Saturday, January 13, 2007

Housing Is...On The House

When is something opposable not opposable? Answer: when it's a French right. The confusion (for me) over the meaning of an "opposable right" delayed the writing of this post for several days and it's just as well, since it is now just about official that an "opposable right" to housing will become France's latest contribution to the Perfect Socialized State to which most of Europe and many Americans as well aspire.

An opposable right is a right that cannot be denied to a person, like the right to education. If someone (anyone) goes to France and is denied housing, the person who denies him housing is in violation of the law. So a landlord cannot refuse to rent a room to someone he deems unfit for his dwelling. The best I can do is to say that it's a right that can be used AGAINST someone, i.e. the one who denies housing to someone.

However, this new plan guarantees housing not only to someone who can pay rent, but more precisely, to those who cannot. So it's a monstrous boondoggle (1) for the State. According to Vox Galliae, Sarkozy has already indicated that priority will be given to French nationals, a move that VG regards as a temporary, election-driven palliative.

It all started in December with a well-organized campaign by a left-wing charity called "Les Enfants de Don Quichotte" (the children of Don Quixote), who set up red tents along the Saint-Martin Canal in Paris (photo) and urged sympathizers to sleep in the tents out of solidarity with homeless persons. According to Le Figaro the total cost of the operation was a mere 13,289 euros:

Exactly 13,289 euros. With a minimum budget, the Children of Don Quixote, in only two months, obtained a maximum benefit. With bits and pieces, these volunteers of agit-prop forced the government to act...In all, 138 tents were purchased...for 5000 euros. The rest of the money was spent on hats and medications, on the creation of a website, and on travel expenses for Augustin Legrand, an actor who has become the star militant of the cause of the homeless. The money was raised from private donations...and from collections taken along Saint-Martin Canal...The Red Cross took part by providing warm meals...

More information at Les Echos about the reaction of Augustin Legrand to the government's compliance:

Augustin Legrand feels that a "radical change in policy concerning the homeless and the certainty that an inalienable right to housing will be adopted soon by the government in a true spirit of political and fraternal (associative) consensus will lead us out of the immediate crisis...An emergency plan is in place as of today and we will begin at once the process of putting an end to the camp sites."

Note: In other words, "we came, we saw, we conquered, since the enemy did not put up much of a struggle."

Note: The word "associative" also causes trouble. It refers to the combined efforts of many, a joint agreement. I used "fraternal" a bit ironically, just as (it seems to me) Augustin Legrand used the word "consensus" ironically.

(1) It was revealing to learn that the English word "boondoggle" became popular during the Great Depression to refer to government projects that were doomed to failure. Here is what Wikipedia says:

"Boondoggle," in the sense of a term for a project that wastes time and money, first appeared during the Great Depression in the 1930s, referring to the millions of jobs given to unemployed men and women to try to get the economy moving again, as part of the New Deal.It came into common usage after a 1935 New York Times headline claimed that over $3 million had been spent teaching the jobless how to make boon doggles. (Originally boon doggles were small decorations made of string, like key chains, etc...)

In more recent times the term "Boondoggle" has come to refer to a government or corporate project involving large numbers of people and usually, heavy expenditure, where at some point the key operators have realized that the project is never going to work, but are reluctant to bring this to the attention of their superiors.


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