Sunday, May 20, 2012

Unions Get a Little Taste

Another of my predictions was that unions would quickly test Hollande's resolve on matters such as retirement reform. And sure enough, Marisol Touraine has indicated that the rollback of the early retirement age to 60 will be slightly more generous than anticipated, because maternity leave will be counted in the required 41 years of cotisations. The unions want other concessions, including the counting of military service. But all of this is subject to approval by the prime minister, who raises the specter of "budget constraints":

Car devant la grogne croissante des syndicats qui mettent la pression afin d'élargir le périmètre des bénéficiaires, Marisol Touraine a déjà commencé à lâcher du lest. «Les congés maternité ou de service militaire seront comptabilisés», a pour la première fois reconnu la ministre, qui est cependant restée assez floue sur les périodes de maladie et de chômage qui - c'est justement l'objet des discussions avec les partenaires sociaux - pourront être «intégrées sous certaines limites». La ministre s'est bornée à rappeler l'objectif par an de ce retour à la retraite à 60 ans (150.000 bénéficiaires) et son coût (1 milliard d'euros). «Je rendrai un arbitrage en fonction des contraintes financières», a de son côté nuancé Jean-Marc Ayrault. Bref, rien n'est calé et les discussions à l'intérieur du gouvernement n'ont pas non plus débuté.

Montebourgisme

I guess we'll soon need a word for it, so I propose "Montebourgisme." Montebourgisme consists in the ringing proclamation of thumping banalities, yoked together in illogical clusters (full interview here). For instance:
"Ensuite, il faudra inventer des soutiens de toute nature : recherche et développement, financement, fiscalité, réglementation, prix de l'énergie", a poursuivi le nouveau ministre avant de rappeler que la future banque publique d'investissement "sera le bras armé du redressement productif, avec la création du livret épargne-industrie qui financera des projets".
Yes, indeed: we must "invent" R&D, because, otherwise, you know, like, no one would ever have thought of the idea that research and development might contribute to le redressement productif. And just having a public investment bank isn't good enough, it will have to be a bank that is "le bras armé du redressement productif," because, like, you know, military metaphors make it sound as if you mean business, whereas the "creation" of a "livret épargne-industrie" means, like, you know, it's going to be everyman who's doing the financing, rather than le monde de la finance, which, as we know, is "the enemy." If it's everyman's passbook that's paying the bills, then it's socialism, and all is right with the world. Except, of course, when the financed venture fails, as many do, in which case le livret épargne-industrie will have to be topped up by the government, because ordinary citizens can't be allowed to lose money on the mistakes of "capitalists."

And just to make sure that there will be losses, we are advised that the first investments of The Ministry of Productive Reinvigoration (how's that for a translation?) will go into sectors that have resisted all efforts to revive them to date:
Pour des secteurs en difficulté comme le raffinage ou la sidérurgie, M. Montebourg a plaidé pour des "solutions viables et durables". "Je ne considère pas que les batailles sont perdues d'avance. Elles n'ont encore pas commencé", a-t-il affirmé.
Yes, "the battles have only just begun." The French steel industry has been shrinking for 40 years, but we have not yet begun to fight. With state aid, we can ensure that it will go on shrinking for another 40 years.

Of course Montebourg is in the government to remind us that, if the Right is néolibéralisme décomplexé, the Left is néolibéralisme complexé. If Montebourg represents the id, then the prime minister is the superego, who will effect the necessary arbitrages to ensure that not too much money is poured down the drain. Only just enough to keep vain hope alive. Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer.


I think French social democracy would be stronger if it could cure itself of Montebourgisme, which, if it had existed at the time, I'm sure Flaubert would have included in Bouvard et Pécuchet.