Friday, July 15, 2005

The French Model of Serfdom

In his televised Bastille Day interview yesterday – one commentator on French cable news channel I-Télé remarked derisively “Two days from now, no one will remember what he said” – Jacques Chirac took the time to defend the “French model” against its inner-European British rival. “If you take all the major elements of social life,” Mr. Chirac said [link in French], “…you’ll see that we are much better off than the British.”

Here is Ivan Rioufol, under the heading the “New Serfs” [link in French], from his indispensable weekly “Notebook” in Le Figaro (15 July):
A propos the French model, which Jacques Chirac again defended yesterday: according to an official report released Monday, between 1982 and 2003, public employment [in France] increased by 24%. At the end of 2003, some 5 million people were state functionaries or, in other words, every fifth employee. According to the calculations of the association Associated Taxpayers, the French devote 196 of the 365 days in the year – or, in other words, every year until July 16 – to financing the public sector. They work, then, every other day for the state. The association remarks: “In the Middle Ages, a man was considered a serf when he owed more than 40 days to his lord.”
To pre-empt the wags: to provide a more realistic picture, one would, of course, have to adjust the association’s calculations for the average number of days the French actually work – which a notably hardworking French friend of mine maliciously estimated at 90, but in any case is well short of 365. So, if nothing else, at least the burden of French serfdom has lightened since the Middle Ages.