Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Now cynics claim a little of the cash has gone astray

This kind of thing, beyond unhelpfulness fighting terrorism and generally pigheaded and backstabbing diplomatic behaviour on the whole, is why I can't stand the French. (I have few problems with France, per se. Lovely architecture, wonderful food, many fine works of art; it's just the people themselves I dislike.) This seems to be a spectacularly useless, peculiarly Eurocratic way of approaching a problem: DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - French President Jacques Chirac has outlined bold proposals for an international tax to help fight AIDS, saying such a measure could raise a desperately needed $10 billion (5.4 billion pounds) each year. "I propose today moving forward through the creation, in an experimental way, of a levy to finance the fight against AIDS," Chirac told the World Economic Forum in Davos in a speech delivered by video link-up on Wednesday. Chirac said the levy could be imposed on international financial transactions without hampering markets, but it could also be raised by taxing fuel for air and sea transport, or levying $1 on every airline ticket sold in the world. "It would allow us to mobilise $10 billion a year," he said. Chirac said the money raised would be used not only to make medicines available to far more AIDS sufferers but also to finance research into a vaccine and develop prevention campaigns. Magnifique! Every single penny will go directly to AIDS research and prevention programs! But of course! And, surely, it wouldn't require creating a whole new monolithic bureaucracy or thus employing a set of impossible-to-fire unionized bureaucrats, and eat up most of its budget in providing the working conditions which such Euroweenies are accustomed to, right? Not like other extortionist internationalist do-gooders, say? Surely not. And we know it wouldn't negatively affect trade, either; Jacques Chirac says so. Never mind the simple economic principle of taxation tending to depress trade in whatever good or service is being taxed; it's just free money for a good cause. And it'll be taken from those evil rich countries, too, by the kind-hearted Robin Hoods (Robins Hood?) of France, in an unsubtly-disguised transfer of wealth. What could possibly be wrong with that? I have a fairly good friend from my time as a parliamentary contract employee - my boss in that job, actually - who's French. Not Quebecois; French. I like and respect him very much, but Jeebus, if he isn't always pushing policies like this. The Tobin Tax, say. (Yes, it's a tax on currency speculation, not the mechanisms of commerce and industry themselves, but the underlying principles aren't much different.) He frequently laments that it costs me the grandiose sum of $5000 (minus $2500 in scholarship funds) every year to attend university, which seems monstrously cruel to him in comparison to the ₣350 he paid annually to attend a prestigious school in Paris, back in the early 70s. Why, I should be getting a nearly-free post-secondary education! Though a usually-practical classically-trained economist, he really has little appreciation for how normal people can resent marginal tax increases without foreseeable benefits, no matter how good the cause. On an unrelated note, it's nice to see a crack in the EU's central alliance, in making suggestions for other ways to raise R&D funding: Deputy German Finance Minister Caio Koch-Weser welcomed measures such as taxing fuel for aircraft and ships. "A tax on weapons exports is also conceivable," Koch-Weser said in an interview with the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper. France, unlike Germany, is a major arms exporter. Oh, right; that. Don't mention the war profiteers! (I mentioned them once, but I think I got away with it.) It takes a special kind of uniquely European cynicism and a power-hungry bureaucratic mindset to think that the best long-term help for AIDS sufferers is going to come from taxing worldwide trade. If and when there's a cure or vaccine, or whatever new medications may be created, they'll happen due to the same combination of public and private R&D we have today. I don't see either type of research being helped by the establishment of yet another international boondoggle of an agency, program, or tax scheme.