Generous unemployment benefits, free housing and healthcare and other goodies make life cushy even for those without a job. Yet this generosity has not bought social peace. The prisons in France are filled with young men of African and Arab descent who decided to supplement their subsidies with the proceeds from muggings, break-ins and drug deals. The crime rate in France is soaring even as it is declining to a 40-year low across the Atlantic.Now, of course, Americans are pointing to the differences in our country's economic systems as one of the reasons why such rioting couldn't happen here. I'm not so sanguine. We have our own unassimilated immigrants and our own economic underclass and places with terrible unemployment. I don't think it's any more impossible that we could have such riots in 13 years here just as France is experiencing these riots 13 years after 1992.
No welfare check, no matter how large, will satisfy young men who desperately need the sense of self-worth that comes from holding a steady job and providing for their family. But in France there simply isn't any work to get, especially not if you're young and foreign. In addition to heavy tax burdens, employers are hobbled by countless regulations that discourage job creation. The overall French unemployment rate is 10%; among young first- and second-generation immigrants it's three or four times as high. By contrast, in the cold, capitalist United States, the unemployment rate is a mere 5%. And while the U.S. economy is roaring ahead at 3.8% this year, the French economy limps along at 1.4% growth.
Lack of economic opportunity is not, of course, the only reason why France faces growing insécurité from a surly underclass congregated in dingy banlieues (suburbs). France, like most European nations, defines itself in ethnic, cultural and religious terms that can leave non-Caucasian and non-Christian outsiders feeling excluded, however long they have lived there. Foreigners find it much harder to become "French" or "German" than "American." Thus the growing European problem with Muslim residents who are so estranged from the mainstream that they are attracted to extremist ideologies.
However severe the cultural obstacles to assimilation, the bleak economic outlook makes this task all the harder. In theory, it ought to be easier to reduce barriers to growth than to redefine notions of nationhood. But, in practice, Europeans are finding it almost impossible to Viagrify their sclerotic economies because the political class lacks the will to face down such powerful entrenched interests as labor unions, farmers and pensioners. The mention of mild reform can lead to massive strikes, such as the "black Tuesday" walkouts that paralyzed France on Oct. 4.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Max Boot recalls how Mitterand thought that France's superior social programs would prevent rioting such as we experienced in Los Angeles in 1992 from ever happening in France. Not so fast, mon vieux.
Posted by Betsy Newmark at 6:35 AM