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A culture of economic failure

I realise that the sums of money that get spent on “culture” are very small potatoes indeed when set beside other sorts of government extravagance.

Nevertheless, I can’t help thinking that there is a connection between this report about France’s “new wave of culture-focused building projects”:

A Napoleon III villa in a Parisian suburb, squatted by artists and musicians; a cathedral-like hangar, the vestige of Dunkirk’s naval industry that used to define the life cycle of the entire city; a new, 240m-long bridge in the French Alps. This is just a sample of France’s recent crop of architectural projects, and they have at least one thing in common: they are all cultural facilities that offer a draw both through their content and their site.

… and reports like this one from the BBC about French economic pessimism, or this one entitled Is France the new Italy?

Hollande’s Socialist administration faces protests over taxes and burdensome regulation not just from business leaders, as you might expect, but also from farmers, shopkeepers, teachers, truck drivers and soccer players. …

Leaning heavily on higher taxes, the government has been slow to get public spending under control. France’s ratio of public spending to gross domestic product is now 57 percent – the highest in the euro area.

As Instapundit likes to say, what can’t go on forever won’t.

What, I wonder, will those new culture palaces end up being used for?

8 comments to A culture of economic failure

  • Paul Marks

    The building projects are a problem – but they are the least of the problems of France.

    The key problem is the out of control Welfare State – and the demented Labour Code (the regulations).

    On the Labour Code (the conditions of work, the minimum wage and so on) Germany looks set to copy France – the German SPD lost the election (they did very badly indeed) yet due to the twists and turns of German election law losing the election (losing by a landslide) means that the left will have a stranglehold o power (as should be well known – any deal with a leftist party, in the United States or anywhere else, means that they decide policy and the majority party gets decide about paper clips).

    President Hollander appears to be a nice enough person – who wants people to have jobs and so on. But how can he fundamentally change the Labour Code? After all now socialists have got rid of their Rousseau-like commitment to total collectivism (i.e. the idea that private employment is “slavery” and working for the collective is “freedom”) what have they got left other than regulations and welfare benefits? Being in favour of such United Nations style “Positive Rights” (“Human Rights” according to Harold Laski and E.H. Carr) is what modern socialism is about.

    As for the Welfare State (the lion’s share of that 57% government spending) again – how can President H. do anything fundamental about that? How can any Western nation do anything fundamental about that.

    Perhaps it would have been better if Thomas Paine (the person who represented the moderate wing of Revolutionary thought – anti total collectivism, but pro endless Positive Rights to education, welfare, health, old age support) had been executed by the extremists during the French Revolution – ideally before the Rights of Man Part II was published.

    “Paul Marks in favour of murdering the forefather of modern liberalism” – not what I said, but there we go.

    It took a very long time for the ideas of Thomas Paine (yes one trace them back for centuries before him – but Thomas Paine wrote in simple language, not the high-academic of, for example, German thought) to be put into practice.

    In the 19th century education was what fell to de facto state monopoly (before only a few places had state schools – for example in the Prussia of Frederick the Great, one place where the writings of German academics were understood, whereas in the much cited Scottish example schools were not really compulsory and they were not really national, right up to 1872 Schools in Scotland were actually either private on locally controlled Church schools under the control of the local “Kirk”).

    However, in the 20th century (well starting in the late 19th century – if one included Prussia-Germany) everything else started to follow education – health, income support, old age………

    Now we have the full Thomas Paine vision – accept (no surprise here) it has turned out to be more than ten times more expensive than he thought it would be.

    France is just the extreme example – every other major country is going to bankrupt as well.

    The Prince of Liechtenstein (the same place that started down Stalin over escaped “Soviet Citizens” when everywhere else gave in to Yalta – and stared down the Council of Europe when they said an hereditary monarch could not have a political role) got his people together recently and explained to them that the unlimited Welfare State was the road to ruin.

    The people listened to their Prince – and agreed with him (they tend to – Thomas Paine would be deeply upset).

    This may turn out O.K. (it really might).

    But do not see how fundamental reform can happen in France – or here.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Paul Marks
    November 29, 2013 at 4:37 am

    But do not see how fundamental reform can happen in France – or here.

    I don’t see how fundamental reform can’t happen, in the US, in France, and elsewhere. It certainly happened in the Former Soviet Union. And it’s as likely to be an appalling mess in the West as it was there. It just isn’t going to happen voluntarily (unless the Tea Party succeeds in forcing an amazing about-face).

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    There is a paragraph near the end of your quoted article which illuminates why so many of them go wrong:

    They may share key qualities but all these projects are scattered across the country in response to France’s current cultural decentralization challenge (which was indeed the motive behind establishing a network of regional art centers, or FRACs). They also provide excellent incentive to venture outside Paris on a countrywide architectural pilgrimage.

    Not that I have anything either for or against French culture being geographically decentralized, but oh how typical of modern statists to think that the way to decentralize a culture is to… issue orders from central government that the centrally funded temples of art be built where the government says.

    Not a delusion limited to France, but it is especially strong over there.

    Just to add to your list of examples here is a story in the Times about the way over-budget and delayed Paris Philharmonic Hall. The story is behind a paywall but here is a quote:

    A grandiose concert hall, intended as the setting for a French version of the Proms, is threatening to become a national embarrassment.
    Construction of the Paris Philharmonic Hall has been hit by delays, disputes and accusations that it will be snubbed by concertgoers because it is in an impoverished part of the city.
    The hall — supporters of which say it will place Paris on a par with London and Berlin — was scheduled to open in September 2012 at a cost of €120 million (£100 million) with a performance of Dvorak’s Symphony No 7.
    Now the opening date has been delayed until January 2015 at the earliest because of disagreements between national and local authorities financing the project and Jean Nouvel, the architect who designed it.
    The budget has reached €386.5 million and officials are refusing to agree to provide more funds, although an extra €12.5 million is needed to complete France’s answer to the Royal Albert Hall.
    The French National Audit Office denounced the revised cost as exorbitant and Yann Gaillard, a French Senator who reported on the project, asked: “Did it need to be so grand?”
    Even the choice of site for the hall — next to the Science and Music museums in La Villette district in east Paris — has stirred controversy.
    Critics question whether the classical music lovers who live in affluent west Paris will ever go to concerts on the other side of the city, which is known for drugs and violence.

    Note that this hall has an in-Paris example of the tendency to decide where to locate the cultural temple on political grounds, rather than putting it where the potential audience would like it to be.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)


    Yes. Quite apart from of the many inherent evils of state provision is the extra bonus evil that it nearly always ends chaotically. I remember saying this as well as I am ever going to say it nine years ago:

    One of the myriad reasons for thinking that it is an evil for the government to lay on services for one is that when the services are withdrawn it hurts, just as part of the evil of drugs is that withdrawal from them hurts. The hurt has two components: first the fact that something you have come to depend on goes away at all, and secondly that the way that the end comes tends to be chaotic and acrimonious.

    The reason that withdrawal is rarely phased and planned comes from the politics of the attempt to make services universal. At first the government provides some service or other to most people, those it can reach easily. Then it gets a little richer and has enough spare capacity to get logical. It makes strenuous efforts to provide the service to everyone, whatever the expense. Officials often display a sort of manic determination akin to that of a mother determined to ensure none of her children will ever have cause to complain of fewer ballet lessons or football coaching sessions than another. The first stirrings of resentment from the paying majority start now. They will be ignored because the principle of universality seems so important. But resentments ignored have a way of building up. The pressure rises and rises and then explodes. Suddenly politicians are clutching their parliamentary majorities. Something has to be done to appease the ordinary folk, and quick! But because the minister placed in charge of withdrawal does not wish to have his own universalist platitudes of ten months earlier quoted back at him he has a strong motive to avoid debate. Thus it is Cold Turkey when you are lucky, force and fraud (as seems to be going on in Botswana) when you are not.

  • Paul Marks


    Yes – if things can not carry on as they are (and they can not) then they will change…… one way or another……..

    Good point – which I missed.

    As for the great building projects that Brian points to……

    One future use might be for future media people or academics to use them as evidence of the wonders of Islamic civilisation.

    After all this the use of Roman ruins in Spain and the Middle East.

    The BBC (and so on) declare the Roman stuff Islamic.

    Future civilisations (if they, in turn, become weak and intellectually corrupt – as we have) may declare the Grand Projects of France clear proof of the wonders of Islamic civilisation.

  • Paul Marks

    I have had a cultural thought – rare for me.

    A culture of economic failure (as opposed to a state policy of economic failure) is a culture where the shops get looted when there is a police strike.

    It came to me when watching the shops being looted in a city in Argentina.

    It occurred to me that this would not happen in Kettering.

    Firstly the police would not go on strike.

    And, even if they did, we would not loot Tesco and so on.

    And we would deal with any thief who tried to steal.

    Perhaps this place is not so bad – in its basic culture.

  • Mr Ed

    It came to me when watching the shops being looted in a city in Argentina.
    It occurred to me that this would not happen in Kettering.
    Firstly the police would not go on strike.
    And, even if they did, we would not loot Tesco and so on.
    And we would deal with any thief who tried to steal.


    As if. London had looting not long ago. The police did little. What would happen is that the police would not turn up except at their own press conferences making appeals for calm and seeking to establish dialogue with leaders of the ‘looting’ community. Anyone holding a vigil to protecet Tesco would however be arrested by police eager to meet soft targets. ‘Lessons would then be learnt’ and Tescos would be burnt down by Lefty/criminal mobs.

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Ed.

    Yes I know the culture of much of London is vile.

    What interests me is how a culture changes – how it goes from nonvile to vile (and back again?).

    When my father was young people in the East End of London – but any looter would have been regarded with contempt.

    Now we have a Social Justice mob – vermin (like rats or insects). People who think they have a “right” tostuff

    How did the culture change?

    And, I repeat, I do not think it has changed that much here.

    It used to be said that it was the difference between Catholic and Protestant (and Jewish) culture – whether someone regarded something as justified if other people were doing it (supposedly the practice among Catholic populations) or whether someone looked directly to God as a judge of themselves as an individual (supposedly the practice among Protestants and Jews). But I do not think this really fits the facts – it is more propaganda than reason.

    So what is the real factor?