"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Withering Away Of The State–The Slow Death of French Socialism

Francois Hollande, the relatively new French President recently put forth a proposal to abolish homework because it was too onerous on the poor, minorities, and otherwise disadvantaged.  If that silly idea wasn’t enough, he now wants to tax Nutella, the popular hazelnut and chocolate spread, out of existence.  Rather than consider a reasonable tax policy to help France out of their crushing debt and to help jumpstart a stagnant economy suffering from Socialist statism, he decides to quadruple the tax on palm oil, the critical ingredient in Nutella.  As curious, he is raising the TVA tax (a kind of sales tax) to 20 percent.  Sales taxes have always been considered regressive, for they tax everyone equally, regardless of income; and under a Socialist regime, one would have expected policies that soak the rich.  So is the fate of Hollande, a mild-mannered man apparently way over his head.

This mess of contradictions is not surprising says Robert Zaretsky in the New York Times (11.15.12), since French Socialism has always been more inspirational than doctrinal:

In part, this resulted from its ancestry: Several different streams — some purer, others deeper, but all of them flowing from the French Revolution — converged in 1905, forming the Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière.

Socialism’s beginnings were wrapped in mystique, not politique. The promise inherent to socialism, channeled by titanic figures like Jean Jaurès, was to invest politics with a moral and civic imperative: to create a society where “every citizen has the time and liberty to devote themselves to the commonweal.”

Not only that, the movement’s authors and architects were not from the working class, but from the intelligentsia – a group of idealistic dreamers:

French Socialism was a hybrid in another important respect: a vehicle built for the working class, most of its drivers were bourgeois intellectuals. Thus Jaurès, the party’s founder, began as a professor of philosophy, while Léon Blum first made his name as a literary critic, and François Mitterrand always seemed more comfortable with Montaigne than Marx. Leaders talked the revolutionary talk, but never truly contemplated walking the walk.

What has happened is that this idealistic movement, based on faith and hope, is unraveling as reality sticks its nose under the tent.  Although the progenitors of French Socialism were Left Bank intellectuals, they created a labor movement which has adopted their airy-fairy principles, become fat and ponderously strong, and tenaciously holds on to entitlements which are no longer tenable. Socialism has created a monster and the namby-pamby Hollande is no dragon-slayer.

Take the 35-hour work week, a policy instituted to ‘create’ jobs.  Of course while it made room for additional workers, labor costs went up and productivity did not, making French products more expensive and less competitive.  Yet, the labor unions, now considering this a life-long entitlement, have said they will go once again to the barricades to protest if any tampering is done to it.

At the same time, one of the party’s greatest achievements — the devolving of significant powers from Paris to the provinces — has been overshadowed by an even more powerful centralizing institution, the European Union. Given the E.U.’s ironclad rule that a member state’s annual deficit cannot exceed 3 percent, Hollande’s government must either slash spending or raise taxes — equally grim options for an economy that has effectively stalled.

France is a strange country, so out of synch with everyone else, that this fealty to an outdated, fantasy notion of engineered equality, is not surprising.  After all, the same intellectual class that gave us French Socialism also gave us and idolized Jacques Derrida, an incomprehensible charlatan who bamboozled supposedly great thinkers into believing his nonsense. 

France has long believed that it is the beacon of culture for Europe.  Ever since it saved Europe from the Muslim hordes at Roncesvalles, it has considered itself the The Eldest Sister of the Catholic Church; and therefore all Western art, literature, music, and dance owes it a debt of gratitude. 

There is no doubt that France did set and has always maintained extremely high standards of food and fashion, modes that do extremely well in Socialist times.  One would have thought that Socialists would somehow rig the tax system to eliminate high-end, fanciful, architectural pastry instead of Nutella, but no, the rich and the aristocratic still can eat and dress well. We Americans, far from the celestial orbit of La Belle France, have been good students; and like anyone who pays attention, we have taken over.  It is hard to beat California wines and Alice Waters-style cuisine; and New York fashion.

No one will really mourn the demise of French Socialism, but will be endlessly and romantically melancholic about it.  “Ah, Jacques”, Pierre will say smilingly to his friend, “Those were the days”.

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