The Editorials of E. Desiderius

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Vive La France?: On the Future of France

It was as telling sign when French President Jacques Chirac and his companions stormed out of an EU summit last week because a fellow Frenchman had dared to address the assembled leaders in English. But English is the language of international business, protested the Anglophile Frenchman. Not so!, bellowed Francophile Chirac. “France has great respect for its language…It has been fighting for a long time to establish the presence of the French language - whether it be at the Olympic Games, where it was contested for a while, whether it be in the European Union, or at the United Nations” [1]. Six months after Paris’ immigrant laden suburbs rose up in a shocking display of raw emotion and anger, and a mere handful of days before a huge student strike was to shut down his country, protesting an economic stimulus law, it was the mortal insult to the French language that the French President was most concerned about.

In the post-War years, while the United States was engaged in a global game of cat-and-mouse with the Soviet Union, the general French population slowly embraced socialism. They quickly tired of de Gaulle’s military and colonially focused rule, and after the 1968 student riots, France slowly built a strong welfare-state apparatus. Out of this comes their concept of entitlement. The new student riots that have immobilized the nation are a result of the promises that this generation of young French men and women were raised on: job security, free education, free health care, old age pensions, generous vacation time, and early retirement. France set herself up as the anti-America: a land where the dangers and pitfalls of free-markets were tempered by a socialist promise, and a land where the dictatorial impulses of communism were checked by a healthy democracy.

However, France cannot exist like this forever. The free-markets may be volatile, but the cumbersome, over-regulated over-subsidized, under-performing French economy is heading for mortal danger. Her working population is shrinking against the pension-drawing retiree population, meanwhile joblessness hovers at about 20%, and holds at a staggering 40% in some of the minority suburbs. The suburban immigrant riots were partially a reaction to the perceived injustices of second-class citizenship and the failures of the French to adequately integrate their minority population. Meanwhile, the French want to blame everyone but themselves and their poor economic and social system, going so far to indict a rapper on charges of inciting violence during the riots [2].

France has some hard choices to make. The fact is that the widely panned job law might actually work, and some young French men and women might get jobs, albeit maybe not career-track ones. French firms could benefit greatly from an influx of fresh young ideas and employees, in lieu of the old career-track curmudgeons, immune from layoffs and firings, which surely populate their labor force. France faces a long slow decline to the bottom of the European barrel, or some hard choices about the socialist promises that they’ve made. And for once, government leaders like Prime Minister de Villepin are taking important and necessary action, instead of squabbling over the official language at summits. Mr. de Villepin is bravely throwing caution and his political future into the wind for France’s future: he and his party must stand their ground. To the Frenchmen and women who are protesting: Give capitalism a chance.

-E. Desiderius

Relevant Articles:
[1] BBC: Chirac Upset By English Address
[2] NPR: French Rap Musician Blamed for Violence
Washington Post: The French in Denial
Yahoo/AP: More than A Million Protest French Job Law

Posted by George Gordon | Tuesday, March 28, 2006 | E-mail this post

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