Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Social in Socialism



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!


27 comments:

Gldiebr said...

I don't live in France, but have enjoyed learning more about the politics in the past few postings. Between your background explanation, and your reader's respectful comments, I can understand the situation more clearly. Thank you!

I also loved dear Ben's position on the whole thing yesterday. What I really love about your writings, Heather, is that I never know what I might find here, but it will include beautiful photos and insightful writing. I'm a true fan.

Acquired Objects said...

I agree with the person above me and what she had to say. While I may not agree with everything it's nice to learn more and understand since I didn't have the whole picture.

This is why I love visiting your blog, you're open without being pushy and the variety of things you cover. I hope you, Ben and Remi have a wonderful day!

xxx
Debra~

Dash said...

Bravo Heather, that was very well put!

If you follow the link and click onto the map on Présidentielle 2012, you will see the results breakdown by department, we are in department 65, Hautes Pyrenees.
X

http://www.ladepeche.fr/

Splenderosa said...

Someone who is incapable of thinking 360 will never have a reasonable debate. Your thoughts are so very insightful and well-informed. I applaud you, Heather...

Jenny Schouten Short said...

I'm glad to hear your perspective. I am a Texan living in The Netherlands. I come from very conservative roots but as a retired school teacher have seen the needs you pointed out...education, pensions, etc. xo Jenny

Lost in Provence said...

Sue, this meant so much to me--thank you with all of my heart. I admire you so much--you are such a great example of "it's never too late to go after a new dream"--I know you will rock your Bar exams in July!

Lost in Provence said...

Thanks so much Debra! I try not to judge too much because don't we already have enough of that in the world already?! ;)

We had a great day today--hope you all did as well!! Your posts on Fortuny were so amazing. I learned so much.

LaPouyette said...

Dear Heather, just had a quick over-reading, have to come back to it!

I would not call myself a 'socialist', they made too many mistakes in Europe and disappointed me when I was younger, but I'm definitely a democrat.

Just quickly to the recent election: The world and the French people will be surprised of/with what Hollande will come up in the end.....believe me!

will talk more about.....

Very good that you're aware - no matter which 'couleur' politically, in this rather superficial blogworld, sorry, don't want to hurt anybody :) :) :)

xxxkarin

Lost in Provence said...

Whoa. That makes me want to move to Pau. Right now. I'm serious.

Lost in Provence said...

Oh Marsha, thank you! I am just grateful that I have so many wonderful people here like yourself that can listen with an open mind. Amazing!

Lost in Provence said...

Jenny, it is complicated in France--I don't know enough to speak about the Netherlands even though the level of the "quality of life" is well known even here. But I do see that, especially in terms of education and job-availability, there are people here that need a helping hand to get ahead.

Lost in Provence said...

Karin, of course I know that you don't want to hurt anyone! We all have the right to think what we want and have each had different experiences behind our thoughts!

Looking forward to hearing more about what you think.
Bisous,
H.

Myra Hogan said...

Thank you again Heather, this time for sharing your thoughts about the recent election in France. I found your post very informative and as usual, well written.

Best regards,

Myra Hogan

LA CONTESSA said...

Beautiful post Heather................I missed yesterdays better go read!

SALLY said...

Heather,

As a liberal Democrat, living in Texas, it is refreshing to read views so similar to my own. It gets a bit lonely here in my state, feeling as I do! I don't know much about Socialism, but
I do believe in striving for a society which operates for the common good--not just
the privileged few. LOVE your blog and your openness. When I open your blog, I think,
"wonder what Heather has done today?" Thanks! Sally Leonard

Lost in Provence said...

Thank you so much ladies! It makes me happy to no end to have such amazing, open folks following along.

Sally, it must get a bit lonely down there being a liberal Democrat! You are one brave woman!! "The Common Good"--I couldn't agree with you more.

Miss Pink said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to explain your political views. Always can be tricky, but as usual you did it well. And, yes, socialism and marxism and communism do seem to be lumped together in american textbooks.

I'm always bemused at american tut-tutting of those crazy europeans and their "high" tax rate of 55% and beyond.

Many moons ago when I lived in Connecticut with my then husband, we had income of about $125,000. For a few years, his job had him split his time between Boston, New York and New Jersey. Therefore, we had to file FOUR state income tax returns plus federal. We always had a tax rate of about 50% when all was said and done -- and we were both finance professionals, so I think we were savvier than the average bear. One year we hit 58%.

I think our american tax code is a bit more socialist than anyone would dare admit.

I agree with Ben wholeheartedly.

Lost in Provence said...

I think it is fairly safe to say that you can never go wrong in agreeing with Ben. Not so sure if these are across the board my political views but I was trying to do a little 'splaining--mainly to get things clear in my own head!

And riiight? That is what I was thinking too. I remember definitely times when my family was in the 50% tax bracket--and we weren't exactly netting (!) a million.

Kristien62 said...

This is my first foray into your blog and I say, "Bravo." Thank you for the well thought out and instructive answer. One cannot paint the citizens of any country with a single brush stroke. We may be born in a capitalist society, but our experiences, education and associations color our views. Looking forward to reading your blog.

Lost in Provence said...

Kristien, thank you so much for your comment and welcome! I absolutely agree with you 120% that it is a grave error to make gross generalizations about a person based upon where they were born or where they live. I have seen good and bad eggs all over the world, no matter what the country, ethnicity, gender or religion!

sanda said...

Hi Heather, thanks for this post. I thought about how I would like to respond and finally decided to direct readers to the link below. It says it all so well. I don't know the credentials of the person who wrote it, but I read it carefully and he's spot on. I hope everyone will read this:
http://danawilliams2.tripod.com/american_socialism.html
One of the take-aways of this article is that we Americans are products of our environment (but I suppose that's universally true!).

Tabitha said...

What a great post, i'm going to show this to hubs. It's so confusing, I'ma Conservative but I think in the US I'd probably be a Democrat, there care so many nuances between countries.

Tabitha said...

Oh, heading to the Cote d'Azur for my birthday in June, can't wait!

Jane in SF said...

Thank you for such a good piece. As a Brit living in the US, I am always taken aback when the word Socialist is used as if a euphemism for devil's spawn. Political parties in the US are much more polarized than in the UK>

helen tilston said...

Hello Heather

Thank you for your in depth report on the French elections. It is always more interesting hearing from someone who is on the ground. I join you in wishing Mr. Hollande success in leading France. I love that it was said "he will go down in history as the best President" On that note, Vive la France

Helenxx

Lost in Provence said...

I will look forward to reading your link Sanda!

Lost in Provence said...

Yes, it is so true. I imagine that things are beginning to heat up now, eh?