Economy / Finance, Human Rights, Politics, Violence

Macron’s France: unfortunately, Waterloo before Austerlitz!

Feb 20 2019

Jean-Pierre Vettovaglia*

A spark that lit a fire.

The increase of the fuel tax was too much of a sacrifice imposed on the modest French homes invisible from the Élysée palace: suburbs and rural France!
Combating climate change with a massive increase in gasoline prices, while encouraging for 30 years this peripheral France to use it (for cars and heating), is a violation of the dignity of the majority of the French (40 million) and an assault on their wallet. Macron ignored this France, forced to travel by car.

The absolute priority of the French government is to limit the budget deficit. Bercy’s “experts” (that is, officials from the Ministry of Finance) thought that a tax on the poor, hidden beneath the deceptive veil of the ecological transition, would solve the problem. The technocratic and media elites ended up not seeing the decimated Frenchmen any more. Until now, the decisions taken by the ruling elite at the expense of the middle class, the poor and the retirees did not cause any collision.

From this point of view, the beginning of the yellow vests movement can be considered as an inevitable electroshock for a “President from Jupiter,” which enforced a mild but perceptible authoritarianism.

However, we must not be deceived by the character of this movement. Although the government is pretending to see it as a generator of democratic rejuvenation (hence the great Macron national dialogue, with its 34 questions to the population… something between hypocritical discourse and trickery on the lines of “let the people speak”), it is actually a return of the struggle between classes in a primitive form, a regression of those who “are tired of living with the fear of a difficult end of the month. ”
This throws Macron into a confrontation with the “deplorables” (words of Hillary Clinton), with those with “no teeth” (words of President Hollande), with those who “would not cross the street to find a job” (words of Macron). The great national debate is nothing more but an attempt to buy time and calm the spirits. From it, Macron will not get anything important.

FRANCE DIVIDED IN THREE

Upper class France:

The France of the globalized metropolises (25 million people) does not speak the same language, does not see the same things, and does not have the same goals as the France of the suburbs (40 million people). We can see in France, like everywhere else, a fracture between the metropolitan elites and the periphery, an arrogance of the elites with regard to ordinary people, the complacency of the dominant class in regard to the poor, the disdain, today, for the losers of globalization, and tomorrow, for the victims of new technologies and artificial intelligence. The government can only play by the rules of the ruling party: “to be even more radical in our methods,” says government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux. He is the one who saw the protesters as “some agitators who smoke and use diesel engines,” showing the Manicheism of those in the oligarchy and its technocracy, which is certainly a reason for joy for democracies in Central Europe, to whom Macron wanted to give a lesson… Paris is trying to find a solution at any price, but it does not have the necessary keys, as we will see below. All those who tend not to see the genuine French in France (those whom the right-wing press calls “the nation’s gravediggers”), but who are ready to receive individuals of any origin, religion or culture… are losing their minds. The Government remains convinced, with obstinacy and certainty, that it represents the voice of reason. As early as 1835, Guizot, then the Minister of Public Instruction, said: “We are the ones who have the intelligence of modern times.” The technique is as old as the world we live in: to emphasize the threat of chaos in order to avoid responding to the demands of “dangerous” social classes. But if you vilify the poor people, you make them an internal enemy, and this mistake exacerbates the hatred.

The yellow vests ask: “When will you understand us?”. But the power holders have long understood what this is about. They just do not want to hear. Privileges must be preserved, wealth must be protected. And the government cannot say, as Casimir Perrier, President of the Council, did in 1832: “Workers need to know that there is no other solution for them other than patience and resignation.”

Lower class France:

The sociology of the movement of the yellow vests is too diverse to rise into a common vision or political party. What binds the movement is the ritualistic contempt for the “upper ones” and for the established political powers, as shown by the insistence on the reintroduction of the wealth tax, previously abolished. The movement finds its common goals in sacrificing the leaders, as well as in consumerist personal claims, accentuated by the envy of the rich. The established power is held responsible, in addition to the burden of constantly increasing taxes, for a whole range of frustrations and daily constraints that are the consequence of the gap between the resources actually available to households (salaries, allowances, annuities) and their economic requirements. The “politicians” – the prince and all the elected ones – are the scapegoat.

Once again, the utopia desired by the yellow vests would be a people who would directly and immediately order an almighty state to answer its demands, and who would be entirely devoted to them and their needs if the indifferent, selfish and corrupt political representatives would be removed. The yellow vests and their protest vehemence believe in the “power of power”, that is to say, using all state instruments for the benefit of the citizens. There is a double regression here: it is an impossible blackmail, a capricious rage, a Jacquery of times past. And it has to be said that without any new urgent and immediate professional training these yellow vests are condemned to become tomorrow the unemployed of the new technologies and artificial intelligence. Their infinite search for gratitude and goodwill is condemned from the start. Undoubtedly, 30-40% of the population will have to be content in the near future with a universal income, designed for the unemployed, a realistic perspective of modern times. Tantrums, on the one hand, and the almighty state, caught with lacking of empathy, on the other. In fact, it has to be known that the French people have always been opposed to economic liberalism.

Of course, the yellow vests do not represent France, even if they reuse the slogan “We are the people”. They have to understand that they want their place in a system that has rejected them. It is what the Germans in the East chanted in 1989, before the fall of the Berlin Wall: “Wir sind das Volk”. The ones in power cannot remain insensitive to this struggle. It is aberrant to mobilize 80,000 people every Saturday to secure the big cities of France.

I don’t think that we offend someone if we note that our French friends are the champions of endless complains, continuous tears, permanent lamentations about their own fate, always wanting everything and the opposite of it: fewer taxes and more public spending, while work is not their strong point… The president called them “rebellious Gauls” and “hostile crowd.” They are not rebellious, they are ungovernable.

They are ungovernable because, as a result of ignorance or simply stupidity, they want to continue to live in a total denial of the economic reality. “There is not enough sense of effort,” said Macron in a provocative way. Indeed, France is the country that lives above its capacity, excessively in debt, where people work less than elsewhere, produce less than elsewhere and less wealth and growth is created compared to other countries. The French, however, claim the same standard of living and the same increase in purchasing power as in Germany, Sweden or the United States, which have much better collective performance. The French are opposed to reforms that have been successful for their neighbours. This country in agony is showing off as a  revolutionary driving force to better conceal the ultraconservatism of its popular masses. This ultraconservatism is what scares all the ideologues of the deconstruction of our societies, meaning the dominant intellectual elites.

France of the Islamic suburbs

According to the Ministry of the Interior, in France there are almost 350 areas where the law is not applicable, i.e. suburbs under the control of Islamic radicals and drug traffickers (a market of two billion Euros per year, involving 200,000 people in France). This third France does not appear in the current turbulence, does not seem to claim anything, acts like an obedient child, but undoubtedly supplies the bulk of the squadrons of violent people that discredit the declared pacifism of the yellow vests demonstrations. In this counter-society, conquered by drug trafficking and fundamentalism, the Republic is not making an effort to arrest drug traffickers and scoundrels, shut down Salafist mosques, expell aggressive and extremist imams. Jihadists have found refuge in the multicultural society desired by the President of the Republic and left-wing intellectual elites. Frankly, the “violence professionals” in France do not seem to be traumatized by a French state that too often yields rather than confronting them.

Contradictions. “THUS, RIP OUT THE TONGUE OF THE CROWD!”

I. “I have never met a liberal Frenchman,” said a famous critic in the nineteenth century. Indeed, those who despise this popular uprising cannot stand to see it emancipating from the thinking patterns imposed by the elites. Intellectuals are desperate that they no longer control anything. French pseudo-celebrity Bernard-Henri Lévy, who was so prompt in defending the Libyan people, the Kurds, the Ukrainian “democratic revolution”, promises to the yellow vests, who claim their place in the French society, that they will end up in the garbage bin of history! His lack of understanding of popular resistance in France reveals him as a bad Frenchman: the one who supports division. Journalists, who over the last decade did nothing but defend the unique thinking and political correctness, are bothered by fact that they are no longer respected. And yet there is the contradiction here: how to understand the paradox of the hostility to the current political representation, accompanied by expectations regarding the same political power – to increase the purchasing power of the people! The yellow vests denounce the arrogance of politicians and at the same time expect the state to free them from the daily constraints which are suffocating them… As if it were enough for the state to hear their wishes in order to grant them.

II. The French state has the highest taxes but also redistributes the most. In 1945, France created the social security system and today shows over 56% of public spending – the largest percentage of GDP in Europe, a French peculiarity, the other European states choosing less generous options – mostly dedicated to the administration, healthcare, pensions and assistance for the unemployed. France should have been the least likely country in Europe to face a yellow vests riot! It is a country where retirement intervenes far too early and where the 35 compulsory hours of work per week are often a purely theoretical requirement. Lionel Jospin, at that time the Prime Minister of France, introduced the 35 hours of work per week that gave France the image of a country where little effort is made and little work is done, where sacrifices aren’t even a possibility. President Hollande and his 75% tax on revenue of over one million Euros, acting as a confiscation, also ruined the image of France abroad, discouraging capable people from coming and causing local entrepreneur to flee (along with their own capital and businesses).

Less than half of the French pay income tax and many consider it possible and normal to live off the back of others. According to economist Frédéric Bastiat, the definition of the state is “a great fiction, through which all strive to live at the expense of everybody.”

2% of households pay 42% of direct taxes. Any French will be in favour of the taxes that hit others. In Coriolan, Shakespeare had warned against the inconsistencies of the crowds: “Rip off the tongue of the crowd so that it does not lick the pains that poison it.” This risk is great in France, where, as Tocqueville has already remarked, everyone considers it normal to ask for a privilege: “Every applicant asks for an exception from the established rules that favours him, with such insistence and authority, as if he were asking to join the system.”

So how do you satisfy this bundle of claims?

By increasing the overall income (wages, pensions, social benefits, salary of freelancers)? But France has a public debt of over 2 300 billion Euros, representing 100% of GDP. Every month it is borrowing 17 billion euros from the market. This country is in deep debt, and one day it might well become a hostage to the IMF and quotation agencies because of the increase in interest rates…

By massive deduction of taxes (mandatory levies)? But if there are fewer taxes, there will be fewer expenses…

Massive decrease of expenses? For 30 years, no French government risked such a thing (France never had a Mrs. Thatcher or a Mr. Schröder). Less spending means less public administration (it is true that in France public administration is oversized) and fewer public services. And yet there is much to be done about it, for there are a lot of unnecessary but very well-paid niches that can be removed.

By restoring public services – because at the moment the public transport, schools, hospitals are decreasing in numbers – in suburb France? But that would be contrary to the cost effectiveness doctrine.

By exponentially growing the debt? This is happening, and France has lost its sovereignty by adopting the Euro. It is therefore constrained by criterias in regard to public debt that it must observe. Too bad you cannot go on devaluating the French Franc (devaluations were so common in the history of the French franc).

THE EARTH CONTINUES TO SPIN…

Are there solutions? France has to adopt reforms, but so far it has proven incapable of doing so. Can it only change by means of revolutions? We certainly do not want that. The current political power is trying at all costs to avoid a political solution to this chronic crisis, such as the dissolution of the National Assembly. But what can you do when you are caught between a part of the population that the difficulties of the present and the uncertainties of tomorrow make it hostile to its rulers and a confused power, which does not know what to do to calm the spirits? What to do when you promised in your electoral program that you will cut public spending, only to immediately remove the measures that would have done just that? Distributing some material compensation, despite very strict budgetary constraints, will not be enough. The great national debate only serves to satisfy the taste of the French for endless talk, a formula already used without success by Louis XVI, with his “notebooks of wishes” for the General Assembly… just before the Revolution!

Increasing the retirement age and increasing the working hours, making enormous savings on public spending, reindustrialization and computerization of France (without industrialization, exports will be even lower, and research / development, reduced) in the current circumstances, seem illusory, in the best case scenario. Abolishing the habitat tax forced the state to search in the pockets of the French to offset the amount (50 billion euros for the five-year term of the current president). Faced with the confusion of public powers, we are dealing with the irrational and primary anti-parliamentarism. The famous division between metropolitan elites and peripheral France is part of modern life in our societies dominated by the rise in power of the materialistic individualism and the search for profit at any cost. A society that slowly decreases the value of work and dedicate itself to the financialisation of capitalism, with quantitative easing as a new gadget…

Deleting common values, starting with the attachment to the nation and its history and culture, does not encourage respect for its institutions. The arrogance of the elites and their contempt for poor people, even less so. All that is left to do is dance on the edge of the abyss. Something we have done quite well for centuries, even for millennia. And the Earth continues to spin. And the yellow vests, lacking organization and objectives, will have to step back in line and take their lives into their own hands, just like billions of other people on this planet do, people who are much worse off than them.

For the remaining time of the five-year term of the current president, France will sail between the cacophony, the cauldron of witches, and Pandora’s box (how many simplistic injunctions and how many crazy ideas will come out of this box!). After promising “goodwill” and “calm” during his campaign, Macron faced his Waterloo disaster without ever seeing the sun of victory rising over Austerlitz.

There will be no real growth in purchasing power in France without lowering state spending and without creating paid jobs derived from industry and the sectors it generates. Certainly, it will not lead to another Revolution but rather, in the long run, if nothing changes, to structural adjustment programs under the IMF’s oversight… The current government cannot stay with its head in the sand. Would the National Assembly have to be dissolved and elections with a greater emphasis on proportional voting be held? How can you manage the shortages and give in to demagogic demands? Personally, I’m afraid that everything is moving towards a drama…

Indeed, the President’s speech about a project that links the modernization of France and the restoration of Europe does not stimulate the hearts, nor the spirit. The crisis of the yellow vests has been triggered when the President lost legitimacy and the suspicion towards institutions grew (presidency, actors of democratic life, political parties, political staff, trade unions, not forgetting about the media) to a level unprecedented since 1958. The crisis of democracy in France is rooted in fundamental trends that do not offer short-term solutions: the stagnation of the income for the majority of the population, the irresistible increase in inequalities, the destabilization of the middle and lower class because of the effects of globalization and the digital revolution, the loss of cultural values of indigenous peoples, and the identity confusion created by the fear of immigration and an expanding Islam, increasing insecurity, the decreasing legitimacy of leaders and political institutions.

The veritable antidote, meaning the regeneration of liberal democracy, is not available to Emmanuel Macron, nor to any of the current French political figures. The state of crisis is diffused and profound, of unprecedented magnitude. The solution will be very difficult to find.

It involves an enormous “conscience examination” on the part of the political elites who will have to reconsider their exercise of power in a more favourable way for the whole of the national community. In short: to finally reform the structures of an outdated state. For now, a large number of Frenchmen no longer tolerate the state of injustice and bankruptcy they see around them.

hyperlink to Q magazine: https://www.qmagazine.ro/macrons-france-unfortunately-waterloo-before-austerlitz

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*The former Ambassador Jean-Pierre Vettovaglia, now Bank administrator and invited professor, made an analysis about the downfall of France during Macron’s time. The article was published by Q Magazine, a monthly political magazine in Romania, no 227, February 2019

 

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