Monday, 7 October 2013

The French are, well ...., crazy !

The French have an advanced case of obsession with "culture". At least the French government does - the French people are probably as willing to dance Gangnam style or shop at Walmart as ogle at the impossibly unaffordable haute couture ! The French government doesn't like American soap, doesn't like English words stealing into French, doesn't even like their steel company to be bought by foreigners. Now they are picking up a new fight. They want to protect French book stores against  big bad Amazon.

The fight goes somewhat like this. Apparently small book stores are an integral part of French culture ! As with everywhere else, small bookshops are going out of business. The first threat came some 20 years ago with the arrival of the supermarket chains selling books. Promptly the French parliament passed a law "limiting discounts that can be given on books".  This was to protect the 2000 odd book shops in France so that they can continue to charge high prices and the supermarkets could not go below them. Then came online retailing. Everywhere else in the world books are largely being bought, if at all, online. France is no exception. Enter the chivalrous MPs in the French Parliament. They are now decreeing that online retailers (read Amazon) cannot offer free delivery - they have to charge so that they can be conveniently more expensive than the local book store.

In a mind boggling assertion, Christian Kert, the parliamentarian who sponsored this bill asserted that "The (book pricing) law is part of our cultural heritage" !!! The bill passed unanimously - now anybody who knows France's politics knows that nothing can ever be unanimous - not even free sex. But the "Screw you Amazon" bill passed unanimously. Wow !

Economics is not necessarily the strong point of French law makers as has been amply demonstrated over the years. It is not even their weak point - it simply does not come into thought at all. To protect 2000 geriatric stores, the lawmakers are willing to piss on millions of consumers. Governments are supposed to protect consumers, not mollycoddle long in the tooth producers. 

Notice how the "culture" that the government wants to protect is often what the French people themselves don't care about. French food, French wine, French fashion,  are all conquering the world with no assistance needed from the government, thank you very much. But French pop  music sucks; so mademoiselle dutifully listen to One Direction ! The government is outraged and passes quixotic laws unanimously.

The French deserve better. Their entrepreneurs, businessmen, workers are amongst the best in the world. There are great aspects of French culture (including shutting everything down in August !) that will thrive , not because governments are protecting it, but simply because people like it. There are other aspects of the culture, that should die, because they don't appeal to people anymore. There is no such thing as a static culture. Cultures evolve and so they should.

Thankfully, I never go to  a bookstore in France to buy books. For that matter, I am willing to bet, neither does M Christian Kert. Some smart TV reporter should ask him when he last bought a book and what the title was. His response may put the redoubtable Sarah Palin to shame !


Pranav said...

Not so sure about the bit wherein French pop sucks. One of the biggest singles (which is actually pretty good) of the year is by French duo electronic pop duo Daft Punk. This is not a novelty group with a novelty track. They've been around since the mid-90s. Other groups that from France that have had their moments of pop brilliance include Phoenix, Modjo, and Tahiti 80. All Of One Direction's material put together doesn't hold a candle to even ONE of the big singles by any of the groups I mentioned.

Deepa said...

haha... Took me down the memory lane ;-)

You have a love-hate relationship with the French! :D

Shachi said...

I've read a lot about their 3 (or sometimes 5) course meals, and how their children eat what adults too starting young, and a decent creche system to enable working moms. (Yep, my current stage in life heavily influences what I read as well :)). So those things must stay, and the bookstores - well, maybe the people will vote with their feet and pockets?

Asha said...

Did a similar thing happen inIndia when Walmart tried to make an entry?

Ramesh said...

@Pranav - I should be careful with casual throwaways on music when the world's greatest expert on contemporary music is a reader of this blog !! But watch out - any slight on One Direction will get you an almighty beating from you know who :)

@Deepa - Ha Ha. Not with the French, but only with one lady whom we mutually, ahem, love :)

@Supermom aka Shachi - Oh yes mommy thingies are super protected !!

@Asha - No the Walmart stuff was general resistance - not a cultural thingie. "Apasanskriti" thankfully is restricted to only Bengal

Sriram Khé said...

Hmmm .... as one who doesn't drink wine, French or otherwise, and having found most of the French cuisine not compatible with my mostly vegetarian existence, with quite a few of their cheese varieties a tad too stinky for me, well, there is a very limited assortment of truly French stuff that I will jump for. (am now drooling for a fresh chocolate croissant from a patisserie!!!) .... my point is that I don't have any special fondness for vive la france ...

Now, with those credentials stated (haha!) I support their idea to protect the neighborhood bookstore or whatever else they want to protect against a non-French influence. Why should economics always be the value to which everything else should prostrate? Why should the market overpower everything else? Especially when this was done democratically and not by a dictator?

As much as I am a Libertarian-Democrat with enormous sympathies for the market dynamic, I am increasingly worried about a global shift towards not a market economy but a market society. We seem to want to remake every aspect of life the way the market forces might push us. If there is any resistance (what? "French resistance"??? An oxymoron that is!) to this almighty market, I take it as yet another example of people being not to happy with the marketization of every aspect of life.

Oh, btw, "Get Lucky" kicks "One Direction"'s butt ;)
(the Stephen Colbert version is not available, it seems ... sad!!!)

Ramesh said...

@Sriram - Ah I am dumbstruck. The votary of freedom, liberty, etc etc, is defending a government decision to favour one retail form over another. Pry, why should I pay more to subsidise some book store. Nobody is forcing any book store to close - if they cannot delivery a service that people want, why must they be protected ???

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Prats said...

Though I am sympathetic to the cause of the smaller and larger book stores but this bill has taken it to different levels of ridicule.

Ramesh said...

@Prats - Oh yes - an author like you have to fall on the side of book stores :):)

Actually, I love quaint small book stores. And even some not so quaint one - if you know Free School Street of Calcutta, you would know what I mean. But governments subsidising them - that's another story.

Sriram Khé said...

Crap, I lost my opportunity over the last couple of days to bug you about this!

Here is my logic:
In liberal democracies, we exercise our preferences in the marketplace and via the government. I do not approve of every result in the market or at the government. But, what I am in support of is the very idea that we reach outcomes via these two approaches. In both cases, if there is nobody forcing the individual to exercise the preference in any one way, then I have nothing to worry about, though there are plenty of situations in which I disagree with the outcomes.

In this case, he French have used that democratic route and reached a certain outcome. You don't agree with that outcome (and neither do I.) But, my hassle is with the criticism over the parliamentary process adopted. The parliamentary approach is as legitimate as the market approach. Why should the market approach always be hailed as the superior one if the people have spoken via the democracy?

Ramesh said...

@Sriram - No problems with that. I would only slightly amend the proposition - the worthy parliamentarians who voted on the bill should also disclose what was the last book they read !

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