Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday musings

Back in my early years in France, after I had finished my French classes and was starting to look around for a job, there was a statistic that shocked me:

50% of French people earn less than 1500€ a month.  

Of course at the time, I still had my American salary expectations and I hadn't quite understood yet how the French just pay up front for a lot of the things we pay out of pocket for (insurance, retirement, etc).  But the fact of the matter was, I was making more than that as a college student, and I could not wrap my head around the fact that half a country was making less than I was earning while in school.  And unfortunately, I just heard on the news the other day that ten years later, this fact is still true, and it still kind of floors me.

Because of the nature of my job, I spend a lot of time talking to your average French Joe (or maybe that should be Jacques). People who might or might not have their BAC, but who have most certainly never gone on to college.  The working class.  The ones who consider Paris to be far away and things like Paris Fashion Week and who wore what when to be alien.  But because part of my job entails convincing people to take good care of our equipment even though they won't be paid any extra for doing so, I talk to them. Not so much about family since family tends to stay out of work conversations, but about the weather, politics, differences between our countries. After all, it's a lot harder to say no to someone that you have a connection with.

I might not always agree with what some of these folks have to say - all foreigners should be kicked out of France for example - but I have learned a lot from them and it's been an eye into the mindset of a certain class of French people (and yes, IMO, there are still distinct classes in France).

One of the main topics of conversation as of late has been politics.  Those of you who follow French politics will know that François Hollande's approval ratings have been on a downward spiral since being elected. And I can tell you that definitely matches up with what I have been hearing while on the road.

A lot of these people seem so disillusioned by what he is proposing.  The increase in taxes, the likelihood that most of it will come from Monsieur tout le monde instead of the rich. But it always leaves me wondering - what were they expecting?  François Hollande's campaign was full of all kinds of wonderful promises - more money for schools, more money for students, more money for the poor, more fonctionnaires, etc.  And sure all of that is great, but the question I kept asking was - where is that moola going to come from?  Show me the money François!

There were vague answers about taxing the rich (many of whom are now planning on leaving France), but the truth of the matter is, the burden of most of it is going to fall on the average person, either through increased direct taxes or through an increased cost of living due to businesses being taxed more.  To me, it was almost to be expected, but it seems that most people didn't think that far ahead and now they are scared of what is to come.  Many of these people are living off of minimum wage and already have tight budgets, and the idea of having even less money to work with is not a fun one.  But this is the choice they made and they have to live with it now for the next five years. They didn't like Sarko as a person and they voted based on that, instead of his presidency. Of course I never say that to them, but it is often what I am thinking during these discussions. And I guess that is what scares me about the upcoming election in the US - that people will vote emotionally, and not rationally.  

When I was younger, I used to think "Oh, what harm can be done in just a few years?", but after seeing the changes that are happening after only a few months in office, I see how naive that was.  To Hollande's credit, he is at least trying to come up with money to fund all of his promises instead of just increasing national debt, but I still worry about the effect that it will have on France.  Contrary to a a lot of its Southern and Eastern neighbors, France has mostly been spared from the economic downturn, and I wonder if that will be the case five years from now?

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Blogger Sarah said...

Democracy is a fine thing but it's wasted on many voters who frankly shouldn't have the vote because they can't grasp the issues involved. They vote for the one who they feel an emotional affinity too, and this is a very poor basis.

Flamby came across as a M tout le monde. He isn't in fact, he's just uncharismatic, came across as the underdog, and got the voters to warm to his 'normal', commonsense approach. It was all bollocks of course. He's just useless. But people also voted for anyone but Sarko.

The masses are huge in number and average of intelligence, and not just in France - everywhere. You have to appeal to them to get power. Nuff said. Harsh but true.

September 28, 2012 at 11:18 AM  
Blogger Gwan said...

I know, the salaries here... I called my salary at my last job "minable" in front of my co-workers, and they all made faces like I was some sort of greedy capitalist scum. Now looking at what some jobs pay, I may have spoken too soon! But still, there's no opportunities for advancement or taking your experience into account, or special skills like speaking another language. It was based off my degrees, but not in a way I would say really reflects 7 years at university. Le sigh.

September 28, 2012 at 12:36 PM  
Blogger The Paris Chronicles said...

I agree with what you've written here, and with Sarah, above. It was so very clear during the pre-election stumping that Hollande was making promises he couldn't keep. I, too, am astounded that his constituency believed in what he said--there was no way he could "magically" come up with the funds he was promising to allocate to the various French agencies. And really, do we want, at this point, to be paying LIFETIME salaries to more civil servants? No, we don't. The idea of a lifetime salary is no longer valid if France wants to stay productive and competitive. But there is such a fear of creating wealth here (and, its consequences of productivity and competition); the French just saw off the bough they sit on when they remain unionized and clinging to a structure that lost its relevance after Leon Blum.

Argh. This stuff just gets my blood boiling. I knew before Hollande got elected that he wasn't going to be able to make good on any of his campaign promises--it was so very clear to anyone who looked at history or how economics function--and I knew that come September, things would just plummet in terms of moral. And here we are. Plus ca change...France's glory days are long past, and we can now look forward to following in Greece's footsteps.

Raise the taxes of the rich? What a stupid idea. They are the ones pumping money into this flaccid economy, idiots! And now they will exile themselves and spend their money in a country which encourages them to make even more money.

September 28, 2012 at 1:49 PM  
Blogger Evolutionary Revolutionary said...

Honestly, one of the best things about moving back to the states has been my salary. I am making more than DOUBLE what I was making in France. Same job. Nicer people. But I, personally, would not be upset if I got taxed a bit more so that I could have some security for my future and so that my mother could have proper health care.

Obama TRIED to do this. He wanted to do this but he was green and couldn't break the backs of the Republican House that wasn't gonna give up it's dollar. And so his dream plan of Obamacare got watered down and rendered basically useless. Oh well. It was a step in the right direction.

I don't think that people are going to vote for Romney. They may not like Obama but Romney is so inaccessible. He's a one percenter! And he doesn't have the greater good in mind. Obama may be a fumbling president but at least his heart is in the right place.

I hope I'm not wrong.

Also, unfortunately what The Paris Chronicles said is true. It's the one percent that is fueling our failing economy. Here, in France - everywhere. In some respect we have to protect them or else we're all in le merde! (I'm not Republican though, honestly!)

September 28, 2012 at 3:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why always to write about " the french", we are not a monolithe ! About hollande : " les promesses n'engagent que ceux qui y croient".
"France glory days are long past", This kind of statement is becoming boring. France is now a medium size power like GB no more no less.

September 28, 2012 at 4:48 PM  
Blogger mademoisella coquine. said...

"...and things like Paris Fashion Week and who wore what when to be alien."

I love that.

Not being familiar with Fashion Week I'd say is a GOOD thing. It's all so pretentious...

I work it every year but am definitely not drinking the kool-aid...

September 28, 2012 at 6:22 PM  
Blogger Canedolia said...

I can't compare with the US because I've never been there, but although France has lower salaries than the UK, where I'm from, I wouldn't say that quality of life is worse. While the median salary might be lower in France than elsewhere, income is more evenly distributed than the US or the UK, so while there are fewer relatively very rich people, there are fewer relatively very poor people too.

I find a lot of French socialism's ideas a bit pie-in-the-sky, but I admire the ideals of fairness and solidarity. I heard Croquette's quote about the promises so many times during the election campaign and I think many of the people who voted for Hollande knew that not all of his policies would become reality - it was the principle they approved of.

September 28, 2012 at 6:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments and knowledge on this subject!

Not looking forward to what my future French job will pay (if I manage to find one!).

It's nice to hear your thought on Hollande, I have not been following these days.

September 28, 2012 at 8:48 PM  
Blogger Eileen said...

I have to say I don't think a 1500-euro salary has the same impact here of a 1500-dollar salary in the States.

In terms of health care costs if nothing else--I never pay more than 2 euros to go to the doctor (once it's reimbursed), and the prescriptions I take are also ten times cheaper. But rent can be cheaper too, at least in many cities. I pay 230 euros/month which I wouldn't pay in many cities in the States for what we have.

Every once in a while I think about how I could earn double in the United States, but I don't think that would necessarily translate to a better quality of life.

And personally I don't think our way of taxing the rich in the States is sensible---Romney pays 14% taxes, Obama 20%, and my parents pay 30%!

I'm playing devil's advocate a little bit here, because when I was home I did have a long conversation with my mom where I tried to convince her that French salaries were "minables". But that's something I've pretty much accepted, and I really, really prefer Hollande to Sarkozy. My opinion is probably more weighed by social issues (class sizes climbing up toward 40 is not a good thing for France; universities should be able to hire foreign PhD students without worrying they'll get kicked out of the country) than economic issues, but I did a lot of thinking about those too during the election. Sarkozy was going to raise the sales tax, which affects even the unemployed! And to be fair, Hollande's budget yesterday announced a decrease in spending of 37 billion euros. And what's more, it's the left that wants to raise the minimum wage. But then, I probably would've voted Melenchon if I'd been able to so I shouldn't get started...

The point is, I ended up convinced that I had to start thinking differently about life/politics/the economy in France than all those things in the US.

September 29, 2012 at 12:13 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

I like Eileen's viewpoint on living in France.

But I find it stupid that you can't increase taxes on the rich because they'll "leave" the country - keeping their homes in their home country because they can come and go as they please - while STILL earning money in their home country.

September 29, 2012 at 11:31 PM  
Blogger Jennie said...

My living stipend for doing my PhD is $2000 a month, tax-free. I make more than half of all French people and I'm just a student. Maybe France needs to look to Australia to learn how to do socialism correctly. Our economy is doing rather well, and even though the cost of living is a bit high, the wages are too and the inequality between the rich and the poor is nowhere near as large as it is in the US.

I can understand why some people vote "emotionally" though - some social issues are much more important than how much tax you have to pay. I would gladly pay more money if it means that everyone has access to healthcare, immigrants are not discriminated against, women can make their own choices about their bodies and people can marry whomever they want. You can't put a price on those types of freedoms. I vote for equality because that is what I believe in, regardless of how much I have to pay for it - besides, healthy workers and fewer unwanted pregnancies is better for the economy anyway.

Taxing the rich would work if there weren't so many loopholes to avoid paying taxes. It's so easy for the 1% to put most of their money in off-shore accounts or hire attorneys who can find the loopholes for them. Governments could enforce it better, but then again most governments are made up of the richest people in the country so they have little interest to do so. The amount of greed and the lack of empathy for those who are not well-off is astounding to me. Most rich people are only rich because they've screwed over the poor to get that way, not because they "worked hard" their entire lives. No human being deserves millions of dollars while billions of people go to bed hungry every night. It's disgusting how selfish some people are, and even more alarming when the poor try to justify the actions of the rich.

September 30, 2012 at 10:05 AM  
Blogger Mo5m said...

Evolutionary Revolutionary is mistaken. The Republicans didn't water down Obamacare -- it was written and passed by the Democrats and it is a monster that will eat us all up in taxes. Republicans are blamed for Obma's failure but that's theway the founders designed the system so no one branch has too much power. Obama has circumvented that with executive orders and has ruled by fiat. He is a disaster and a threat to our Constitution.

October 1, 2012 at 1:50 AM  
Blogger Murien said...

Well, in fact the median wage was of 1605€/month in 2010, not 1500 ^^

But yes, it's low for a Western Europe country. I can't find any European statistics of median wage in 2010, but I found median salary per hour statistics in 2004 : . Upper average for Europe, but in Western Europen, only Spain and Portugal were below.

I don't like so much this article. That's obvious that French wages are weak in France compared to US citizen expectations, US is really a richer country ... ^^ and US citizens have to pay everything in life, contrary to French people. :p

I'm more worried about the vision of the Hollande's campaign : "François Hollande's campaign was full of all kinds of wonderful promises - more money for schools, more money for students, more money for the poor, more fonctionnaires, etc. And sure all of that is great, but the question I kept asking was - where is that moola going to come from? Show me the money François!"
The only true fact is "more money for schools". And money which not reverse the decrease of money in school during Sarkozy's term. I never heard nothing about "more money for students" and "more money for the poors", except a promise for a (really) small minimum wage rise (which he has not respected, raising the minimum wage even less than he promised ... a rise of 0,6% with inflation..). For the fonctionnaires, he only promised the end of RGPP (Révision générale des politiques publiques), which led to not stand in for one retired fonctionnaire over two... He never spoke about a growth of fonctionnaires, he even promised that every growth of budget in a department will be compensated for an at least equal decline in other departments... ^^ The author is fantasizing about Hollande.

Then, the author explained that all those shadow promises will be paid by growth of taxes. Sure, there's rise of taxes (not so much in fact, 10 billions of euros), but only in order to approach from a balanced budget without loans (a bad objective in my opinion with the crisis, but well :p) : the national budget is declining ...

Then : "Raise the taxes of the rich? What a stupid idea. They are the ones pumping money into this flaccid economy, idiots! And now they will exile themselves and spend their money in a country which encourages them to make even more money."
That's a common point of view ... but not really true.
1) The first employer in France is the state, and there's 10% of the GDP coming from the social economy - it means, workers owning their own company (cooperatives..). Moreover, a lot of small companies' bosses are poor and do not benefit of our fiscality. All of that represent so much more jobs' creation than the "richs" create... ^^
2) In France, we are not taxing the riches so much compared to the middle and lower classes. The income tax is really slowly progressive, and the big companies could have so much taxes' cuts than they pay less taxes that the small ones !
3) that's not because a rich is exiting France to avoid income taxes that he moves his investments ... France is still one of the first countries in the world for welcoming Foreign Direct Investments, thanks to our public services, so thanks to our taxes ^_^

October 2, 2012 at 1:34 PM  

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