialist primary candidate who understands all this. Manuel Valls, a deputy and mayor with a refreshingly modern view of the left, says Socialists are not being straight by promising retirement at 60. He dares utter such truths as “we need to tell the French that the [budgetary] effort…will be as great as that achieved after Liberation”. Alas, the 49-year-old Mr Valls is considered too young to be a serious contender. The day the paleo-Socialists of the Mitterrand generation allow such figures to emerge would be the dawn of a real revolution.
Quand c'est rendu que t'as besoin d'un permis spécial pour ouvrir un salon de coiffure, t'as un méchant problème de réglementation (tout comme 400 autres professions contrôlés).
I wouldn't at all call the Economist as a hard-line free market journal. However, being called "the Economist" does imply that the magazine should at least say things that have at least some connection to economic reality.
I would say that England's deindustrialization was a key outcome of some decades of hard-left socialist government that occurred after the Second World War. Auto enthusiasts in North America and especially still remember their post-war, pre 1980 British cars, that disintegrated into dust after two years. I say pre 1980 since afterwards, they didn't even try to sell them anymore. And of course there were things like the Three Day Week from incessant coal strikes and all kinds of other economic destruction directly caused by government involvement in the economy, with a little kick from the Arabs (which was also a government intervention, albeit foreign). England stopped making things because the core of industry had decayed and was simply irreparable after so many years of nationalisation... post-Thatcher, note how the economy blossomed, and the wonders that Mr. Mittal of India has done with the former British Steel and indeed our very own SIDBEC and a laundry list of other brain-dead nationalised steel producers.
So live this day that you can look every damn man straight in the eye and tell him to go to hell.
En tant que lecteur de longue date de The Economist, j'opinerais que ses auteurs ne se privent pas pour taper sur les tares présumées de tous les pays, USA et Royaune-Uni compris, en essayant d'y mettre une touche d'humour (un peu comme le ketshup sur tous les mets, à l'anglaise of course). Mais c'est vrai aussi qu'ils ont les préjugés solides, et très prévisibles d'ailleurs, ce qui est un peu ennuyant au bout du compte. Evidemment, on trouve des revues, moins connues certes, qui adoptent un point de vue résolument européen continental, par opposition au tandem USA-UK.
Mais concernant cet article particulier sur la gauche française, je ne puis m'empêcher de remarquer que des indices tels que le déficit public par rapport au PIB, sont encore plus défavorables au R.-U. qu'en France. Une chance que le QE (Quantitative Easing, revenant à ce que la banque centrale "crée" de l'argent et achète des obligations d'Etat) est possible chez eux, comme aux USA, mais pas en France, sinon comment trouveraient-ils à financer leur déficit?
Au bout du compte, je suis certain qu'il y a toujours une jalousie dissimulée envers les conditions de vie françaises. Et comme disaient jadis les Allemands: "Vivre comme un dieu en France". Qui va s'acheter une résidence secondaire, ou une résidence de retraite, dans le pays de l'autre? Par contre, pour le jeune et ambitieux travailleur professionnel, c'est à se demander quelle est la meilleure place d'avenir. L'Australie, le Canada, la Chine peut-être? Probablement pas la France, malheureusement.
Très bon article. J'ai bien aimé. JE dois dire que the Economist me semble un peu biaisé (ce qui est tout à fait prévisible) mais il y a quand même un peu de vérité dans cet article!
Daddy Likes It Dirty!
Veni, vidi, vici!
Faith is belief in the absence of evidence.
GO HABS GO