Wednesday, March 22, 2006

If it's Wednesday, I must be in a French riot

Theodore Dalrymple, in the City Journal:

[T]he French government, thanks to its past policies, is faced with the choice of more riots in the suburbs, or riots on the Boulevard St. Germain. It remains to see which it prefers. If the students win, it may yet prove necessary to dump the bodies of a few hundred Algerians in the Seine; it’s been done before, and it can be done again.
Not long ago, I had the occasion to write on the French flair for graphic demonstration of the quickening immolation of their welfare state:
The events in France transfix me — it's like watching a train wreck in slow motion, a giant clumsy political machine engineered by fuzzy ideological sentiment and greased by an insensate bureaucracy laboriously trundling down the tracks toward… reality or postponement of reality by yet more appeasement.
As before, but more starkly so this time, it's all about the socialism. There inevitably go we as long as we continue to follow the workers' paradise pieties of our own union, political and activist leaders. Nidra Poller in TCS Daily neatly summarizes the latest oppressor-oppressed zero-sum game in France:
What is this CPE, Contrat Première Embauche, that provokes the wrath of young citizens? It is a timid step in the direction of a slight degree of flexibility in the labor market. The idea is to encourage employers to hire young people under 26 with a contract that includes a two-year trial period during which they can be let go without the cumbersome, prohibitive procedures that make it impossible for companies, especially small businesses, to hire and fire in response to market variations. The CPE is a tiny step in the direction of flexibility with a corresponding slim hope of stimulating economic growth. The situation is drastic. France is suffering from longstanding double-digit unemployment. Figures for jobless youth stand around 23 percent, and as high as 40 percent for unskilled youths. These statistics require sophisticated validation and interpretation. But the economic crisis is visible to the naked eye.

French multinationals prosper... but three-quarters of their highly profitable economic activity takes place outside of France, while small business struggles to provide the economic bread and butter. In a society that lives on abstractions, it is easy to confuse an enterprising young woman with five employees and the president of Total. Capitalists, all, they deserve to be thrown into the trashcans of history. In the flaming imagination of this year's crop of latter day revolutionaries the CPE will reduce workers to serfdom.
[Images from ¡No Pasarán! which continually provides excellent coverage, links and commentary on the French riots and European politics in general.]

The French government can hardly complain, however — two generations of powerful legislated employment protectionism and the cancerous growth of a ponderous and expensive bureaucracy have given French youth little more to aspire to than the mere acquisition of a job, often in the civil service, after which all ambition is moot and ability and intiative meaningless. Why would anyone want to hire them unless they had to, even if they could afford to take on the liability of permanent maintenance of their entitlement to a job? The protected interests of established workers and of the students who soon plan to join their ranks have long softened them up for the arbitrary exercise of authority by the state over most aspects of their lives. In the meantime, however, the French are drawn into adversarial relationships both with the entrepreneurs that provide employment, as their benefits must be forcefully extracted from the capitalist class that makes them possible in the first place, and with the government to which they extend no gratitude for the benefits — les nouveaux droits.
Indulging the conspiratorial delusions of Marxism has come home to roost — the French government is regarded as no better than collusionists with the forces of capitalism. It has, as it must, become a precarious middleman between propitiation of the mobs they have created and financing the mortgage by maintaining from above the economy — a finer and finer balance as jobs and the "rights" to jobs prove mutually exclusive. So too, the consequence of the dependence of the French population on government intervention on behalf of the securement of its livelihood is extreme reactionaryism in defense of entitlements, softening them further than the government would have liked for the egalitarian rhetoric of professional agitators. Fraternité has gone the way of liberté and egalité in France.

Not that any of this could not be foreseen. In a previous article from Dalrymple in Cato Unbound, he anticipated the impending unrest in Europe:
The ostensible purpose of [policies and expenditure] has been to improve public services while serving the cause of social justice, a rhetoric that the public has hitherto believed; the hidden purpose, or at least effect, has been to create administrative jobs on an unprecedented scale, whose principle function consists of obstruction of other people as they try to create wealth, and to bring into being a political clientele dependent upon government ‘largesse’ (half the British population is now in receipt of government subventions as part or the whole of their incomes). Not only will this lead to economic disaster, but it naturally results in the psychology succinctly described by Hilaire Belloc in the moral of his cautionary tale about Albert who was eaten by a lion at the zoo when he strayed from the nurse who took him there:
And always keep a-hold of nurse
For fear of finding something worse.
The dependent population does not like the state and its agents, indeed they hate them, but they soon come to fear the elimination of their good offices even more. They are like drug addicts who know that the drug that they take is not good for them, and hate the drug dealer from whom they obtain their drug, but cannot face the supposed pains of withdrawal.
Thomas Sowell in Real Clear Politics is also worth the read:
Student riots in Paris remind us that education at elite academic institutions is not enough to teach either higher morals or basic economics. Not on their side of the Atlantic or on ours. Why are students at the Sorbonne and other distinguished institutions out trashing the streets and attacking the police? Because they want privileges in the name of rights, and are too ignorant of economics to realize that those privileges cost them jobs.

[…] The fact that many students can think only in terms of "rights," but not in terms of consequences, shows a major deficiency in their education. The right to a job is obviously not the same thing as a job. Otherwise there would not be a 23 percent unemployment rate among young French workers. The law can create equal rights for inexperienced young workers and for older workers with a proven track record but the law cannot make them equally productive on the job or equally risky to hire. Nor is rioting likely to make employers any more likely to want young workers working for them.

Estimates of the damage done by the rioters — called "protesters" or "demonstrators" in the mealy-mouthed media — range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to over a million dollars, thus far. They have also shut down dozens of universities, including the Sorbonne, denying an education to other students. The heady notion of "rights" — and especially the notion that your rights over-ride other people's rights, when those other people belong to some suspect class called "bosses" — is an all too familiar feature of modern welfare state notions.

[…] It is elementary economics that adding to the costs, including risks, of hiring workers tends to reduce the number of workers hired. It should not be news to anyone, whether or not they have gone to a university, that raising costs usually results in fewer transactions. The fact that such profound ignorance of basic economics and such self-indulgent emotionalism should be prevalent at elite institutions of higher education is one of the many deep-seated failures of universities on both sides of the Atlantic.
Also worth checking out:

France: Pity the Students by Paul Belein in the Brussels Journal,

and Picture of the Day: "Send the Bourgeoisie to the Gulag!" by AcademicElephant in Elephants in Academia.