Once a great princess, reported the philosopher Rousseau, hearing that people had no bread, said: "let them eat cake!" This slight was later attributed to Marie Antoinette, queen of France. Marie Antoinette was detested, having become the symbol of the excess and exploitation the hungry French people were victim of. Ms Lagarde seems keen to emulate her. France does not have oil, but she has ideas. Lagarde would rather do without the later, she insists.

Christine Lagarde spent 20 years in Chicago, raising to the top management in a law firm. Now after an election, she is French finance minister. She declared to the French National Assembly (10/07/07): "Work must pay." Good. But then she added: "BUT it's an old national habit: FRANCE IS A COUNTRY THAT THINKS. There is barely an ideology of which we did not make the THEORY. We possess in our libraries enough to talk about for centuries to come. That's why I would like to tell you: ENOUGH THOUGHT ALREADY. Let's roll up our sleeves."

And what? Bake cookies? Clearly, Lagarde contrasts and opposes work and pay, on one side, with thinking, on the other side. It cannot be denied: she says: "Work must pay. BUT… France … THINKS.". Not content with that, she claims there is already enough material in libraries. In case that's not blatant enough, she insists: "assez pensé maintenant".

Has President Sarkozy been elected to solve the library problem? Or the thought problem? What does Lagarde want to do about the library problem? Burn the books? She surely talks in that direction. That would be news to the French electorate who elected Sarkozy to earn more, rather than thinking less and heaping contempt on libraries, ideologies and theories.


Soon robots will do all physical labor. The only work left will be intellectual. Only thought will pay. In a country such as France, most of the added value comes from thought already. France does not have oil, as the USA, the UK, Norway or Russia have.

France has been superior at extracting financial compensation from the highest mental work. Two examples of real added value, in the most demanding industry, there is, aerospace. That is a field which pushes and integrates all of high tech.

A really state of the art plane is a new theory. There are two of these, worldwide, and they are risky ventures. The new A380 super jumbo, a "European" plane, uses new materials for its structure, such as glass-metal and carbon-organic composites; its multidimensionally curved wings reflect new aerodynamic thoughts.

The A380 looks a bit like one of the first planes, Clement Ader's, which had been inspired by bats (the aerodynamics of the Wright's brothers, a few years later, was not the best, contrarily to that of the French engineers, which explain why most of the terms in aviation are of French origin; the word "avion" itself was coined by Ader…).

The new Boeing 787, an "American" plane, is drawn using Computer Assisted Design software from the famous French aerospace company Dassault Systemes. The 787 represents a new ideology: most of the plane's volume is made of plastics baked into carbon fiber, gaining strength and saving weight. Using this sort of materials had been inaugurated by Airbus, but the 787 pushes it above 50% of total weight.

Are we supposed to bemoan that the French engineers of Dassault Systemes are helping to make new theories for that new ideology? Should they just talk for centuries about what's already in French libraries?

Or should instead Dassault software thinkers, as Marie Antoinette Lagarde suggests, should stop talking, and thinking, forget about libraries, roll up their sleeves and bake cake in some hyper rich lawyer's castle?

The real question is what is, or what ought to be, the nature of work? And what is productive work? In truth, THEORY IS HARD WORK, ACTUALLY THE HIGHEST ADDED VALUE WORK.


The basic principle of economic theory should be the Principle of Least Action (as in physics). In other words, just as light goes from one point to another by doing as little work as possible, so should it be for people and countries. That's also the best for the planet. Since the French like their vacation and their weekends, they gave a lot of thinking about how to work as little as possible, while doing more.

Some parts of the French economy are so much more efficient than corresponding parts of the US economy. It's not even funny.

The French health care system is the best in the world, according to evaluations by international institutions. It's state of the art, faster, cheaper, and much more available. Besides it covers everybody for all, short of exaggerated esthetic surgery.

The US health care system is # 37, well behind Columbia and Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, France spends only 8% of her GDP on health care, whereas the USA spends 16%. This is more than twice the efficiency, for the most major industry, in favor of the so called French welfare state. Of course, French healthcare is a plurality, a symbiosis between private and public systems. It's obviously the best, because it's a better ideology, buttressed by better theories. Lagarde should congratulate the French for having thought so well, and save so much money, and so many lives.

Instead of going on American TV to tell all how bad the French economy is, Lagarde should rather point out that the French health care system is so well thought out that it is mostly a private system with a global safety net, perfect for the USA.

France was able to construct in three years the tallest bridge in the world (the Viaduc de Millau, 2,500 meters long, the longest cable stayed bridge in the world). It carries a freeway. Construction was finished in 2004. In the San Francisco Bay area, the most important Bay Bridge, also with a freeway on top, was fatally wounded by an earthquake in 1989. It's expected to finish falling in the sea at the next serious "temblor", which should be any time now. A replacement is being built, since ever, and, apparently, for ever. It may be ready 25 years after the quake, or so…


The French finance minister's contempt towards the most noble instruments of civilization, ideologies, theories, libraries, and what makes France special, culminates into contempt for what distinguishes humanity itself, THOUGHT. This is the fundamental characteristic of fascism.

Lagarde is apparently affected with both the wrong ideology, and the wrong theories, so, naturally, she fears the correct ones, because it would mean for her to work, not with her sleeves up, which anybody can do, but with her brain fully active. Studying, brow down, with maximal added value, has to be a dreadful prospect for someone who does not know what work is, considering Lagarde got a lot of money for what many hard workers would view as nothing (or worse, as depicted in the movie "Michael Clayton", where an entire law firms is depicted as living off organized crime).

As a high billing lawyer, Lagarde, learned to distinguish hard, non creative work (i.e., working long hours so billing aplenty) from strategizing (i.e., thinking creatively). From her point of view, piling up the hours was good; it brought her (lots of) pay. She apparently got conditioned to see a dichotomy between work, sleeves up (good, since it brought Lagarde lots of money), and thinking (can't bill: does not bring Lagarde money, useless; law, having been thought out by legislators, requires little creativity: judges are not supposed to be legislating from the bench).

Ideologically, none of this is very French, this obsession with forcing people to work. No wonder Lagarde is called "the American" (although she speaks with an affected British accent). It reminds the French of the "Ancient Regime". When French workers (including children) used to work 16 hours a day (even Saturdays), in the 19C, Victor Hugo campaigned for 10 hour days.

If the French learned one thing about history, it's that they were exploited in the past more than economically necessary (before the French revolution, the aristocracy and the Catholic church owned most of the country, which created some resentment; at some point, in an over exuberant effort to correct these excesses, a revolutionary law ordered the destruction of all religious buildings)

When baboons fight to death, they group up and fight like mad as one unit, with little thought but that of the leader(s). At that point, they make their group like the Roman FASCES: it's not time to think, but time to kill. Such is the essence of fascism, and it's great to use it when terror comes around the corner: DON'T THINK ANYMORE, JUST FIGHT, OBEY AND WORK TO DEATH AS ORDERED BY YOUR LEADER.

There is nothing like fascism, when it's a matter of life and death. It's a behavior one should respect, when there is no choice. It has made our species possible. But the fascist instinct is continually misused by all sorts of neofascists, or neocons (as they like to mislabel themselves). 

For example, tweaking up French productivity (per hour basically the highest in the world, for many years running) is not a matter of survival. Giving the opportunity for everyone who wants to work the opportunity to work is more like it, and it's more a matter of reducing the bureaucracy (which has gone even higher with regionalization). Also a central objective should be to harness French thinking, precisely, by giving power to the universities and free enterprise, and venture capital attached to them.


The Roman republic ended down a road reminiscent to the one recommended by Lagarde. Of course Lagarde is way out of control, and Rome never became so silly.

Rome started with thinking, but ended WORKING WITHOUT THINKING, and, in spite of all its zillions of lawyers and soldiers, and immense, dedicated, fanatical work, and slavery, she still went down the drains. Why? Because Rome did not think enough. WORKING WITHOUT THINKING IS LIKE BREATHING WITHOUT INHALING. Only fascists (aka neocons) can do these tricks. But not very long. Frantic efforts by the Romans to stop the tide of stupidity with immense labor prolonged Rome's agony for centuries. Emperor Constantine, for example was incredibly industrious, running all around the place to fight Germans one day and an atheist rebellion the next (~ 320 CE). But no work could compensate for the deep stupidity of imposing theocracy.

The fall of Rome started five centuries before, when the republic, having got an immense fright from Hannibal, veered away from democracy towards home grown fascism.

The plutocracy in republican, imperial Rome was left to exploit rents, slavery and the conquest of foreign lands with little restraint. It was allowed to run away with that scheme. As a result employment in the countryside collapsed, when giant agribusinesses owned by the Senatorial class flourished in their stead. Most people got impoverished and the Rich got so rich they did not know how many properties they owned on all the continents (Seneca said so about himself).

Even war became private business. The richest men led entire armies of the republic, in their own personal service. The republic collapsed, turning into the Principate (= dictatorship of the Rich, in all but name). The army was soon at war with the plutocracy (this was already obvious in the Marius versus Sulla split, 100 BCE), as the economic pie started to shrink. The pie always shrinks when all you do is war.

But the main reason for the disintegration of the Roman economy and society was somewhere else. After all, under the Antonines emperors, Rome was peaceful again, and at her apex (as measured by the sort of criterions the contemporary USA uses for success).

The next thing which happened, was a very bad surprise: an everlasting war with the Germans. And Rome was not winning. Marcus Aurelius spent most of his 20 year reign fighting on the frontier (as represented in the opening scenes of the movie "Gladiator"). Inasmuch as she tried, Rome could not master the Germans. The treasury broke down, Marcus Aurelius sold the precious imperial cutlery.

How did Rome get into this fatal quagmire? The emperors had blocked new technology, on the official ground that it would make the employment crisis way worse. Under the republic, technological advances had allowed Roman armies to win. But now the technological advances occurred somewhere else (German stirrups and Central Asian composite, double curvature bows powerful enough to pierce Roman armor). The ecology deteriorated, as the Barbarians became ever more astute.

The desperate, clueless Roman dictatorship reacted like the dishonorable, clueless French Finance minister: THOUGHT BECAME THE ENEMY. The dictatorship could only survive by DECREEING ITSELF TO BE GOD, i.e., as a theocracy: thinker killing, book burning, school closing and the Dark Ages were next. To help fascism along, enemies of the state were created, the heretics. To make sure there would be always enemies, the notion of the Jew was introduced, always around, never quite dead, but certainly nice to torture.

In the Orient, this degenerated state of affairs more or less kept on going for a thousand years, soon playing tango with its Arabic alter ego, Islam. Both decadent religious contraptions had occasional lapses of reform and brilliance, characterized by increases of secularism, equal opportunity, and liberty, but, still in a hopeless theocratic context; those occasional lapses into reason kept them going, until the secular Franks, propelled by the greater power of better truth, came devouring all.

Verily, in the West, things had turned out completely different, because atheist Germans took power (declaring themselves to be Catholic, so the subjugated little ones would relax). The Franks chose thinking as their first value, as the good predators, bons vivants they were. Indeed the FREE ("Franks") needed the best technology: they had, and needed, the best weapons and steel.

So doing the Franks were retracing the steps of the original Roman republic. But whereas the Roman peasants mostly administered cattle, the Franks had millions of Gallo-Romans to domesticate. So they reestablished whatever they could save that the Catholics had not destroyed yet among the instruments of thought. Thoughtful cattle knows what to do better, finds its little pasture, all by its little self. "Grammar" (i.e., thinking) for the people was reintroduced. The Pope (Gregory the Great) threatened to kill (by fire, like Jesus ordered, blessed be His name) the bishops who complied. But since that Great Gregory was militarily impotent like a raging new born babe, the Franks let him simmer in a bath of steaming, hated Lombards. For two centuries. By then the Popes were eating in the Franks' hands, begging to be rid of the Long Beards.

The Franks had already passed a law forcing religious establishments to instruct the people secularly, or be destructed. The thoroughly domesticated Popes found the idea wonderful: King David had turned them into atheists, and they did not even know it. "King David" was one of the ways Charlemagne's adviser-philosophers called him. None of this very Christian, but sure very civilized. This time civilization was reborn on good foundations. Charles learned to read Latin and Greek as an adult, in spite of decades of war, as he finished the conquest of most of (what was then) Europe. See the great things thinking can do, Ms. Lagarde? Far from opposing work and thought, Charlemagne worked for thought.


A cow works all day long, grazing, and chewing grass. It is made to be eaten. Man originated as a chimp who worked less and had more energy because he knew more tricks to grab meat.

President Sarkozy himself pushes not just for more work, but, implicitly, for rnore thinking. Since most of the added value, in France, is due to thinking. Adding more value is what Sarko wants to do, he claims. In this context, it seems that Lagarde, by opposing thought to work, has given no thought about how this civilization works, and how productivity grows.

She should time travel back to imperial Rome, see if she can bill. The Romans had plenty of lawyers, but no theories, and no ideology of progress: she would feel at home, washing dishes, forgetting any thought of herself as LA GAFFE, and LA HAGGARD…

Patrice Ayme'
30 October 2007.

(P/S: Lagarde's stupid speech in Assemblée nationale, July 2007, in her original French: " Que de détours pour dire une chose au fond si simple : il faut que le travail paye. Mais c'est une vieille habitude nationale : la France est un pays qui pense. Il n'y a guère une idéologie dont nous n'avons fait la théorie. Nous possédons dans nos bibliothèques de quoi discuter pour les siècles à venir. C'est pourquoi j'aimerais vous dire : assez pensé maintenant. Retroussons nos manches.")