The French and their money
A video clip posted on Twitter by President Emmanuel Macron, in which he talks about the ‘crazy amount of dough’ the authorities are spending on social benefits, has set the media abuzz for the past two days. Some commentators are actually worrying whether they misheard, especially given the ongoing war on fake news. And yet the post was no accident; it was carefully planned. Writing in Libération, a newspaper not renowned for its pro-Macron sympathies, the editorialist Laurent Joffrin got the ball rolling: “The video posted by the [presidential office] at the Elysée Palace is one of the strangest things to have made media headlines in recent years.
“There is an obvious desire to grab people’s attention by using coarse language. In other words, to go from the sublime to the cor blimey. It’s as if ordinary citizens had been ushered into the president’s office and found themselves listening to barroom talk, a clash of language registers that is truly baroque. Until now, this kind of pithy presidential lingo has surfaced only in leaks from bystanders or journalists. This time, though, it’s being openly flaunted. This method of communication is worthy of Trump”.
It is true that the ‘dough’ affair has shocked a country that has been haunted for decades by the question of money. But did we really need an unguarded – to say the least – word from the president to finally shrug off the money taboo? Guillaume Maujean made an on-the-fly analysis in Les Echos: “Why in heaven’s name did the Elysée post this video clip on Twitter? Fundamentally, the message is hard to deny: France is the country that spends the most on social welfare and yet has failed to stamp out poverty and social exclusion. But it’s the form of the message that raises questions, especially since it came just before a major speech on welfare reform”. Guillaume Maujean also mentions barroom talk and is unable to conceal his slight embarrassment.
Clearly, money and the way it’s talked about is an issue that sends the French into turmoil. For that reason, an article by Pierre-Antoine Delhommais in this week’s Le Point is definitely worth reading. Citing a book by the economists Yann Algan, Elisabeth Beasley and Claudia Senik, (“Les Français, le bonheur et l’argent” published by Rue d’Ulm), which highlights France’s paradoxical attitude to money, Delhommais sheds fresh light on the subject. “The results are enlightening. It is fascinating to observe the overestimation of the past and a disinclination for the future. He adds: “In France, more than anywhere else in Europe, money seems to a crucial component of happiness”.
So, does this actually mean: “Don’t talk to me about money but don’t take it away from me”? Going forward, nobody knows whether Macron’s d-word will continue to shock the French. What is clear, though, is that their personal fulfilment hinges on their purchasing power. Now that is something the Elysée Palace needs to hear.