Christine Lagarde to France: think less, work more

Posted in Christine Lagarde, France, Law, Laziness, Philosophy, Populism, Work by Deputy city editor on July 23, 2007

“Il faut cesser de penser et se retrousser les manches.”

Christine Lagarde, the former Baker & MacKenzie lawyer, has been parachuted in by Sarko as France’s new finance minister. The formidable Madam Lagarde is already nick-named “the American” for her pains. She is in charge of steering Sarko’s omnibus finance bill through the national assembly. This is a bill in favour of work, employment and buying power – the so-called “Tepa” project – Travail, Emploi, Pouvoir d’Achat.

Lagarde described the 35 hour week as a symbol of the right to be lazy, “the ultimate expression of this historic tendency to consider work as a form of servitude.” Le Canard Enchaîné summed this up under the headline: “Christine Lagarde sees the idle everywhere!”

Declared Christine: “Choisissez un travail que vous aimez, et vous n’aurez pas à travailler un seul jour.” This is somewhat out of touch with reality, judges le Canard, noting that she was drawing a 600,000 euro pay check before moving to the public service. The Canard suggests that a fulfilling career as an international lawyer and minister may not be for everyone. This may or may not be fair. You obviously do not need to have read much philosophy to have such a job, it seems.

And I tend to think she is right to suggest that work can have a certain dignity, and that the French too often overlook this, conditioned by 19th century literature to regard money as filthy, labour as contemptible and money making unrepublican. It is true that you would have this impression, if force fed Germinal for your Bac by some bitter and twisted teacher/functionary.

One is however distressed by Madam Lagarde’s expression of regret that France is a nation that thinks too much. It is all very well demanding that France “must stop thinking, stop dithering and simply roll up its sleeves.” But stop thinking? In the 24/7 globalised economy? I wait to be convinced.

Is this evidence of an American military-industrial conspiracy? Le Canard suspects as much. After all, Madam Lagarde, hailed by Sarko as the best ever French finance minister, is a known Atlanticist and a member of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. So perhaps she is undermining Badiou and Lacan as part of a covert CIA program to replace all French penseurs with American ones?

Again, I am not sure. Doubtless she has been conditioned by Anglo-Saxon attitudes, but could this alone account for Madam Lagarde’s disrespect for French thought? It is hard to know how we would even think, without the French. Is she utterly unaware of this? Isn’t this one of France’s strategic national assets, alongside nuclear power stations and the Rafael fighter jet?

This was an appalling speech. One does not need to be a populist to do better. But why one would make a speech arguing about the desirability of thought seems difficult to explain. Not a populist, maybe. Or not human.

The Canard is right to note that as finance ministers go, she beats all records.

Text of speech here.


4 Responses

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  1. Ronnie Ann said, on July 24, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    Thoroughly enjoyed this post. The pic is priceless. The face of joy? Please know that a few of us in the United States actually still do think – oh not too much because it mucks up television viewing time – and what we think is that this is a ridiculously misdirected program. Not thinking is what got us into the horrible situation in Iraq. And by the way…we would LOVE a 35-hour week here and actual vacation time. (In case you have any pull.)

  2. Jonathan Miller said, on July 24, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    Obviously, as a journalist I thoroughly disapprove of the 35 hour week. 35 hours a month is more like it… If you suffer from inadequate vacations and excessive workload, I would have suggested moving to France. But this may no longer be safe.

  3. the highway scribe said, on July 24, 2007 at 6:45 pm

    Covered the speech at my blog “highwayscribery” as well.

  4. Jonathan Miller said, on July 25, 2007 at 7:21 am

    And a fine blog it is, Sir!

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