Sunday, August 25, 2013

Le monocle de mon oncle

Image by Heart-Eating Mermaid.
It's easy for people to hate the New York Times, but how many of you can drip with contempt for famed journalist of the Edwardian era Steven Erlanger, still miraculously alive and serving as the New York Times London bureau chief? Or get through a first paragraph, for that matter, without drifting into a dreamland populated by Proustian mustaches and monocles?

Yesterday Erlanger showed his American stuff by going to Paris in August, like nobody in history who has ever hoped to speak to a French person in a good mood, to [jump]
carry on the debate he has been carrying on since l'Affaire Dreyfus about how long it will take socialism to destroy the République.

He begins by taking arguably the oldest cliché in the journalistic cliché business, "the German question", as the model for a new one:
Today, however, Europe is talking about “the French question”: can the Socialist government of President François Hollande pull France out of its slow decline and prevent it from slipping permanently into Europe’s second tier?
Europe is talking! And what the hell is Europe doing in Paris in August? If it gets a vacation how come it's not in St-Barth's?
Those close to Mr. Hollande say that he is largely aware of what must be done to cut government spending and reduce regulations weighing down the economy, and is carefully gauging the political winds. But what appears to be missing is the will; France’s friends, Germany in particular, fear that Mr. Hollande may simply lack the political courage to confront his allies and make the necessary decisions.
Ah, yes, it's that wicked Mr. Deficit and Mr. Bureaucracy, Fox and Cat, strangling the entrepreneurs (as we call them in German) who would like to put France into the second tier temporarily! And of course Mr. Hollande knows what he needs to cut because Mr. Erlanger knows it, and he obviously knows whatever the Best People know.

Sara Fanelli, 2004, illustration from Pinocchio.
The French are justifiably proud of their social model. Health care and pensions are good, many French retire at 60 or younger, five or six weeks of vacation every summer is the norm, and workers with full-time jobs have a 35-hour week and significant protections against layoffs and firings. But in a more competitive world economy, the question is not whether the French social model is a good one, but whether the French can continue to afford it.
Just like lobster. No one disputes that lobster is good, but it aggravates Mr. Erlanger's gout.
Mr. Hollande’s Socialist Party and the harder French left have not seemed to grasp the famous insight of the prince in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s renowned novel of social upheaval, “The Leopard,” that “everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same.” 
Exactly, just as the prince realized that he could only maintain his dolce vita by accepting the new world of social mobility, so the "harder" must understand that the only way they'll preserve the five-week vacation is by abandoning the five-week vacation. Are they dumb, or merely not well-read enough?
In May 1968, students at the University of Paris in Nanterre began what they thought was a revolution. French students in neckties and bobby socks threw cobblestones at the police and demanded that the sclerotic postwar system must change.
Mais où sont les bobby sox d'antan? (Pour n'en rien dire des cravates) (via)
Last year, France was ranked 28th out of the 60 most competitive economies in the world, according to the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland. The United States was first. Even China, at 21, and Japan, at 24, outranked France.
Hm. A list where China is doing that much worse than the US is maybe not—not—look, Malaysia and Australia are neck and neck ahead of Ireland, UK, and Israel. Brazil is in 51st place, way behind India, Latvia, and Russia. First-tier Malaysia's an extraordinary place to visit but second-tier France still has that je ne said quoi. Just go back to sleep, Steven.
Via Passa Palavra.

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