by Hilary Barnes
My old friend Artemus W. drifted through France recently, convinced that there was more than enough material here for one his famous lectures that brought the house down in London and New York every night of the week ‘cept Saturdays, when it brought the house down at the matinée.
But Artemus never got the lecture written up. He was so surprised when he heard that a Mormon might be the next President of the United States that he drifted off home so fast that I never saw him go.
“Dear Mr Punch” he began, not apparently aware that Mr Punch was no longer in the publishing line.“I just got to Paris, where I couldn’t believe my own ears. The first thing they told me at the first bar I visited was that a movement is on the rise to make it a crime for a man to offer a girl remuneration for a night’s entertainment.Suggest, Mr P, that you telegraph Edward Albert immediately in case he should get into trouble next time he is passing through the French capital, and that scamp Harry better mind out too, especially if they should catch him naked for a second time.This movement makes it pretty damn sure that soon there won’t be a decent banker left in Paris, is my opinion. Those people make a lot of money by working so greedily to get stinking rich that they value – and they know all about value and how to price it – a good night’s entertainment with some lovely ladies of an evening.Soon they’ll all (the bankers and the lovely ladies both) be living and enjoying themselves in London and New York, and Paris will never be the same again.But I diverge. I been taking a leaf from de Toqueville and taking a look at French democracy, which is very interesting.They recently got a new president, Fransee Hollande-with-an-e, though no one calls him Dutch to his face as far as I know.Well, Dutch, as I shall call him to his face or not, took some lessons on team building from the local soccer team, that has enjoyed great success in the art of failure these last few years, when they haven’t won a single cup of coffee, let alone the silver kind of cup.These lads are so sue of their genius that they’d rather lose the ball to the other side than pass it to one of their own side, which proved a very good way of losing.When the team manager tried to tell them that this was not sporting, the fans didn’t like it, and neither did he, they sent him to Coventry, which is a very nasty industrial town to which no one likes to be sent, and never spoke to him again.I took a rapid drift to the Elysée Palace to have a look at Dutch, but he was away fixing up international affairs in Brussels, Berlin, Rome, Madrid, Peking, New York, Chicago, Washington and all stops to California. Back next year, they told me.Next I passed on to Bercy-in-Sane, named after the river, where they have the Trésorie, as they call it in London and Washington.Dutch has installed a sub-team of six ministers here, which should be a warning to the other 30 or so ministers, if one were needed.There was a bit of a scramble for the 6th floor office, which has the best view. It was won by Monsieur Moscovici (Mosco for short), which entitled him to be top dog with title of minister of the economy.The 5th floor went to Jerome Cahuzac (when they say it in French it sounds liker Quack-quack to me) who is minister of the budget, which left the fouth floor for Monsieur Mountebank, minister for industrial destruction, or so the barman at the Georges Cinq (who was he? Third and Fourth, yes, but Fifth?) told me.Now this Mountebank thinks he knows a thing or two and ought to be cock of the roost, so when he is not destructing industry he spends his time deconstructing poor old Mosco up there on the top floor.They now meet only on neutral territory, which is to say the second floor, which takes up so much time that Quack-quack has taken his work back home.His wife and mother-in-law think this must be because he is minister of the budget de famille and pester him all the time for more pocket money, but still, he says, home is a place where he can really get some work done.He’s got an important budget coming up any time now, which is going to be a “Bombe surprise” for sure because he hasn’t been able to get a word in edgeways, or any other ways, with Mosco and the rest to tell them what he has in mind.This leaves another three ministers to weigh in on the side of either Mountebank or Mosco, which is unfair because this will always leave one of these two with majority support.But Fabius (Fab for short), who 28 years ago was France’s youngest prime minister, which caused so much jealousy that he was not invited to join the team again until Dutch took pity on him and made him minister of strangers, as they call the rest of the world in France.When Fab hears that there was a minister for foreign commerce at Bercy-in-Sane the steam blew from his ears and condensed into a sub-ministry for foreign commerce at the Quai D’Orsay, which evens up the numbers betting on the outcome of the Mosco – Mountebank bare-fist heavy weight championship for the French title.I’ll say Mountebank looks a very frisky lad, but Mosco has a bit of weight on his side and front, so perhaps he’s in with a fair chance too.Where does this leave the prime minister, you are wondering. So is the rest of France.Which brings us back to Dutch himself.When he ran then socialist party he was was known as the Great Synthesiser, which was a reference to the synthesiser machine he invented.Into through Flap A on the right you pour as many theses as you like and into through Flap B on the left your pour as many antitheses as you like, and this being the French socialist party there are always plenty of both.Then you press the switch and out it spews as many syntheses as you need, all of them so worded that no one can disagree with them, even if no one quite agrees with them either.This worked very well and left him to run the party for 11 years without ever actually having to tell any one what he actually thought himself, so nobody could find a good reason to vote against him.Dutch does not seem to have collected enough theses and antitheses to make a decent meal for the machine just yet, so is busy organising a multitude of conferences between every possible current of opinion in and not in the party and the government to generate a few thousand more.When he starts up the good old synthesiser he expects it will do its usual job. Whatever the synthesis, no one will find it possible to disagree and Dutch himself will still not have to say what he himself really thinks, which should do his popularity a whale of good.Besides which he thinks he can make a bit on the side, renting the synthesiser to the other lot, the L’UMPs, who are having a spot of trouble working out which of the 58 contenders to lead the party after the departure of Petit Nicolai Sarkozy will do the best job.
(The author’s thanks to Project Gutenberg where they recently published the complete works of Artemus Ward, the famous American 19th century humorist)
Hilary Barnes is a veteran economics and business writer. He was for 25 years the Copenhagen Correspondent of the Financial Times, Nordic Correspondent of The Economist for part of that time, and published a paper newsletter, sold to international companies in the Nordic countries, called The Scandinavian Economies for over 30 years.