A Royal Socialist for France?
February 22, 2007
by William P. Meyers

Segolene (Ségolène) Royal is a Socialist Party presidential candidate in France. Forget Hillary, forget Obama. Segolene is glamorous. Could a major European country like France possibly be turning its back on Capitalism in favor of Socialism?

I have already taken Segolene to task on her support for the ethnic cleansing campaign against the Palestinians.

She's been rather vague about what socialism means until recently. In a recent speech she outlined a fairly impressive program. It included a minimum wage of about $12.00 per hour (compare that to the USA Democrats proposal of $7.50 per hour). Unemployment benefits would become 90% of ones employed salary. She would even nationalize France's two big gas and electricity utilities. Public research and development spending would be boosted by 10% a year. In education she advocates cutting class sizes for underprivileged children.

It sounds like a pretty sane plan for me. The capitalists are already attacking her, asking how this plan will be paid for. Obviously the minimum wage will be paid by employers. The nationalization of utilities should cut costs for consumers. The R&D boost is not that expensive.

Rather than taxing and spending, at least for campaign purposes, Segolene should take a point from the Reagan-Bush propaganda book. She should say that the costs will be paid by economic growth followed by increased tax revenues. If that is rational to capitalists when it promotes massive tax cuts for the richest people in the United States (as in the Bush tax cuts), why is it not rational when the money is pumped into the economy at the grass roots? [If you are a lefty who argues that the Bush tax cuts did not help the economy, just the rich, then you might consistently argue that socialist programs don't help the economy, they just help the poor.]

In the US and much of the world, for decades now, it has been endlessly repeated that capitalism works and socialism and communism do not work. Economists in the U.S. treat any deviation from that orthodoxy much like the Catholic Church treated Protestantism in the 1500's. They are paid to. They know who writes their pay checks.

A quick glance around the world shows that economics is complex, not simple. Some capitalist, free market societies have done very well. Some have done poorly. Same thing for socialist and communist societies. The biggest thing in growth these days is Communist China.

Americans are led by our propagandists to believe that we are much better off than people in semi-socialist countries like France. But cold hard statistics and a little thoughtful analysis bring such simplistic beliefs into question. According to 2006 Pocket World in Figures, published by The Economist, the U.S.A. has a GDP per head of $37,240. France has a GDP per head of $29,240. Proof that capitalism trumps socialism? But both are essentially capitalist countries with some socialist programs (Social Security and Medicare being two US examples). And if I had to pick out a single variable that distinguishes the two countries, I would say it was World War I and World War II. American capitalists made fortunes lending money and selling goods to France in the wars. We lost some men and equipment, but France was invaded by Germany in both wars. In Sweden, which is fairly socialized, the GDP per head is $33,890. Not bad. Capitalist Taiwan, in contrast, has GDP of $12,670 per head. In a small country with a big producing oil field, money is likely to flow no matter how poorly the country is managed.

You can't take an astonishingly poor country like Haiti or the Congo and say "we're capitalists now, in a few years incomes will be at U.S. levels." In fact Haiti and Congo have never had significant socialist institutions. Their problems (if you believe the American way of life is the goal, and living primitively is a problem) aren't because of their choosing capitalism over socialism or vice-versa.

What is great about democracy, when it isn't just a sham shuffling between two similar parties, is that adjustments can be made. Mistakes, like deregulating utilities in the US, could be corrected. Components of the economy that should be socialized, like health care, can be. You don't need a dictator, single party, and firing squads to get the best out of free market competition and socially conscious cooperation. You do need citizens who pay attention, and there does have to be some basic legal and economic justice so that everyone can participate in governance and production for human consumption.

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