France’s changing ideas about money


Former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency was one of a number of turning points in France. He decreased the taboo surrounding cash, while French markets have become more open to foreigners and unions demand more.

Historically, France’s love of ideas and learning has always taken precedent over making money. Today however, things are beginning to look different.

Socialism and capitalism side by side in France?

Since 1789’s Revolution, socialist ideology has had a firm grip on economic, social and foreign policy. Today this is even more evident as vehement socialist François Hollande grips the reigns of France’s top office.

But while socialism rises, so too does a seemingly contradictory idea. Hollande’s predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, who himself defeated Ségolène Royal in 2007, did in fact begin to pave the way for a new relationship between France and the euro, emblematic of a slight shift in the French opinion of wealth.


Sarkozy the unlikely sort

Sarkozy is of the generation known as the soixante-huitards. This group and the movement thereof followed the May 1968 demonstrations that swept across France. However, Sarkozy was on the other side of the riots.

French society is also steeped in the love of ‘the idea’. Academia, intellect and the status that comes with it forms France’s backbone. But Sarkozy didn’t attend any of the prestigious Grandes Écoles, nor did he inherit wealth, but rather calls himself a self-made man, never ceasing to make reference to his migrant roots. And yet he is now evidently very wealthy.

French flashes and flaunts

His display of money has disgusted many French, but has nevertheless lessened what was previously complete intolerance for accumulated wealth and exhibitionism. France’s obsession with thought, beauty and art has always overshadowed this notion of riches, starkly contrasted to other Western powers who revere capitalism and all its fruits, namely the U.S.

With his reflective Ray Bans, Armani suits, and his Rolex, Sarkozy has pricked the French psyche, tweaking it ever so slightly to render the pursuit of money a little more ‘normal’. Guy Debord, in his book ‘La Société du Spectacle’ 1, goes as far to say that France is reaching that crucial point in the evolution of capitalist societies when “the commodity completes its colonisation of life”.

Indeed, many French people attribute the decreased intensity of the taboo surrounding wealth to Sarkozy. He appears, during his presidency, to have heralded a new sort of message, one with which France had hitherto been unacquainted: ‘it’s okay to have money and to flaunt it’. Few French newspapers these days report on Sarkozy’s flaunting. Moreover, those of the ’68 generation hardly blink an eye at new policies that would have previously been branded extremely capitalist.


And so France shifts

Today, monolithic malls pepper France’s largest cities, and investors from some of Asia’s top companies are now allowed to buy into the nation’s fundamental infrastructures like dairy production. Moreover, the mass demonstrations of 2008 organised by the Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail in favour of the thirty-five hour week were a dismal failure. People simply wanted more money, not more leisure time in which to ponder ideas.

It’s an exaggeration to describe this as a burgeoning love affair with money. Rather, it is a change in French attitudes towards it. The French love affair with culture and ideology still remains as strong as ever, but appears to be coexisting with the idea of wealth.

Again, Guy Debord stated that the French are beginning a decline from “being” to “having”2. Although to most, this would seem a hyperbole.

What do you think? Are the French changing their perceptions of money?

1-2 Guy Debord, La société du Spectacle (Buchet/Chastel, 1967)
Image Credits:
1.  Nicolas Sarkozy, via Wikipedia
2. The Mighty Euro, via etf Trends
3. CFDT, via 

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Alex Jeffares

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