Thursday, March 4, 2010

Palier: It's the Jobs, Stupid

Bruno Palier, a leading authority on the French welfare state, compares the situation of Greece to that of France. Both grant a disproportionate share of total social expenditures to retirees (60% for Greece, 45% for France). France as a higher birth rate, which would be a good thing if it could find a way to put its young to work, but it has lagged in that area. Like Greece, it has a low participation rate for the older tranches of the demographic spectrum. Taken together, these factors make it difficult to finance les acquis sociaux.

Jacques Marseille

The death of historian Jacques Marseille is in all the papers today. One might take his passing as symbolic of what has happened to Sarkozyan France. Of modest background, a Communist in his youth, he became a convert to economic liberalism with a nationalist tinge. After retiring from the Sorbonne, he worked as a regular contributor to Le Point. His ideas seemed for a brief moment to have triumphed. And then he was stricken.

I was amused to discover this morning that he felt that the French needed to be taught to love France again. L' esprit râleur had taken its toll. Of course the pessimistic mood that he so deplored was in part the fruit of the "declinist" discourse that neoliberals dispensed during their years in the desert: France was being strangled by its sclerotic musculature, they argued, and would not be itself again until it had been "reformed." But Marseille wasn't a scold in the mold of Nicolas Baverez.

«Le remède, il n'y en a qu'un, donner aux Français quelque chose à aimer. Et leur donner d'abord à aimer la France, concevoir la réalité correspondant au nom de France de telle manière que dans sa vérité, elle puisse être aimée avec toute l'âme.»
He used this quote from Simone Weil as an epigraph to a sort of textbook on the love of France. There's something odd about the mish-mash of things he felt every Frenchman ought to have in his mind's eye:

Certes, on pourra penser que ce bric-à-brac est particulièrement hétéroclite. Qu'y a-t-il de commun entre la 2 CV et La Marseillaise, le pastis et Le Serment du Jeu de Paume, la Grande Vadrouille et le général de Gaulle, Jean Jaurès et le champagne, le bac et la tour Eiffel, Clovis et le RMI, la galanterie et Verdun ? 

But true love is often odd and not seldom "heteroclite." When I think about France, a comparable--not identical, but comparable--jumble of images comes to mind.