The economy of despair in the land of sour milk and stale honey

I spend an awful lot of time trying to work out what French politicians are doing for their electorate. Note well, I said ‘doing for’ instead of ‘doing to’. I should almost certainly rephrase and indeed begin to look at what they are doing to them.

François Hollande chose Pierre Moscovici as his Minister of Finance. If one looks closely at Moscovici there is a distinguished, very intelligent and presumably capable man. Therefore we might assume he understands the French people. His background is eminent to say the least. He is the son of an influential Romanian-Jewish social psychologist Serge Moscovici and psychoanalyst Marie Bromberg-Moscovici. He has a Diplôme d'Études Approfondies (DEA), or Masters, in economics and philosophy, graduated from Sciences Po Paris and the École Nationale d'Administration (ENA), where he studied under Dominique Strauss-Kahn (no comments, please). DSK subsequently became his friend and mentor in the world of politics. From student days on he was active in the Revolutionary Communist League, which he left in 1984 to join the Parti Socialiste (PS). He became president of À gauche en Europe, founded by DSK and Michel Rocard and also formed his own group Besoin de Gauche. He speaks very good German and English from what the French press says, good negotiating tools in my humble opinion in the Nobel Prize winning EU.

All in all, fair assumption should come up with a conclusion that he is a left winger. If he is a genuine left winger, or ‘real’ socialist, then he should have an innate understanding of people, especially of those with genuine social and economic cause for enjoying a better life. That is where I am stumped, to put it simply.

It would appear that each time this man opens his governmental mouth, new taxes flow off his tongue as if honeyed by the notion that revenues enrich the poor. Oh well, he does not list history among his qualifications, so perhaps he just happened to miss the fact that one of the things that drove his beloved money pot, aka France, toward the 1789 Revolution was the fact that people were taxed to the gunwales then. They did not like it. As a philosopher perhaps, but as a human being certainly, he should have picked up the adage that ‘history repeats itself’. Careful not to start a new revolution then, so tax them so much it squeezes the ‘pips out of the squeak’ and nobody has the strength left to rebel. It did not work before, so have a quick flick through history M. Moscovici.

But then he appears to be obsessed with the very same austerity that the IMF is telling everybody is becoming counter-productive. That is patently obvious. If you effectively cut people's take home pay, freeze pay rises, effectively cut benefits and reduce investment that creates jobs, you cannot get growth. Without it you cannot close the deficit. Everything, everybody goes to the wall. So, we now know that austerity is not working and the outcome of knowing that it is not working means that he needs to steer things in another direction. Academic research shows this to be the case to back up the argument and this man is supposed to be academically gifted. Even if common sense doesn’t tell him that increasing public sector jobs and thus only creating revenue dependent incomes cannot lead to growth then one might expect his bevy of clever advisors to do so. Obviously not.

So here we are. Jobs in the private sector are at risk or going because the tax incentives for entrepreneurs and investors are being taken away. In fact, certainly they should pay much more tax, but 75% does not give them an incentive to invest in France. So, off goes production to factories in China , the big boss departs to Switzerland, the Maldives or wherever and nobody but Mr Big benefits, QED. Since he also takes his vast fortune, there is no money for research and development at home. M. Moscovici studied economics, so perhaps it is a memory problem and he needs a refresher course, poor man.

I suppose the UK needs to be popped in here just to give grist to the mill. Whatever one likes to say about the differences, in fact the UK and France are economically far more similar than one might wish to confess. They are of similar size, comparable proportions of rural to urban population and have seen similar declines in industrial outputs and so on. Let us not go into all of the minutiae. M. Moscovici is a good linguist including English, or so we are told, so he could use his TV to have a peek at a few documentaries on UK television. They occasionally show housing estates filled with the largely disenfranchised unemployed, as though they were ghettoes for the surplus, or should we say ‘reserve’ to keep the language Marxian, labour of rapid de-industrialisation, that are sustained by a dwindling ‘transfusion of welfare benefits’ where they are often most genuinely needed. Imagine the NHS running out of blood. No, that is unfair, it is far too plausible. Anyway, this week the British guru of recovery, David Cameron, proclaimed: "There's only one way out of poverty, and that's work," to the admiring, albeit many sleeping, delegates at the Tory Party conference. It was a part Malthusian and partly social Darwinian assault on those who attempt to get by on housing benefits and unemployment benefit. The UK is now a country (sic) Dave has branded, extraordinarily, the ‘Aspiration Nation’.

Pierre Moscovici, good socialist and all you believe you are, I imagine, is this not what you are doing by another route? When I see the failing agriculture around me that this year has been exacerbated by a summer that has reduced certain crops substantially and quality measurably of others, there will be more grim faced farmers marching toward repossession, selling up for crumbs and other humiliating ends to a life of struggle against the elements to which their government has put the finishing touches is that what you set out to do? Tory or PS, people are driven against the wall. All those people see is the government taking away more money and giving less out to help those who need it.

Ironically I also look at the notion of ‘Aspiration Nation’ and think of 'aspirateur', vacuum cleaner, sucking up all there is left to clean out of everybody's pockets here in France and do believe the notion of a 'vacuum cleaning nation' should be taken out of the Cameron book. M. Moscovici could then be said to merely be cleaning up the country, now who could object to that?

Marie-Claire, I actually have the deepest respect for Sciences Po and many other French institutions as centres of learning and the academics. Indeed, I was taught by Edmund Leech who had a career long debate with Claude Levy-Strauss, whereby I am a greater fan of the latter, and also sociologically Bourdieu is my greatest influence. So many great academics and yet they have produced, in my subjective opinion, so many mediocre politicians. So I see these things ironically and at a time when the three million unemployed line has been crossed, see yet another person who should have an ideological background that would put him in a position to direct people away from the deep misery France is sinking into. I saw the 1960s in France, some of us came and supported our peers demonstrating for a different, better life and here are politicians, many of that era at that, who are doing nothing for the people who need help. What came of those political days? Much of what I say is presented ironically, however I live in and love France and do not need to be French to do so and my eyes are open wide. Politicians across all parties appear as blind as each other, just that each has a different kind of blindness. As for what you say about the unions and civil servants, I agree and feel saddened that a country with the intellectual and socio-cultural history it has is sinking to this level.

Moscovici graduated from Sciences Politiques, he had loads and loads of history there. Taxes in France are mainly demagogical: voters (a lot of us are not....) tend to believe in them, especially when you talk about taxing "les riches" (it has never really happened, but, hey, let the electorate dream a little.). The alternative would be changing the whole system, which is something which should have been done decades ago, but our fearful leaders balk at rocking the boat, upsetting for example, unions, who want plenty of unemployed people to justify their rapacious existence, or civil servants, which feel they should go on doing as little as possible while moaning all the while.

The goal of our politicians up until now, has been to do as little as possible for the population while making sure that the people who matter don't get cross and start acting against their personal interest. The saddest is that the French would probably fight any change which would possibly serve them, with the help of the unions, of course.