Jonah Levy lecture
“Pourquoi la France est-elle si difficile à reformer?” Talk by Professor Jonah Levy, November 13, 2023

We had the pleasure of discussing French politics on campus with Jonah Levy, Professor of Political Science at UC Berkeley, who gave a talk in French to the Berkeley French Department and the Berkeley Center of Excellence in French and Francophone Studies. The talk was entitled, “Pourquoi la France est-elle si difficile à réformer ? » (« Why is France so hard to reform? »). In it, Levy made use of the case of the highly contested recent French pension reform led by Emmanuel Macron in the Winter and Spring of 2023 to analyze some of the deeper historical and structural factors fueling the contestation of economic liberalization. Levy showed that three legacies of France’s postwar statist, or dirigiste, economic model explain the difficulty of conducting such reforms in France: 1) an extended, two-step trajectory of reform that has fueled a sense that liberalization is both ineffective and unjust; 2) the fact that French governments accompanied the break with the dirigiste model with what Levy calls “social anesthesia” measures, such as early retirement and a guaranteed minimum income, to demobilize opponents of reform, leading to the most expensive welfare state in the world and depriving current reformers of the fiscal resources to offer side-payments as a way of undercutting opposition to the government’s liberalizing initiatives; 3) a solitary exercise of power, typical of the dirigiste model and buttressed by the constitution of the Fifth Republic, disdaining negotiations with the political opposition or the unions, which left protests in the streets and strikes as the only way to try to influence government policy. All of these factors can explain why so many French citizens took to the streets and felt dissatisfied with the 2023 pension reform. You can watch Prof. Levy’s full presentation here (in French, on a zoom recording):

Professor Levy’s presentation is based on his latest book, Contested Liberalization (2023, Cambridge University Press).