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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Pierre philosophale

by Editorial by Maurice Ulrich

Published in l'Humanité on 23 November 2007

Sarkozy’s Philosopher’s Stone

Translated Sunday 16 December 2007, by Rudolf Jossifov

As thoughts turn to Christmas, the social climate seems become a bit lighter. The department stores with their sales assistants full of shopping ideas wait on us to begin the holiday festivities. One can get an elegant crocodile leather attaché case for 17,000 euros or a Patek Philippe watch for 10,930 euros. Better still, a classic Tourbillon, from Breguet costs 111,700 euros. These are some suggestions for all those who received an average refund check of 55,000 euros for their overpaid taxes thanks to the “tax shield” legislation the government put into place this summer and the UMP passed. There is something to suit all tastes and all budgets.

Of course, for the 10% of the French people who live with less than 780 euros per month, the choices will be different. In the discount superstores, with a little imagination, one can find gifts for three euros. In 2005, more than seven million French were regarded as poor. In terms of inheritance, not income, the poorest 10 percent of households had 2,110 euros on average. The top 10 percent had 450,000 euros. For years, the gap between the haves and the have-nots has widened to the point where it’s unbearable.

But between purchasing power and the headache of monthly bills, the problem that vexes the greatest number is resorting to using credit to the point of being overextended. Today, 48% of the French cite it as their second biggest concern, just after employment. Just four years ago, it was 28%.

On Tuesday 20 November, the day of demonstrations, Nicolas Sarkozy declared in front of the mayors of France: "I will take other initiatives to respond to the agonizing question of purchasing power, of growth, and employment." On 9 November, at Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, he maintained: "I believe myself to have been the first to speak about it. I will take the initiatives." And his spokesman, the always smiling David Martinon, had made it a point of confirming: "Do not believe that he does not worry about it." The candidate Sarkozy, for the remainder of his campaign, had hammered the point: "I will be the purchasing power president."

Meanwhile, 71 % of the French believe that the current government’s measures are ineffective. Only 24% consider them effective, understandably many of them profited from this summer’s previously mentioned tax changes. In fact, the only measure adopted since June is related to overtime. But the now-famous saying "work more, earn more" which should have increased salaries by tens of euros per month is not going over very well. Then Laurence Parisot proposed to go further. Why not simply remove the legal work hours clause? Those who would like to work eighty hours or more per week could do so. At this point, the MEDEF president is breaking the speed of sound.

According to his advisers, the president is looking for the philosopher’s stone. Around him, others are seeking a thirteenth month free of charge, but a disaster for Social Security...stock options for employees but they would lower profit margins.

For years, exemptions of charges which multiplied around the SMIC led to the result wherein France has become a country of low wages and therefore few skilled jobs, which weighs on economic growth. Increasing wages is pulling employment upwards, which will revive economic growth once again. It is purchasing power. The government, the president and MEDEF do not want that. No one touches the profits and dividends. It is not truly a philosopher’s stone but it is certainly a question of philosophy and political choices. And it is a demand. That is what was expressed on 20 November during the strikes and in the street.

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