Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Forgotten Minister

Q: Who is the minister of Government Fillon II who is the least discussed in the press? Hint: he is not really a minister.

A: Martin Hirsch, who rejected the title of minister in favor of High Commissioner for Active Solidarities, has, I would wager, maintained a lower profile than any other minister. His very title suggests that his entire mission is oriented toward the implementation of one policy: the Revenu de Solidarités Actives. The basic idea is to supplement other social minima (such as the Revenu Minimum d'Insertion, or RMI) to ensure that there is no disincentive to take available work. Under existing programs, an RMI recipient might actually see a decrease in income as a result of accepting a paid job. The RSA is supposed to prevent this. Hence it is similar to measures in the US generally referred to as "workfare": incentives to those receiving social assistance to work rather than not. The RSA is currently in an experimental phase: various départements have signed on to try out the program (how Girondin and "unrepublican"!). It is to be expanded to the entire country before the end of 2008.

The slow implementation is rather puzzling. Hirsch is not a politician by trade, and he seems to prefer to work in the shadows. But the political contours of the measure are not clear to me. Is there active opposition? From whom? Have the parameters of the program been modified as a result of political inputs? I haven't seen much about this in the news. But I wouldn't be surprised to hear more about it after the municipal elections. It may be that Sarkozy is reluctant to be seen handing out "sweeteners" to those at the bottom of the ladder when he is emphasizing law enforcement (the Villiers-le-Bel raid) and visionary but underfunded ambitions (the Amara plan for the désenclavement of the banlieues, the creation of 40,000 jobs, new educational and training opportunities, etc.).

ADDENDUM: Bad timing: Hirsch just raised his profile with a rebuke to François Bayrou.

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