France is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its social security system. The philosophical foundation for the existence of such a system, often derided today as seeding the « nanny state », nevertherless still reads like a perfectly modern political programme:
« Social security is the garantee given to all that under any cirumstances they, and their families, will have access to the means required to live in decent conditions. Rooted in the basic principles of social justice, it answers the need to free workers from the uncertainty of the next morning, from this constant uncertainty which creates for them the feeling of inferiority that is the real cause of class distinction, that separates those whose wealth removes uncertainty about themselves and their future, and those on whom looms at all times the threat of misery. « (1)
Certainly, there are issues. Social security today is generally associated with the large budget deficit that it has been running for decades, the cause of which is the growing number of people drawing benefits versus the diminishing number of people at work and paying for the system. Deficit that has been diminishing in the past years, through various measures including making access to the system so complex as to discourage parts of the population from even trying to claim dues. Care isn’t free either, just heavily subsidised. It is essentially impossible to leave the system if you want to go 100% private. Lobbying has made the French abusive consumers of pharmaceutical products.
A poll done in May revealed that a third of the French were ready to leave the « Sécu » if they could. A third would definitely want to keep it, and another third would probably want to keep it. (2)
Which brings up the topic of poverty. A recent report claims that world poverty has now dipped below 10% of the world population, thanks largely to the growth of the Chinese economy. In France, where poverty is defined as having an income below 50% of the mean income, poverty is at 7.7% of the population (2013). Poverty fell in the 70s until the 90s, had ups and downs until 2008 when it rose again, adding 800 000 new poors between then and 2012: (3)
The slightly better economic winds blowing over here lately are bringing poverty down again, though how long that will last is anyone’s guess. Spot comparision with Europe: in 2010, based on the 60% of the mean (red curve above for France), the % for Europe was 16.4, or 80 million people officially in poverty. France does slightly better. (3)
The poverty risk increases markedly for those having immigrated from outside the EU. It is nearly 41% for the EU (38% for France), compared to a 24% risk for intra-EU migrants, and 22.6% risk of poverty for those living within their own country.
Migrants and economic survival in the face of global competition remain hot issues in France. Some are using migrants to fan the flames of hatred, such as Nicolas Sarkozy talking of « disintegration » of French society because of immigration (quite funny given his own origins, son of a Hungarian immigrant…), together with his front-line supporter turned contender Nadine Morano arguing that France is fundamentally « white », whatever that means. Obviously Europe is « white » in the sense that Africa is « black », so does this means that all non-blacks should leave Africa and non-whites leave Europe? If not, what is the point of making the point? Strong echoes here of the provocative racist talk in the US GOP primaries race.
The « neither-nor » french policy in Syria has gone from near immobility to a halt in the face of Russia’s military intervention to support the Assad regime and destroy its opponents, whatever their names and origins. The inept posturing is going as far as mentionning support for « moderate terrorists ». What? A sizeable part of French public opinion appears quite supportive of Putin’s actions in Syria and is criticising France’s US-controled lame duck posture. Despite years of official Assad-bashing and the recent publication of exfiltrated Syrian photographer « Ceasar »‘s pictures of tortured anti-Assad rebels, there is a notion that Assad is better than ISIS anyway, so ISIS has to be defeated before there is any talk of endogenous regime change in Syria. I tend to agree. Which is not to say that Russia will really be that much more effective than the current coalition ever was in Iraq, once they have taken out the easy targets in Syria.
Talking of airplanes, mugged executives at Air France following yet another annoucement of cuts in the workforce, made world headlines this week. The move from a state-funded monopolistic airline to a private compay (in which the French state owns a 16% stake only), in the face of low-cost hyper-efficient airlines on the local side such as Easyjet, and high-quality competition on the long-range side from the likes of Qatar Airways, is proving long and difficult. Easyjet pilots fly 700 hours annually, against 500 for Air France pilots. Air France culture is more that of a ministry than a sword whirlng market conquistador, but it has managed in the past years to recover from near disaster to being profitable, just. Now it’s executives want to bring it back to the forefront of air travel, meaning even more efficiency and quality of service.
That translates, apparently, as a higher workload for the same salary, or cutting jobs. And that is getting to be too much to take for some on the unionist side. 12 400 jobs have been cut at Air France since 2009, leading unionists to call for cuts in the executive suite, for a change. The establishment reacted immediately: President Hollande declared the mugging inacceptable and damaging the image of France, whilst PM Valls called for bringing the muggers to court. Disgruntled unionists better forget about any support from this « socialist » government.
I don’t have an opinion on this matter but the fact that the highest levels of the French establishment consider a couple of ripped executive shirts (nobody was hurt) an affront to the Nation, is yet another sign of the very shallow mindset of those governing this country.
Shallow minds with big intrusive ears, as the new, much-criticised Patriot-style information-gathering law came into force last Saturday. The good news is that, on the same day, 180 journalists from the french legal press introduced a claim with the European Court of Human Rights, saying that this new law violates the principle of confidentiality of journalistic sources. There is hope yet. (4)
(1) My translation from the original text: La sécurité sociale est la garantie donnée à chacun qu’en toutes circonstances il disposera des moyens nécessaires pour assurer sa subsistance et celle de sa famille dans des conditions décentes. Trouvant sa justification dans un souci élémentaire de justice sociale, elle répond à la préoccupation de débarrasser les travailleurs de l’incertitude du lendemain, de cette incertitude constante qui crée chez eux un sentiment d’infériorité et qui est la base réelle et profonde de la distinction des classes entre les possédants sûrs d’eux-mêmes et de leur avenir et les travailleurs sur qui pèse, à tout moment, la menace de la misère.
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