Friday , April 19 2024
Home / Thomas Piketty / Escaping anti-poor ideology, protecting public service

Escaping anti-poor ideology, protecting public service

Summary:
Let’s be clear from the outset: the edifying investigation published by Le Monde into the intrusive and ubiquitous procedures undergone by thousands of beneficiaries of the Caisse d’Allocation Familiales (CAF), France’s welfare agency, poses fundamental issues for the future of social security and public services, in France, Europe and the rest of the world. By examining thousands of lines of unduly concealed code, meeting vulnerable people and single parents unjustly hounded for imaginary overpayments, the journalists have shown the dramatic consequences of these blind algorithmic practices on everyday lives. It should also be pointed out that CAF employees are often the first to denounce these practices imposed by their management as well as political leaders. With limited resources,

Topics:
Thomas Piketty considers the following as important: ,

This could be interesting, too:

Thomas Piketty writes Pesants, the most unequal of professions

Thomas Piketty writes Rethinking Europe after Delors

Thomas Piketty writes Taking the BRICS seriously

Thomas Piketty writes Israel-Palestine: breaking the deadlock

Let’s be clear from the outset: the edifying investigation published by Le Monde into the intrusive and ubiquitous procedures undergone by thousands of beneficiaries of the Caisse d’Allocation Familiales (CAF), France’s welfare agency, poses fundamental issues for the future of social security and public services, in France, Europe and the rest of the world. By examining thousands of lines of unduly concealed code, meeting vulnerable people and single parents unjustly hounded for imaginary overpayments, the journalists have shown the dramatic consequences of these blind algorithmic practices on everyday lives.

It should also be pointed out that CAF employees are often the first to denounce these practices imposed by their management as well as political leaders. With limited resources, CAF manages not only family allowances but also housing benefits, the disabled adult allowance, the allowance for families and the RSA benefit for low-income people, childcare benefits, etc., for a total of nearly 14 million recipients (around half of all French households).

The operating costs of the CAF, like those of the health insurance funds and all the social security funds, have always been extremely modest: between 2% and 3% of benefits paid out, depending on the case, compared with 15% to 20% for private insurance companies. This efficiency is a good thing in itself for a public service, provided we don’t push too far in this direction.

The problem is that political powers have constantly put pressure on the funds to further reduce these costs. The situation worsened when Nicolas Sarkozy came to power in 2007, emphasizing the need to mercilessly hunt down social security fraud and benefit recipients suspected of ruining the system.

Who cares if all the studies show that tax fraud and white-collar tax evasion involve much larger sums? Since it’s hard to take it out on the richest, let’s take it out on the poorest! This glorification of the « first of the line » and stigmatization of the poorest (deemed incapable of « crossing the street » to find a job and regularly accused of costing « crazy money » to the state) has become even more pronounced with Emmanuel Macron since 2017. Summoned to flush out fraudsters and crunch numbers with reduced human resources, CAF then embarked on the algorithmic drift uncovered by journalists.

The worst thing about this trend is that an anti-poor ideology ends up leading to a general deterioration in the quality of public service. If you haven’t experienced this yourself, ask around. For several years now, if you send a message to the CAF on the interface provided for this purpose, the machine tells you that the messages currently being processed are those received three months ago, and that yours will have to wait (six months later, it’s still waiting).

On the other hand, if you’re accused of overpayment, which is sometimes whimsical, you have to pay up straight away, with no possibility of appeal. For those who can afford it, these ubiquitous situations are painful but manageable. For all those whose finances are strained, it’s unbearable. Clearly, the CAF does not have the human resources to provide a quality service and treat users correctly, which is extremely painful for everyone involved.

This deterioration in public service can be seen in several areas. For example, with delays of over six months in obtaining identity papers, reimbursement procedures that are still too cumbersome for health insurance and complementary insurance companies, or the extreme opacity of allocation algorithms in higher education, against a backdrop of a shortage of spots and resources in the most sought-after courses.

The right-wing strategy of stigmatizing the poor and the « assisted » as responsible for the country’s ills is doubly losing: it weakens the most modest and leads to the degradation of public services for all and the reign of the every-man-for-himself, at the very moment when we need to allocate more resources to provide for the crying needs in health, education and the environment. The truth is that waste and undue remuneration are to be found in the private sector, not in social funds and public services.

This new anti-poor ideology is all the more worrying as it lies at the heart of current political recompositions. The anti-squatter law adopted at the end of 2022 by a Rassemblement National(RN, far right)-Les Républicains(LR, right-wing)-Renaissance (Macron’s party) coalition is the epitome of this. It also shows the dead ends of this approach: we won’t solve the housing problems of tens of millions of poorly housed and poorly insulated households by lashing out at the most precarious and weakening all tenants with shortened leases and accelerated evictions.

This question is also an opportunity to fight the RN on the only ground that counts: that of the weaknesses and inconsistencies of its program. The RN’s social conversion is an illusion. The party remains deeply imbued with economic liberalism, as demonstrated by its desire to abolish the real estate wealth tax, in the same way that former RN president Jean-Marie Le Pen wanted to abolish the income tax in the 1980s. It’s high time to move away from the current obsession with identity and put socio-economic issues back at the heart of public debate.

Thomas Piketty
Thomas Piketty (7 May 1971) is a French economist who works on wealth and income inequality. He is a professor (directeur d'études) at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), associate chair at the Paris School of Economics and Centennial professor at the London School of Economics new International Inequalities Institute.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *