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Is it true that France sucks?

by Jerome a Paris Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 08:37:48 AM EST


The timidity of the official commemorations, in France, of the bicentenary of Austerlitz, opposed to the ostentation of the British celebration, in June, of the victory of Trafalgar -- which Paris had participated in with elegance--, illustrates one of the French paradoxes.  Whereas abroad France and the French often see themselves blamed for  their "arrogance", the country actually suffers from a kind of masochism which is expressed by a permanent propensity for self-flagellation.

(...)

The criticical way France looks at itself undoubtedly has multiple explanations, and it is a long established national tradition.  But this behavior has spread, in recent years, to the point where it constitutes the unavoidable background of the political and economic debate.  

In the now central ideological confrontation between proponents ans adversaries of neoliberalism, the former have smartly used this feature of the French national character.  Since, rightly or wrongly, France, with its tradition of a strong State and generous social model, has become the most obvious pole of resistance to the dominant ideology, criticisms addressed to anything that smacks of "the French exception" have multiplied.  And since liberalism is presented as "modern", all that does not go in this direction is tainted with archaism or inefficiency.

Almost all the elements which feed the most insistent criticism addressed to the "French model", on the topic of the "decline", are drawn from the liberal "sales leaflet".  Even if this ideological paternity is generally overlooked, not without skill.  What are we talking about?  A State considered to be too expensive with its sky high taxes, labor regulations presented as paralysing, because it is too rigid and protective...  All these arguments, which are presented behind the veil of objective economic theory, correspond in fact to the ideology of neoliberalism.  To amplify the message, the (quite real) ills that France suffers from are presented as a national specificity, even when it is not the case.  Often caricatural comparisons are made with countries presented as models, and which always happen to be of Anglo-Saxon culture.

(...)

The stratagy of the liberals has magnificently functioned for quit a bit of time.  Certain opinionmakers have become the constant echo of this background noise, sometimes unconsciously, without having identified its ideological origin.  But the whole thing is now out of control.  The message has become so prevalent that it now constitutes common wisdom, and applies beyond economic policy.  It is now "obvious" that "France sucks" and all is better beyond the borders.  

(...)

It has now became archaic not to take part in the chorus of denigration.  Any positive note, whether of a cultural, historical, economic or social nature, clashes with this background music must thus be downplayed, forgotten or overlooked.  With the embarrassment of the authorities around the anniversary of Austerlitz, such excess became so manifest that Valéry Giscard d' Estaing itself -- the standard bearer thoughout his career of the very liberal ideas which are used to criticize France , had to call for a "cease-fire": the former president said, on December 11, that this "non commemoration" was due to "anti-French attacks wearying by their repetition".

The above article, by Jean-Louis Andréani, an editorialist of Le Monde, came two days after a scathing indictment of Europe by Eric Le Boucher, the economics editorialist, where he was explaining that Europe was losing its competitivity wordwide and stagnating because of its lack of efforts in R&D. Le Boucher has a great quality in the French press - he is economically literate and knows what he is writing about. But he is definitely one of those opinion makers that systematically say that France (and Europe) is too rigid, too stuck in old-fashioned and inefficient ways, and that the future lies in India and China, or in the USA.

The Andreani article, coming right on the heels of our latest "Anglo-Saxon" spat, was interesting to me because it was the first time I saw that argument explicitly made in Le Monde, with the veiled criticism of that newspaper itself (the opinion makers preoccupied with efficiency and rationality in the face of a rudderless government and losing sight of the bigger picture), and it also agrees with our team that global elites are trying to force the same model (called "néolibéralisme" here) down the throats of the populations of their respective countries, with little regard for national realities and achievements.

I am in strong agreement with that article, but you might be interested to see that it has generated pretty hostile reactions from Le Monde readers, mostly on the theme that "France really sucks today, and you are in denial". So either the article is crap, or the néoliberal "common wisdom" has indeed spread everywhere...


Display:
Yes and no.

Andreani (and VGE) is spot on. There is a lot to criticize in today's France but the constant France bashing within and abroad has reached the point of inanity. Most of the foreign "models" promoted by the bashers have little to contribute when they are not plainly false (holding the UK or the US as models for immigration is downright hilarious).

Still, Andreani misses an important part of the picture. There's a good reason why it's so easy to sell the "falling France" BS. The other side has lost a lot of its credibility. The disconnect is so huge between the preservationist discourse and the reality on the ground.

For instance, the infamous "défense des acquis sociaux", a so-called corner stone of the French model, means nothing to the millions of French workers stuck between interim work and temp contracts. Labor relations plain suck in France, with no hope of serious reform, the field being trusted by ultraliberal ideologues who would not survive an honest day of work and discredited, laughably weak labor unions, overrun on their left by the usual gaggle of coordinations and other forms of ultra-left wing entrism.

France has yet to kill many ghosts.
by Francois in Paris on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 10:44:37 AM EST
That's a good point: the defenders of the status quo are defending the wrong things from that status quo. They are thus not credible, as you rightly point out; the problem of course is that there are others things, much better, in the status quo, that everybody has kind of forgotten.

The fact that the "generous" French social model does not deliver so well anymore does not mean that no social model can be generous, but it needs to work differently than what we have now.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 11:10:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And the sad result is that everything ends being bundled.

A good example: the French health care system which is supposed to be so ruinous. Not only, it delivers vastly better results than the "liberal" model (***cough*** US ***cough***), but its cost base, as high as it is by UK standards, is also significantly lower at ~9.5% of GDP vs ~14% in the US. It needs some tweaking as any system, but all calls for a complete upturn, for instance, by introducing "competition" with private insurances, are based on flat out lies. But it's pretty hard to defend when you also try to defend, say, les 35 heures.
by Francois in Paris on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 11:53:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I read the article yesterday with mixed feelings. On the one hand the author is correct, the French self-criticism is often over the top and tends to ignore similar problems in other countries. However, in spite of his acknowledgement of France's real problems, I get the distinct whiff of a desire that they really shouldn't be talked about so much, a Chevenement style hardcore left wing nationalism that tends towards the mirror image of the syndrome he is discussing. That comes out in the non-economic part of the article.

He starts out with a complaint about the lack of properly grand celebrations of the anniversary of Austerlitz. Now, I tend to find people who complain about such celebrations a bit tedious - for the most part those kind of things are at worst mildly annoying and generally innocuous - get a life and worry about real issues. However, the opposite side, the 'why do we just criticize our past and not show proper pride like [fill in the blank]' is much more disturbing. It shows a nostalgia for the old notion of history as a privileged national narrative whose function is to whitewash the past and reinvent it as a triumphant series of great men and great events that will unite the nation. It is a perfect illustration of Renan's bon mot that national identity is more about forgetting than remembering. Any French person who plays this game should be condemned to being locked in a room with Pierre Nora's (ed) Les Lieux de Memoire, not allowed out until he has read and understood it.

That comes out again in his mention of the debate over the colonial past. Yes, Andreani grudgingly says that the criticism is sort of ok - but note his justification - because there exists a left wing French anti-colonial tradition. And if it didn't exist?

Or take his spin on the riots. Oh no, French people saying this is a sign things aren't working as they should. Suggesting that maybe France could look abroad to see what has (and has not) been successful elsewhere, particularly among those terrible Anglo-Saxons. The horror!

I think that Andreani reveals himself best in this passage:
Le regard critique de la France sur elle-même a sans doute de multiples explications, et son ancrage dans la culture nationale ne date pas d'hier. Mais ce comportement s'est répandu, ces dernières années, jusqu'à former la toile de fond du débat politique et économique. Car dans la confrontation, devenue centrale, entre adversaires et tenants du néolibéralisme, les seconds ont su mettre à profit ce trait du caractère national.

I read this and I hear Lynne Cheney and Fox talking heads complaining about the evil textbook writers who talk about the ugly sides of American history rather than the proper triumph of freedom, prosperity, and the glory of the unique American model. I hear every Polish right winger complaining about historians denigrating the sacred Polish nation by painting its past in shades of grey, rather than a beautiful (and blinding) blaze of white.  More specifically, when he says that decolonisation is too recent to be a 'historical' event I read 'to be properly assimilated into the triumphant Republican historical narrative.'

To finish let me go back to Nora - a passage from his preface and introductory essay.
"La Republique opere un redoblement de memoire, dans la mesure ou, regime politique devenu notre seconde nature, elle n'est pas un simple fragment de notre memoire nationale, mais sa redefinition synthetique et son aboutissement. La Republique se confond pratiquement avec sa memoire..." [p. 17]

"L'histoire, parce que operation intellectuelle et laicisante, appelle analyse et discours critique. La memoire installe le souvenir dans le sacre, l'histoire l'en debusque" [p. 25, Quarto edition]

 

by MarekNYC on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 11:03:03 AM EST
I don't think he meant it that way. He was simply comparing the difference in the celebrations between the two countries. Maybe it's a good thing that the French are able to see the two sides of their history (as Austerlitz is linked to slavery when we talk about the celebrations), but there are also times when it can temporarily be put to rest - and that does not seem to be happening. The point is not the debate about colonialism - it's the debate on whether talking about colonialism on the anniversary of Austerlitz is relevant.

As to your note on the riots, I don't see how you read this in his words. All he is saying is - those that think (gleefully) that this is a specifically French problem are probably wrong. He said nothing about France not looking elsewhere, he is only saying that France is not the only one with integration problems. In this case, YOU are putting spin in his words.

In fact, you are basically proving his point, because you are criticizing him for daring to say that there are shades of grey, and that not everything about France is black. So you are effectively saying that we have no right to say anything positive about France, because that would be neglecting all that is wrong.

And the dig about this article being worthy of Chevénement is a pretty damn cheap one. I am opposed to a lot of things coming from Chevénement, but I did not find this article objectionable for these reasons.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 11:36:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If a op ed writer in the US says stop talking so much about US problems with civil liberties and rule of law - look at other countries. Stop talking so much about the US budget deficit - look at other countries. Stop talking so much about problems with Katrina - look at France and the heatwave. When you talk about problems with racial discrimination and marginalization don't forget too mention that it isn't a uniquely US problem. Hmmh, I guess talking about Jim Crow and slavery is ok, we do after all have a usable national past of anti-segregation politics.  Why aren't we properly honouring the settling of the West or whatever other not so black and white historical event.  All this criticism is just those sneaky purveyors of the European welfare state model taking advantage of our willingness to self-criticize.

How would you read that - as a 'remember, both the past and present are grey, not black'? I wouldn't.

The reference to Chevenement may have been cheap, but I meant it as a symbol of a certain political tradition on the French left that is suffused with a blind, nationalist worship of a constructed Republican memory and allergic to any criticism which cannot be located firmly within that tradition.  

I wouldn't have said that if the article had confined itself to merely attacking the neo-liberal attack on France's socio-economic model, but the author's choice to begin with Austerlitz and then to mention the equally irrelevant debate over colonization show that he is driven by something much more than that.

by MarekNYC on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 12:12:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nothing like waking up at noon to hop onto ET and read some good debate.  4's for you both.  Now, if only I could find that damned French-English dictionary.... ;)

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 01:11:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You make a fair point, but the topic of the editorial is not whether the deficit is too high or whether colonisation is properly debated in France, it is whether it is justified to talk only in negatives about France, espcecially when the debate is ideologically driven and inspired by the supposedly superior systems elsewhere. In THAT context, it is highly relevant, and appropriate, to point out that France is not doing worse, or even better, on a number of measures, than the "systems elsewhere", and thus that holding these systems as examples of the reforms that should be done in  France is not necessarily a good idea.

I know exactly what you mean about Chevénement, that's precisely why I don't like him - and why I found the reference slightly unseemly here, as I don't agree with your interpretation of the article.

As far as Austerlitz and colonisation are concerned, I suppose these were used as recent examples of the trends described, with Austerlitz being particularly relevant in view of the Trafalgar parallel, and decolonisation brought in as the reason Austerlitz was sidetracked was because of the slavery issue, somewhat related to colonisation. I did not find these references inappropriate, even if they are certainly not the most significant one can find.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 01:25:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Eh! Oh! Hein! Mais euh!

Austerlitz is a bit special and the lack of celebration was quite stunning. I wouldn't care that much to celebrate, say, Bir-Hakeim, and I'm not a fan of the Corsican megalomaniac. But Austerlitz, Holy Crap! Austerlitz is Austerlitz, one of the most brilliant tactical maneuvers in contemporary history!

So, just like the Brits were right to celebrate Trafalgar (and the French Navy had no problem to lend a hand and a couple of ships for the celebrations), celebrating Austerlitz once every 200 years is not indulging in nostalgic, flag waving navel gazing or whitewashing the past. It's merely acknowledging the past, the same way the Rafle du Vel d'hiv is properly commemorated.

It was pretty stunning and shameful to see Chirac and Villepin AWOL on that day.
by Francois in Paris on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 11:38:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This I don't agree with you on, (from a British point of view).  I am glad the French didn't make a fuss about Austergar. I wish the British hadn't made such a fuss about Traferlitz. Commemorating battles sucks.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 03:24:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yep. And I can understand celebrating a victory in a defensive war, but one in an offensive imperialisrt war?...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Dec 30th, 2005 at 08:33:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, no, no !!! The Third Coalition started it all! Napoleon was just defending himself in a very offensive manner :)

In April 1805, the United Kingdom and Russia signed a treaty to remove the French from Holland and Switzerland. Austria joined the alliance after the annexation of Genoa and the proclamation of Napoleon as King of Italy. The Austrians began the war by invading Bavaria with an army of about 70,000 under Karl Mack von Lieberich, and the French army marched out from Boulogne in late July, 1805 to confront them. At Ulm (September 25 - October 20) Napoleon managed to surround Mack's army by a brilliant envelopment, forcing its surrender without significant losses. With the main Austrian army north of the Alps defeated (another army under Archduke Charles maneuvered inconclusively against André Masséna's French army in Italy), Napoleon occupied Vienna. Far from his supply lines, he was faced with a superior Austro-Russian army under the command of Mikhail Kutuzov, with the Emperor Alexander of Russia personally present. On December 2 Napoleon crushed the joint Austro-Russian army at Austerlitz in Moravia (this is usually considered his greatest victory). He inflicted a total of 25,000 casualties on a numerically superior enemy army while sustaining fewer than 7,000 in his own force. After Austerlitz, Austria signed the Treaty of Pressburg, leaving the coalition. This required the Austrians to give up Venetia to the French dominated Kingdom of Italy and Tyrol to Bavaria.

Now, of course, there is this little detail of France bringing Liberty, Fraternity, Equality and the metric system to the neighbours in the previous years...
by Francois in Paris on Fri Dec 30th, 2005 at 11:54:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, no, no !!! The Third Coalition started it all!

In April 1805, the United Kingdom and Russia signed a treaty to remove the French from Holland and Switzerland. Austria joined the alliance after the annexation of Genoa and the proclamation of Napoleon as King of Italy...

So, who started it? :-)

Now, of course, there is this little detail of France bringing Liberty, Fraternity, Equality and the metric system to the neighbours in the previous years...

...and the French official language and cultural supremacism, setting off the virus of nationalism (in form of the reaction of the subjugated people). Terry Gilliam's recent Grimm had an ironic allusion to this, making use of the very real connection between the Grimm brothers' work and the French expansion under Napoleon.

An interesting what-if scenario would be to imagine if revolutionary France would have refrained from expansion and reverted to supporting foreign revolutionaries instead.

(It is a less-well-known fact that before 1917/8/9 and 1848, there have been two other instances of revolution spreading across Europe - the first in the wake of the French Revolution. If some of you have ever travelled to Budapest by train and arrived at Déli pu. (South Station), the park between it and the walled oldtown is called Vérmező=bloody field, because that's where the Hungarian Jacobins - exposed by the Habsburg secret service - were mass-executed.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Dec 30th, 2005 at 12:08:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The UK and Russia started to plot first :-)
by Francois in Paris on Fri Dec 30th, 2005 at 12:14:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, who started the Seven Years' War?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Dec 30th, 2005 at 12:37:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a prize question! (No Googling/Wiki!)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Dec 30th, 2005 at 12:45:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now, now, you two.

Why did I say commemorating battles sucked?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Dec 30th, 2005 at 12:26:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Interestingly, I was just having this conversation today with my father (I don't see him often, so we caught up on politics etc).

We agreed that the neoliberals are eager to use, for example, a "high" unemployment rate as a pretext for harsh reforms. But, like I pointed out before, because of cosmetic changes to methodologies, it's difficult to evaluate whether the current rate of unemployment is really higher than at any other time over the past 20 years. One thing for sure though, the unemployment rate, if accepted as uniform from a methodology point of view, is not any higher now that at any other point over the past 20 years. (the highest over that entire period has been 12% something, at some point under Mitterrand, as I recall - but I don't recall the exact figure nor the exact period of peak unemployment).

What's more, it's not because one economic theory dictates that it's bad to have a high unemployment rate of 10%, that another theory insisting that 10% is economically more stimulating than 6%, for example, isn't more accurate.

The point is that governments are increasingly using arguments of "failure" , "doom", "suckiness" to pass reforms. And people are buying it wholly.

An example of fraud, using 2003 figures: people are screaming about the "11 billion euro Social Security deficit". Damn Social Security! It's those foreigners again!!

But, what deficit are we talking about?

7.8 billion euros of taxes on tobacco sales do not get assigned to Social Security (but the Social Security pays for the treatment of tobacco-related diseases!)

3.5 billion euros of taxes on alcohol sales do not get assigned to Social Security (again, who pays for alcohol-related disease treatment?)

Add to that 1.6 billion euros not assigned to Social Security from car insurances to victims of road accidents, 1.2 billion euros not assigned to Social Security from the tax on polluting industries, 2.1 billion euros of late salary contributions for government assisted contracts (contrats aidés), and another 1.9 billion euros of late company salary contributions, you come up with at least 18 billion euros of money that Social Security is not getting ... OH MY SOCIAL SECURITY SOCIAL IS SO FREAKING EXCELLENT THAT IT'S REALLY MAKING PROFIT !!!

There is only one Fraud, and Sarkozy is its prophet.

by Alex in Toulouse on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 12:55:57 PM EST
I'll second that excellent specific point: the Social Security deficit is smaller than the transfers to that budget that have been committed by the State but withheld for various reasons. Effectively, Social Security is used as a piggy bank by the government.

Now that changes nothing in the overall public deficit numbers, but it relocates the problem where it rightly belongs: government finances (just like in the USA for that matter)

Note: in France, "Social Security" includes all social transfers, i.e. healthcare, pensions, unemployment, family support, and a few other smaller ones

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 01:18:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now that changes nothing in the overall public deficit numbers

Absolutely, and this is where the fraud stands => by re-affecting Social Security destined money and then blaming the Sécu, incarnation of our vicously anti-capitalistic Social model

by Alex in Toulouse on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 01:27:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ps, numbers above are from 2003 and are based on the notion that these sums were paid to FOREC (Fonds de financement de la Réforme des Cotisations patronales de Sécurité sociale) since 2000, and not to the Sécu ... that's why suddenly the Sécurité Sociale started being accused of massive and increasing deficits.

But the FOREC was cancelled in 2004, so perhaps this whole virtual deficit of the Sécu has now disappeared, and been replaced with something more believable ... I need to check.

by Alex in Toulouse on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 01:24:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not going to comment on historical celebrations, but I want to take up this issue of neoliberalism.  First of all, the word is thrown around by so many different "intellectuals" that it has practically lost its meaning.  (Brad DeLong, for example, referred to himself as one the other day, but his definition seems much different from those that I heard from the mouths of classmates when I did my sociology minor.)

It's a mistake to say that the future lies only in India, China or the US.  The future lies everywere.  Fifty years from now, we're going to be talking about Africa -- not China or India.  Remember your column in the Journal, Jerome?  "Can-Do France" was the title, I believe.  The French need to lose the pessimism.  That needs to be a priority for those of us, who know better.

If the citizens of France knew they were so much more productive than the Americans and the Brits, they would recognize that France has plenty to offer the international market, and that the increasingly-globalized economics we're dealing with is not something to fear.  It doesn't have to be the enemy of the Average Joe (Average Jean?).

Well over half the world's governments would kill for a 10% unemployment rate and a generous welfare state to look out for that 10%.  An even larger percentage would kill for a nealy-two-trillion-dollar economy.

A week or two ago, French doctors performed the first partial face transplant.  Innovation is not some alien concept to France, and I wish to God the neoliberals -- whom I agree with on some issues (depending on how we define "neoliberal") and disagree with on others -- would cut the shit and quit smothering people with such moronic statements and slogans.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 01:31:03 PM EST
Jérôme, a meta-comment: you link to Andreani's op-ed through the subscriber URL, but non-subscribers can get to the page at this address.

The Le Monde readers' discussion you link to is in fact the discussion on Le Boucher's article; the Andreani discussion is here.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 03:33:38 PM EST
I've corrected the link. It's an annoyance on Le Monde's website, i.e. links are different if you are a subscriber or not, and I need to modify them manually. Sometimes I miss one.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 03:47:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for correcting the links. I was getting confused.

I am not surprised by the Le Monde readers' reaction: yes, the neo-liberal themes are hammered out everywhere in the French media, so people start believing  them.

This said, I always have mixed feelings about these "things are not so bad" pleas, as they can easily slip into excuses for not changing anything.

One day, we could start a discussion over what effectively needs to be reformed (warning, loaded word) in France, if such a debate isn't too boring for our friends.

Oh, and what about Austerlitz? OK, this may have been a brilliant tactical maneuver, but it was part of Napoleon's expansionists wars and was fought far away from our borders. For the rest of us who are not history buffs, Austerlitz importance is not comparable to, say, Valmy, or the Liberation celebrated last year (and rightly so).

by Bernard (bernard) on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 04:36:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're right about the "things are not so bad" approach being potentially stagnating. An approach which I, for one, often lazily adopt.

Reform is in essence always necessary, as a country needs to adapt to changing demography, technology, and socio-economic contexts. And I think that, as I know this, it's somewhat unconsciously that I slip into the "things are not so bad" approach, more as a retaliation against an opposite argumentation which I find to be difficult to accept as being true, especially when hammered by the media, business representatives etc

If I were to reform France's economic structure, I'd start by finding a way to distribute shares to a majority of employees rather than to a majority of obscure share-holders, on a basis that can be discussed in another thread. I indeed believe that one of the main reasons why French companies are reluctant to recruit, is not necessarily, as we're brainstormed to think, because French employment contracts are rigid ... but probably more because companies are scared of taking risks in general, seeing as how the global context is unpredictable, local competition is often fierce, and most importantly because they are told by share-holders that immediate cost-reduction and profit-generation is more important that long-term planning.

In Airbus alone, there are currently 60 executive positions that have been unfilled for over a year, because the job descriptions ask, in language that I'll translate here, for someone who's available 24 hours a day, aged 25, with 40 years of experience. You can see where this is going ... On the opposite end of the scale, CEOs are given massive benefits when laid off and thus don't frankly give a damn where it all goes.

Now if employees held shares, wouldn't a new recruit be less likely to be a slacker, being motivated by the prospect of earning more for himself/herself? Wouldn't a majority of employee share-holders vote against, as much as is reasonably possible, layoffs and such? This is debatable, of course. It's just as equally possible that current employees would be power-hungry, want to keep all the shares to themselves, and be even more afraid of recruiting new people.

by Alex in Toulouse on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 05:23:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
PS: I was told that the new Airbus CEO has been given the mission of doubling share values within a year. How will he do that? How can you do long-term planinng and develop your business acument, when your mission is only to generate money at all costs (no pun intended)?
by Alex in Toulouse on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 05:25:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry for the typo, business acumen, not acument.
by Alex in Toulouse on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 05:26:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
By and large, I'm in agreement with Andreani. Laying aside the points made by MarekNYC (which I agree with so-so), Andreani's main thrust is against the tiresomely repetitive discourse about failure and doom, and the evident need for reform... And France does seem to be the central butt of this agenda-driven language.

"The point is that governments are increasingly using arguments of "failure" , "doom", "suckiness" to pass reforms", says Alex in Toulouse. To "governments" let's add "corporate power", "financial power". Melvin posted a fascinating article about Japan (The Lost "Human Country" by Uchihashi Katsuto), which says this:

the formation of public opinion in Japan increasingly takes place through ideas initiated by a ruling stratum that includes the government as well as academia and business interests. This is called `reform`

By a discourse of `power` I mean those discourses that descend from the `peaks` embodied by the interests of the side wielding power, authority and jurisdiction... ideas opposing it as well as dissenters always end up becoming objects of exclusion by being labeled either `defenders of entrenched interests` or `rebels`.

This is especially deplorable among so-called `scholars` who actively expend their energies in the formation, dissemination and universalization of discourses of power, and swarm around political power.

Though this is aimed against the Koizumi government, there are elements that apply globally. Laissez-faire capitalism has taken over the word "reform", and describes its opponents as conservatives. And the discourse on the failure of "social market models" has become common wisdom. The only thing that "works", we are told, is a more fragmented, individualized, competitive society. And far too many people believe that is where their interest lies, when in fact it's in the interest of an extremely wealthy few which most of them will never join.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 04:20:06 PM EST
The only thing that "works", we are told, is a more fragmented, individualized, competitive society. And far too many people believe that is where their interest lies, when in fact it's in the interest of an extremely wealthy few which most of them will never join.
This is because people identify with the wealthy, not with their fellow working poor.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 04:31:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Only 1% of the poor in 1969 got to be rich by 1989. Only 15% got to be average or better.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 06:41:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Absolutely agree.

Inequality is a huge problem  in the US.  I recently finished a great book by the same name that chronicled how unequal America has become.   There's a group called  Demos that's behind the book.  You should check out the website.  It's got lots of good stuff that I'm sure you'll like, and might find useful.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Thu Dec 29th, 2005 at 11:22:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is because people identify with the wealthy, not with their fellow working poor.

I suspect, rather, that such people are on the whole happy with what they have, grateful to have it, and afraid of losing it. They believe that big corporations and the wealthy class generate prosperity. They don't want to kill the goose that provides them with the standard of living they have.

Go to any 'company town', and you will find that this is the dominant attitude. "Before [the company] came in here, we had nothing."

Class warfare does not sound like a good idea to such folks.

Pogo: We have met the enemy, and he is us.

by d52boy on Fri Dec 30th, 2005 at 10:28:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"I am in strong agreement with that article, but you might be interested to see that it has generated pretty hostile reactions from Le Monde readers"

My ignorance of french doesn't help, but aren't you linking to the reactions of the wrong article? Because the reactions to Andreani's article are here: http://www.lemonde.fr/web/article/reactions/0,1-0@2-3232,36-724653,0.html?, while here http://www.lemonde.fr/web/article/reactions/0,1-0@2-3232,36-724340,0.html are those to Les Boucher's article. And isn't it strange, drawing pretty hostile reactions to an article like that by Le Monde's readers (actually even more than mere readers, subscribers)?

by vassilis on Fri Dec 30th, 2005 at 12:28:47 PM EST
It seems to me that there are plenty of people in Britain who think that Blair and his government are headed in the wrong direction, and obviously a pretty good fraction of Americans feel the same way about Bush. Isn't self-reflection a basic part of a democracy? What's different about people in France complaining that France is screwed up?

I would say that France has some problems, just like every other country, but overall is one of the best countries to live in. Doesn't everybody think that? What's the problem?

by asdf on Fri Dec 30th, 2005 at 05:26:16 PM EST


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