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Guy Sorman is a leading French public intellectual and author, who has written more than 25 books on social, economic, and global affairs. On September 24, Dr. Other books by Dr. In , and building on a long career in publishing, Dr. In , he founded Sorman Publications, which publishes weekly newsletters on public finance, ecology, local administration, small business, urban planning, and health care, among other topics.
From to , Dr. Sorman was a professor at Sciences-Po, teaching economics and political philosophy. He has also served as a visiting scholar with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In , Dr. Sorman founded international Action contre le faim Action against Hunger , of which he is honorary president. After having written several books on the United States, from a political The Conservative revolution , , cultural Made in USA , , and economic perspective Economics does not lie , , I suddenly discovered that I had totally forgotten to cope with a seminal dimension of the American society: philanthropy.
No doubt, my shortsightedness came from being a foreign observer: a writer, in spite of all his efforts, always remains the prisoner of his cultural background. Philanthropy being nearly non-existent in France, I did not look at it when in the United States. All that changed when, from onward, I decided to live part time in the United States. It became evident that philanthropy did not stand at the periphery of the American society but was essential to it. One cannot understand what makes America different if philanthropy is not given its proper place.
Paradoxically, because philanthropy is that central, few books describe it properly. There were none in French. Most U. But I can hardly think of a synthetic book. As a rule, when I cannot find the book I am looking for, I tend to write it myself.
Philanthropy started in France and in the United States in the midth century, based on the same premises, born from the same Enlightenment philosophy. As Benjamin Franklin said when giving away his wealth at age 42, the purpose of philanthropy is to change the world so that charity will not be needed anymore.
Philanthropy is about systemic changes. At the end of the 18th century and along the first half of the 19th century, foundations and charities were similar in scope and methods on both sides of the Atlantic. Then, philanthropy, around , vanished from France, for strictly ideological reasons.
Socialism on the Left and Statism on the Right promoted a secular welfare state as a more efficient and more just way to erase poverty and inequality. Since those days, philanthropy has become minor in France. We have many associations but they all depend on public funding and apply public policies. No significant foundation in France tackles poverty and inequality by raising its own funds and following its own path.
You often hear in France that philanthropy does not exist because giving is not tax deductible. Actually, the French — at a personal level or corporate level — hardly use the tax deductions which are available.
The reluctance to give has clear ideological roots: the French do not give because, after paying higher taxes, they consider that the welfare state should take care of everything. By contrast, all surveys in the United States show that Americans are not that tax sensitive: they give whatever the deduction is, fiscal elasticity is low. Moreover, there is no tax deduction on volunteering.
Finally, religion in the United States is a major incentive to give: 60 percent of American donations go to churches and social programs managed by churches. The French, being more than secular, do not share this spiritual incentive.
Most of what is dealt with by philanthropic interventions in the United States is managed in France by the government: culture, public health, education, environment, research, helping the destitute… In the United States, however, let us not forget that government is active in these fields as well. American philanthropy is adding to government-led programs; it is not a total substitute, as many French tend to believe. Can we compare both systems?
It is nearly impossible to compare the outcomes because no nation is a laboratory with citizens as guinea-pigs. Each system should be examined separately. What I find most interesting in American philanthropy are two things.
First, giving brings a purpose to the life of those who give as well, as to those who receive. Most retired people in the United States are involved in philanthropic activities, most often as volunteers; in France, retired people feel useless. Secondly, foundations and charities in the United States are allowed to try untried, new programs in very difficult social environments like dealing with drug addiction, former inmates, discrimination, etc.
Through trial and error, these philanthropic experiments may lead to social progress. In France, by contrast, when a public program fails, the government will pour more money into it, in order to hide its failure. The main difference between a French NGO and an American charity has nothing to do with the tax system; their behavior is, rather, dictated by the source of their fund raising. In the United States, you try to raise funds among the people; in France, you lobby government and European institutions.
In France, ACF, which I founded and chaired, is a de facto subcontractor for public programs: in the United States, we have more freedom to choose our own programs. Distinct sources of funding lead to distinct forms of accountability.
In France, one is accountable to the public bureaucracy, in the United States to the people who grant funds. In both countries, though, transparency is deficient; many American foundations are far from being well-managed or efficient. My research in the United States led me to discover many ill-managed and useless foundations, mostly among the biggest institutions with famous names. To tell the truth, it had been my dream for a long time. The French community in the United States is growing as never before.
For the first time in French history, the French go and live abroad in large numbers. The list of topics is endless. The more I know both countries, the more I discover how much the French and the Americans are different; those are two different cultures within the Western civilization.
What can the French learn from the United States? In a nutshell, U. What the Americans can learn from the French? A better diet, universal health care is costly but good, a less-politicized civil service….
Most of the French still enjoy a good life mostly because their ancestors worked hard and accumulated wealth. If you do not belong to an old French family, though, you do not live that well because you inherited nothing.
As a consequence, social inequalities are increasing: the victims are mostly the new French, born from immigrant parents. The country as a whole has clearly lost its economic dynamism and, to a certain extent, its academic dynamism. In the country of Louis Pasteur, anti-progress ideologies and fads no GMOs, no shale gas, no reforms of any kind!
How to explain this decline and how to reverse it? The social structure is not helpful; 25 percent of the population working in the public sector means there is a large portion of the population usually against any change. The largest French companies tend to be monopolies and profit-seekers, with close political connections, adverse to change as well. The European Union is thus the major, maybe the only, agent for change.
In the absence of external pressures, our decline will continue; as it is a slow process, most of the French do not suffer from it, except the poorest and the next generation. The Arab Spring did not come as a surprise for me; I had warned the French government much in advance. Everybody is now disappointed by the outcome because Egypt and Tunisia, not to mention Syria and Iraq, have not become liberal democracies.
We should not regret the former dictatorship though and Arabs, mostly, do not want to revert to the past.
What happened? I identify two main failures in the aborted Arab Spring. First, the people who took over did not grasp how important the economy was. Recently, in Egypt and in Tunisia, I gave talks stressing the priority of monetary stabilization, opening markets, letting in new entrepreneurs, growth-oriented policies. The new leaders would not listen because they put their political party first.
The second failure came from the division within the liberal democrats; they went at each other and still do, for the greater benefit of better-organized forces like the military or the Muslim Brotherhood. What should the West do? Support the democratic Muslims, of course; the Western diplomacy is reluctant to follow this path and do prefer short-term security in the region.
At the end of the day, I remain an idealist, because revolution is a very slow process, the outcome of which is difficult to predict. If I were to select the most inspiring book I ever read and keep reading, it would be Moby Dick. As a trained economist, I tend to overestimate rational thinking: Moby Dick is a constant reminder of the limits of rationality. Then it is impossible for me not to mention Alexis de Tocqueville; Democracy in America is the model all political writers try to emulate.
What inspired you to choose this topic and write this book? What does your praise of American philanthropy say about your native France?
What are the key differences between France and the United States in their respective philosophies on giving? If the French do not have of a system of philanthropic giving as developed as the American one, what is the main reason for this? How has this situation been evolving in France? Are these tax-funded, government-led programs the French equivalent to American philanthropy?
Would you advocate for a system more like the American one?
Made In USA : Como Entender A los Estados Unidos
Guy Sorman has written twenty books that promote the ideals of creativity and modern capitalism. His views are close to classical liberalism. His ideas about renewable energy and environmentalism, as expressed in his book Progress and its Enemies , are particularly controversial. He is assertive in regard to human rights in China and in regard to democracy in many places including Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Chile, Poland, and Argentina. He is the global advisor of the South Korean President.
Made in USA