Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Will the real Sarkozy please stand up?

Nicolas Sarkozy has almost always presented himself as the one candidate ready to make the tough reforms necessary to get France moving again. And yet, over the past two weeks, he has made comments highly inconsistent with his usuall "capitalist" mantra, unnerving some, and making others question how dedicated he is to true reform.

As Eursoc described yesterday, his first statement came last Wednesday at a rally in Lille, where he strongly attacked foreign takeovers of major French companies, highlighting the acquisition of the stell group Arcelor by Lakshmi Mittal.

"Look at the waste of Arcelor, which we sold off on the cheap because we believed that the steel industry was history. They got it wrong. They lied."

And just this past Sunday night, Sarkozy attacked hedge funds that:

(Funds) that buy up a company, sell it off in pieces, sack 25% of the staff in the meantime, collect 25% profit and create zero wealth. I don't want a speculative capitalism. I want a capitalism that creates riches.

This is not all bad. If Sarkozy can make the reform necessary to compete in a global economy palatable to a wary French populace, he will have succeeded far beyond many expectations. But if he is simply reverting to tried and false economic nationalism, he may not be that different than the rest.

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jrm said...

This is a universal phenomenon among politicians of the right. In the USA, for example, early 20th century politicians (e.g., "Bourbon" Democrats like Alton Parker) were fanatically devoted to the bourgeoisie; they also colluded with sky-high tariffs and railed against the "moral squalor" of the cities (unless, of course, the candidate was campaigning IN a city). The point was that the sanctimonious devotion to "free market policies" was wedded to nostrums of "personal virtue," which was shorthand for condemning the conspicuous consumption of the Gilded Age.

By 1928, the US political parties had mostly switched sides (although the process was completed in 1964) but the most enthusiastic defenders of the "free market" were also the most livid about allegedly individual "viciousness," in which the enormous concentration of wealth was frittered away on personal consumption of the superrich.

This is actually a logical conclusion of conservative ideology: the system per se is assumed to work, but shortcomings arise when individuals are not virtuous. For those who perpetrate conventional crimes, the preferred remedy is savage retribution; for those who don't spend their immense wealth in a popular way, such as investment in more plant & equipment, there is social sanction. Or tariffs on "luxury" foreign goods.

In modern France, c.2007, the discourse of "personal vice" versus the "righteous bourgeoisie" will take a different form, but it's basically the same concept.

Boz said...

Thanks for the background; I can see that these two positions (free market and anti-unethical activity) can coexist, although it still appears to me that Sarkozy is rallying against "foreign" visciousness for nationalist reasons rather than moral ones. The other thing is, while Sarkozy says he is against hedge funds that make obscene profit without creating wealth, he hasn't offered much of a coherent alternative. I will give him the benifit of the doubt, but I wonder whether it is just election season politics to soften his free market image.


JB said...

Boz: I think this is, as you suggest, just politics. Sarkozy appears too tough to some, and I say if a little protectionist rhetoric will help the guy get in office, so be it. I think the real Sarkozy is essentially laissez-faire. And that's just what France needs, in my opinion.

Léon Armichaud said...

To begin with, I'm french, so sorry for my english.

First, I think that Sarkozy is not the ideal man for France : French people don't want your f*cking economical reforms. France don't want to neoliberalism, to English model.
We want a social state.
In the city, in the street, you ask :
-Why will you vote Sarkozy ?
-Because... He will make us living in security.

This is the only advantage of Mr. Sarkozy...

But Sarkozy is a dangerous man.
I don't know if u heard sth about that, but there are a lot of rumors saying that he is ... a dictator.
And I think that if he'll be president, France will have problems with him.