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The Vendée Blog

The French Paradox

Posted on Sunday, December 30, 2012 at 7:46 pm
Category: Edukation, My Drivel, Village Politics

Now, I’m not talking here about the French Paradox which runs along the lines of “the French eat cheese, cream & fatty pork products from the cradle to the grave and yet still remain the leanest race in Europe and amongst the longest lived: how is this possible?”

Not that this isn’t quite an interesting point, mind. Mighty intellects puzzle still over it, offering explanations involving the simultaneous consumption of modest quantities of red wine and liberal amounts of bread crust, all bursting with health-boosting phytochemicals, polyphenols and so forth.

Personally, I think the observation that portion sizes – both at home and in restaurants – are about 40% smaller in France than they are in the UK (unhappily the most rotund place in Europe these days) may have some bearing on the matter, but where’s the romance (and book sales) in that?

No, what I am more thinking of is the paradox that, despite the best efforts of government, the French economy still fails to collapse in on itself. I can only conclude that the staggering ineffectiveness of the executive cuts both ways.

The latest embarrassment for the beleaguered President François Hollande is that the Constitutional Council (the highest court in the land) has chucked out his wheeze of touching the rich for 75% of any earned income over one million Euros per annum.

This is a stupid idea anyway: it would affect only 1500 people in France and would raise relatively little revenue. That said, I have limited sympathy for the bleating of the (extremely) well heeled that this will drive “wealth creators” out of the country. Plenty of column inches have been devoted to a couple of high-profile exits, but then the news media is generally controlled by the incredibly wealthy or their friends, so the spin that is put on these is not necessarily the most accurate representation of the actualité.

The fact is, the rich are rich because they hoard money. Wealth – at least relative wealth – is created when money is spent, not when it is kept in a vault in the Cayman Islands, which I why I do, conversely, have a certain amount of sympathy with the notion of a tax on fortune.

No, the real mother lode for tax revenue comes from soaking the middle classes who do tend to spend what they earn and generate many, many, times more income for the government coffers.

Of course, this isn’t the end of the 75% tax band. The law will be re-drafted and re-presented.

But what it does suggest is a quite mind-boggling level of incompetence in the highest reaches of government. The court struck down the law because the new tax band was to be imposed on individuals. However, in France, income taxes are calculated based on household incomes, not on the individual incomes within the household. That this was missed beggars belief. Can our leaders be so breath-takingly ignorant of the basic practices of tax gathering in this country?

Hollande is pursuing this piece of legislation like a dog worrying a bone presumably because he thinks the idea of a “Robin Hood” tax might make him more popular with the lumpenproletariat who have become decidedly disenchanted with the regime over the past six months. Within this constituency, Hollande remains significantly more popular than anthrax but slightly less popular than haemorrhoids and he desperately wants to improve his standing.

There is, unhappily for him, very little he can do while he remains wedded firmly to a political dogma that belongs to a different age, one where there was money sloshing about to pay for things. He will not make any meaningful changes to the French social model; he will not reduce the lumbering, monolithic, machinery of state; he will never abandon the idea that business has bottomless pockets that he can continually plunder to pay for the only measure his limited imagination can conceive to reduce unemployment: creating more non-jobs in the public sector.

I offer an example: in France, the notion of self certification for a couple of days sick leave doesn’t exist. Instead, in the case of a case of a 24 hour bout of the D&Vs, people have to schlep along to their local quack’s practice (hopefully equipped with a well-appointed loo and soft paper) for a medical certificate. For this, they will hand over €22 to the self-employed medico which they will then claim back from the health insurance organisation that looks after them.

About 120 million short-duration medical certificates are issued each year. Allow people to self-certificate and you’d be looking at a direct saving of about €2.5 billion, which would go a long way to funding improved coverage in so-called medical deserts in rural areas and the less salubrious corners of urban France.

However, the howls of derision from the medical profession at the loss of this money-for-old-rope income would be drowned out only by those from the legion of civil servants who deal with the paperwork involved in the claims and who would suddenly be surplus to requirements. And so they stay where they are, doing a job that is, frankly, unnecessary.

Instead of grasping the nettle and actually doing something, Hollande will probably occupy his time by mucking around with education, making changes that no-one wants and which will likely be to the detriment of pupils. Abolishing homework, for example, because children with someone at home to help can gain an “unfair” advantage over those with no-one. All very laudable, but I don’t suppose it will stop those who can afford it from hiring tutors – a practice already widespread amongst the “better” sort of people. And he will cross his fingers and hope that the economic wheel of fortune turns his way and, like for Mr Micawber, “something will turn up.”

This all possibly sounds as though I’m having a bit of a downer on France at the moment, but actually that’s not the case. I’ve been here for almost ten years now and I’m afraid moving here remains the second best thing I have ever done. The last ten years have been the happiest and most interesting of my life so far, I have made some very fast friends and I thoroughly enjoy what I do for a living. My children are thriving and there is nowhere else I would rather be.

And whatever Hollande does or doesn’t do, I doubt very much he will break a great deal.

7 Responses to “The French Paradox”

  1. Gorilla Bananas
    December 30th, 2012 21:46

    Hah, abolishing homework! Someone should tell Monsieur Le President that children don’t have the vote (yet). How about selling the Eiffel Tower to a rich bloke? It’s not as if he’ll be able to move it anywhere.

  2. larry powell
    December 31st, 2012 20:20

    cant wait till you get French nationality and get in the govenment

  3. evan
    December 31st, 2012 22:30


    If the French bureaucratic system could issue detentions, I suggest getting President Hollande to write out 500 times:

    “I must write out these tedious lines as being able to spell ‘Tax’ is not a sign of competence for my job”

    Then when he is done, tell him to write out 75% more.

    The irony is that he would probably create a new post for someone to write out the lines for him as it reduces unemployment :)

    At least here in the UK we can comfort ourselves that our politicians have made sure that rules exist so the highest earning companies pay the most tax, such as Amazon and Starbucks; or maybe not.

    I think an economy where pork pies and wine form the basis of the currency is the way forward; we can then all pay tax by slinging the byproducts of consuming a decent amount of currency at the politicians :)

    Happy New Year!


  4. dolores doolittle
    January 1st, 2013 17:24

    Ah, the ceremonial handing-over of the 22€ to one’s GP and the reams of paper that ensued. She did keep us in fine fettle though, and back now in TheOldCountry we do miss the merry handshakes on arrival & departure…

  5. dolores doolittle
    January 1st, 2013 17:25

    Oh yes – Happy 2013!

  6. Jon
    January 2nd, 2013 23:07

    GB – Does anyone LIKE the Eiffel Tower? I confess that I think it has all the architectural merit of an electricity pylon. It should be sold for scrap.

    Larry – I’ll leave that to the girls.

    Evan – I’ve not thought of a pork pie for ages, but now you mention them, I could murder one.

    DD – Oh, the service is excellent, and would probably suffer if all the medicos were not self-employed, but I do wonder if we couldn’t do away with the bloody paper. Where do they all go? A proper bureaucracy keeps everything, so we could shortly be sinking the nation under the weight of paper.

    And a happy 2013 to all of you too!

  7. Perpetua
    January 5th, 2013 13:53

    I wonder how much more illness and therefore work and revenue is generated by making germ-ridden people turn up in person at the surgery for the magic bit of paper? |No wonder they don’t want to change the system.

    Une très bonne année to you and yours, Jon and long may you remain so contented with your life in France.


Jon Doust

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