Since 1981, France has had a true high speed rail service, the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse). We here in the US are only about 30 years behind the French in the regard…and counting. As US politicians continue to dither on high speed passenger rail, throwing loose change at development, the French corporations like Alstom have perfected this product for export to its former colonies in the developing world making big profits. Since the US is on par with developing world rail infrastructure, we may be best served by swallowing our pride and purchasing this technology from French post haste.
The TGV’s maiden voyage was between Paris and Lyon on September 27th, 1981. Ridership is expected to hit the 2 billion mark in 2010. It is a smashing commercial success, but goes further than that as a symbol on national pride and technological prowess. It is a cornerstone of European integration as it connects France to the UK and her continental neighbors with speed and dependability. Let us parse out the credit for this success to everyone, but one small group of people deserves a mention: the riche.
The fundamental difference between the French and the Americans is that rich French people are taxed much more than wealthy Americans (which leaves them more money to spend on holiday…in France). This is why Republicans hate, hate, hate the French. French-bashing was a fervent national pastime from about 2002-2005 in the fair and balanced American media. Our mainstream media was very inclined to fan anti-French sentiment, because if Americans learned that the French government taxes the rich to strengthen civil society, there’s a small chance it could happen here. It will never happen though. The wealthiest Americans not only sidestep being taxed, but coerce the government to pay their bonuses if their businesses don’t pan out.
Be it the George W. Bushes of yesteryear or the GOP economic maestros of today (we’re looking at you Sarah Palin), the almighty tax cut is the cornerstone of any economic policy espoused by the conservative protectors of the rich, be they Republicans or faux-Libertarians. The infrastructure of the rest of the country can crumble as long as the residents of our nation’s well manicured gated communities can get that 9th Bentley to add to their collection (we’re looking at you Nicholas Cage). Rich Germans volunteer to pay more taxes to lift up their country while rich Americans play hide-and-seek with the taxman to keep their dough.
In the last post the word that encapsulated Germany’s high speed rail network was solidarity. When your country is shattered, you all pull together to rebuild. In France, the word that built the world’s fastest train is wealth. As previously stated, the rich are viewed very differently in America and France. American society is all about wealth and flashing cash is the pinnacle of what we are supposed to perceive as cool. In France such “nouveau riche” behavior is considered classless and crass. It was quite a revelation to learn that, as one French national told me, “In France, it’s not really okay to be rich.”
[photo credit: RailEurope]