The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Is France Near A New Republic?

This video is worth watching, though I have no idea whether the bit about dead cops is true:

The situation is simple: Macron unilaterally raised the pension age by two years from 62 to 64. This is after it was increased to 62 from 60 in 2010. He couldn’t get it past the legislature, so he used a clause which allows him to do so without legislative approval. Macron one the final round of the last election by 17%, but he had no mandate for this sort of reform. People voted for him to keep LaPen (the far right candidate) out.

This has caused an explosion of protests which is not abating.

A little more background is useful. The standard talking point is that France can’t afford the current pension system and thus MUST push back the qualification date and that this is reasonable because people have longer life spans than when the pension system was created and because the age pyramid has changed: there are proportionally fewer younger people and more older people.

Here’s the French GDP per capita char from 1980 to 2021:

So, it rose pretty consistently till about 2008 (surprise) and since then is flat to slightly rising depending.

Next chart. Labor productivity.

Same basic pattern.

One more, inequality.

That last table, in particular, deserves a good looking at if you have time.

But for current purposes, what is important is simply this: France is richer than it used to be and more productive and more of its income and wealth is held by the rich, and if France wants to keep its retirement age at 62 it can certainly afford to do so, it just might have to tax rich people a bit more and maybe not give billions to Ukraine and so on.

Of course France can afford an early retirement age of 62 or 60. It can only not afford it if you “hold everything equal” in the sense that you assume doing so is not a priority.

So, Macron is full of shit. The government can easily afford the current French pension age and should probably even drop the age a couple years if the majority of the population want that.

Meanwhile while what Macron has done is constitutional, it clearly shows that the constitution is broken: he’s doing something the majority of the population and the majority of the legislature oppose, which in a democratic society shouldn’t be possible.

Since he’s shown that the constitution itself is broken and that majority will cannot be accommodated because doing so would require the government to tax rich people who have been doing very well over the last forty odd years, French citizens are entirely justified to get out in the streets and not just stop this bill but overturn the Republic and institute the next one.

As for Macron, he’s always been insufferably sure that he’s right about everything (I am aware of the irony of me of all people writing this) and that it’s OK to make the majority of the population suffer to keep neoliberal orthodoxy running. He’s a true believer, a genuine ideologue, his ideology is just neoliberalism and neoliberalism doesn’t work any more.

France should be a model for more countries. When your rich people screw you over, take to the streets.

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – March 26, 2023


How Should CEOs And Politicians Be Punished For the Evil They Do?


  1. NR

    Elon Musk also publicly spoke out in support of the increase in the retirement age, just in case anyone thinks that right-wingers would somehow be better for the working class.

  2. Feral Finster

    To answer your question: No.

    If Macron or the Republic were to be pushed aside, there is a non-zero chance that they would be succeeded by Le Pen or some other figure unacceptable to the French and European elites, not to mention the United States Empire.

    Therefore, Macron will be permitted to do whatever it takes to maintain power.

    I suppose there is the question of whether the police or security services will refuse to follow orders, but the French state has spent years making sure that their soldiers and cops will not hesitate to kill citizens if ordered to do so. Nothing I have seen so far suggests that they are near the breaking point, much as I may wish things were otherwise.

    Now, for bonus points, pretend that these protests were happening in Venezuela, Iran, or any other country that the Empire doesn’t like.

  3. zoombats

    “When your rich people screw you over, take to the streets”. The French have been down this road before, When Louis XIV was screwing them over they took to the streets big time.

  4. anon y'mouse

    if rising productivity is real (very debatable), then there should be no worries.

    every time productivity rises, the labor of one person can support more people non-laboring (in that specific area).

    but we all know who is capturing all the gains. and who wants to continue to be able to do so and increase their share at everyone else’s expense.

    basic math, folks….

  5. StewartM

    As someone who was recently encouraged to retire, I can state my belief having watched this sh$itshow go on in various incarnations. It goes like this:

    “Oh, we can’t afford old age pensions at so ‘young’ an age, we have to push it up! Don’t worry, you’ll be in just as good a shape just by working a couple years longer”.

    The reality–we ain’t gonna let you work that two years longer. We’ll find a reason to downsize you and get rid of you at the original retirement age if not before. So you’ll just end up poorer.

    This, far more than immigration, is the biggest factor I can see in driving down median wages and wealth. Older employees tend to have higher wages and better benefits, so chopping them disproportionately saves money (you also lose a lot of expertise that way, but then again the Wall Street MBAs who run companies like a Boeing or a GE are blind to the difference in expertise of a 25- or 30-year veteran employee vs the kid straight of college with a degree).

    Moreover, in the US at least, we’ve gone away from pensions. Yet the same people who scream “cost!!” also are pushing us away from pensions, which are the cheap retirement solution. How do I know? As someone who has a pension, I can tell you that to generate over $48,000 of income requires a pension lump sum of a little more than $400,000 today. Yet to get the same income from one’s IRA or 401k you need to save up $1.2 million, by the ‘rule of 4’, which may be in fact overly optimistic. From a national perspective, relying on market savings is the costly way, as you can provide the peons with the same retirement income on a bit more than 1/3rd the money on average.

    But the real objection is “costly to whom?” 401ks and IRAs shove force the peons to save 3x more than what the company or government would have to provide. Plus our social betters profit off the system, too! It’s thus analogous to our for-profit health care system, where one person’s cost is another person’s income.

    The French are damn right to revolt. Good for them.

  6. NR

    Oh and in case it wasn’t clear, my previous comment should not be taken as a statement of support for Macron or this policy of his. I hope the people of France can succeed in getting the policy reversed.

  7. Robert M.

    I so hope France overthrows the Macron dictatorship and implements a Democracy.

  8. Willy

    Macron is full of shit.

    The number one way to determine character is to accurately determine the degree to which one is full of shit. This becomes difficult because everybody thinks themselves expert at this skill but yet are themselves, often full of shit. It’s very hard to discipline emotions sometimes.

    I once worked alongside one curmudgeonly asshole who was moody all the time, and one diplomatic charmer who sure seemed to appreciate me for everything that I was. Guess which one screwed me over?

    One way to keep these “liberals” out of power, is to be able to determine who’s just being their honest selves, and who’s setting you workers up for a big fall once they’ve charmed your socks off. As a wise old boss once told me: “People don’t change. Their attitudes maybe, but not their basic characters.”

  9. Willy

    France should be a model for more countries. When your rich people screw you over, take to the streets.

    Steve Bannon, psychopathic grifter extraordinaire, once said that everything always starts with the culture. But I don’t know how to revise American culture, from one of “freedumb and lie-birdy”, to a land of opportunity where most commons are sensitive to all the ways the rich powerful can/will screw you over to try and disable that opportunity.

  10. StewartM

    As for Macron, he’s always been insufferably sure that he’s right about everything (I am aware of the irony of me of all people writing this) and that it’s OK to make the majority of the population suffer to keep neoliberal orthodoxy running. He’s a true believer, a genuine ideologue, his ideology is just neoliberalism and neoliberalism doesn’t work any more.

    This is why I believe Biden may actually be the best president of my adult life. (And before you start objecting, let me say that this is just a case damning with faint praise, and it’s only true because everyone else who’s been president my adult life has been so horrible).

    What I’ve read that during the Obama administration, Obama and Hillary Clinton used to roll their eyes and joke about ‘old Joe’. After all, he didn’t go to the right schools (Obama, Harvard; Clinton, Yale; Joe went to the University of Delaware and to Syracuse Law university, ranked just #103) and he didn’t have the right smarts and convictions. By contrast, for this reason, Obama began to respect Clinton for her ‘smarts’ which is why he demurred on supporting his own VP for running for the Democratic nomination in 2016.

    What Joe Biden is, for good and bad, is a politician. He’s trying to win votes and win elections. Moreover, for better or worse, he relies on the advice of ‘experts’, and most of the times where he’s wrong by my eyes is when he relies on these “experts” (say, Ukraine) when the conventional wisdom is wrong. He’ll go with neoliberal non-“solutions” when advised to by “experts” and by the winds of politics, like the 1990s, but he also can support and pass more progressive ones when the winds blow the other way. This is in stark contrast to a Clinton or Obama, who (like a Macron) are so convinced of the “rightness” of their neoliberal non-‘solutions’ that they’ll burn political capital in order to achieve them. Even when it means destroying your own political futures and that of their party, a Macron/Obama/Clinton will do that.

    Biden? Biden doesn’t have such strong convictions. As a pure politician, he follows the political winds, which means at times he’ll attempt to do what you want him to do. This is the chief reason I believe why Sanders folded to Biden a lot sooner than he did to Clinton, as he recognized “we’ll never get any willing concessions from Hillary, but we might at times get a few from Joe”.

  11. Willy

    And before you start objecting, let me say that this is just a case damning with faint praise…

    Damn straight. I’ve been saying for years now that Joe Biden has more in common with Chauncey Gardiner than he does Matrix’s The Architect. He’s no evil mastermind and probably wouldn’t know how to be one if he tried. The trick with Biden’s kind is to get their ear, to be that trusted expert. If the left was better organized then we would’ve figured out how to learn this savage from the inside, to gain his trust, to know how to force his cooperation or hammer him hard if he wouldn’t. Unfortunately for us, Bernie got in the way.

    Macron seems far more devious, more in the pocket of the rich, while telling everybody else whatever it is they want to hear, including ample use of phrases like “after carefully considering the advice of my esteemed experts”. IOW, the perfect so-called “centrist/liberal”.

  12. mago

    The French aristocracy would shit on Versailles’ marble stairs, leaving the staff to clean it up.
    Not much has changed except the current aristocracy’s more insane and the staff’s rebelling.
    Roll out the tumbrels.

  13. Ché Pasa

    If this were happening in the United States — which it wouldn’t, not this way, and not for this — the streets would run with blood. We know this, don’t we? Any sort of mass demonstration with popular support that lasts more than a day will be attacked with all the force necessary to crush it. The police here are certainly not reluctant to maim or kill protesters, as we’ve seen happen over and over since Occupy, and of course it was often the rule during prior periods of unrest. Ludlow Massacre 1914, just one of numerous examples of the crushing of resistance and rebellion in the United States.

    One thing to keep in mind as the propagandists do their utmost to convince you and me that raising the retirement age is a Good Thing “because people are living longer :-)… They’re not. Not if they are not among the very well off. Life expectancy in the United States and much of the West is in decline, and the decline is very much class based. The rich are on average living much longer than the lower classes, 15 years longer or more. The middling to poor are seeing their lives cut short by comparison, the poorest living the shortest lives, and getting shorter.

    So every time a politician or CEO or Influencer says “we have to raise the retirement age because people are living longer,” throw life expectancy statistics at them. Say, “You may be living longer, but not most of us. Most of us are living shorter lives, and you want to make it harder for us to retire before we die, don’t you?”

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