Liberté, égalité, austérité

Fraternité went out the window long ago.

Over at Harry’s Gaff, American contributor Gene muses on the contrast between French and British approaches to economic austerity. In his post, Gene quotes from an article in the Washington Post by its London correspondent Anne Applebaum, who argues that, in the current climate of public spending cuts, the French and British publics are living up to their national stereotypes, with the former out on the streets burning cars and stuff, while the Brits have “stiffened their upper lips”.

Applebaum on the French…

“For most of the past year, scandal has dominated the French media: ministers who spend government money on expensive cigars and private jets, rich widows who misplace their Picassos and hide their money in tax shelters, accountants who stuff envelopes with cash for bribes. With politicians behaving like so many Marie Antoinettes, is it any wonder voters object to being told they must work harder?”

Applebaum on the Brits…

“[T]he British budget cuts are being carried out by a recently elected government, one that hasn’t been in office long enough to be caught up in financial scandal. More important, it’s a coalition government, made up of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, two parties with very different voter bases. Conservative conservatives don’t like everything about this arrangement and neither do liberal Liberal Democrats. But the pool of people whose sympathies lie one way or another is much broader, and thus the number of people who will accept budget cuts — however resentfully — is broader, too.”

Apart from failing to understand that rioting is a Great British Tradition exported to the rest of Europe and wider world, and that our contemporary docility is a hopefully temporary aberration, I would say that Applebaum has it roughly right about Perfidious Albion. However, like Americans in general she really doesn’t get the French (not that most Brits do either, mind you).

The kind of decadence and moral decay described by Applebaum is as common to the British ruling and feckless upper classes as it is to those across La Manche. Applebaum should be well aware of this given her current domicile and the misspent youth of her Pembroke College and Bullingdon Club educated husband.

Nicolas Sarkozy’s vanity may know no bounds, but I wish the president and his government well in their endeavours to carry through election promises to reform the economy. Even if the proposed changes don’t go nearly far enough, and are starkly offset by the introduction of new subsidies, including a €25 million a year bribe designed to discourage the nation’s youth from stealing the intellectual property of creative artistes.

If Sarko is fatally damaged by the exercise, as I suspect he may be, I would hope that Christine Lagarde can take over. For that to happen, however, the canny finance minister must first transform herself from an unelected technocrat into a popular politico with a solid and protective power base. This may be no more than a silly fantasy on part, for which I crave your indulgence.