The Divided Path: The German Influence on Social Reform in France after 1870

By Allan Mitchell | Go to book overview

Chapter 9
The Funding of Reform

The connection between public welfare and public wealth is selfevident. If the French state were to assume prodigious new responsibilities in providing financial aid to the needy, some additional means of funding would have to be found. Free medical care for the poor, subsidies to unwed pregnant women, workers' compensation for industrial accidents, assistance to invalids and the aged--such measures, among many others, were ardently desired by social reformers. But each was to be obtained only at a price that was certain to rise with every passing year. To advocate reform was implicitly to sanction increased budgets and hence to raise a question about the sources of state revenue.

Although these elemental truths were apparent when the Third Republic began, and even before, they did not become acutely uncomfortable until the late 1880s. It was no coincidence that serious parliamentary discussion about an income tax started at the same time as the inauguration of a central Bureau of Public Health and Hygiene and the formation of a Conseil Supieur de l'Assistance Publique. Virtually simultaneous, moreover, was the start of deliberations about state regulation of alcoholic beverages, in which the symbiosis of health and finance was equally striking. We shall see how the income tax issue played off against the alcohol question, without either reaching a firm conclusion. Moreover, in the absence of major new tax increments, a third source of additional income (and curtailment of expenditures) became enticing: the confiscation of church property. To reduce the religious controversy solely to its financial

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