Friday, August 25, 2017

Poincaré's Postage Stamps

With the news that Emmanuel Macron spent €26,000 on makeup in the first 3 months of his presidency, les mauvaises langues were quick to make the comparison with François Hollande's €10,000 a month hairdresser's bill. Being historically minded, I thought rather of Raymond Poincaré, who is said to have reimbursed the government for the postage stamps he used while in office. Or of General de Gaulle, who scrupulously paid his grocery bill at the end of every month.

In one of my articles on Macron, I opined that his ambition was to walk on water, and for a while he seemed quite successful at it--or at least at creating the illusion that his buoyancy knew no bounds. Alas, he has been sinking rapidly of late, and not just in the polls. Ordinarily I think it churlish to hold les grands de ce monde to the same standards as the rest of us. But there are limits. It's no doubt excessive to insist that the head of state pay for his own postage stamps. But if he thinks he needs €26,000 euros worth of face paint to be an effective "pedagogue," as he put it the other day, able to persuade the recalcitrant French of the need for reforms that they instinctively "detest," perhaps he could send one of his flunkies to Le Drugstore to pick up his cosmetics at a discount. Pour encourager les autres.


Robinson said...

This is scandalous, but I can't say that I'm particularly inclined to blame the president: evidently Macron was simply following the same budget as Sarkozy and Hollande. It would be nice for Macron to set an example of economy. However, I do not blame him for not beginning his presidency by auditing the executive makeup budget.

Anonymous said...

Their make up is not common make up found in drugstores (it'd run under the lamps) but most of that cost is secrecy. Employees to heads of state are paid a lot because they're among the best at their jobs, of course, but mostly they're paid much more for their discretion. Their ability to ignore and forget whatever they saw or heard is worth a huge premium and is necessary for the run of the country.

While I find the amounts high, I'm not outraged. I'm more outraged by the new provisions against counting abestos-infected workers as deserving early retirement due to health hazards unwillingly endured, as well as against anyone whose employer willingly exposed to harmful chemicals. I'm more outraged by the fact there were 30,000 more students who graduated college prep programs in 2016, and 40,000 more this year, and as many scheduled each year for the upcoming 4 years, and not a single program, university place, or public college has been created to accommodate them (ie., funded). I'd the state had kept up, it could have created two universities - perhaps dedicated solely to bachelor's and master's programs, the way directionals are in the US, but still.
Both choices are more outrageous and impact more people than make-up bills.

Anonymous said...

France is finished if it cannot reform the "code de travail", and Emmanuel Macron is under no illusions about how difficult that battle will be, which is why it is #1 on his agenda. The French cannot have it both ways, having an economy that avoids the government's eventual financial collapse and simultaneously maintains the high level of social benefits currently enjoyed. The recent New York Times article about the revolt of the vignerons in the Languedoc is to the point. I live here several moths a year and know some of the vignerons. Those who are smart have invested to make their wines better and exportable beyond France's kitchen tables. Some have made of their domaines" b&bs as well bringing in a bit more money. And they are open seven days a week. They watch their pennies, but they are moving forward. Those vignerons who continue to make the "plonk" their grandfathers made, are mad that Spain's wines are cheaper and engage in violent industrial actions, seeking that the government protect them by barring their competitors from French markets.
We in the West may rail about the market --and its realities are harsh--, but that is not to face facts. China now makes red wines it hopes will rival those of the Languedoc and supplant them in not only Chinese households, but elsewhere. "Yes!" the market forces everyone out of their comfort zone, and those who ignore its dynamic do so at their peril. This is what Macron is trying to get across. Those of us who follow politics can talk "inside baseball" all we want, but let's not lose sight of what's in play here. If the French want to maintain something of their quality of life (which is among the best in the world) they would due well to stop navel-gazing and look the future squarely in the face: slow decline without reform, progress by taking difficult steps.
The press stories about silly things like the president's hairdresser, or make-up artist are the professional equivalent of "online shaming". Instead of toting up what is to be lost without reform, what is to be gained by it, what the trade-offs are, they run silly stories without policy implications. We live in a global information village which has the worst characteristics of village life: absorption in petty details, constant downgrading of the merits of individuals who thrust themselves into public life, jealous snipes, envious observations.
To be in politics in any of the major democracies of the West requires a cast-iron carapace, if not thick make-up. I hope Macron has both, for France's sake. The French need to be taken by the scruffs of their necks and shaken awake before it is too late to remedy the country's problems. Macron will need all the energy and make-up he can get to put a good face on the struggle on which he is about to embark. I wish him well.

Jessica Sandton said...

Macron should understand that the world is watching. He has the opportunity to change the status quo.