"It's us they hurt," added the second man. By this he meant immigrants and their children, particularly the residents of France's suburban ghettos, where unemployment runs as high as 50 percent. And, of course, he was right, as everyone with even a rudimentary grasp of economics appreciates: If employers are unable to fire workers, they will be less likely to hire them. It is now almost impossible to fire an employee in France, a circumstance that disproportionately penalizes groups seen by employers as risky: minorities, inexperienced workers and those without elite educations, like the outraged man sitting beside me.They have established a system that will inevitably fail unless it is modified. But there are so many in the middle and upper class who benefit from the system that they are willing to take to the streets to protest any modest bow to rationality that the government might take. The government seems powerless before both the rioting poor and the rioting middle class students. This is what happens when a nation ignores the principles of basic economics and votes in such policies as guaranteeing that no one can get fired from a job but everyone is guaranteed elaborate benefits. Remember this situation when you hear politicians spouting demagogic proposals that promise benefits that can't be sustained in the long run. We have enough problems with the IOUs that we've for Social Security and Medicare. We're not in the streets yet, but if we continue refusing to face reality, that will come.
This is the second time in four months that France has been seized with violent protests. And in an important sense, these are counter-riots, since the goals of the privileged students conflict with those of the suburban rioters who took to the streets last November. The message of the suburban rioters: Things must change. The message of the students: Things must stay the same. In other words: Screw the immigrants.
The issue at stake is not, of course, the CPE, which in addition to being unknown in its effects would apply only to a two-year trial period, after which employees would still, effectively, be guaranteed jobs for life. The issue is fear of a real overhaul of France's economically stifling labor laws. While some of the suburban hoodlums have joined in these protests -- after all, a riot is a riot -- it is clear that unless this overhaul proceeds, the immigrants are doomed. If so, last year's violence will seem a lark compared with what is coming.
UPDATE: John Hawkins has an interview with Claire Berlinski. Note this exchange.
John Hawkins: In the book, you said that anti-Americanism seemed to be at least in part, a religion substitute for many Europeans. Can you elaborate on that idea?
Claire Berlinski: Certainly. The phenomena to be explained are the irrationality and the ardor of European anti-Americanism. Irrational, because entirely disproportionate to any real faults in American society. Of course America has flaws, and no, it is not lunacy to point them out. But in poll after poll, you see substantial numbers of Europeans, non-trivial numbers, who believe the September 11 attacks were staged, yes, staged, by an oil-hungry American military-industrial complex to justify its imperialist adventures in Iraq. In Germany, 20 percent of the population believes this. In France, a book arguing this case was a galloping bestseller. Now that is bughouse nuts. Totally bats in the belfry. Then the ardor: "My anti-Americanism," wrote one columnist in the British Telegraph, "has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me, like a disease. It rises up in my throat like acid reflux, that fashionable American sickness." If only we could harness all that outrage and transform it into a non-polluting energy source! You see this kind of thing all the time in the European press. (Meanwhile, if the French, say, wipe out the entire Ivorian air force, do you see protestors on the streets chanting "No blood for cocoa?" What a question.) When you have these two phenomena together-irrationality and this curious passion, this fervor-it seems reasonable to conclude that you are in the presence of something like a cult. So you consider it, sociologically. What role does this ideology serve in the European psyche? One answer: It fulfills many of the roles once played by the Church. It offers a comprehensive-if lunatic-answer to the question, "Why is the world the way it is, and why is there evil in that world?" It provides a devil to excoriate and then to exorcise. There is community and belonging in anti-American activism, ecstasy in protest. Again, a form of Christian heresy, and no more lunatic, surely, than anything the Cathars believed, if also no less.