Friday, June 10, 2005

French economy - ready to meet its Waterloo 

This is all going to end in tears:
France's poet Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin drew inspiration from his imperial hero Napoleon yesterday as he launched a battle plan to get the nation "working again" after it rejected the European Union constitution.

In a grandiose speech that was long on oratorical flourishes but short on radical reforms, the suave new political leader - dubbed "a wannabe Ralph Lauren model" by French Elle magazine - outlined his strategy for fighting France's stubbornly high unemployment rate of 10.2 per cent within 100 days.

Les Cent Jours (100 days) is the title of Mr de Villepin's book about Napoleon Bonaparte's journey towards his abdication after Waterloo.
Alarm bells going off. Napoleon's idea of reducing unemployment (not that unemployment had been a problem or a consideration for the early 19th century governments) was to conscript all the young people and send them on a 15-year rampage through Europe, including the famous Russian adventure, which resulted in some half a million soldiers (both French and allied) fertilizing the vastness between Moscow and the Polish border with their bones. Not really a good inspiration for reviving France's stagnant economy.

As indeed aren't "the 100 days", seeing that they (again) ended in disaster (for Napoleon, at least). De Villepin might be "suave" and a "poet", but if he's planning to follow Napoleon's footsteps from bad (Elba) to even worse (St Helena) via the disastrous (Waterloo), then God help France's economy.

At the root of France's economic malaise is Napoleon's recognition of England as "a nation of shopkeepers" and the concomitant long-standing hostility to the idea that English policies should be adopted as opposed to scorned and fought against. In the end, though, even a Great Leader can't make underperforming economy fix itself by his fiat, a seemingly simple proposition that the French political elites still haven't quite come to grasp with.


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