(July 16, 2012)
[Please include your first and last names, and your city and state of residence. Thank you.]
It's a Beautiful [French] Life
Hey Mr. d'Aymery,
You must have enjoyed Wimbledon in spite of the many rain delays. To watch Serena Williams and Roger Federer win was a thrill. The Tour de France, however, has been rather disappointing, at least in the first week. With Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck missing, the race to date is rather boring, filled with too many crashes everyday. Perhaps the spectacle will get better in the mountains. These crashes are a good metaphor for France -- one economic bad news after the other.
Unemployment has been rising for 30 months in a row. PSA (Peugeot-Citroën) and Renault cannot sell their cars. PSA may lay off 10,000 workers and close a manufacturing plant. According to the MEDEF (Movement of the Enterprises of France) an average of 60,000 companies have been closing every year in the past three years, a trend that started 10 years ago. As unemployment rises so do unemployment benefits that the state must disburse. By the same token, the government, in the name of social justice, wants to increase the minimum wage by 2 percent, which will be another charge on the state and private businesses. When expenses go up revenues need to be found. No problem, let's increase taxes -- and God knows we have a maze of taxes with great acronyms in France (VAT, IR, IS, CSG, CRDS, PS, RSA, ISF, TIPP, and on, and on, and on).
One tax among others the new government intend to increase is one on oil companies' petroleum stocks (gasoline, diesel...), a sector that is in financial deficit. For instance, Total expects to be taxed between €140 and 160 million. Its chairman, Christophe de Margerie, who does not want to confront the new political kids on the block, did not say that it was an idiotic decision. He simply said that it was an annoying decision. The governmental minister in charge responded that it really did not matter. The cost of that "social justice" tax would only increase the price at the pump by one cent. So, let me try to figure this out -- and I am not a luminary: The government decides to tax a financial-loosing activity. That tax is passed on to the consumers. In other words, car drivers will pay for the tax so that Total can be taxed in the name of "social justice." This is worthy of the guignols of l'info, but I'm not even sure those guys will get the irony...and the idiocy of it all.
The president of the MEDEF, Laurence Parisot, who does not want to rock the boat either, suggested that the government gives businesses more flexibility in the pursuit of competitiveness. These are buzz words: Flexibility means lowering wages, and competitiveness means, really, to align French wages with those of Bulgaria. The minimum wage in France is €1,398 a month, the fourth highest in the EU. Bulgaria's is the lowest at €138. Our "social justice" government with its new normality has decided to increase the minimum wage. The Chinese, who are now building cars, and wanting to avoid European tariffs, have chosen to open a manufacturing plant in Europe. Wonder which country they selected?
What do you do when you've run on an anti-Sarkozy platform and a list of 60 unrealistic propositions? Simple, you put together a grande conférence sociale ("great social meeting") with seven round tables on seven different topics and you bring everybody to the room (except members of the opposition) and you talk and keep talking about how to fix the economy and how the future is going to be shiny. Yes, it's going to take some efforts and it's going to be hard -- to take a line from Barack Obama -- but all will be well and good.
Then, to a considerable French chagrin and another embarrassment for the government, the California legislature voted a new law banning the sale of foie gras within the state. Without any doubt a commission will soon be created to talk about whether we should still import California wine and American beef, poultry, and pork (an issue of deep "social justice" concern!).
Let's enjoy the summer vacations and the Tour de France, before la rentrée in September when the dumbest, most humorless idiots will make certain that we remain the highest-taxed people in the world.
(I've noticed that your mailbag is getting thinner. Is Swans getting ignored or are you bowdlerizing big time? I'll try to help.)
Paris, France - July 10, 2012
[ed. We do bowdlerize (i.e., censor) quite a few e-mails according to their content (hatred, racism, obscenities, obnoxious comments, silliness, etc.). It's also correct that we unfortunately do not receive as many letters as we used to due to a series of reasons.]
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