Le problème non résolu de la désertification

Desertification 1.Rose Mba Mebiame

Les alertes des scientifiques sur les dommages environnementaux sont de plus en plus fréquentes. Si l’on entend beaucoup parler – à raison – des modes de production d’énergie, de l’alimentation ou de la gestion des déchets, un phénomène tout aussi important se déroule sous nos yeux : la désertification. Et là aussi, nous parvient un méli-mélo de divergences au sein de la communauté scientifique et d’actions politiques parfois incohérentes, autour d’un terme dont la définition nous semble parfois imprécise. Que met-on derrière ce mot ? Quelles en sont les causes ? Quelles solutions – optimales ? – sont mises en place pour pallier les conséquences économiques, sociales et environnementales de ce processus de désertification ?

Déserts et désertification : quelques précisions

Les déserts sont caractérisés par une pluviométrie et une densité de la population très faibles. Des facteurs géologiques, climatiques et biologiques peuvent être à l’origine de leur formation, qui peut donc s’effectuer de façon naturelle. Le Sahara, par exemple, serait né il y a plusieurs millions d’années, et alternerait entre périodes de sécheresse et périodes de fertilité. Il existe des déserts chauds, des déserts tempérés et des déserts froids comme l’Antarctique.

Si le terme de désertification a souvent été repris comme désignant le processus d’expansion des déserts tels que le Sahara, Marc Bied-Charreton, agro-économiste, géographe et Professeur, le définit plus exactement comme « un processus qui conduit à la dégradation des terres et des ressources du milieu naturel, essentiellement dans les zones arides, semi-arides et subhumides ». Ce phénomène est aujourd’hui essentiellement observé en périphérie des déserts chauds.

Ce qui a été pointé du doigt depuis plusieurs décennies est le rôle de l’homme dans ce processus, et l’impact dévastateur de la désertification sur la population ainsi que sur l’écosystème. En effet, si des phénomènes de désertification peuvent apparaître sans que des activités humaines en soient responsables, ce n’est pas toujours le cas. Des mécanismes complexes mêlant périodes de sécheresse prolongées et systèmes d’exploitation controversés sont mis en cause. Le surpâturage, la surexploitation des ressources, la réduction des temps de repos des sols cultivés, les monocultures dites « modernes » ou d’autres pratiques agricoles non durables ont été à l’origine d’un appauvrissement considérable de sols à risques, comme le sud du Sahara ou du désert de Gobi (pour plus de précisions, voir les informations fournies par la F.A.O. – lien en fin d’article). Des chercheurs ont conclu lors d’une étude (Thomas, N. et Nigam, S. 2018) que le désert du Sahara s’est étendu de façon significative d’environ 10% – mesure prenant en compte les précipitations – au cours du XXème siècle.

Pourquoi la désertification pose-t-elle problème ?

Le problème est qu’environ deux milliards de personnes dans le monde vivent sur ou à proximité des zones désertiques ou en processus de désertification. Les premiers continents en danger sont l’Asie et l’Afrique ; deux personnes sur trois sont concernés par ce phénomène au sud de la méditerranée. Les inquiétudes se portent également sur la partie sud de l’Amérique du Nord, l’Australie et dans une certaine mesure les pays riverains du nord de la méditerranée. La communauté scientifique étudie de plus en plus l’impact de la dégradation du sol sur la pauvreté. Il a été montré dans une étude réalisée au niveau macroéconomique que la dégradation du sol avait un impact indirect sur la pauvreté, car elle réduit significativement l’impact positif d’une augmentation du revenu par habitant sur la diminution de la pauvreté (Barbier et Hochard, 2016). Certains craignent même un cercle vicieux, dans lequel davantage de pauvreté pousserait à exploiter davantage le sol pour survivre, et donc à une dégradation du sol plus importante (voir, par exemple, Reynolds, J.F. et. al 2007). La désertification est devenue une nouvelle cause de migration – ou au moins un facteur aggravant- pour certaines régions comme le nord de l’Afrique subsaharienne ou le Mexique (selon l’UNCCD).

Les perspectives pour les prochaines décennies sont assez alarmantes si l’on prend en compte la croissance de la population mondiale. La sécurité alimentaire pourrait être fortement compromise, car pour nourrir la population estimée de 2050, il nous faudrait augmenter fortement la production globale – d’au moins 70%, selon l’Economics of Land Degradation Initiative- ce qui est difficilement faisable avec des terres en moins sans endommager les terres disponibles. La transition économique et sociale des pays en voie de développement peut induire une augmentation de la demande d’eau, pour les industries ou pour le tourisme. L’approvisionnement en eau est déjà un problème, et constituera un enjeu majeur à grande échelle dans un futur très proche.

L’incapacité des terres dégradées à se ressourcer impacte bien évidemment la flore, mais également la faune qui ne peut plus se nourrir. En outre, ces phénomènes locaux ont un impact sur l’environnement global : par exemple, la mise en suspension des particules fines des sols peut atteindre les hautes couches de l’atmosphère et augmenter ainsi l’effet de serre. Les ressources globales en eau diminuent : certains grands lacs, comme le lac Tchad, rétrécissent. Le climat risque de devenir plus variable et violent, en particulier en Afrique (Bied-Charreton, M., 2017).

Des réactions ambitieuses … et réellement efficaces ?

Microsoft Word - GGW LINE def.doc

Face à ce phénomène, de nombreux acteurs publics et privés ont été à l’initiative de projets de plus ou moins grande ampleur. Des organisations internationales comme les Nations Unies ont initié des conventions – par exemple UNCCD, convention de lutte contre la désertification ; UNFCCC, convention cadre sur les changements climatiques ; UNCBD, convention sur la diversité biologique – afin de donner des directives et des objectifs aux Etats possédant des terres se désertifiant, mais aussi aux Etats proposant des aides publiques au développement. En termes d’actions étatiques, les grandes murailles vertes, initiées dans la seconde moitié du XXème siècle, sont des exemples notoires. En Afrique subsaharienne, 20 pays se sont alliés afin de créer une mosaïque de terres suivant les Sustainable Development Goals proposés par les Nations Unies ; cela se traduit – entre autres – par la plantation d’arbres le long de la frontière sud du Sahara. Dans la région de la Mongolie intérieure, au nord de la Chine, le gouvernement procède depuis 1978 à la plantation en masse d’arbres. En effet, les arbres, de par leur longévité et leur capacité à émettre de puissants systèmes racinaires, sont vus comme un rempart face à la menace. Cette solution ne fait pourtant pas l’unanimité, en particulier au sein de la communauté scientifique, qui dans sa majorité critique une solution utopiste qui pourrait avoir des effets contraires aux objectifs de revitalisation du sol. Jiang Gaoming, Professeur de géographie à l’université de Hawaii, critique la politique d’afforestation chinoise, en ce qu’elle provoque un épuisement des réseaux d’eau souterrains et ne règle donc pas le problème de la désertification. En cause, la monoculture – essentiellement des peupliers et des saules, la surplantation dans un territoire inadapté à une flore aussi importante, et une absence de suivi qui conduit à la mort d’une grande partie des arbres plantés quelques années seulement après leur mise en terre. Par ailleurs, le gouvernement chinois n’encourage pas ou trop peu une transition dans les modes de production agricole et d’élevage, et ne cherche pas ou trop peu à relocaliser les populations des zones concernées. Selon lui, la pose de clôtures ou l’herbification seraient des solutions plus efficaces.

Plusieurs chercheurs comme Marc Bied-Charreton encouragent à plus de lucidité afin de pallier les problématiques de développement, pour lesquelles beaucoup de solutions proposées ont échoué. Définir des objectifs chiffrés et contraignants, et construire des mécanismes de financement et de compensation spécifiques– ce que ne fait pas l’UNCCD par exemple – pousseraient les pays engagés sur le papier à faire de ces enjeux une priorité concrète. Il faut encourager davantage les investissements agricoles de long terme – difficilement faisables aujourd’hui par les agriculteurs locaux qui sont souvent soumis à une instabilité des prix – cohérents avec les nécessités de court terme. Plus de coopération entre les acteurs publics – comme les ministères – mais aussi entre les providents d’aide au développement permettrait de faire des avancées concrète sur le terrain, et non principalement théoriques.

Conclusion

Une chose est de se rendre compte du problème, une autre est de mettre en œuvre des moyens pour trouver des solutions efficaces. Si nous agissons trop tard, nous serons bientôt tous – et pas seulement les états locaux – directement ou indirectement atteints.

par Rose Mba Mebiame

 

References

Barber, E. B., Hochard, J.P., “Does Land Degradation Increase Poverty in Developing Countries?”, May 2016

Bied-Charreton, M., « Problématique de la Dégradation et de la Restauration des Terres ; les questions posées par la compensation », Comité Scientifique Français de la Désertification, décembre 2017

Economics of Land Degradation Initiative: Report for policy and decision makers, 2015

Gaoming, J., Stopping the sandstorms, China Dialogue, 13.04.2007

Reynolds, J.F. et. al, Global desertification : building a science for dryland development, Science, May 2007

Thomas, N., Nigam, S., Twentieth-Century Climate Change over Africa: Seasonal Hydroclimate Trends and Sahara Desert Expansion, Journal of Climate, May 2018, vol. 31

UNCCD, Migration and desertification, thematic fact sheet series No.3

http://www.fao.org/3/V0265F/v0265f01.htm

https://wad.jrc.ec.europa.eu/biodiversity

Moral blindness

Moral Blindness

 

Throughout history, humanity has committed what we now think of as moral atrocities. Some obvious examples are slavery, the subjugation of women, and the persecution of homosexuals. For generations, practices such as these seemed completely normal. We have a remarkable record of being completely oblivious to our moral failings.

Take Aristotle, one of the greatest philosophers civilization has produced. He was extremely intelligent and devoted his life to ethical reflection. Despite this, it did not occur to him that owning slaves might be wrong. This is quite astounding and makes one wonder: what moral atrocities are we inadvertently committing today?

If a thinker as impressive as Aristotle was unable to peer through the zeitgeist and perceive a moral failing as blatant as slavery, we should also question our ability to do so today. However, some thinkers have shown that ethical foresight is possible. Enlightenment philosopher Jeremy Bentham argued in the 18th century that homosexuality is acceptable and that women should have the right to vote. How did Bentham succeed in his ethical anticipation? How might we make progress today? And how much progress can we expect to make?

 

The moral circle

The concept of the moral circle, introduced by historian William Lecky and further developed by Princeton philosopher Peter Singer in his book The Expanding Circle, refers to the boundary humanity draws around those we deem to matter. Singer believes that many past moral developments can be seen as widening this circle of moral consideration.

According to this thesis, in early human history, the circle was restricted to close kin for evolutionary reasons. Indeed, evolutionary biologists have explained kin altruism via kin selection, an evolutionary strategy in which an individual behaves altruistically because it improves the fitness of its close relatives. Singer says that now “The circle of altruism has broadened from the family and tribe to the nation and race, and we are beginning to recognize that our obligations extend to all human beings.” A recent example of moral circle expansion is the greater consideration accorded to the interests of individuals in the LGBT community.

Singer argues that reason has played an important role in this process. By nature, reason is incompatible with inconsistency and arbitrariness, therefore helping us discern cases of prejudice. Once we hop on the “escalator of reason”, we see that our interests, from the “point of view of the universe”, are no more important than the similar interests of others.

We might then ask if there is a logical endpoint of moral circle expansion. Singer argues that “The only justifiable stopping place for the expansion of altruism is the point at which all whose welfare can be affected by our actions are included within the circle of altruism.” In his view, the fundamental criterion determining whether an individual is worthy of moral consideration is sentience: whether they are able to feel, perceive and experience positive and negative subjective states. If an individual is sentient, there can be no justification for not considering their interests.

 

Making progress

Bentham’s ethical success was largely due to his application of the sentience criterion. He writes that “[…] The French have already discovered that the blackness of skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may come one day to be recognised that the number of legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate.” In his view, “[…] The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” 

Bentham realised that racism is unjustified because sentience is the relevant moral criterion, while skin colour is not. This is useful because it simplifies our search for ethical blindness, allowing us to simply look for cases where we are applying the wrong criterion.

Why does Bentham mention “the number of legs”? Under close inspection, this criterion implies that stopping moral circle expansion at humans is arbitrary. Species is not the relevant moral criterion, and the weight of scientific evidence strongly suggests that many nonhuman animals are sentient. Prominent neuroscientists and other researchers gathered at the University of Cambridge in 2012 to ratify the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, which stated that “the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.The sentience criterion thus suggests that animals, at least the ones mentioned above, should be included in our moral circle.

 

Factory farming

Our treatment of animals suggests that we are incorrectly applying species as a moral criterion. In particular, factory farming seems like a leading candidate for a case of our collective moral blindness. If we include only the species mentioned in the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness, more than 70 billion animals are slaughtered in farms each year, 90% of whom lived in factory farms. Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens, writes that in these facilities, farmers “[…] lock animals in tiny cages, mutilate their horns and tails, separate mothers from offspring, and selectively breed monstrosities. The animals suffer greatly […].” Due to the immense suffering, he believes that “Animals are the main victims of history, and the treatment of domesticated animals in industrial farms is perhaps the worst crime in history.” Jeremy Bentham was perhaps not only ahead of his time, but of ours too.

 

In defence of normative modesty

We can make moral progress by applying the sentience criterion more consistently. However, this limited approach is almost certainly insufficient to expose all of our blindness. Moral philosophy is a field plagued with disagreements of major ethical importance. For instance, are there moral criteria other than sentience? How should we weigh the well-being of individuals who are not yet born, relative to our own? If the answer is “just as much” -i.e. a zero rate of pure time preference- then levels of existential risk are unacceptably high. We are well aware of some of these, such as climate change, but pay much less attention to others, such as nuclear war and engineered pandemics.

Most importantly, there likely remain considerations we do not know about which would radically shift our view of the moral landscape. Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom believes that “it is likely that we are overlooking one or more crucial considerations: ideas or arguments that might plausibly reveal the need for not just some minor course adjustment in our endeavours but a major change of direction or priority.” Our poor historical track record suggests that noticing any such consideration is no easy task. Noticing them all is a Herculean one. This implies that we should be more modest and open-minded in our moral opinions. We are all probably wrong in important ways and are likely to remain so for a long time.

 

If you are interested in learning more about animal welfare or maybe even conducting research in this space, get in touch with Professor Nicolas Treich at TSE. He has created a research agenda on the economics of animal welfare. This work is both theoretical and empirical, including topics like integrating animal utility into the social welfare function, behavioural economics of the “meat paradox” (why people eat meat despite caring about animals), cost-benefit analysis of regulatory actions in favour of animals, and evaluating the welfare effects of human actions on animals in farms and in nature.

 

By Alexis Carlier

 

References

Bentham, Jeremy. An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. 1780. https://www.econlib.org/library/Bentham/bnthPML.html

Bostrom, Nick. Nick Bostrom’s Home Page. 2019. https://nickbostrom.com

Faunalytics. Global Animal Slaughter Statistics and Charts. 2018. https://faunalytics.org/global-animal-slaughter-statistics-and-charts/

Francis Crick Memorial Conference 2012: Consciousness in Animals. The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness. 2012. http://fcmconference.org/img/CambridgeDeclarationOnConsciousness.pdf

Harari, Yuval Noah. Industrial Farming is one of the worst crimes in history. The New York Times. 15-09-25.

MacAskill, Will. Moral Progress and Cause X. 2016. https://www.effectivealtruism.org/articles/moral-progress-and-cause-x/

Sentience Institute. Global Farmed & Factory Farmed Animals Estimates. 2019. https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/global-animal-farming-estimates

Singer, Peter. Is Violence History? The New York Times. 11-10-6.

Singer, Peter. The Expanding Circle: Ethics, Evolution, and Moral Progress. 2011 ed. Princeton University Press, 2011.

Profit vs. Usury: difference from the point of view of Saint Thomas Aquinas

Aquin

 

 

“Main use of money is its consumption or investment” 

Saint Thomas Aquinas (1265-1274)

 

 

 

From the above quote and his works, we know that St. Thomas Aquinas considered money as a non-durable good, which by definition should be destroyed when exchanged / consumed, and thus should not be used to generate even more money. For him, if money is used to acquire goods or to obtain services, then it is not fair to ask for more money than is worth the service or good itself. Thus Aquinas makes the distinction between the true price for a good or service, and the illegitimate price for the use of such good or service. The price of the use of money is what Aquinas calls usury because when one charges for the use of a good, one charges for more than the fair price of the good. It follows that, for Aquinas, it is evil to sell goods at prices which are higher than their just price; yet he still allows merchants to make profits from their merchandise – which means that they have increased the original price of the goods they are selling. Thence, what is usury for St. Thomas Aquinas and why does he think that profit is not usury?

St. Thomas, in the same way as Aristotle, sees the just or fair price of a good as the price which corresponds to the true value of said object. With this definition, Aquinas considers that usury and profits are sins; still, he puts certain conditions under which one may charge at a different price than the fair price when selling objects, i.e., make profit. If the object provides the consumer with a lot of utility, he could pay a price higher than the fair price; similarly, if the seller does not want to sell the object, then the buyer could pay more than the fair price in case of emergency. You can also charge more than the fair price because of transport costs or modifications to the object. But the most important and valid reason to set a higher price is when the seller sells and makes profit to support his own family or to help the poor. Continuing on the previous example, the seller is a merchant whose profession is to trade, and only through the profits he makes can he can support his family and, if possible, help the needy. For this reason, Aquinas allows profit, if profit is not an end in itself but a compensation for the work of the merchant.

 Aside from purchases and sales, in general Aquinas condemns usury in an absolute way. The author Chasterton (Persky, 2007) interprets Aquinas’ thoughts in the following way: Aquinas considers that people who take loans are people who really need the money, such as poor people who have to take care of themselves and their family. To do so they ask a lender, but this lender does not need the money. Indeed, lenders have typically more resources than necessary to cover their needs and this allows them to loan money. In these circumstances, lending with interest implies two sins for lenders: first, they take advantage of the needy, and second, they want more than they need, i.e., they commit the sins of vanity and greed. Other authors, such as Wilson and Stark (Worland 1977), see a different reason behind Aquinas position on money, profit and usury. Both authors take into account the environment in which Aquinas lived, which was characterised by a “chronic low level stagnation”, i.e. a society of orders, with a predetermined status quo and a strong religious devotion among all members of society. In this context the authors, mainly Stark, believe that the reasons why Aquinas wanted to prohibit usury were not those exposed in his Summa Theology, but rather an exogenous factor: the dynamism of Capitalism was threatening the social order, threatening the status quo, and such dynamism began with the loan of money which requires interest -so that one may be able to make profit when lending money. If we follow these authors’ explanation, one could consider that Aquinas did not think that the poor were those who were going to request loans. Instead, he may have thought that only merchants would sought out such loans in order to improve their businesses and generate wealth. In turn this would boost the world economy and in this scenario, a new social order could be established.

In both interpretations of Aquinas’ thoughts, the practice of usury is wrong and detrimental to society. With the first explanation, it is possible that Aquinas outlawed usury in order to defend the poor from the exploitation of unscrupulous lenders. This defense of the poor may not even be genuine and may be due to the potential benefit that Aquinas sees that the lenders could obtain. Indeed, Bentham (1816) showed in his work how the poor were actually willing to accept any interest rate in exchange for a loan. Consequently, unimaginably high rates – that a poor person would not be able to cope with – could be the norm.

ElGreco

If the true intentions of Aquinas are those given by Wilson and Stark, then he wanted to prevent society from developing, from changing; for this reason, he prohibits usury.

Going forward, for Aquinas, usury is such a great misdeed that in the Summa Theologica he extends the sin of usury to any objects that were bought with the gain of it. Even so, he allows in certain occasions to receive some type of appreciation when money is lent. Aquinas says that it is lawful, and not sinful, “to demand in compensation for the loan, those things that are not measured, such as benevolence, friendship of the one to whom it was lent or other similar … if the gift of services or in words not it is granted by way of real obligation, but by benevolence, which does not fall under the pecuniary assessment, it is lawful to receive, demand and wait for it.” (Aquinas 1265-1274, Summa Theologiae, Second Part of the Second Part, question 78). Here, Aquinas affirms again that nothing material can be received in exchange for a loan, nothing except things that cannot be measured, things which cannot be sold or exchanged.

Therefore, we see that Aquinas distinguishes very clearly between selling goods and lending money. With selling, the fair price of the object can be modified given the preferences of the agents and given the transformations the object went through (not only physical but also due to time and location); you may do the same if you are a merchant by profession and the profit made by increasing the price is used for good. However, making profits through lending cannot be allowed. Indeed, if people were allowed to lend money and charge this service, then it could not be in order to feed their family or help the poor, because if they were really altruistic they would have used their excess money for these purposes initially. This is the main difference Aquinas sees between profit and usury and why it is strongly condemned, censored, and forbidden by him and by the Catholic Church. But Aquinas could also maintain the status quo of society, according to Stark. For it, Aquinas used the best way to hide it this double intention: coming out in defense of the poor.  In the end, even with the strong condemnation on usury, Aquinas and the Catholic Church did not manage to stop usury because it was secretly camouflaged as interest  (Persky, 2007), becoming the fundamental pillar of today’s capitalist world.

By José Alfonso Muñoz

 

References

Aquinas, T. (1265-1274). Summa Theologica. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Retrieved from https://www.ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/summa.pdf

Bentham, J. (1816). Defence of Usury: Showing the Impolicy of the Present Legal Restraints on the Term of Pecuniary Bargains. Payne & Foss.

Persky, J. (2007). Retrospectives: from usury to interest. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 21(1), 227-236.

Worland, S. T. (1977). Justum pretium: One more round in an “endless series”. History of Political Economy, 9(4), 504-521

Le patrimoine culturel en France : les dangers des modes de gestion non optimaux

CaptureAlors que nous assistions, impuissants, à l’incendie ravageant la Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-Paris en avril 2019, un débat abordé depuis longtemps par les spécialistes est revenu sur la scène politique : la question des modes de gestion du patrimoine culturel français, et notamment du patrimoine religieux.

Comment équilibrer les recettes générées par le tourisme culturel avec les coûts d’entretien de bâtiments parfois âgés de plusieurs siècles ?

Cet article revient sur le mode actuel de gestion du patrimoine français, et plus particulièrement du patrimoine religieux, ainsi que sur les innovations proposées par l’actuel gouvernement ainsi que par des professionnels et engagés dans ce secteur.

Retour sur la définition de patrimoine

Il convient de faire un petit point sur la définition de patrimoine, ainsi que sur la distinction entre propriétaires publics et propriétaires privés.

La notion de patrimoine culturel est définie par l’article L1 du code du patrimoine comme « l’ensemble des biens, immobiliers ou mobiliers, relevant de la propriété publique ou privée, qui présentent un intérêt historique, artistique, archéologique, esthétique, scientifique ou technique ». Pour ce qui est des édifices de cultes, le régime de soumission diffère selon la période d’édification du lieu de culte. Les biens du clergé qui, en 1789, ont été constitués « Biens de la Nation », sont propriétés de personnes publiques. La loi de séparation de l’Eglise et de l’Etat de 1905 prescrivait le transfert des biens mobiliers et immobiliers religieux à des associations cultuelles constituées et a été complétée par la loi de 1908 préconisant la prise des droits de propriété des édifices cultuels par les communes s’ils ne sont ni restitués, ni revendiqué dans un délai légal. L’Eglise catholique ayant refusé la constitution d’associations cultuelles, les édifices religieux catholiques – représentant la quasi-totalité des édifices religieux en France – construits avant 1905 appartiennent donc à des personnes publiques. Le plus souvent, les cathédrales sont propriétés de l’Etat, tandis que les chapelles et les églises sont propriétés des communes (ce régime ne s’applique ni à l’Alsace-Moselle – sous le régime du Concordat – ni à la Guyane, à Mayotte et à Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon). Les lieux de culte construits ou acquis après 1905 relèvent du régime de propriété privée pour les personnes privées, et du domaine privé pour les personnes publiques. Il revient aux propriétaires, publics ou privés, d’effectuer les travaux nécessaires à l’entretien et à la conservation de leur patrimoine culturel.

Par ailleurs, les éléments du patrimoine culturel – public ou privé – peuvent être « inscrits » ou « classés » comme « monuments historiques », ce qui leur assure une certaine protection légale. L’Etat peut financer les travaux d’entretien jusqu’à 25% – pour les monuments inscrits – ou 50% – pour les monuments classés. Environ 72% de ces monuments historiques sont des habitations (châteaux, manoirs, villas, …) ou des édifices religieux.

Capture2

Le problème du financement de l’entretien et de la conservation du patrimoine culturel

Le patrimoine culturel peut bien évidemment être source de revenus importants pour les personnes publiques, soit directement – droits d’entrée, dons de particuliers, … – soit indirectement – création d’emplois, impôts directs ou indirects, taxes de séjour, … Il est donc important pour elles de valoriser au maximum leurs atouts. Malheureusement, c’est chose difficile pour certaines collectivités territoriales, pour qui les coûts surpassent parfois les produits.

En effet, la difficulté de financer l’entretien et la conservation du patrimoine culturel et des monuments historiques est de plus en plus soulevée. Pour les collectivités territoriales, qui détiennent environ 50% des monuments historiques, les fonds qu’elles doivent souvent se procurer par elles-mêmes, sont parfois difficiles à trouver. De plus, si les travaux sont à la charge des propriétaires privés de patrimoine, les fonds publics sont souvent sollicités. Les personnes publiques – en particulier les collectivités – ont du mal à s’en sortir, et sont même parfois tentées de vendre ou de détruire certains de leurs biens. Il en résulte que certains éléments du patrimoine se trouvent en situation de péril. La mission Stéphane Bern, créée en partenariat avec la Fondation du Patrimoine et confiée par Emmanuel Macron à Stéphane Bern en 2018, visant à récolter des fonds pour la sauvegarde du patrimoine, a recensé quelques 3500 signalements sur les 44 000 biens répertoriés comme monuments historiques. Parmi les projets jugés prioritaires, la grande majorité se trouvent dans des territoires ruraux ou sont gérés par de petites communes.

Le problème souvent mis en avant est que, dans des régions reculées ou en zone rurale, il peut être difficile d’attirer beaucoup de visiteurs. Si la France est le pays qui attire le plus de touristes, ils ne sont pas également répartis sur le territoire. Certains endroits comme Paris ou le sud de la France sont très prisés, quand d’autres sont délaissés.

Des prises d’initiatives par le gouvernement et les élus locaux

Avec environ 85% de la population vivant dans des communes de 10 000 habitants ou moins, le gouvernement actuel semble avoir conscience que le patrimoine français n’est pas uniquement constitué des biens des grandes métropoles, et propose donc des initiatives. Le projet de loi de finances pour 2018 présente une hausse des crédits pour les monuments historiques, ainsi que la création d’un fond d’aide à la rénovation de 15 millions d’euros pour les collectivités territoriales à faibles ressources. Le projet de loi de finance pour 2019 reste sur le budget moyen annuel alloué à la culture de 10 milliards d’euros – avec toutefois une augmentation de 17 millions d’euros. Par ailleurs, par le biais de la première édition du loto du patrimoine organisé par la Mission Stéphane Bern en partenariat avec la Française des Jeux en 2018, 22 millions d’euros avaient été récoltés pour la restauration de 269 monuments en péril. Le loto du patrimoine a été reconduit le 14 juillet 2019 et le sera en septembre 2019, lors des Journées Européennes du Patrimoine. En parallèle, on observe une volonté de démocratisation de la culture, notamment auprès des jeunes. Le Ministère de la Culture porte le projet du Pass Culture, une application gratuite qui relaie les activités culturelles et artistiques à proximité, et permet l’octroi sur demande d’une enveloppe de 500 euros aux jeunes de 18 ans à dépenser sur ce Pass – spectacles, visites, …

Des efforts encourageants, mais pour certains des réformes plus en profondeur sont nécessaires

Les initiatives du gouvernement sont louables mais seraient insuffisantes en terme de besoin financiers. Certains appellent à encourager les fonds privés pour sauver le patrimoine. La Mission Stéphane Bern en est un exemple.  Par ailleurs des régimes juridiques comme le bail emphytéotique administratif, qui confie la jouissance par une personne publique – qui en reste propriétaire – d’un bien à une personne privée, pourraient stimuler les recettes liées au tourisme et permettrait donc de mieux amortir les coûts. Le château de Versailles, par exemple, devrait prochainement accueillir un hôtel ainsi qu’un restaurant gastronomique. D’autres comme Marie-Hélène Jouzeau, directrice du Musée du château des Ducs à Nantes, dénonce un système de gratuité croissante qui, en plus de limiter les recettes, serait peu efficace pour démocratiser l’accès à la culture. En effet, si le nombre de visiteurs d’un monument augmente, cela peut être davantage parce que les habitués s’y rendent plus souvent, que par un élargissement de son public. L’impact réel de la gratuité est difficile à évaluer.

Conclusion

La conservation du patrimoine français est un sujet complexe. Il est empreint de la vision européenne de la valeur d’un bien culturel souvent liée à son authenticité – contrairement à l’Asie de l’Est par exemple, où beaucoup de monuments japonais sont traditionnellement souvent reconstruits, et où la plupart des monuments chinois que l’on peut visiter aujourd’hui ont été intégralement reconstruits dans le courant du XXème siècle. Ce soucis d’authenticité peut faire de la rénovation une tâche délicate. Néanmoins, il existe des solutions pour sauver le patrimoine, et notamment le patrimoine des petites villes, de la ruine ou de la destruction. Prendre conscience de l’état actuel du patrimoine est un premier pas. Il nous reste à déterminer la suite du chemin.

Par Rose Mba Mébiame

 

References:

https://www.missionbern.fr/

https://www.patrimoine-religieux.fr

Cariou André, Jouzeau Marie-Helene, Etes-vous pour ou contre la gratuité au musée ?, Ouest France, 26.09.2013

Zunz, Stephen, Sauver le patrimoine historique grâce au financement privé ?, Contrepoints, 16.04.2019

Was Bourdieu right? Art, Culture and Social reproduction

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There is currently a common belief in the Western world that high culture and arts are quite elitist and lead to discrimination: high-end humanities such as classic literature and philosophy, deep knowledge of history, arts or science are inaccessible to the common folk yet very rewarding economically and socially. To what extent is that true and can we – and should we – change it?

Have high arts and humanities actually hindered social mobility in the past?

From Antiquity up until the 19th century, the world was largely a society of classes. Indeed, since the 1960s there has been a consensus among historians, including prominent ones such as Fernand Braudel who worked on Mediterranean societies in the Middle Ages, that there was some vertical and horizontal inter-generational social mobility before the 19th century: some families were getting richer or poorer through generations and they could also change their main activities of subsistence. Both types of social mobility could take place through the military – mostly because officers and nobles killed in wars had to be replaced – but also through religious and administrative institutions which needed “qualified” labour. And while one could argue that at the end of the Middle Ages a more rigid society of orders arose in Europe, so too did the political and economic power of merchants; hence, vertical social mobility was still very present.
In that context, were high arts and literature a stumbling block for the poor? Not really, because the discrimination the “low-born” faced was mostly due to their lineage, and not to their lack of knowledge of the higher arts and humanities. Actually, there are many important historical figures who rose from very poor backgrounds into places of great power, like Pope Gregory VII; in these many examples and in life in general, high culture was actually used as a selection mechanism. Take for instance the Imperial Examination in China. It started in 200 BC and lasted until the beginning of the 20th century, and was a way to rank candidates for the administration of the Chinese Empire. The exams evolved over time but always involved knowledge of Confucian literature, of traditional Chinese history, of writing and painting techniques, along with other essential parts of Chinese high culture. From that description alone, one could definitely assume that this examination blocked the poor from entering the administration. However this reasoning fails because, considering that an examination favouring the poor would never have been accepted by the nobles, the only other alternative would have been selection into the administration based on lineage. Hence the Chinese Imperial Examination was an excellent compromise: it managed to prevent the least talented from the “highborn” from entering the administration while recruiting the most talented of the “lowborn”. The second appeal of such competition is that it was a way to define Chinese high culture and its ideals. In other words, it was also a way to unify culturally the Empire, or at least
its elites, and to spread desirable ideas.

So, historically, one should know that negative discrimination was very often based on one’s blood and not on one’s knowledge of the arts and high culture perpetuated by the nobles. In truth, one can argue that, in the past, using high culture to rank and discriminate people was beneficial to societies who did it, because it was the best alternative in a world where connections and lineage were everything.

How about now?

Much later, the industrial revolution in the second half of the 19th century and the advent of democracy and Capitalism in Europe, changed the foundations of social mobility completely. In these times, both vertical and horizontal social mobility in-
creased very rapidly as a direct result of the lower classes getting richer through new technological advancements in medicine, machinery and agriculture. Additionally, basic education, easier access to loans, and an increase in mobility allowed future generations to change career paths more easily. Nowadays, inter-generational mobility is decreasing in the West because growth has stalled, but is on a strong upward trend in developing countries. It is in this setting that the famous French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu – and many other sociologists – argued that arts, humanities and high culture are a tool of the bourgeois, of the rich, to prevent the poor from moving up the social ladder. In his opinion their main medium of oppression are schools, exams and competitions for highly qualified jobs because they all require such knowledge. For him, the elites are so self-preserving and organised that they have imposed their own culture, a high culture which is inaccessible to the poor, into schools.

Now, who could argue that arts and humanities are discriminating? Bourdieu’s empirical work already proved it: in any study on income, children who succeed at school have better paying jobs; at the same time children with rich parents succeed much more in school than children with poor parents, especially in the humanities. Hence, high culture requirements contribute to social reproduction and it is still the case today. As a matter of fact, in current France, most grandes écoles – the top universities in engineering, politics and management – require a high proficiency in French but also an extensive knowledge of French classic literature, philosophy and arts. So for anyone who has not been exposed to these texts and ideas from birth, it is extremely difficult to bridge the gap. An even harder ceiling can be found in countries where only one type of thought and behavior, only one type of culture, is allowed at the top such as Vietnam where adherence and knowledge of communist ideas and ideals is required.

So indeed we observe that high culture contributes to social reproduction, but to come back to Bourdieu, his explanation of the origins of social reproduction is extremely far-fetched, and most likely rooted in the marxist belief that the capitalist elites are, as a class, actively trying to destroy the social ladder. The much simpler and rational economic explanation is that the rich are like the rest and are not trying to change a whole system but simply acting individually in their own interests. More specifically, first, in any family the children will inherit the preferences of their parents, and will transmit their preferences to their own children in the future. This means that in rich families preferences for humanities and arts will be transmitted through generations. Second, on average, richer households are much more forward looking than poorer households, so that they will make “smarter” investments for their children and teach them about science and literature from an early age to ensure their future success. These controversial yet relatively old observations were first quantified by nobel prize winner Gary Becker in the 1970s, and largely explain what rich households teach to their children and why. Finally, the nail in the coffin against Bourdieu’s claims is the following: when a rich household emigrates, the advantage the children had because of their culture should vanish; So, by Bourdieu’s theory, they should fare way worse; However, in reality, we observe the contrary, rich kids are on average doing very well at school, even if they migrate.

Could we and should we eliminate discrimination based on high culture?
Knowledge – or the lack of knowledge – of philosophy, literature, etc… Leads to social reproduction. So, from an economic point of view, removing this “cultural” barrier to economic and social success could be seen as efficient. It would make the market for top schools and best jobs more competitive as it would decrease the threshold for entering the competition. Consequently, it could theoretically increase social mobility and total welfare. But there are many reasons to believe the contrary.

First, if these “cultural” barriers are removed, what would be the alternative? Possibly selection based on connections, which is a worse outcome. Possibly higher thresholds in maths, science, history and politics, but these subjects are as hard to apprehend for underprivileged children as literature and the humanities. Second, schools and businesses are private, so it is difficult to remove these “cultural requirements” in a democracy. Third, removing these requirements may have the opposite effect on social mobility because rich families can move their children to schools which still teach high culture. There is actually some evidence of this phenomenon in the U.S: in neighbourhoods which are diverse in terms of income, there is a growing trend of rich
families – including left-leaning families – to send their kids to private schools (see The New York Times “Family by Family, How School Segregation Still Happens”). Finally, there is a powerful philosophical and political argument to be made in favor of selection based on humanities and arts. This is an argument which is very popular among conservative and religious intellectuals such as François-Xavier Bellamy, a leading member of the right-wing French party Les Républicains. As mentioned briefly previously in the case of China, the arts and humanities which are taught or required for a job are most often important ideas and pieces of history over which a nation is built. In that sense, should a country not require its economic and political elites to be comfortable with their own high culture? Shouldn’t these important ideas, ideals and works be promoted, and hence their mastering be expected of people in positions of power?

This question is obviously open and controversial, because there is a lot of potential for abuse. Whether it is learning Latin in France, or knowing by heart the revised biography of Lenin and Mao in China, some teachings and parts of high culture should not be taught or required for a job. Thence, a middle ground could be struck: some dose of discrimination based on arts and humanities could be healthy for social cohesion and the social ladder, but also to push the ideals we think are important. And yes, we could do that and are already doing that because culture is always changing, be it with state intervention or not. Therefore, thinking that high culture will disappear if we do not teach it is foolish, because the rich will transmit it anyway and will segregate themselves. So through schools, museums and festivals, the nice and interesting parts, yet difficult to understand, of one’s own culture could be transmitted to those who grow up and have grown up without it.

by Hippolyte Boucher (September 2019)