Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Party Games

Jean-Marie Bockel has announced the formation of a party of "sarkozystes de gauche." Meanwhile, Olivier Besancenot opines that the united front of the left against Sarkozy--"les anti-sarkozystes de gauche?"--is off to a "bad start." Sigh. Maybe they should get together--they might annihilate like matter and anti-matter and create some energy, which is what the left sorely needs at this point.

Sarkozy at the UN

At the UN, Sarkozy said this:

The position of France is this: no nuclear weapon for Iran, the arsenal of sanctions to convince them, negotiation, discussion, firmness.

These are words that Chirac might have uttered in 2002-3 with respect to Iraq. Yet many people are convinced that there has been a fundamental shift in French foreign policy, an "alignment" with the United States. To be sure, the framing of the language of sanctions, negotiation, and firmness has changed, but what can we say beyond this? The ambiguity, I submit, is substantial, despite Kouchner's injudicious reference to preparations for war. Several regular commentators seem to discern a clearer picture than I do of Sarkozy's intentions. I hope they will expand their views in the comments. I look forward to being persuaded.

Jean Daniel on André Gorz

Jean Daniel writes about his friend and collaborator André Gorz.

The Slippery Slope Argument

My dialogue with Anonymous in the comments to this post suggests that the government has failed to get across a couple of key points about the new copayments for medication and other services. To reiterate, the poorest of the French (some 15 million people) are exempt from the copays, and the total additional copay per person per annum is capped at 50 euros (for details, see here).

This is a relatively modest burden to place on the remainder of the population, and it only begins to reduce the large and growing social security deficit. So why the outcry? One argument that is often heard is of the "slippery slope" variety: the reform is but a first step toward a more "individualized" or "Anglo-Saxon" model of health care, in which it's every man/woman for himself/herself, with no collective responsibility. This argument seems to me to caricature both the reform and the "Anglo-Saxon model," which is not "individual" but mutualized through private insurance; and note, too, that the French system of mutualization through the state is supplemented by private mutuelles as well. Mutualization through the state that is not fully funded, as in the French case, makes the actual incidence of the burden of health care costs difficult to locate. The cost is borne partly by employers, partly by workers, partly by consumers, and partly by taxpayers in general who must service the debt.

It is easy to imagine a similar reform in copays being carried out by a Socialist president. The name of the payment would most likely be different: instead of franchise médicale we might have contribution à la santé collective généralisée. So, again, the question is, why the outcry? Is there any reason to believe that Sarkozy is out to dismantle the social security system? None that I can see. The opposition speaks vaguely of "other ways of financing the social security deficit," but the choice between an actual policy and an unspecified but allegedly better one is always easy for the hopeful and gullible. The debate, then, is not about the particulars of policy but about trust. The outcry expresses the distrust that Sarkozy inspires in a good many people. But distrust is an emotion, not a political program or even an effective critique.

For additional information about French consumption of prescription drugs relative to other European countries, see here. (Thanks once again to Éloi Laurent for the pointer.)