Inside View: Elitists and anarchists say non to capitalism

I have been tear-gassed three times in Paris. This isn't due to any latent political extremism. Last time, it was just while out buying a Sunday paper. Political protest so quickly turns to violence there, passers-by get swept along with it. This public frustration is directed at the technocratic elite that rules France.

That elite lost one of its finest this week, with the fall of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the finance minister. So, will the nascent economic recovery meet political and structural obstacles? Does France too suffer from the forces of conservatism?

Demos - or manifs (manifestations) - are part of everyday life in the French capital. Clearly, the roots of this lie in the extreme divisions in French politics. At a time when few former Iron Curtain countries would be seen dead admitting they still had a Communist party, the French version is alive and well. Opposition has a peculiarly anarchic tinge. When anarchists attacked Fauchon (Paris's equivalent of Fortnum & Mason), it was rather bizarre to see them dashing marrons glaces to the floor.

There is a very real element in France that seems to find capitalism disgusting. Some weeks ago there was a sad march by the employers' federation. Rather pathetically the Gradgrinds of modern France had decided to stage their own demo. What were they demanding? The right to make a profit! This may seem strange, but the hot debate in French political circles today is the "Michelin affair". The group tried to make people redundant just after reporting record profits. Some want it to be illegal to make anyone redundant if you are in profit.

A flexible labour market has yet to reach France.

Taxes on employment were long ago isolated and attacked in the UK. In France, restrictions still exist and are particularly severe in the financial sector. You not only have a tax if you employ someone, but a super tax if the company is deemed to be profiting from "trading". I recently met one French financier who had moved back to Paris having worked in the City of London. He had set up his own bond-trading firm employing a growing a number of professionals. It is the sort of thing that would cheer Gordon Brown's stony heart. The French financier was nearly reduced to tears at the many impediments placed in his way. He'll soon be back in London.

The anarchists shouting down the small businessmen on the Rue de Rivoli are bad enough, but what is perhaps more frightening is the incipient anti-commercialism that penetrates to the very heart of the French establishment.

Central to this is the dominance of elitist institutions such as ENA. In Britain we talk of the power of Oxbridge; in France it is ENA - the cole Nationale d'Administration. It was set up after the Second World War - as a further refinement of the grandes ecoles system originated by Napoleon - to feed first-rate minds into France's civil service.

The power of this institution is amazing. Not content with their stranglehold over the civil service, graduates of ENA long ago moved in to control large sections of industry. One US broking house recently published an article showing that two-thirds of the CAC 40 companies (France's FT-SE) were controlled by graduates of the grandes ecoles. This included many of the biggest names, such as Societe Generale, Axa and BNP.

ENA's brain boxes have such power they are known as enarques. It's in this light that we need to consider the fall of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. His office was packed with fellow enarques and his chosen successor, budget minister Christian Sautter, is an acknowledged technocrat. To many there is a growing feeling that the recent economic recovery could be jeopardised by the oligarchy controlling French business. The strength of public reaction in the last few days comes from this whiff of sulphur.

This, of course, seems very odd to the US way of thinking. Remember that the A in ENA stands for administration and that the school was established as a civil service feeder. Even if it were an institution devoted entirely to the teaching of commercial and financial matters, it might still be a justifiable question whether the enarques it turns out would not have done better having a spell in industry or commerce. Can you be taught money making, or must you learn it?

This elitism comes from the extraordinary respect for the intellectual in France. Just as the financier is loaded down with penalties for practising his craft, so-called intellectual professions such as writers (even journalists) actually get tax reductions - very good for conversations in the cafes of the Boul' Mich, but not necessarily for the engine room of the economy.

In the Sixties a journalist asked the Chinese leader Chou En-lai what he thought of the French Revolution. The wise statesmen smiled, and replied: "Too early to say." Maybe now we are getting the answer.

Christopher Walker is a director of Hill Samuel. Christopher.walker@hsam.co.uk

News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Data Analyst/Planning and Performance – Surrey – Up to £35k

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

Markit EDM (CADIS) Developer

£50000 - £90000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CA...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker