I have to admit that I used to be embarrassingly uninformed about the political situation in France, something that has been remedied a bit in the recent past. I have a good grasp of the deplorable state of German politics of course, and the neo-liberal spectacles of the US and the UK are always easily accessible. That things in an industrialized country cannot only be worse than in Germany but also better was something that had escaped my attention.
Even if I hadn’t learned some things about France recently, and discussed the latest presidential elections quite a bit, Spiegel’s vitriol would have driven the point home. Two articles went online on their international site recently, both of which deplore the fact that the French government is not wholly given over to screwing over their population for the sake of their economic elite.
The first is subtly titled “Nostalgic and Narcissistic – France’s Obsession with the Past Hinders Reform” and leads off with the typical neo-liberal smokescreens:
[France] has become steadily less competitive since the 1990s, unemployment has topped 10 percent, and government debt amounts to 89 percent of gross domestic product.
One of the countries that has become more competitive since the 1990s is Germany, by convincing its working population to accept falling real wages, a strategy that has also been applied by low-wage countries in Eastern Europe, Asia, and South America. So France’s lack of competitiveness is a symptom of it’s not impoverishing its working population.
The scary unemployment number doesn’t look so bad when compared to Germany’s 7.5% to which another 9% underemployment needs to be added – a direct result of German labor market “liberalization” that France hasn’t undergone yet.
The government debt ratio is below the US’ (100%), Japan’s (200%), on par with the UK’s and not significantly higher than Germany’s (81%), that prize pupil of neo-liberal reforms.
All in all, there’s nothing wrong with France’s situation. Not that you’d know it from the article whose main claim is that France would like to be like Germany but lacks the discipline and forward vision to do so. According to the author, this manifests itself thus:
For instance, French politics is characterized by an old-fashioned antagonism between the left and the right, something that the rest of the continent hasn’t seen since 1989.
Most of the industrialized nations have experienced a rightward shift, with even supposedly center-left parties like Labor in the UK, or the SPD in Germany, subscribing to the neo-liberal ideology and becoming hard to distinguish from the conservative parties. In France, on the other hand, a Social Democrat can run on a program that differs from the conservative’s and get elected. Whether his policies will really be different remains to be seen but simply that voters have a choice that they don’t have in the US, the UK, Germany, Greece etc should be something to celebrate for any democrat. The neo-liberal doesn’t have any use for democracy, however, and therefore also not for political alternatives to his ideology.
The second strike came in the form of an article titled “How Paris Is Killing French Industry” and the authors waste no time identifying what’s wrong with French industry in their opinion:
French carmaker Peugeot is fighting for its survival. But, by keeping its plants in-country and supporting wage hikes, the government is ignoring the rules of survival in the age of globalization.
So farm, this lede is honest enough to admit that it’s not about worker’s livelihoods but only about the survival of a corporation. Such honesty can’t last and the authors’ follow with:
In the end, the workers it is trying to help might be the biggest losers.
We’ll see whether this is the case. More specifically, the problem is supposed to be:
Peugeot was also weakened by the success of French trade unions, which secured high wage increases — with the government’s support. Between 2000 and 2010, unit labor costs in the French auto industry went up by 8 percent, compared with only 1.6 percent in Germany.
During the mentioned decade, real wages have fallen in Germany, which means that while some jobs haven’t been transferred to low-wage countries, the workers’ standard of living has decreased – a loss for workers if I’ve ever seen one. Following this model would mean that “French industry” survives yet at the expense of their workers’ livelihoods. It wouldn’t end there, though:
Peugeot needs capital to build and expand factories in China, India and Brazil. If the company continues to incur high losses with its French plants, it will lack the funds it needs to invest in growth markets.
This is the neo-liberal vision then: help the corporation survive and fuck the workers! Jobs at decent wages in the country of birth make workers losers! Outsourced production and falling wages at home make them winners!