14 May 2016

PARIS – Ah, the joys of Paris in the springtime. Riots every day and night; vandals smashing store windows and looting; traffic jams horrendous even by this city’s standards; air, train and metro disruptions. Tear gas wafts in the air.

Add to this toxic mess the ongoing guerilla war between Uber cars and Paris’ notoriously nasty taxi drivers; a virtual civil war within the fragmented Socialist government of President Francois Hollande; a little war in the Sahara; and an economy that has all the get up and go of a flat Michelin tire.

Even with all this craziness going on, the City of Light is still exquisite though too often painful and frustrating. I have always compared Paris to being deeply in love with a totally difficult, beautiful, self-centered woman who does not give a damn about you.

Strikes have raged in France’s major cities for the past three weeks as the bully boys of the left and anarchists protest some laughably feeble labor law reforms that the government just rammed through parliament. To the hysterical left, efforts to pare back the notorious 35-hour work week and make it slightly easier to hire and fire marked a return to brutal 19th century capitalism.

France’s biggest problem is that the public, brought up in the philosophy of statism and die-hard socialism, looks on the national government as a father figure. Papa will provide everyone with everything – provided they pour into the streets and riot.

In short, the entire nation is on allowance. This is no exaggeration. Half of all French work directly or indirectly for the government. Government has been gobbling up the economy for decades. But French really cherish their over-staffed state that runs very well indeed. Civil services in France are lavish. The government even has inspectors patrolling the seashore to protect its beauty and wildlife. France’s high speed TGV trains are the best in the world. France’s cities are clean and resplendent.

However, keeping France beautiful costs a fortune. So does massive feather-bedding in industry, transport, and education. So taxes must remain high to protect special interests and sacred cows. Every French regime since Louis XIV has faced this problem.

Only about 8% of France’s workers are unionized. But hard leftwing unionists, led by the big bully CGT union, dominate key economic sectors and, as they show each year, can paralyze France with strikes. Inevitably, government must capitulate and buy them off. No Ronald Reagan in France to fire anti-social workers. French farmers are among the most belligerent anywhere and experts at terrorizing government officials.

In France, it’s hellishly difficult to dismiss any workers and, consequently risky to hire. In fact, I have never understood why anyone in his or her right mind would open a business in France. The two commercial operations with which I’ve been involved were a nightmare of labor problems, government red tape, tax audits and wildcat strikes – and made no profit.

French workers and students are taught hatred of business by their leftwing teachers who majored in such useless vocations as cultural anthropology and sociology. The result has been a huge surplus of youth with fancy titles but no work skills at all. Youth unemployment in France is about 30%. In Germany, by contrast, a very sensible apprenticeship system prepares youth for real, useful jobs.

Unsurprisingly, French students are always demonstrating and demanding ludicrous benefits from Papa Government. Two years ago, right by my apartment near the Ecole Militaire, I was amazed to see teenage high school students demanding high pensions for those over 60 years old!

While militant workers and sociologists make France miserable, the government of President Francois Hollande has managed to become the most unpopular government in modern French history. Hollande’s popularity ratings now hover around a pathetic 16%.

Some even wonder if the demoralized president will run for a second term in 2017. Right now, far right candidate Martine LePen is running ahead of the miserable Hollande. Center-right candidate and former president Nicholas Sarkozy, who wears elevator shoes, even had the nerve to call Hollande, “a short, little fat man.”

Hollande is beset by 10% unemployment, a stupid little stalemated “anti-terrorist” war in the Sahara that he began to great fanfare, yawning budget deficits, and the inability to do anything to change France’s economic stagnation and malaise.

The answer is clear: cut government paper-passers by 25%; cut vainglorious military spending; cut taxes no matter how loudly the left screams; and clear the thicket of foolish government regulations that binds the hands and animal spirits of this great nation. But doing all this may require another Napoleon.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2016

This post is in: France

3 Responses to “SPRINGTIME IN PARIS”

  1. rock9995 says:

    “The answer is clear: cut government paper-passers by 25%; cut vainglorious military spending; cut taxes no matter how loudly the left screams; and clear the thicket of foolish government regulations that binds the hands and animal spirits of this great nation. But doing all this may require another Napoleon.”

    A commonsense idea and not entirely inappropriate for the present scenario here in the U.S. Instead of Napoleon, however, we have now…who?

  2. What I can’t figure out is if France has such great welfare why are there so many people begging in the streets? Women with children, old people, were common sights.

  3. Steve_M. says:

    Thank you getting your website working again.

    Another great article! France, as you note, is practically a basket case. But, without its own military-industrial complex, France’s official unemployment rate would likely go through the roof. Hence, the bloated defense budget, much like that of the Pentagon.

    What France really needs to cure what ails it is a huge cultural shift, something that won’t happen within our lifetimes. As you note, its problems have been festering for well over 200 years, so it will likely take a many decades to fix the country.

    It makes me wonder, though, what might have happened to France if Britain and the US had stayed out of World War I altogether and let the Germans and the French fight it out. Germany probably would have won within a year or two, but that might not have been such a terrible thing in the longer run. It might have led to big changes in the French culture and maybe it wouldn’t be in as big a mess today. Food for thought, perhaps…..

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