"Chirac's Real Failure"

WaPo columnist David Ignatius, who recently spent four years in Paris as the editor of the International Herald Tribune, writes that Jacques Chirac "richly deserves the scorn that will be shoveled his way" as result of France's rejection of the EU constitution.

"Whatever their class, age or political orientation," says Ignatius, "French people want to conserve what they've got. They want to maintain inflexible management and labor unions, six-week vacations, a 35-hour workweek -- and also to be a growing, dynamic, entrepreneurial economy. Chirac never had the guts to tell the French they couldn't have it both ways. He never explained that rigid labor rules had led to a high unemployment rate, currently 10.2 percent."

According to Ignatius, "Chirac's real failure was his inability over two terms as president to level with the French people about the changes that are needed to protect the way of life they cherish. He played games with economic reform -- tiptoeing up to the edge and then pulling back at any sign of public displeasure."

Ignatius concludes that, "The French people are right to worry about the future. With their current economic structure, they'll never make it."

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  • ||

    Bastiat already definitively covered this aspect of the French mentality over 150 years ago:

    http://www.econlib.org/library/Bastiat/basEss5.html#Chapter 5

    In the midst of this tumult, and after the country had changed its "state" two or three times for not having satisfied all these demands, I tried to point out that they were contradictory. Good Lord! What was I thinking of? Could I not keep this unfortunate remark to myself?

    So here I am, discredited forever; and it is now an accepted fact that I am a heartless, pitiless man, a dry philosopher, an individualist, a bourgeois - in a word, an economist of the English or American school.

    Oh, pardon me, sublime writers, whom nothing stops, not even contradictions. I am wrong, no doubt, and I retract my error with all my heart. I demand nothing better, you may be sure, than that you should really have discovered outside of us a benevolent and inexhaustible being, calling itself The State, which has bread for all mouths, work for all hands, capital for all enterprises, credit for all projects, ointment for all wounds, balm for all suffering, advice for all perplexities, solutions for all problems, truths for all minds, distractions for all varieties of boredom, milk for children and wine for old age, which provides for all our needs, foresees all our desires, satisfies all our curiosity, corrects all our errors, amends all our faults, and exempts us all henceforth from the need for foresight, prudence, judgment, sagacity, experience, order, economy, temperance, and industry.

    And why should I not desire it? Heaven forgive me! The more I reflect on it, the more I find how easy the whole thing is; and I, too, long to have at hand that inexhaustible source of riches and enlightenment, that universal physician, that limitless treasure, that infallible counselor, that you call The State.

  • ||

    Hmm. Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

  • Sam Grove||

    They are such sublime feelers.

  • ||

    Anyone hear any good jokes tying this event to that oh so never stale observation about the French's record during wartime.

  • ||

    Reminds me of the American public and our reactions to Social Security reform.

  • ||

    I don't know if the French will never make it with what they've got. Never is a long time. It may be that the American ship will sink under the weight of never-ending military adventures, a debt-ridden population working overtime to make ends meet, and a crime-prone underclass. A blinkered American chauvinism dreams the American dream, but reality is another matter.

  • ||

    NoStar and Alan,
    Yours were my thoughts.
    Give Bush credit for touching the third rail, but unless he begins to get some money from the empire he's building--as they did back during the days of the Roman Empire--we're headed for bankruptcy as a nation because of spending on Star Wars defense systems, Homeland Security, the Hydra of the War on Terror, Drugs, Non-Bible-Thumpers, etc.

    Memorial Day is a day for a peacenik to lay low.
    And, hell, I was a Marine officer, in a previous life.

  • ||

    Hmm ... let he whose government isn't spending like a drunken sailor and whose currency isn't devaluing by the day, cast the first stone.

    French bashing is really best left to conservatives whom one expects unpricipled nationalism from anyway. Freedom fries anyone?

  • ||

    http://www.jamesglaser.org/

    Continuing my Memorial Day peacenik thoughts from above, I just bookmarked the above.

  • ||

    They want to maintain inflexible management and labor unions, six-week vacations, a 35-hour workweek -- and also to be a growing, dynamic, entrepreneurial economy.

    Doesn't this just make them "the Americans of Europe"?

  • Jay||

    Nice site...would you be interested in exchanging links?

  • ||

    independent worm, who the hell over here gets a six-week vacation?

  • ||

    whats interesting is that French citizens as a whole and the french government are much more wealthy, transparent, and efficient than most governments on earth. Try russian, burmese or Mozambiquian or 100 other countries transparency, wealth for the average joe, or effciency and France looks down right awesome in comparison.

  • ||

    Russia?
    Burma?
    Mozambique?
    Why on earth did you pick those three countries? Two 3rd world countries and an ex-communist state being ruled by a quasi-dictatorship... France should be proud to be superior to them.

    I, as a whole, and prettier, smarter, and more charming than most people on earth. Try the Elephant Man, Forrest Gump, and Ivan the Terrible, and I look down right awesome in comparision.

  • Tom Dooley||

    Isn't that Ignatius guy a pretty well known spy pretending to be a newspaper editor?

  • ||

    I don't know about transperancy. Due to their policitical system, backroom deals are pretty much how everything gets done there. Part of the reason that the referendum failed was that the populace was fed-up at the political elite.

  • R C Dean||

    Hmm ... let he whose government isn't spending like a drunken sailor and whose currency isn't devaluing by the day, cast the first stone.

    I'm a little confused. Since the Euro is dropping like a stone, and the French have a structural debt that dwarfs our in relative terms, is this comment aimed at the US or France?

  • MP||

    EU Constituion provided for the following:
    guarantees freedom of speech and religion


    Europeans appear to consider that laws such as those that classify speaking out against religion as a hate crime are how one "guarantees freedom of speech and religion". i.e. free to speak in what bureaucrats deem an appropriate manner. Yeah...that's freedom...

    As to Ignatius's point, Chirac was a success. Anyone who tells the French (or, really, anyone) that they can't have their cake and eat it too won't get elected.

  • ||

    "As to Ignatius's point, Chirac was a success. Anyone who tells the French (or, really, anyone) that they can't have their cake and eat it too won't get elected."

    Yes. Exactly. Especially the 'or, really, anyone' bit. Voters get what they want by giving the high hard one to the young, who are in various states of not being able to do anything about it - some don't vote, some can't vote, and the rest realized they are crushed by a numerically superior demographic hell bent on impoverishing them.

    Er, three cheers for democracy.

  • gaius marius||

    And if America crashes, the whole of Europe will go with it. It's not something to be looked forward to, but if you think the French stand a decent chance of outlasting America, you are sorely mistaken.

    agreed, mr toxic, and

    Voters get what they want by giving the high hard one to the young, who are in various states of not being able to do anything about it - some don't vote, some can't vote, and the rest realized they are crushed by a numerically superior demographic hell bent on impoverishing them.

    agreed, mr ligon. mr nostar says it all:

    Reminds me of the American public and our reactions to Social Security reform.

    what happened in france is, i think, an extension of what is happening throughout the west. the weakness of a system built on populist indulgence is being thoroughly exposed.

    there's little doubt that france's future is best served by the eu. there's little doubt that america's future is best served by at least a speck of fiscal and monetary responsibility. neither will happen because the people are in charge.

    at least france, whatever its delusions, isn't preposessed of a vision of ideological world domination.

  • ||

    "at least france, whatever its delusions, isn't preposessed of a vision of ideological world domination."

    Nothing like being continously bitch slapped by reality to make you give up on visions of world domination.

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