Wednesday, 30 October 2013

François Hollande’s France: the bumble-bee refusing to lift?

As we all know, the French economy is struggling and unemployment figures are gloomy (whilst, in comparison, things are turning around in the UK). And now, according to a poll, socialist president François Hollande has become the most unpopular president in recorded history.

That he is loathed by the right-leaning population is not surprising, considering e.g. his proposed 75% ‘super tax’ rate on high earners. I suspect, though, that the French football league will survive, and Gérard Depardieu’s departure to flat tax Russia is perhaps no big nose, sorry, loss.
 As popular as a Prussian in Paris in 1871.
President Hollande, a.k.a Monsieur Normal

As a social-liberal, I am certainly not opposed to raising taxes in the pursuit of re-invigorating the economy. However, it should be moderate increases, and they must of course be combined with cuts in public spending. But if one, like Hollande seems hell-bent on, refuses to cut or even re-structure public spending, the only instrument left is tax rises upon (steep) tax rises upon (steeper) tax rises. ‘Tis doomed to fail.

Nonetheless, not only the right- but also the left-leaning population seems to despise Hollande. Despite Monsieur Normal having no intention to cut public spending, and recently reneging on a tax that would have hit the less well-off, particularly the agricultural sector. Such policy initiatives was, as usual, greeted with wild strikes; and, as usual, the president caved in (like all French presidents do sooner or later – usually sooner).

France is a country whose public spending ratio of GDP is on a level which  apart from inside the French left  would only be regarded as normal back in the USSR. Still, it seems as if the French left just don’t know how lucky they are. Rewarding Hollande with nothing but scorn and polling dissupport whilst he actually fights to turn the economy around and preserve the levels and character of public spending.

D’accord, it is perhaps not time for a Sixth Republic – yet. But what a deplorable sight it is, the rigid dirigisme which defines the French state and economy, its 35 hours week, its refusal to increase the retirement age, its presidents caving in to almost any erratic strike, its bloated and unproductive agricultural sector devouring the EU-budget and keeping third world farmers out of competition, etc. No wonder Berlin frowns at Paris and takes sole lead of the EU.

Still, maybe this enigmatic fabric is France, and there's not much one can hope to (or should?) do about it. This peculiar, mind-boggling concoction of conservative arrogance mixed with revolutionary intransigence.

Quelle conundrum.

And so it might go that all French presidents, when established in the Elysee palace, see the profound truth encapsulated in that legendary query of Charles De Gaulle:
"How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 different kinds of cheese?"