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November 21st 2013 print

Peter Smith

The French Have a Word for It, ‘Fools’

How to fund the needs of France's pensioners? Why, the solution is simplicity itself! Give all female workers pay raises so they can pay more taxes and make that nasty deficit go away.

BARRICADESThough I am in France, it’s hard to tune in to what’s going on politically because, not to put too fine a point on it, everything is in French, which is very inconsiderate of them. But wherever one is, whatever the language, left-wing thinking is so familiarly delusional it can’t remain undetected for long.

I walked to a close-by tabac to buy some more Montecristo mini cigars at about a third of the Australian price — eat your liver out, you smokers. Even though the proprietor can speak perfectly usable English, I asked in my rudimentary French whether there were any newspapers en Anglais, . He pointed out The Connextion.

There is lively debate in France about the retiring age for the aged pension (currently 62) for the same old reason. Promises made to give people more than can be afforded are difficult to keep. Never mind, Eric Aubin, National Secretary of Confédération Générale du Travail (a major trade union organisation that was affiliated with the French communist party until the 1990s) has the answer.

I am relying on a translation provided by The Connextion, but the report has an air of verisimilitude when you think of past statements of various union officials in the UK and in Australia. Monsieur Aubin’s solution is equal pay for men and women. By the way, in the unlikely event you’re confused, he means that women need to be paid more, not men less.

France has had equal pay for equal work as a matter of law since 1972 so that is not Aubin’s goal. He simply wants women’s wages increased (willy-nilly) to match men’s. Why? Well, sure, for its own sake but, to the point, in order to generate more income-tax revenue to pay pensions. It’s simple, really, in the sense that only a simpleton could come up with it.

Of course equal pay is a matter which is constantly harped on about across the Western world, even though equal pay for the same job has been in place for yonks. What then does it mean exactly? Nobody knows; least of all those who argue for it.

There are some women officers on commercial ships. The profession is open to them. Yet on the container ship I recently travelled on all the officers were men; and this, I was told, is usually the case. It is well paid but a difficult life: away for months and months on end with no social diversions to lighten the burden. Maybe it just doesn’t appeal to most women. That’s fine. But let’s not have the whining. There are many high paying jobs on offshore oil rigs. But are women, as a general rule, capable of handling these jobs and/or do they want them? If the answer is no, that is fine also, but again let’s not have the whining.

Once you have equal pay for equal work and have removed any artificial obstacles to women choosing their preferred occupations (all now done) that is the end of it; at least on the economics front. Nothing more is to be done or can be done. Probably short people are paid less than tall, shy people less than bold and, maybe, hirsute men more than baldies (a tragedy). Equal pay, in the sense that Aubin talks about it, is a completely empty proposition; it cannot be brought about.

But let’s go along with Aubin and suppose half the workforce received pay increases in order to raise sufficient taxes to pay pensions. Why stop there? The French national debt (95% of GDP) could easily be wiped out by giving all workers massive pay increases from which lots of additional tax could be raised.

It is a complete mystery to me how simpletons (les idiots du village) have managed to get themselves into positions of authority. But it has happened; look at the Greens. Presumably it has always happened to some extent, but I wonder whether the relatively prosperous times in which we live have made it easier for fools to flourish. In earlier, more straitened and less tolerant times, most might have found themselves in the stocks or in Bedlam, had they lived in England; et dans les équivalents en France.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics