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Politics

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Tabou

by Maurice Ulrich

Has Sarkozy broken a Taboo?

Translated Tuesday 9 September 2008, by Emma Paulay

There was something in yesterday’s comments on the RSA (Active Solidarity Benefit) that resembled fear mixed with glee at the breaking of a major taboo. Sarkozy’s right-wing is taxing capital! To such an extent that the left was taken by surprise and didn’t know who to thank, if not "Saint Marx", himself. Sarkozy had gone beyond that which, even in their wildest dreams... One of Sarkozy’s most faithful followers, Christian Estrosi, immediately took on the role of knight in shining armour and said, “Once again, the President of the Republic has not hesitated to take brave but necessary measures and has ignored the age-old ideological cleavages that have paralysed this country for too long...”

On the other hand, others are up in arms. The president of the MEDEF employers’ body, Laurence Parisot, who was in favour of the RSA up until now – understandably, as long as it wouldn’t cost employers anything – rejected the taxation on capital which will penalise companies, so penalise employment, so penalise economic growth and, ultimately, buying power... Great contortionist act. Not forgetting that she is just as hostile to salary increases – which penalise companies, so penalise employment and hence growth etc. - we can’t really see where the increases in buying power that she says she would like to see are going to come from. As usual, the MEDEF wants to have its cake and eat it, too…

But this looks like the beginning of a debate within the realms of the right, itself. Might there be, on one side, the brave revolutionaries who have no qualms about shaking up their own camp and, on the other side, the timorous, the misers jealously counting their gold, the dividend lovers? In fact, it’s a bit like a wrestling match. The grimaces and cries of pain are all the more vehement when the blows hardly hurt. Because what is really going on here? The RSA was one of Sarkozy’s promises as a candidate. It became a symbol of consensus when its defender, Martin Hirsch, was called into the government. We were dubious about it in these last few months during which we were assured that the state coffers were empty. And here we have it; and how! But who’s going to pay for it? The very rich, those who have a comfortable mattress of stock options? Yes, but they already benefited from the income tax cap in July 2007 and are protected by that. On the other hand, the tax will concern interest on life insurance and savings accounts... Is that what they mean by taxing capital?

It is true that nobody would deny that the RSA can help those in need or even help them find a new job, although the latter is not so evident. But this measure is by no means a policy which promotes employment. On the whole, the unemployed do not want benefits; they want a job, with a respectable salary. The RSA, even though it may be welcomed by those to whom it applies, is a tendency towards lowering the cost of labour to the benefit of employers – which is what Mrs Parisot wants, especially as it won’t cost her a penny. But the underling logic of the RSA is the creation of a new mass of workers who are excluded from employment law and who depend on the good will or the magnanimity of their employers; in a no man’s land, somewhere between welfare benefits and what might be called a salary, somewhere between the poverty of the jobless and the poverty of certain socially excluded workers. An employment policy calls for a real taxation of financial revenue and dividends and a reorientation of credit, which would be an effective contribution of capital to the real economy. Mr Sarkozy did not choose his words by chance. He responded to the opinion of the man on the street who is shocked by record profits and the insane salaries of some when his buying power is decreasing. Sarkozy thinks he is going to get the better of the economic crisis and its inherent austerity by pretending to break the right-wing taboo: “Taxing capital?” How’s that...! Very well, then, let’s do it.


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