The FT’s Simon Kuper put out a very interesting article today on the state of déclinisme in France. His argument is coherent and generally strong until the last paragraph where he says that France does not change due to the focus of the people on their social benefits. That’s certainly a problem, but the bigger issue remains that politicians fail to present a credible alternative due to their own interests. Below is the comment I posted outlining my view of the problem facing France:
This is a great article, but I disagree with the last paragraph. I don’t think the problems in France are caused exclusively by the French people enjoying their social benefits but rather by a government unable to make a logical, pro reform argument. Even more ‘reformist’ politicians like Nicolas Sarkozy and Manuel Valls are relatively tame when compared with their anglo-saxon counterparts.
Just last year when Francois Fillon was arguing to replace the 35 hour work week with a 40 hour week and to reform labor laws, Sarkozy is reported to have said something along the lines of “good luck getting elected with such a plan.” The simple truth is, the politicians are the problem. With very few exceptions, they all come from schools that teach them administration and are then fed into the civil service (ENA, Sciences Po). There are few politicians who worked in the private sector (and even less who started or ran a business). It’s difficult to make a coherent argument for structural reform when the only structure most of these politicians are accustomed to is government.
The political system in France is so closed and cyclical that there is virtually no incentive for the politicians to change. The system works for them and frankly that’s all they care about. That’s why you’re seeing people turn to the FN, not because of their ideas but because they present a vocal alternative to this sclerotic (and frankly diminishing) left-right divide. France’s soul will not change if it loosens its labor laws or if it diminishes the footprint of its government. It will change however if the mainstream parties continue to ignore the ills of the country and push more and more voters to the extremes.