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France And The Long-Gone Thatcher Moment

Politics / France Sep 02, 2014 - 08:25 AM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


More Failed Remedies
Writing for Saxo Bank, 1 September, Steen Jakobson said “France needs a Thatcher moment, with a new leader brave enough to get elected on a mandate for change”. He also noted that Francois Hollande is the most unpopular president since the start of opinion polling on French presidents in the 1950s but did not say that former president Nicolas Sarkozy and his riotously unsuccessful “liberal reform program” of 2007-2012 also set out “do a Thatcher moment”.Sarkozy paid homage to Thatcher but also called it a Gerhard Schroeder and Tony Blair moment due to these supposed social democrats doing exactly the same thing.

With the same results, faster in the British case and slower in Germany. Deindustrialise, gouge up house prices, keep taxes high to feed big government, and reward the crony capitalists close to power.

Jakobson was celebrating the removal from office of Arnaud Montebourg and his quixotic attempts at “reindustrialising France” on the back of decades of de-industrialisation. Sarkozy's also-quixotic attempts to do exactly the same thing are well documented. The only difference was political style, and the non-results were the same.

Jakobson claimed that France needs a leader brave enough to tear down the political system that generates failed macro-solutions and policies, which we can call that the Montebourg model, rather than failed micro-scale policies, the Sarkozy model. Jakobson said France is “an elitist society with too many incentives for bad behaviour and disincentives for initiative, innovation and hard work”. Apart from Montebourg regularly cranking out exactly that theme, it was also the theme of possibly dozens of speeches by Sarkozy, so many it is impossible to count them all.

When it comes to defining “bad behavior” that is firstly political not economic. While Montebourg played to the left wing and slammed the wealthy classes, Sarkozy was also a pastmaster - at slamming everybody. On multiple occasions, in his speaking style called “tonitruant” or semi-hysterical, he would inveigle and lambast the entire French public for their bad behavior of not spending enough. Why didn't they get out there and spend? Despite not being able to offer themselves a presidential Airbus at 180 million euros like Sarkozy, they still had some leftover savings. Get moving!

When the talk shifted to “reindustrialising” France, Montebourg's examples did not exist but Sarkozy's examples of “good behavior” were usually farcical. His friend Bernard Tapie, for example, awarded 400 million euros by a dodgy arbitration panel headed by Sarkozy's Finance minister Christine Lagarde, had for decades shut down his industrial operations in France and outplaced them to China and elsewhere. Another of his friends, the billionaire Vincent Bollore, even outplaced the cigarette paper manufacturing activities of his OCB firm that had made his fortune – by manufacturing cigarette paper in postwar France! Under Sarkozy, Bollore pocketed impressive-sized government subsidies for ventures such as his strange oversized electric golf caddy that Bollore called the “Bluecar”. These micro-cars or buggies are almost invisible on French roads today, as you might expect. Where the money went is a mystery.

The Bottom Line is Crony Capitalism
Surprisingly perhaps, Jakobson said he thought Francois Hollande could or might be dumped before the end of his mandate in 2017 – and this is surprising because Hollande has cobbled together a surely and certainly “Thatcherite” economic team, headed by former Rothschild banker Emmanuel Macron. This will be French Crony Capitalism 2.0 but the big difference with Thatcher's era in the UK is simple – the pile of wealth to dissipate, fritter away and hand around to the crony capitalists clique close to power is thin on the ground today. In Thatcher's era, in the UK, there was residual wealth to throw around and waste – and North Sea oil was coming on fast. The bottom feeders loved it!

Starting from an early 1980s base it was also possible to gouge up UK real estate prices at a 15%-a-year clip and get away with it for a long time. Today that is no longer possible. The number of industries to destroy and outplace, today, is drastically smaller than in 1980. What else is there to do but crank up taxes and the national debt, watch unemployment rise and feed the crony capitalists?

Jakobson is right to say the national mood in France, today, is surly and anti-elite, anti-politician, and anti-reform when “reform” only means two things. Higher taxes and higher unemployment. French politicians, in a clumsy way, are getting a handle on that. They are no longer immune to public anger.

The so-called “Thatcher moment” in the UK was only spun out across a decade because of North Sea oil and the real estate boom. Neither of these wealth crutches are available to the France of today.
Another big difference is that “liberalisation” of the banking and finance sector, which Thatcher promoted through her reign also happened in France. It also has its bad banks, though their massive liabilities are outshone in a big way by those of Lloyds BG, Bradford & Bingley, RBS and HBOS.

Running that trick a second time around – of “liberalising” the finance sector and letting it run riot – is not possible today. We already have the crony banks. Are we supposed to “invent” them again?

Jakobson tempts fate by saying that “with or without Hollande, France just doesn’t seem ready to change yet” He then actually says in black and white that France “needs a deep recession and even a depression before we see real change”. This is the classic invitation to the Flash Mob, which in France unlike the UK is waiting in the wings and getting ready to strike. Revolution is in the air.

France Invented Liberal Economics
The facts are simple. Adam Smith was party to the “insights” of Francois Quesnay and his disciple Samuel Dupont in the dying years of Louis XVI's court. Quesnay cobbled the one-liner “laisser aller – laisser faire” because, very simply, the Revolution was coming. There was nothing to be done but go on rewarding the greedy crony capitalists huddled close to the royal court and let them sign their own death warrants, as well as those of Louis XVI and his comfort lady Marie Antoinette.

Quesnay was pessimist and misanthropic, like Mrs Thatcher. Unlike her however but like Adam Smith, Quesnay, as a “Physiocrat” said that all service sector activity and occupations are parasitic. Only the output of food, minerals and manufactured goods produces wealth. His famous “Economic table” purported to show this claimed fact.

Interestingly enough a large number of French historians say that Quesnay's special focus on the role of farmers, fishermen and food producers was because Quesnay believed they had the largest potential role in triggering a revolution and bringing down the “liberal” house of cards. Quesnay said that endlessly and massively enriching the crony elite would “kill the goose which lays the golden egg”, of food supply for the nation, as well as its industries..

Thatcher's crony capitalist elite, like that of France since the 1980s, killed the goose of industry – as the quixotic Arnaud Montebourg frequently claimed in his strange speechmaking style. Putting Humpty Dumpty back together again was a “Sisyphus project”, Montebourg rapidly found out – and new economy minister Macron doesn't even want to try. Under Francois Hollande's new and rather special team – including for example its Gender Theory minister of national education – laisser aller and laisser faire promises to be fin de regne flavor. And the Flash Mob is waiting.

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2014 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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