Monday, May 8, 2017

L'Esprit des Lumières

Promising to "defend the spirit of the Enlightenment", from the Turkish French-language newspaper TRT.
I am feeling pretty good about the outcome of the présidentielle in France, though obviously not as thrilled as the Bothsides Twins, who were beside themselves, or at least beside each other, which is virtually the same thing:

Right now, Ron! This minute!

Or Mr. Bret Stephens, who was looking forward somewhat (but not a lot) more realistically to the Macron victory as a sign somebody was going to make those filthy snail eaters, with their "l'amour l'amour l'amour", do some honest toil for a change like the rest of us:

Americans live to work, while the French work to live. That’s the cliché, and it’s time to retire it. If Emmanuel Macron defeats Marine Le Pen in Sunday’s election — let’s pray the polls are right this time — the message from voters will be: The vacation in Martinique will have to wait. First, we’d like to work.
That’s the real story of this election, the most stunning aspect of which isn’t that the French might possibly install a crypto-fascist in the Élysée Palace. It’s that they seem strongly inclined to elect a former Rothschild investment banker who evinces no sense of guilt about his elite pedigree, capitalist profession and market-friendly economic inclinations that include tax cuts for corporations and an easing of the 35-hour workweek.
We have our strapping bucks buying T-Bones with their SNAP cards, the French have their jobless insisting on that holiday in Martinique or St-Barth, I suppose they pay for it by selling their jewelry, but not for long, eh Bret?

That thing about lengthening the workweek, by the way, is the Laffer curve of labor economics: if you make people work more hours, there will be more jobs. It really doesn't work, either, as I saw the other day in a comparison between the economies of Britain and France, which are very similar in size, types of industry, and output, except that British workers put in many more hours than French ones. But as it turns out British workers are not at all productive, and French workers extremely so, almost as much as the productivity champions, Americans (who work ridiculously long hours) and Germans (who do even less than the French), and so the British don't make more stuff than the French, in spite of all this effort, so go figure. But the reason they have more jobs would seem to be their inefficiency.

Macron actually doesn't plan to scrap the 35-hour workweek (it was part of the original plan, but he's dropped it under immense public pressure). The new idea is to provide more flexibility in allowing overtime, allowing workers to make more money if they want, which I think is at least more intelligent (the way to create jobs in my view is through the demand side, by giving working class people more money to spend, and this is a gesture in that direction).

Plus the "liberalization" of the labor market, reducing the bureaucracy involved in hiring and firing workers, which may or may not have a positive effect on employment. Something similar was done in Germany starting in 2002, under the so-called Hartz concept, to deal with the serious unemployment brought on by reunification with the dead economy of the East, tied to an American-style requirement that the unemployed search for work. Unemployment has fallen back to traditional German levels of very low, but it's thought that far too many of the jobs are crappy and low-paying, and "mini-jobs" that aren't even full time. It has also made Germany the only country in the EU where inequality is increasing in the bottom half of the income distribution, which isn't something to be proud of.

And then the cut in corporate taxes, of course. Whether Macron will get a government that is even willing to do any of these things out of the June legislative elections is anybody's guess. His brand new party, La République en Marche, has a complete roster of 577 candidates, which seems incredible to me, so anything is possible, including the socialists keeping their majority now that poor old Hollande has been dumped, or even a wave in favor of Jean-Luc Mélenchon's very radical France Insoumise by way of counterbalancing the new president's néolibéralisme.

There's the one other thing I can't help being moved by, though, neoliberalism or no neoliberalism, in Macron's brave commitment to pluralism and light, the value he assigns to the cosmopolitan and the immigrant in spite of all the racism and fear of the Other that's seemed to dominate our thought-world since the Brexit vote, the Europe-concept and the Enlightenment. That's the "real story of this election", whatever Mr. Bret Stephens may think, it's the thing 65% of the electorate, socialists, greens, républicains all share, because France is still France, goddammit:

Somebody or other was saying for the first time in history we have a president of France who speaks English better than the president of the United States, and it's true. Also, #ScienceMarch.

Oh, and this:

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