Jacques in charge

Cet article a été rédigé pour Liberté Chérie et publié dans le Wall Street Journal Europe du 28 avril 2005

France seems to be slowly coming apart. This is the depressing conclusion one arrives at when reading a recent report drafted by Michel Camdessus, the former president of the IMF. But even more worrisome than the lackluster economy, structural rigidity and persistent social problems Mr. Camdessus so distressingly describes is the absence of hope among the French people. There is a complete lack of faith that the future might bring something better in what has become the last collectivist nation in the OECD.

With a centralized and hyper-bureaucratic public sector that swallows 55% of the country's gross national product, the burden of France's government is ranked 122nd on the index of economic freedom by the Fraser Institute. And even though President Jacques Chirac has been ruling the country since 2002 with a comfortable parliamentary majority and the desire for a more liberal economy has been making rapid progress within his party, nothing has changed for the better.

From early childhood on, a Frenchman walks into a centralized universe worthy of the late Soviet regime. Public schools boast a rigid structure inimical to learning, where all creativity and ambition are being killed off. When Claude Allègre was minister of education in the Jospin administration, he talked about reforming the school system. The "mammoth needs to lose some weight," he said. Unfortunately, it is still being fed a high-calorie diet.

Our institutes of "higher" education are not faring much better. France's public universities rarely lead to productive professional careers; the scholastic level of the teaching body, the resources and bureaucratic constraints are hardly adequate to such a task. The universities considered as the best ones are Polytechniques--actually military academies--and ENA (Ecole Nationale d'Administration). Hence, the majority of our political leaders and business executives continue to be civil servants educated in the same frame.
And then there is our chronic unemployment, which for the past twenty years has been oscillating between 8.5% and 12%. The main victims are our youth, those between 15 and 24 years of age, for only 25 % of these young people are employed. In the U.S., it's 54%. Moreover, the average duration of unemployment exceeds 16 months. In the U.S., it's less than five months.

No wonder that our youth feels so insecure and vulnerable. This explains why 70% of our young people dream of working in the public sector, a sector which already employs one quarter of French wage earners. There they benefit from exceptional advantages, such as lifetime employment and advantageous retirement conditions.

So our youth, our future, seeks security instead of initiative--even notional security is preferable over taking the slightest risk because in the event of success it is so poorly rewarded because of taxes reaching 55% of GDP.

Why is there so much sclerosis three years after the rise to power of a president who campaigned on a liberal platform? Far from accepting the inevitably demise of the welfare state, President Chirac blocked the principal reforms the silent majority of French people is longing for. The infamous tax on wealth, which reaches 1.8% of the value of one's property, was not modulated in any way. That's despite the continuing exodus of the very wealthy who are sick and tired of being subject to this confiscatory charge. The law limiting the work-week to 35 hours, a Malthusian and authoritarian interpretation of the labor market, which seriously disrupts the functioning of the general economy, was hardly touched. Each year, Americans spend 23% more time on their jobs than French workers.

And the government hasn't even begun to tame the country's maddening bureaucracy. The state-owned monopolies are still largely shielded from competition and what little market liberalization has been achieved was only due to the pressure of the European Union.

Mr. Chirac himself appears to be closer and closer to the ideology of what we call the altermondialistes--extreme left anti-globalists. He has literally become their ambassador in offering the world that French specialty-new taxes. Witness his recent proposal for a "solidarity tax" on financial transactions to finance developing countries or his idea for a kerosene tax to fight against poverty.

What's more, Mr. Chirac has become isolated in the EU, where, thanks partly to enlargement, a majority now sees itself as part of a trans-Atlantic axis, sharing common values and a classic liberal world view. He achieved this isolation by championing primitive anti-Americanism and brutally rejecting free-market EU initiatives.

Just recently he brought down the so-called Bolkestein directive, which aimed to liberalize services within the EU. "Liberalism is as disastrous as Communism," Mr. Chirac proclaimed. The hostility toward the Bolkestein directive reached such a fever pitch that a furious President Chirac pressured state TV channel France 2 to cancel a debate on the EU constitution with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso because he had pushed hard for the service directive.

For the outside observer, it might appear that Mr. Chirac's Socialist and protectionist policies enjoy the support from a vast majority of the French people. At least that's the impression the unrepresentative but powerful clique of union leaders, who has taken the whole country hostage, wants to create. They do so by effectively mobilizing their falling union membership to take to the streets and shut down the country whenever the slightest reforms are being contemplated.

But gradually the French media had to take note of a "counterrevolutionary" development. While the term "libertarian" is not yet acceptable to everyone--the conviction that only liberty can bring progress and prosperity is slowly but surely making headway. In June 2003, during a wave of massive strikes against a minor government reform measure, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in the streets of Paris, following Liberté Cherie's call, in support of the reforms and against the reactionary forces who claim to represent and defend French interests. If a significant part of the public is not yet prepared to abandon the bundle of goodies the state so generously distributes in the hope of maintaining social peace, an increasing number of French people is coming to realize how grim the future is that their leaders are preparing for them due to a lack of courage. They appear ready to support genuine reforms provided they are properly planned and reasonably proposed.

The French right, though, doesn't believe such reforms will ever materialize under a President Chirac. They are increasingly disillusioned and actually see him today as their number-one enemy. Their new beacon of hope is Nicolas Sarkozy. He took over the leadership of Mr. Chirac's UMP in November 2004, who could do nothing to stop his rival from rising to power. Mr. Sarkozy is an extremely popular politician who has never hidden his intention to enter the electoral race for the presidency in 2007, whether or not Mr. Chirac offers his own candidacy for a third consecutive term. Mr. Sarkozy's apparent enthusiasm for Liberalism and his more positive attitude toward trans-Atlantic relations have attracted a growing number of sympathizers in France, at least among those who understand that social justice and prosperity are threatened above all by costly collectivist solutions.

But Mr. Sarkozy's brief reign at the ministry of finance also exposed him as an apparent advocate of a planned economy, imposing price controls in supermarkets, gave large amounts of subsidies to old indistries, regulated on call-centres. Such dirigiste instincts are not too surprising given that Mr. Sarkozy served Mr. Chirac over a period of 20 years before liberating himself from his mentor in 1995. It is still unclear whether it is Liberalism or Socialism Mr. Sarkozy really has on mind.

So what is France's option in this rather gloomy political landscape which, for the first time since the French revolution, lacks a traditional liberal party? Will there be a clear political alternative, one that advocates a freer and more dynamic nation where talent can thrive instead of being shackled by an overburdening state? Only two years remain to find out.

15:30 Écrit par Alternative Lib | Lien permanent | Commentaires (4) |  Facebook |


well said ! nuff said

Écrit par : sun | 11/05/2005

今日では、主に3つのレベルで会社のヴィトンコピー焦点の事業範囲:特別に主要な時計ブランドとブランドパルミジャーニ時計のシリーズのために生産さアンティーク時計、ヴィトンコピーモデルを修復します。 1995年には、人々との時間は、 時間関連のヴィトンコピー活動や研究との彼の貢献が認められ、 GAIAとパルミジャーニ呼ばれる賞を受賞することを学ぶ。

Écrit par : ヴィトンコピー | 28/05/2014


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