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« Airliner Boarding Fixes | Main | Nonlinear Storytelling »

November 07, 2005

One Size Doesn't Fit All

Friedrich von Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards:

Here at 2blowhards over the years we’ve argued a bit about the European economic model and its likely future. You can see one of our discussions from 2003 centering on France here. Michael Blowhard has, by and large, taken the reasonable position that French economic policy accurately reflects the desires of the French populace to favor leisure time and job security over maximizing economic output. My counterpoint was that it appeared that governmental policy might actually be foreclosing options for those members of French society who wanted to work more hours per week than they currently were doing. As I recall, neither of us managed to convert the other to our way of thinking.

However, an article I just read by Michael Mandel in Business Week Online, “The Economics Fueling The French Riots,” (which you can read here) raises a point neither Michael nor I took notice of. To wit, while French economic policies may well reflect the preferences of a majority of Frenchmen, it appears that they certainly do not reflect the preferences of angry young men in France’s African and Moslem immigrant communities. As Mr. Mandel notes:

…the outbursts were supercharged by an economic system that not only tolerates but actually fosters sky-high youth unemployment. In September, an incredible 21.7% of 15- to 24-year-olds in France were unemployed, compared to only 11% in the U.S. and 12.6% in Britain. France isn't alone -- other European countries, such as Belgium, Spain, Greece, Italy, and Finland -- also have persistent youth unemployment rates above 20%…The problem for Europe -- and France in particular -- is that no society can long survive when 20% of young people, with plenty of energy and no place to put it, are unemployed. It's not simply an immigrant problem. Romano Prodi, the leader of the center-left coalition in Italy, says living conditions are terrible in that country's suburbs, even in areas made up only of Italian citizens.

This is, of course, a classic dilemma. To wit, that governmental solutions tend to be one-size-fits-all and, well, one size never fits all. Obviously, if the losers under such policies are also unified by race or religion or some equivalent unifying factor, things are apt to get ugly—as they have in France.

This is yet another argument against big government solutions, or at least big-government solutions undertaken without building in a good deal of flexibility. I would say that is is especially true in countries that do not possess highly homogenous populations.

Cheers,

Friedrich von Blowhard

posted by Friedrich at November 7, 2005




Comments

Regarding you opening paragraph, I think you and Michael are both correct. I have no doubt the French love their long vacations (who wouldn't?) and I have no doubt that the 35-hour workweek and other policies have done nothing to improve the French economy. Heck, the workweek-reduction concept was that it would lead to more jobs being created to get the needed work done. But that flopped thanks to other laws/regulations that make firing difficult and that, in turn, makes employers unwilling to hire unless absolutely necessary.

Another little problem the French have is that their democracy isn't so very democratic; in some respects, France strikes me a something of a Mandarin state where many important decisions are made Grandes Ecoles alumni. I suspect this is an important reason why Frenchmen take to the streets so often -- even businessmen sometimes demonstrate!

The flip is that the French government can be ruthless when certain actions are needed. This isn't always the case, but has happened from time to time (think Greenpeace boat interfering with nuclear tests in the Pacific). If the present situation worsens and M. Chirac worries about a cut-short presidential term followed by a Chateau d'If future, fur might fly.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on November 7, 2005 07:59 PM



Friedrich,

Have you had your cosmopsis inoculation? There will be a great deal of cosmopsis going around during the French civil war season, and transmission vectors include the Internet.

Cosmopsis is, of course, a disorder to which intellectuals have a genetic predisposition. According to Gray Areas Anatomy, early symptoms invariably take some form of declaring that the obvious is not the real cause of events. As the illness progresses, the sufferer is prone to begin seeing root causes everywhere. The patient soon after breaks out in hyphens, found in expressions such as "socio-economic." In mentally terminal stages, the victim perceives every situation in cosmic terms (hence,"cosmopsis").

The inoculation consists of repetition of a phrase such as the following:

"Muslim hoodlums should be deported."

"Muslim hoodlums should be deported."

"Muslim hoodlums should be deported."

Posted by: Rick Darby on November 7, 2005 08:16 PM



And where are you going to deport them to? Most of them are natives and citizens. No country is obliged to take them. You could encourage them to emigrate on the other hand.

Posted by: Zetjintsu on November 7, 2005 10:35 PM



Hey, I've got a teflon suit I had made for discussing religion with atheists a few years back. Let me know if anyone needs it.

;)

Posted by: Yahmdallah on November 8, 2005 09:08 AM



That's a good point. And you've got me thinking that a country's ability to legislate itself a lot of desired behavior may depend on some other elements too: its history, for one important thing, but maybe also its geographical size, and how much it's centralized. Sweden's a small place with (as you point out) an almost homegeneous population. Why shouldn't they resolve to go the social-democratic way? France as I knew it was similar: small by American standards, and extremely centralized. At the time (the '70s) there was amazing unanimity on what it was to "be French" and "to do things the French way." (Incidentally, given how various the regions of France are and the many populations of France -- Bretons vs. Alsations vs. Provencals, etc -- that was some kind of achievement.) And it was centered around Paris in a way that's inconceivable to Americans. In a sense, France and Sweden are (or were) more like hugely extended families than like countries in the loosely-looped-together American sense.

It's a practical matter I don't think a lot of people who love the idea of America being like Sweden have wrestled with. We aren't homogeneous, we're huge, and we aren't centralized. We also have a federal (or semi-federal) basic structure that seems to turn top-down, centralized decision-making into instant boondoggles. We aren't Sweden, in other words, small, blonde and centralized. We're big and shambly, and we have a strong tradition of rebelling against bossy centralized authorities -- there's no reason why we should be expected to be able to carry off much in the way social-democratic policies. It's a miracle we hang together as a country in the first place. In my view, it makes a lot more sense for us to work with who and what we are, imperfect though that may be, rather than to cripple ourselves aspiring to be something we'll never carry off well.

On the other hand, if a country wants to behave in a centralized social-democratic way and has the means to do so, why not? None of my business. It'll be interesting to see how France contends with these new challanges. My guess is they'll do it in a very French way, unless they've completely de-balled themselves. As Donald writes, they can be very decisive, harsh and cut-throat when they put their minds to it.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 8, 2005 10:44 AM



My intuition is that it's not just heterogeneity versus homogeneity - lumpiness matters. Not only is France now heterogeneous overall, but the African immigrant populations live in segregated areas.

Domestically, it's a bit like the difference between race problems in the the South and LA. Lord knows there have been plenty of problems in the south - but blacks and whites have been so integrated in daily life that the problems have been more of a constant simmer, instead of festering and periodic eruptions.

Posted by: ptm on November 8, 2005 05:13 PM



Freidrich, what a rare case of reversal.
More often than not, my method in analysing various problems discussed here is to look at the material causes first, which I readily attribute to my early childhood Marxist education. You (and majority) see other reasons and are not so quick to give more weight to material ones over non-material (economical vs. religious, f.ex.)

This time, however, you're the one concentrating on material causes of the situation brilliantly called French Toast - in short, you blame government economic model=>unemployment=>poverty=>riots.

However, as close to my materialist heart as this theory is, observing the pogroms in France and how they are portrayed, in US and in European media, I disagree with your thought that religion and race just play secondary fiddle where primary causes are economic.

I tend to agree with this commenter @Jane Galt:

...* Rioters are shouting "Alluhu Akhbar", a particular battle cry with a particular meaning, that comes from a particular culture.

* Business owned by Muslims are not being burned, but others are.

* Mosques are not being attacked with Molotov cocktails, but several Jewish temples and at least two Christian churches have been. This is in keeping with 9:29 from the Koran, by the way...

* Immigrants from IndoChina, from Reunion Island, from the French Caribbean, from Africa south of the Sahara are not prominent in these riots, whereas "youth" from Algeria are quite visible. Surely if the issue were merely "racism" or "economic deprivation", the riots would look more diverse?...

If I may, I have few questions to Rick Darby, who of course is NOT "seeing the situation in cosmic terms": have you looked at the map of France (and the rest of Europe)with the locations of pogroms indicated? What will convince you that intifada is not aimed only against Israel anymore? Imagine those subway musicians that irritate you so much are Muslim "youths", as they called in the press, and they throw Molotov cocktails at you, for you being less than enthusiastic in listening to their awful attempts - would that make you to draw the line?

I'm just curious.

Posted by: Tatyana on November 8, 2005 07:42 PM



I forgot to thank Tinkerty Tonk for the commentary and the links provided; thank you, Rachel, enlightening as always.

Posted by: Tatyana on November 8, 2005 07:44 PM



Zenjintsu: One solution I would favor would be to offer every junior stormtrooper captured while arsoning the following choice: five years as a guest of the French republic in a special hotel with bars on the windows, where the service, the ambience, and the cuisine are well below par; or within six months find some wretched country that will have you and be there. Of course, this idea will be unpopular in some quarters because it doesn't lend itself to the deeply analytical, highly nuanced, see-how-learned-I-am discussions that preclude the responsibility for taking action.

Tatyana: I'd be happy to answer you if I had the faintest idea what you are asking or telling me. When did I claim that the intifada is aimed only at Israel? And "drawing the line," if I understand your meaning, is precisely what ought to be done.

Posted by: Rick Darby on November 8, 2005 08:06 PM



Rick: it's simple, really, just make an effort - like I did trying to decipher your comment.
You seems to be saying what's going on in France doesn't have cosmic significance.
What I'm saying it is cosmically important - on this planet, anyway. It is Islamic intifada - not riots, not civil disobidience, not protests. And it's not localized in Israel anymore - just like arter 9/11 New Yorkers supposedly understood Israelis better, I think Arab intifada in France should have the same effect. On the French as well as Americans.
I don't hold my breath, though. Already French are talking about money cure, and American liberals (even the mild ones, like one of my favorite bandarlogs)about French version of affirmative action. Right, stop the fires with gasolin.

Posted by: Tatyana on November 8, 2005 08:32 PM



Thanks to everyone for their comments. I just wanted to say that I never intended this posting to be an exhaustive parsing of the various factors responsible for the French riots. Hence, my silence on matters of religion, French attitudes toward immigrants, etc., is not fraught with meaning. I was just observing that (1) whatever causes were at work, the high French youth unemployment rate was clearly making matters far worse, and (2) that this high youth unemployment rate is an entirely predictable result of French social-welfare-economic policy, in which job security and leisure for the middle-class are purchased at the cost of excluding young, ill-educated and generally marginal youths from the job market. And I would observe that this situation, which is now many decades old, is a not-untypical result of governmental policies. To wit: the private sector is generally not very good at holding people down or up—it’s too darn porous and fragmented. If you really want to work over a sector of the population, or shower favors on another sector of the population, you’ve got to get the government involved.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on November 8, 2005 11:59 PM






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