Saturday, April 30, 2022

Emmanuel Macron and the pessimism of the French

Emmanuel Macron has become the first French president in 20 years to win a second term in office. At his victory rally on Sunday, April 24, Macron promised to rule France in a “different way” and to be “everybody’s president.”

Last year Sciences Po, the French research university, reported that when French people were asked to compare their social situation with that of their parents at the same age, only 36% of respondents described it as better, compared with 41% in Italy, 45% in Germany and 47% in the UK!

An Ipsos-Le Monde poll published between the two rounds of the presidential election showed that an identical overwhelming majority of respondents (79%) believed that major social unrest will occur during the next five-year term, regardless of who entered the Élysée Palace. "Most of them are also convinced that the situation in France will worsen (57% if Le Pen was to win; 48% if President Macron was re-elected.)"

Simon Kuper noted in The Financial Times 'Physical security has improved. The homicide rate halved between 1988 and 2019. To quote the writer Sylvain Tesson: “France is a paradise inhabited by people who think they’re in hell.”'

A poll in November 2021 suggested that 78% feel happy about their own lives, but 60% are convinced that their country is going downhill. According to The Economist "Being idealists, the French find that the real world always disappoints. Taught from a young age to adopt un esprit critique, they delight in disapproval. Last year, as Covid first spread, a poll suggested that only 39% of the French thought that their government was managing the crisis well, compared with 74% in Germany and 69% in Britain. Bleak is chic."

In the first round, the traditional parties of left and right (le Parti Socialiste and Les Républicains) had humiliating results: Valérie Pécresse (president of the Regional Council of Île-de-France — Greater Paris) and Anne Hidalgo (Mayor of Paris) had 4.8% and 1.8%, while parties of the far-right and far-left together got 57% of the vote (2 parties of the far right; leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon's La France Insoumise and smaller parties.) Marine Le Pen defeated Macron 56% to 44% among young voters 18-24.

In the second round, Macron got 58.5% of the vote and for the first time in 57 years, a president was re-elected while also controlling a majority in the national legislature.

French economy

The French economy unexpectedly stalled in the first quarter of 2022 resulting from rising inflation, supply chain problems, a fall in household spending and the war in Ukraine.

INSEE — the French National Statistics Institute — reported Friday (April 29) zero growth (0%) in the gross domestic product (GDP).

In 2021 the economy grew 7% as a whole — the strongest since 1969 — after an 8% contraction in 2020. German GDP contracted by 0.7% in the fourth quarter.

Also in 2021 unemployment fell to 7.2%, which was the lowest level since 2008, excluding the coronavirus year of 2020.

In 2021, the public deficit reached 6.5% of GDP while general government debt stood at 113% of GDP at the end of 2021.

Public expenditure increased by €57.1bn (+4.0%) and represented 59.2% of GDP in 2021, after 61.4% in 2020 and 55.4% in 2019 — France leads the mainly rich countries of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) with this metric.

From The Economist: Fractured France

The last pit in the northern French village of Auchy-les-Mines closed in 1974, but the silhouettes of slag heaps still rise in the distance across the flat farmland. They bear witness to the muscular past of the mining basin, which a century ago provided employment to 130,000 people. Today the jobless rate in the area is ten points above the national average. Abandoned mine shafts have become industrial-heritage sites. One in five people live below the French poverty line of €1,100 ($1,200) a month...

For years, this working-class village looked to the Communist Party to supply both moral support and ideological answers. The current mayor, Jean-Michel Legrand, is from the party, as were his predecessors reaching back over half a century. But the old parties of the French left have increasingly lost blue-collar workers, particularly in national elections. David Grigny, a former cabinetmaker who has been unemployed for 13 years, says that political parties “no longer represent the working class”. This year, he is unsure whether he will even vote...

Five years on, Mr Macron has transformed France. It is more business-friendly. Incomes have risen for rich and poor. Unemployment has dropped from 9.2% to 7.2%. There are more apprenticeships than ever before. In struggling areas, he has halved the size of early primary-school classes and introduced free breakfasts. Even in Auchy-les-Mines the president has defenders. “Excusez-moi, but since Macron was elected he hasn’t had an easy task,” says a 70-year-old, standing in his garden in a pair of plastic slippers. On the village’s high street, where the “Best Kebab” fast-food restaurant sits near a boarded-up insurance agency, a tradesman agrees that it is “unfair” to judge the president too harshly, what with the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Yet there is a lingering distrust of the tax-cutting ex-investment banker whom Mr Grigny, the former cabinetmaker, calls the “president of the rich.”

Full article March 2022

In the second round, 85% of the electorate in Paris backed Macron. In Auchy-les-Mines, in the former mining area of the north, 69% voted for Le Pen.

Frances's social protection spending is the highest in the EU at about 33% of GDP.

The French retirement age is 62 and during the campaign, the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon proposed to lower the age to 60 while Le Pen supported the 60 threshold for people who began working before the age of 20.

French state pensions payout more than 100% of the average wage compared with 63% among OECD countries.

French men retire on average at 60.4 years and women are at 60.9.

A French university graduate at 24 who retires at 60 and lives to 83 will have been a dependent of the state in some form, for 47 years.

France has 42 mandatory pension schemes with very different rules.

Macron has tried to reform the system but it triggered strikes in 2019 and the plan was put on hold during the pandemic.

France's tax burden is among the highest of OECD countries.

France's political oddities in the recent and distant past

François Mitterrand — socialist president from 1981-1995, who had been a right-wing extremist as a student — had worked for the puppet Vichy government during the Second World War and he was so devoted to its chief, Marshal Pétain, that he was awarded a high decoration attesting to his loyalty. He could get elected twice as president because people who knew had reason to remain silent.

It took 50 years for a French president to acknowledge without any equivocation the extent of the French state and citizens' complicity in collaboration with the Nazis in deporting some 76,000 French and foreign Jews. President Jacques Chirac said on July 16, 1995, on the roundup in the Paris area of some 13,000 Jewish men, women and children, on July 16, 1942. “France, the homeland of the Enlightenment and of the rights of man, a land of welcome and asylum, on that day committed the irreparable,” he said. "Breaking its word, it handed those who were under its protection over to their executioners.” France owes the victims “an everlasting debt.”

The Stalinist French Communist Party won 28% of the popular vote in late 1946 and it was the biggest party in the National Assembly. Its participation in the Resistance was a factor.

Historian Modris Eksteins in 'Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age' wrote that the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian War which culminated in the declaration of the German Empire in January 1871 at the Palace of Versailles (the Nazis called it the Second Reich. The Holy Roman Empire was the first) was followed by the establishment of a people's commune in Paris. Eksteins wrote, “More people were killed in one week of street fighting in May 1871 than in the whole of the Jacobin terror, and more of the city was damaged than in any war before or after.”

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels saw the Paris Commune as the first example of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat (socialist revolutionary Joseph Weydemeyer coined the term). Engels wrote: "Of late, the Social-Democratic philistine has once more been filled with wholesome terror at the words: Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Well and good, gentlemen, do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat."

However, Irish American Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in 1961 (he was later a United States senator for New York) "New York was perhaps the first great city in history to be ruled by men of the people, not as an isolated phenomenon of the Gracchi or the Commune but as a persisting, established pattern. To this day the men who run New York talk out of the side of their mouths: they may be millionaires, but they are no less representative of the people. The intermittent discovery that New York does have representative government leads to periodic reform movements. But the reformers come and go, the party remains. The secret lies in the structure of the Democratic party bureaucracy, which perpetuates itself. The measure of its success is that it works with almost undiminished effectiveness long after the Irish, who created it, have moved on to other things."


With the backdrop of high inflation and a possible recession in the Euro Area, President Macron will have to raise the public debt from 113% of GDP. It was at 30% in 1974 — the last year that there was an annual budget surplus.

“I am ready to change the timeline and say we don’t necessarily have to implement the reform by 2030 if people are too anxious [about it],” Macron said on pensions after the first-round vote.

The biggest challenge is to extend job opportunities to rural areas with pay that is not just above subsistence level.