Dick and I are going to Paris and Istanbul in April, and we are enjoying reading, studying and watching movies about all things French. Our daughter, Becky, gave us Julia Child’s My Life in France, as well as Au Revoir to All That-Food, Wine, and The End of France, in which Michael Steinberger writes an entertaining and lively discourse on France’s culinary cataclysm and the myriad reasons for its upheaval. Michael’s chapter (pg. 41-57) on France’s culinary, political and cultural demise under Mitterrand and Chirac depressingly parallels the staggering financial and socialistic debacle the Obama administration is trying to foist on the U.S.
As Michael notes, when Francois Mitterrand took office in 1981, the economy was already hurting, but within two years in office, he made what might have been a temporary economic downturn into a permanent one. Mitterrand decided that the country would spend its way to recovery, with no budgetary restraint. Government spending increased 23% and surged 27% the following year. Social security spending went up by 20%, the minimum wage was raised by 40%, and hundreds of thousands of government positions were created, replete with lavish benefits and pensions.
Two years later, inflation was at 12%, unemployment had increased by nearly one-third and stood at 9%, and the franc had plummeted. Mitterrand’s economic policy-massive government intervention and a strong pro-labor tilt but at the expense of private sector job creation-stayed the course. Mitterrand’s far-reaching agenda during his first years as president insured, even after he was long gone, that politicians still had their hands “tied by the… nature of the social programs introduced and expanded during the early 1980s.”
But one sector of the economy flourished-the public sector. The size of the bureaucracy exploded, with one jobholder out of every five a government worker. Under the weight of an exploding bureaucracy, France, like its cuisine, became rigid, inflexible, complacent.
Obama maintains that the previous stimulus bill ?saved or created? 2 million jobs, a totally overblown figure. The money was used mainly to keep the status quo of bloated public-sector union jobs in states such as California and New York. Consider that, today, 51% of unionized workers nationwide are government employees. Thirty years ago, there were only half as many unionized public-sector workers as there were unionized private-sector workers. Coupled with this, as the LA Times points out, is “Obama’s curiously close labor friendship,” especially with SEIU chief Andy Stern. And now we have $100 billion for the new ?jobs bill? (stimulus is no longer used, since it didn?t stimulate anything but the lowest ratings in U.S. history for a president?s first year). This $100 billion is financed by record deficits and $2 trillion in tax increases. Vive la France!
Michael Steinberger’s Au Revoir to All That is funny, entertaining and insightful. One might also call it a cautionary tale.