Elections in France – the agreement of the left parties

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By THOMAS PIKETTY*

The campaign for the June legislative elections could be the occasion to break out of caricatures and make progress on fundamental issues.

Let's say without fear: the joint agreement of the left parties is great news for French and European democracy. Those who see in it the triumph of radicalism and extremism obviously have not understood anything about the evolution of capitalism and the social and environmental challenges that we have had to face for several decades.

In fact, if we look at things calmly, the program of transformations proposed by this union of leftists and ecologists in 2022 is a little less ambitious than those of 1936 [Popular Front] or 1981 [François Mitterand]. Instead of giving in to the prevailing conservatism today [and expressed by Emmanuel Macron], it is better to take it for what it is: a starting point, on which it is possible to establish confidence to go further.

The adopted program signals the return of social and fiscal justice. At a time when inflation begins to amputate the incomes and savings of the most humble, it is urgent to change course. Those who claim that “whatever the cost” policies will not be paid for by anyone are lying to citizens. To protect the most vulnerable from the effects of rising prices and to finance investments in health, education and the environment, it will be essential to tax the richest.

Between 2010 and 2021, the top five hundred French fortunes jumped, according to the magazine Challenges (unsuspecting of leftists) from 200 billion to almost 1 trillion euros – that is, from 10% of French GDP to almost 50%. The increase is even greater if we broaden the focus and examine the 500 richest people (which correspond to 1% of the adult population). They now exceed 4 trillion euros (6 million euros per person, according to the World Inequality Database – World Inequality Database), against just 500 billion for the poorest 25 million (50% of the adult population, with 20 thousand euros for each person, on average).

In the midst of such a period of spectacular prosperity for the highest holdings and stagnation for the lowest, choosing to abolish the small wealth tax, when it obviously should have been increased, testifies to a curious sense of priority. Historians who study this period will not be soft on the governments of Emmanuel Macron and his supporters.

The first merit of leftist parties is having known how to overcome their conflicts, to oppose this drift together. In addition to restoring the wealth tax, it is proposed to turn property taxes into a progressive net worth tax that would allow significant tax breaks for millions of over-indebted French working and middle classes. To favor access to the property, the program could be increased, in the long run, by a minimum inheritance system for all.

The agreement reached between supporters of Insubmissive France [Jean-Luc Mélenchon's organization] and the Socialist Party also provides for extending the right to wages to platform workers, and strengthening the presence of employees on Boards of Directors. Such a system has existed since the post-war period in Sweden and Germany (with up to 50% of seats in large companies). It remains embryonic in France: the right has always been hostile (the Gaullists sometimes pretended to favor participation, but in reality they offered crumbs, without ever calling into question the monopoly of control over shares) and the left bet on nationalizations (as in 1981 ).

The current change towards a less statist and more participative posture refers to the collective contracts of 1936 and paves the way for a new paradigm. Even if it is necessary, in the long term, to go much further – guaranteeing salaried employees, for example, 50% of seats on the board of directors of all companies and limiting the voting rights of each individual shareholder in large corporations to 10%.

Let's look at the European question. All member parties of Nupes (the acronym for the union of French leftists and ecologists) defend the harmonization of social and fiscal laws in Europe and the transition to a European majority government. Trying to pass them off as anti-European, when they are the most federalist of all, is an infamous tactic. Liberals who claim to be European are actually just capturing the European idea to broaden their antisocial policy. In doing so, they are the ones putting Europe at risk.

If the working classes voted massively against Europe in the referendums of 1992 and 2005, and again in the vote on Brexit in 2016, this is due to the fact that European integration, as conceived until now, structurally favors the most powerful economic actors and furniture, to the detriment of the most fragile. It was Europe that led the world and the United States itself in seeking ever lower taxation of multinationals. As a result, some of these corporations now enthusiastically praise the minimum rate of 15%, slightly higher than the Irish rate of 12,5%, but with multiple exemptions and therefore much lower than what small and medium-sized companies and the middle classes pay. and workers.

Pretending that the problem will be resolved under the unanimity rule [between the countries of the European Union] is a lie. To put an end to dumping fiscal, social and environmental issues in Europe, we must make precise proposals to our partners and adopt unilateral measures to escape the impasses caused. France could, for example, as shown by the European Taxation Observatories, right now impose a minimum rate of 25% or 30% on companies that are headquartered in tax havens and sell goods and services in the country. We hope that the campaign for the parliamentary elections will be the opportunity to get out of caricatures and make progress on these fundamental issues.

*Thomas Piketty is director of research at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales and professor at the Paris School of Economics. Author, among other books, of Capital in the XNUMXst century (Intrinsic).

Translation: Antonio Martins to the website Other words.

Originally published in the newspaper Le Monde.

 

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