La Croix: Is public opinion taking stock of the extent of the public debt?
Luc Rouban: No, there is a great deal of confusion on the subject. The government says that we must rebalance the pension system, which will lose 13 billion euros a year if nothing is done. But the state budget deficit is around 150 billion a year! People therefore believe that before asking us to work more, we must start by reducing public spending.
However, we forget that to finance all social benefits, the Welfare State is forced to borrow on the market, and this is what contributes to increasing the debt… Social Security expenditure is dissociated from the State deficit . But they contribute to the explosion of the debt. The “whatever it takes” added a lot of confusion to the situation.
Public expenditure is high, and yet the French have the feeling that the service provided is deteriorating. How to explain this hiatus?
L. R. : The tax is based on a universalist principle. We put everything in the common pot and it is up to the State to manage the budget. But many expenses do not result in a direct return of service rendered at the local level. Thus the budget of the armies is considerable because we are, with the United Kingdom, the only two European military powers.
The country also suffers from a problem of organizing public action undermined by its rigidities, corporatism. We are not over-administered but badly administered, with an overlapping of competences of ministries, large agencies and multiple levels of local responsibilities. There is a loss in expenses, with too many structures and duplicates. Another element of explanation for the hiatus that you underline is the enormous cost of our redistribution policy with a lack of control over social and fiscal fraud.
The feeling of degradation of the public service is also linked to the management savings imposed on our large companies such as the SNCF or La Poste. Because of European deregulation, they find themselves in competition and they have had to close stations or offices to make savings in management.
Isn’t the shift also due to the increase in service requirements?
L. R. : Indeed, we see that the judicialization of society, the demand for security, health or diplomas are constantly progressing. Faced with this situation, there are only three solutions. Either we increase spending and create debt, or we charge part of the benefits. Either finally, we lead a Malthusian policy with scarcity of supply, for example by limiting places or the quality of reception at the university. We tend to follow this logic.
The average wealth of the population has led to an increase in the demand for diplomas. But we continue with a system designed to accommodate a small number of graduates.
Isn’t the crisis the reflection of our own contradictions on what we expect from the state?
L. R. : Our relationship to public services is marked by consumerism. All the mayors testify to the fact that they are confronted with citizens behaving like clients, who are entitled to benefits. The demand for adaptation of public measures to our individual situations is also progressing, as we can see in education. The difficulty is therefore not just monetary but it is due to an in-depth cultural evolution of society. In fact, the French are becoming liberals without admitting it.
We live in a country that discovers itself as it really is and not as it represents itself with the great principles of solidarity and generous measures invented eighty years ago. It’s more “every man for himself” but “public services for all”! The hiatus is first there.
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