So, apparently France got themselves into a $2.6 trillion debt hole. This translates into $42,623 of national obligations per each of 66 million French têtes. Of course, the number is staggering. However, I feel obligated to state that this is not as bad as what we have here, in our own beloved country with our very own $17.8 trillion burden pressing hard on 319 million of us with a weight of $55,684 per capita.
Still, someone just asked me the other day, how the hell France got itself so fucked. It's not like the country pays $42 billion into IMF every year; or covers 22% of the UN budget; or sticks its nose into every hot spot in the world, bankrolling military and whatever-else aid campaigns. And it definitely doesn't spend billions on artificially fueling the US stock market, even though if it crumbles the economies world-wide, including the French, will be doomed. It's our government that borrows funds for all that.
I'm no expert on French economy and I'm not about to embark on researching their problems in detail (God knows, I have more pressing things to do). However, basic knowledge of European affairs is sufficient for a logical person to form some general ideas.
This is what happens with the formerly wealthy, but already shaky (who isn't now?), national economies when they decide to build an opposition to USA by combining as many European countries as they can into some utopian economic union: they start breaking their financial backs by carrying on their shoulders weaker (like, ahem... Greece) nations. And, of course, the state needs resources to support domestic industries (solely in the name of protectionism). Add to that immigration policies driven by "special interests," which result in a population seriously skewed toward multi-children families with idle heads of households, who don't pay taxes but draw extensively on social programs. And why not? The majority of French population don't want to work too hard anyway: shorter hours, exuberantly long vacations, early retirement (at 60!). And again, why not when there is the Mandatory State Pension Provision in place?
What the poor France to do? Well, the French government came up with this brilliant idea: They are going to sell national treasures, starting with... Da Vinci's Mona Lisa (!), which, thanks to king Francis I, has been in France's possession since Leonardo's death, i.e. nearly 500 years.
Don't tell me that this doesn't sound like the end of the world: Through ages of political rioting and religious massacres, twenty three wars, three full-blown revolutions, multiple colonial rebellions, and Nazi occupation France managed to hold on to Mona Lisa. It's the perverted foreign policies and socialistic interior governing of our foolish times that led to the total socio-economic bankruptcy of the formerly powerful country.
You and I may think that La Gioconda is priceless, but the French have already assessed its market price, i.e. how much money someone may be willing to shed for it. During the 60s the best guess of the art-dealing community was around $100 million. Now, 50 years later, the time-adjusted equivalent of that sum is $2.6 billion. Never mind that this would cover only 0.1% of the debt in question. As they used to say in pre-Euro France, every centime counts.
One can't help but marvel at the utter stupidity and nearsightedness of the government that can entertain the idea of eliminating one of the main reasons for the international tourism to the infamously snooty, unreasonably expensive, and ethnically unstable City of Lights (the Louvre is still #1 visited museum in the world). Can these people see anything beyond their service terms? I can clearly visualize the snowball of layoffs and business closures, which will unavoidably lead to the further drain on the state's treasury. But those are French problems. So, fuck them!
What the rest of the world, especially those of us who care for the arts, should be concerned about is the distinct possibility that we may never ever have a chance to stand in front of the Mona Lisa and attempt to absorb (it's really not that easy in the room full of tourists holding up their video and photo devices) Da Vinci's masterpiece in person. And this is especially heart-breaking because it is one of only 23 surviving major works that are either universally or generally attributed to Leonardo.
It's dreamy to imagine one of the world's major museums trying to acquire the painting. However, it is unlikely that any such institution will be able to come up with a $2.6 billion check. The third-ranked museum in the world, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, is America's richest cultural institution with $2.7 - $3 billion annual endowment. However, the $300 million operating budget and constant structural updates apparently eat away the majority of the funds - during the fiscal year of 2012 the Met spent only $39 million on new acquisitions. Of course, there is an aggressive deaccessioning, which allows the museum to sell off "minor" pieces in pursuit of the "major works," but even with an average of $1 million per item, the institution will need to liquidate 2600 (!) works to collect the required amount. Highly doubtful!
So, if the transaction does materialize, it most likely will be funded by private wealth. You can pack a large ballroom with people from different corners of the world whose wealth amounts to multiples of the asking price. For the sake of my personal amusement we can entertain another beautiful fantasy: How grand would it be if one of our openly super-rich individuals with strong philanthropic inclinations shelled out a chunk of his wealth for La Gioconda and then gave it away to the Met, so that the grateful general public could continue enjoying it (only now in my own backyard)!
It would take only 4.4% of Warren Buffett's worth or 3.2% of Bill Gates's. But both of them are too preoccupied with keeping the world healthy and the US technologically comfortable (don't ask me why) to bother with art gifts like that. And by the way, the Codex Leicester, the most famous of Da Vinci's scientific journals, which Gates bought in 1994 for $31 million, is kept in the MS mogul's own private vault. It is considered a great generosity that the Codex is let for display once a year in different cities around the world. Yes, it is hard to imagine that anyone would give away the Mona Lisa as a gift to an institution or a nation.
The way I see it, the buyer will probably be someone whose immeasurable wealth you can't find on some Forbes list, because it is not valued in the ephemeral public-stock prices. This multi-billionaire is someone who keeps a low profile and his name would mean nothing to the majority of the world even if he walked into the Louvre in person. But such an individual will transact through multiple proxies, and when all is done the Mona Lisa will disappear from the public eye into a secret stronghold. We will be left with reproductions and copies, while a handful of people will enjoy the privilege of up-close peering into the delicate strokes of oil paints applied by the genius's hand to a piece of poplar wood.