In the state of economic emergency, proclaimed last night by our fearless leader, we look for comedy where we can find it. I found it in this declaration signed by, among others, Bernard Henri-Levy and Miss France (of the two, of course, it it Miss France who has all the brains) that the gilets jaunes should immediately stop what they are doing, which has been successful, and begin debating, which would be utterly unsuccessful but would give Bernard Henri-Levy (and Miss France) a chance to appear on TV with a few random Gilets Jaunes and pontificate.
Miss France might gain an audience with the Gilets Jaunes, but not, I’m betting, the well coiffed, faux philosophe.
More seriously: we watched Macron’s speech last night. Macron started off with a song of love, and he ended like a Chanel commercial. The song of love was directed to the cops. As we know, from the affair Benalla, which involved Macron’s body guard donning police gear and beating the shit out of some passive protesters this spring, there is one exception to Macron’s general contempt for public sector employees: the cop. Macron’s handlers made a mistake in not cuing his words to music: surely this heartfelt paen to order and its masculine forces should have been backgrounded by Gang of Four’s “I love a man in a uniform”.
The rest of the speech was a curious performance. The raising of the minimum wage by something like 75 centime per hour “without costing the employer anything” seemed like a magic act. In American terms, it is like raising the minimum wage by subtracting the amount from the Earned Income Credit. It was as if Mr. Burns on the Simpsons told his workers that they all get Christmas presents, and then deducted it from their paychecks. But it sounded good – it must have been rehearsed to have the feel good vibe, which is why it was announced as one hundred euros per month rather than 75 centimes per hour.
On the main point, though, Macron held firm. His supply side tax cut to the wealthy still stands. His reasoning still stands too: cutting that tax is supposedly going to bring investment money into France. It is what the late George H.W. Bush, in 1980, called voodoo economics. At least under Reagan the tax cut was made with a fine indifference to the deficit, since investment is not going to happen in an atmosphere of declining demand. The Reaganite solution was, in fact, to inflate two deficits: by easing regulations on credit, the medium household can take on a larger amount of debt in order to sustain a consumer lifestyles that feeds into an economic boom. The second step here, of course, involves mock horror about the government’s debt, which then leads to cuts in the social welfare system, which then leads to either further indebtedness by the household or bankruptcy. In France, the loosening of consumer credit on the American model has not happened, at least on the Reaganite scale. What has happened, especially as Macron is all about being a deficit hawk, is that his policies have essentially been deflating consumer demand. The carbon tax, with its exemptions for big carbon producers – the corporations – was a final straw. In France, one can actually see what taxes are paying for, in terms of healthcare, infrastructure, education and retirement: and what the people see is a decline in the degree and quality of all of these things. You can’t sustain Popular Front programs on a Thatcherite fiscal policy.