Des contrats sociaux précaires

Londres – « Enrichissez-vous », disait Deng Xiaoping à ses compatriotes chinois alors qu’il entamait le démantèlement du modèle socialiste déchu de Mao Zedong. En fait, partout dans le monde, les élites ont toujours vécu selon cette injonction. Peu importe pour les gens ordinaires, tant que les élites remplissent leur part du contrat : protéger le pays contre ses ennemis et améliorer les conditions de vie. C'est ce contrat social implicite que menace aujourd'hui l'effondrement économique.

Bien entendu, ses termes varient selon le lieu et l’époque. Dans l'Europe du XIXe siècle, les riches devaient avoir une vie frugale, éviter la consommation ostentatoire. Ils étaient censés épargner une grande partie de leurs revenus, puisque l'épargne était à la fois un fonds d’investissement et une vertu morale. Avant la naissance de l'État-providence, les riches devaient être également philanthropes.

En revanche, pour un pays comme les Etats-Unis où tout est possible, les consommations ostentatoires étaient davantage tolérées. Dépenser beaucoup était signe de succès : ce que les Américains attendaient de leurs riches, c'était un esprit d'entreprise bien visible.

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