PS equality bill: ambitious or daft?

Is the Socialist party's new "real equality" bill bold and realistic, or half-baked nonsense?

18 November 2010

NO public sector worker in France would earn more than €322,000 a year, credit and store cards would be illegal and every rural resident would be within reasonable reach of a doctor. Those are just some of the plans that feature in a "real equality" law drawn up by the Socialist party this week. Here are some of the key points:

A maximum wage of €322,000 a year
France has a minimum wage, the SMIC, so why not a maximum wage? This would apply to management at any publicly owned company. Executive pay would be capped at 20 times the SMIC: about €322,000 gross per year. EDF chief executive Henri Proglio, who currently earns about €2m a year, would see his pay packet slashed by more than 80 per cent.

A ban on revolving credit
No more credit cards, store cards or flexible loans, with their low monthly payments, high interest rates and long repayment periods.

Guaranteed access to services for rural residents
Every resident in France, no matter where they live, would be within "reasonable" reach of essential services such as a GP, primary school and post office. Quite how, the party has yet to say.

'Autonomy benefit' for all young people
Young people should sign a contract with the state outlining their rights and responsibilities. A year of part-time civic service of some description would be compulsory before starting work, but in return they would be eligible for a special "autonomy" benefit to help them get started in life. Funding details remain vague, except that the cost would be shared between the state and Unedic, the unemployment benefit body.

Brave and ambitious? Or just daft? Connexion newsletter readers have their say...

Henri Proglio wouldn’t have his pay capped to €322,000 because he would leave to take up employment in the private sector. Anybody who did take up the position, would surely be lacking in expertise and experience. What a great idea – not!
Richard Peacock

As a diehard old-fashioned British socialist, I am glad to see that real socialism still fourishes in France and is not just a dirty word as it appears to be in Britain and certainly in the United States. More power to this sort of thinking. Whenever people complain to me about the economic state of Europe, I am happy to reply that "it wasn't us lefties who got us into this mess". Let's hope that France's socialists will be successful in pushing through these reforms.
Christopher Thompson

Socialist ideals have been discussed for centuries, and have still to be realised. Affordable? No idea. But if capitalism is the only way to create a fair and reasonably well-off society as some argue, then that has yet to be achieved in France, or anywhere else to my knowledge. It depends on the wealthy allowing some of their wealth somehow being distributed more. As good wages, for example, and by creating more employment. The only sure way of this happening is if government legislates to make it happen. The wealthy will argue that they will not have incentives to create wealth, or that they will do so another country. So it's up to the voting public which way to go. My guess is a majority will prefer to keep things as they are, if only because they are nervous about any radical change.
John Morgan

I think it's a step in the right direction. A re-examination of the free market that has led to a polarisation of wealth, a loss of optimism and a sense of alienation especially among young people. Maybe some of the ideas are too idealistic but change is essential to avoid serious social unrest down the road
Pamela Thornton

Seems like some good bold thinking, will however a cap on top earners drive them out and into private ventures so that the state has to make do with lower achievers? Convince me that won't happen and I'm all in favour.
Trevor Compton

Scrapping credit cards – does that mean tourist and visitors will not be able to use their’s? – What about expats who have and use a UK credit card?
N Joseph

I totally agree that there should be a cap on public sector salaries however this should not apply in the private sector - it is up to shareholders/owners how much people in the private sector can earn.
Milly

Usual daft, half-baked not thought through rubbish.
Alan Whitten

This has to be a joke, it's about as feasible as Father Christmas, fairies at the bottom of the garden and not shouting at the telly. Welcome to post credit crunch socialism.
Rebel MC

Usual load of ideological socialist clap trap. Who do these people pay for their totally unrealistic ideas? The real workers of course who would never vote socialist in a million years. If they want to live the socialist dream then let them go to (or preferably send them to) North Korea.
Peter Duff

This is the sort of thinking that got France and the UK into the mess they are in. Our local medical services are already very good & we are in the country, dont fix it if it any broke. Just left wing politics going it's normal "pie in the sky" route
Geoff

Cloud Cuckoo Land. These people think money grows on trees. Why has France never had better than 7.5 % unemployment even when the world economy was booming? Downward path!
William Harper

I welcome the proposal for a maximum income in public services. This is in line with the policy of the Equality Trust in Britain, which is campaigning for a wage ratio of not more than 20/1, aiming ultimately at 10/1. Equality has become a major political issue in the UK. Already 75 new MPs have signed the Equality Pledge and the Greater London Authority has adopted the wage ratio recommendations, to name but two developments. It would be good to know that the French are also taking egalité seriously.
Jacqueline Redcliffe

The issue is not with a maximum wage but with the staggering number of people in the French public sector and its distributed structure. Most of my (and many other people's) time on taxes, social payments and other state issues seems to be spent liaising with different offices/departments of the same organisation. Indeed on one particular day I received six letters from the same organisation, all were in error. There is a general sense of inefficiency, disconnectedness and incompetence in relation to most state organisations. For example it took three years to acquire a Carte Vitale for my wife even though we already had letters of affiliation, we provided no new information but did have to provide the same information on many occasions. This has also led to significant additional costs in accountancy fees to sort the mess out, and apparently this is a fairly normal experience.

Public employees should be paid on a par with private sector employees as the requirement for talent is no different and just as important, however in my opinion reducing the number of public sector employees via centralisation and effective use of IT systems to around 1/3 rd. of today’s numbers would result in a more responsive and effective public sector. Whilst this is just a guess my experience over many years of restructuring businesses suggests that even this may be a conservative estimate.

I fear that a maximum wage would only lead to hiring more people within the current or even a reduced budget, generating yet more confusion and complexity. France has one of the highest ratios of public sector costs to GDP in the world and this segment is a consumer of wealth and whilst useful and necessary services are indeed provided it actually creates nothing.

Reducing state costs in terms of taxes and social charges would allow value generating companies to take on these displaced public sector employees and help France create more wealth for its people and benefit its residents at all levels of the social scale.

SM

Surely the "maximum" wage that the Socialists are proposing for people working in the public sector is fair, inasmuch that public sector wages are paid for by the government through taxation. (Could the savings made go towards financing essential services in rural areas?)

Actually, shouldn't the banks/hedge funds and now the bond vigilantes be made to pay towards their errors that have hit most of us so badly? Shouldn't they be made to pay just a LITTLE reparation? Was that suggestion in the Socialist Party's list, and if not, why not? It is us, "Les Gens" who are the innocent ones after all. And the extra revenue would be useful to any government!

Don't you think the autonomy benefit for young people sounds rather sensible. A contract would surely underline young people's need for awareness of responsibility to society. After a year of part time civic service, society will presumably repay them with the financial benefit many of them will need to get started. With the problems surrounding youth unemployment, wouldn't this idea be a useful way of helping tackle them? Presumably, if a young person hadn't complied, financing would be withheld?

It has recently been noted that countries with wide levels of fiscal and social inequality, such as the U.S. and the U.K. are less healthy both physically and psychologically. Doubtless France's attitude to "egalité" can be very cynical, but at least it is still there as a concept. These suggestions seem to underline the morality of that concept.
Marina Martin

This is exactly the sort of society I would be proud to be part of. The goals are ambitious, but the means of obtaining them embrace fairness and equality. All Brits living in France have their own reasons for leaving British shores behind. One of mine was to get away from a self-serving, self-aggrandising system that merely saw a continuation of the immense damage caused by Thatcher and her policies continued by a Labour party which had abandoned all links with social equality and a Liberal Democrat party which simply didn’t seem to know from day-to-day which way to turn.

France under Sarkozy is far from ideal, but here trade unions still have power. Here the family unit is still respected. Here nobody has yet had the idiocy to proclaim that there is “no such thing as society”. Here Thatcher is just a nasty memory of some dreadful years of hardship and deprivation while the rich got richer.

As a student of politics, I know perfectly well that the Parti Socialiste is unlikely to come to national power easily – and that even if it does we may face some of the double dealing that went on in the Mitterand era. But with local government having far more sway in France than in the UK, even those as far to the right as Sarkozy are not able to impose their will on the people without a good fight.

Who can put his or her hand on heart and complain they cannot live on twenty times the minimum wage? In Britain, a 40 hour week at twenty times minimum wage would equate to nearly £247,000 – that’s based on a 52 week year and assumes paid Bank Holidays and paid leave. There are some council chief executives earning more than this figure and complaining that they deserve it, while they preside over housing departments re-housing families in financial trouble at the opposite end of the spectrum and undoubtedly working longer hours in dirty and menial jobs for just one twentieth. That is greed. Plain and simple greed.

Maybe pigs have more chance of evolving wings in the next few years than the PS implementing such a bold ideal. But it is a worthwhile goal to aim for.

Colin Morley

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