Can Anyone Fix France?

This New York Times article by Steven Erlanger is the best, and perhaps most depressing, precis of what is happening in France right now.

In 30 years of shuttling between France and the US, I have never observed a more morose population. And that is among my friends who have good jobs. I agree with Erlanger’s position:

In May 1968, students at the University of Paris in Nanterre began what they thought was a revolution. French students in neckties and bobby socks threw cobblestones at the police and demanded that the sclerotic postwar system must change.

Today, at Nanterre, students worried about finding jobs and losing state benefits are demanding that nothing change at all.

It’s understandable that the French are afraid of change, even though they know it is ultimately necessary. They watch as nations around them strip security from the middle class. They are aware that the gap between rich and poor is lower in France than in many other Western nations.

I’m curious as to your thoughts on how France can reverse this decline. One example: A friend worked as a clerk at Picard, the frozen-food store. All of his colleagues has master’s degrees but could not find work that used their skills and knowledge. Another: A French native of Montpellier left his family business to work in the US because government regulations and taxes rendered it impossible to earn a living from it. Though I know people in the US who have taken advantage of unemployment benefits, I have never seen abuse as widespread as I see in France.

And so on. Yet France has so much in its reserves to offer the rest of the world. What’s your take?

4 Responses to “Can Anyone Fix France?” »»

  1. Comment by Tony Paschall | 08/26/13 at 1:08 pm

    This is the standard fare. Nothing new in Erlanger’s rant. These articles—shot through with the grossest of generalizations—appear regularly, particularly at this time of year, when major policy changes are to be announced.

    They have been appearing in almost unchanged form for at least 30 years. And France has changed—and mightily so—over that period nonetheless.

    This theme is especially rampant right now because the Left is in power; Erlanger’s article is pointedly critical of the current French President François Holland and his Socialist administration. But what Erlanger and writers like him fail to remind their readers is that the French Left has been power 15 years out of the last 55.

    By the way, precisely what “abuse” have you seen of unemployment benefits in France?

  2. Comment by jeff | 08/26/13 at 2:42 pm

    I think that the French laws that are intended to protect the jobs that people already have so greatly increase the risk of hiring a new, full time person that companies in France are reluctant to do so. The risk is just too great. This is a major force impeding progress. It may not seem like common sense but the ability to dismiss an employee when business is slow greatly improves the ability of people to find work because more businesses will take that smaller risk and many will flourish.

  3. Comment by martin | 08/26/13 at 6:40 pm

    I don’t think of the French as being morose. I agree with Andre Gide in thinking of them as Italians in a bad mood. So you see, this is nothing new, and has little to do with France’s supposed “decline.” The standard and quality of living is still quite a bit higher in France than in U.S. America. And yes, there are just as many folks with graduate degrees in the humanities and sexy sciences working as waiters in U.S. America as anywhere else. The real “decline” is happening in U.S. America, with a shrinking middle class, widespread poverty, a banking sector run amok, unaffordable college costs, insane foreign wars and more than 30 million people without health insurance. Of course, I could go on, but why bother? Certain U.S. Americans such as yourself will always be convinced of their innate superiority and need to lecture the rest of the world. The French are a serious people grounded in an immense history. Why do you expect them to be like U.S. Americans?

  4. Comment by Rand South | 09/05/13 at 9:55 am

    I love France and spend time there every year. The fact is that if you reward non-production you get exactly that, and when you penalize those who work hard, and create jobs you are doomed to the state of the USSR and Britain in the 70s.
    Morale dips and crime is rampant.
    One only needs to check out the garment district in Paris to see the hard working Chinese taking over, and the 35 hour work week Parisians losing.

    There is hope. Get rid of the Communist president.

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