|Draining the French Swamp|
But how is this unusual? Don’t all politicians say they want fairness and transparency? Not in France. Let’s start with some context.
Sex and money are hot topics for which my two countries exhibit inverted cultural hangups. Here in the US, we freely discuss our money, but experience a countrywide conniption when a singer shows a tiny bit of nipple. In Paris, we happily discuss carnal mischief but would never think of asking someone how much they paid for their apartment—it’s tantamount to grabbing someone’s pudendum. The French demonize money just like we Americans demonize sex. Money is a very private affair.
One of the reasons behind such modesty is an entrenched tradition of hiding one’s money from the nosy taxman. The ubiquitous evasion is seen as a virile sport that extends across all economic classes.
I first heard the expression “J’ai une petite défense” (I have this little defensive play) as a child growing up in a blue collar suburb. Is it wrong? Not when everybody does it.
The game was passed down from on high. French ministers and staff routinely received unreported, untaxed, and untraceable cash from an official special fund that was passed from the Treasury to the prime minister who, in turn, dispensed it to his cabinet:
Once a month, an armored car delivers state funds in cash to top government officials.
Over the course of a year, more than $50 million. The public has no idea what happens to this money. No legal inquiry can ever reach the truth because the funds are treated as a state secret, and questions go unanswered.A third world dictatorship? A banana republic? A family-run Persian Gulf country? Guess again.
This is France’s Fifth Republic.
If the neighborhood grocer were caught with such black money it would mean heavy fines or even jail. Hence the disrespect for politicians and rules, and the veil of secrecy behind which one’s own money had to be protected.
France’s new president is unusual in some obvious ways: His young age, his path to power outside the traditional party system, the briskness of his ascent. If he succeeds with his immensely ambitious reforms, starting with laws that will “drain the French swamp,” he will transcend unusual and move on to astonishing.
Read more:Emmanuel Macron is draining the swamp in France—or trying to — Quartz