Hello everyone! As a follow-up to yesterday's post, I would like to share my response to an email that I received, one that asked in an open way how I, as an American raised in a Capitalist country, could endorse a Socialist candidate. After writing it, I thought that others amongst you might find it worth reading:
"Thank you so much for your email. I really appreciated both your question and how you presented it. It made me realize that I have been living in France for so long that I have taken for granted that an explanation of why I would back a Socialist candidate might be merited. First, a little bit more about my background: I grew up in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania then Santa Cruz, CA before moving to Manhattan. My Dad worked in retail his entire life (they called him "Dr. Retail"), my Mom works in retail and my Sister has her own business. So I too grew up with Capitalism. I also remember that Socialism was lumped together with Communism and Marxism when I learned about it at school while the reality of how Socialism operates in France is quite different from that.
There are many kinds of Socialism and even different kinds of Socialists within the Socialist party here in France (as an aside it is worth noting that there were ten candidates from various political parties from extreme right to extreme left before the first round of voting here, it is a much broader palette than Republican, Democrat or Independent!). However, the most prominent form is that of Social Democracy which promotes not revolution but reform within a Capitalist society. France has long held a mixed economy and is one of Europe's most state-controlled Capitalist economies (including most of our utilities, transport, etc.). François Hollande's platform includes two key topics in Social Democracy: social reform and wealth redistribution through aid and taxation. One of his primary focuses is education and the promotion of youth, something that is direly needed in France today where young people have a 25% unemployment rate. Yes, his taxation of those that will net over a million Euros a year (one that will come out to roughly 55% rather than the 75% reported) is controversial but not radically different than some of Warren Buffet's or Stephen King's current suggestions that the mightiest need to do their part and it will also permit Hollande to raise the minimum wage. Similarly, some of Hollande's proposals, such as an immediate 30% pay cut for the President and his ministers, remind me of FDR's New Deal, which aimed to bring a society together in a time of crisis.
France is currently so terribly splintered. Not only is the gap between the "Have's" and "Have Not's" widening to the extremes (France's wealthiest experienced a 40% increase of their worth last year) but the tensions between young and old, white or not white (regardless of whether someone was born in France or not) have lead to a society that is fear-driven and that is very much "each man for himself." Growth is impossible in such a social climate. Neither is changing to a purely Capitalist economy an option in a country that has been constructed on social ideals such as free education, unemployment aid, free medical insurance and social security. Nicolas Sarkozy pushed the country in a more distinctly Capitalist direction and quite simply, it didn't work. Or it did for a very, very few. It encouraged me so much to see that, here in Arles, the poorest neighborhoods had the highest voter turn-out and they voted strongly for Hollande. People want change.
I could go on but this might begin to explain as well as I am capable of doing. As a Democrat, I also whole-heartedly endorse many of Hollande's proposed social reforms but that is not what you were asking about and is perhaps irrelevant. I do realize that he has a too enormous task ahead of him but I believe that he might end up being one of France's great presidents regardless. There is still an undercurrent of the aristocracy here in France--those that are in control are often from the wealthiest, oldest families. If this "normal" man can bring about change, more power to him."
I spoke with Remi during lunch (he attained a law degree before becoming a photographer and is the sharpest news hound I know). He asked that I include the reminder that since the Revolution, people have fought and died in order to build into the government certain controls (for lack of a better translation) with the aim of protecting the respect for the human condition. So that people do not have to work every day of the week and that children are no longer a part of the labor force. To have the guarantee of a retirement. On May 1, the French people pay tribute to the sacrifices that were made for their current freedom and to salute the power of the workforce.
This is a lot of politics to throw at you over two days but it is also an important part of living in France. I understand if it is not your cup of tea and hope that any comments will remain polite. In no way am I making comparisons or saying that one country is better than another--that is a conversation that doesn't interest me in the least. The differences are always worth examining and what makes our world so interesting!