Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The French Malaise

Some American politicians are trying to give America an extreme makeover. They want to make America look more like France.

France has single-payer, good quality health care. It allows for very early retirement. It provides cradle-to-grave security, with plenty of mandated time off to enjoy what really matters in life: vacation.

Better yet, for some politicians, France has a very high taxes and very big government. The nation disdains free market capitalism, free trade and entrepreneurs. 

Why compete when you can enjoy!

How’s it working out for France?

Writing in the City Journal conservative French philosopher Pascal Bruckner offers a sobering assessment of the French national mood.

He begins by contrasting the French malaise with the can-do American spirit. As he sees it, America will thrive because it is willing to develop its natural resources and because it welcomes immigrants.

Clearly, he is looking at America through rose-colored glasses. Yet, compared with France, America does look like a land of opportunity. He does not catalogue all of those who want to stop energy development and who promote illegal immigration.

America’s openness toward immigration has helped it thrive, but all immigration is not created equal. The tech oligarchs who are pushing for amnesty for illegal immigrants seem to believe that all of the new immigrants will be Indian programmers. They are overly optimistic.

Be that as it may, America has traditionally welcomed immigrants. France has produced emigrants. It has been driving its best and brightest from its shores.

As I have occasionally noted, French defeatism has sparked a wave of emigration. The policies of Socialist president Hollande have aggravated the problem, but the problem predates his ascendancy.

Bruckner writes:

striking indicator of this attitude is the massive emigration that the country has witnessed over the last decade, with nearly 2 million French citizens choosing to leave their country and take their chances in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the United States, and other locales. … Today’s migration isn’t politically or religiously motivated, however; it’s economic.

This is borne out by the makeup of the departing population, which consists disproportionately of young people—70 percent of the migrants are under 40—and advanced-degree holders, who do their studies in France but offer their skills elsewhere. The migrants, discouraged by the economy’s comparatively low salaries and persistently high unemployment—currently at 10.9 percent, with the private sector losing more than 360,000 jobs in the second quarter of 2013—have only grown in number since Socialist Fran├žois Hollande became president…. The president has taken to roaming through France’s cities and towns, seeking “the first tremblings of the recovery,” but his diatribes against the well-off—“I hate the rich,” he said on television—provide no more encouragement to young entrepreneurs than do his tax policies. If economic success is all but criminal in France these days, why not depart for places that reward it instead?

Bruckner’s optimism about America notwithstanding, some Francophile American politicians hate the rich, want to punish the rich and want to tax them into submission.

What is it about France that saps initiative and ambition? Bruckner answers that it’s the habit of turning to the government for solutions to all problems. He explains it by saying that the French are timid and afraid. They are afraid to take risks and disparage those who do:

Consider, in this light, an astounding 2005 survey of French youth, which showed that about three-quarters wanted to become government bureaucrats. So intently did they shun taking chances that they could imagine no happier future than working as (presumptively secure) state functionaries. Gravely affected by the weak economy, these young people make up the avant-garde of what may as well be France’s largest contemporary party: the Party of Fear. For the French have become afraid of everything: the world, poverty, globalization, Islam, capitalism, global warming, natural catastrophes—and even, to borrow an American phrase, fear itself.

It is probably not an accident that France, like Argentina, is home to a thriving therapy culture, led by strictly Freudian psychoanalysis. In truth, Argentinian therapy culture is modeled on the French version. It's most important characteristic is profound guilt, ineffectively managed by withering self-criticism.

Bruckner describes the situation:

No longer a world leader, contemporary France has apparently concluded that it must be nothing, and has increasingly abandoned itself to self-denigration. A nation that not long ago brandished its language as the natural idiom of the human race now seems to know only how to groan, rehearse the past, lick its wounds, and endlessly enumerate its failings, though with a suspicious self-satisfaction. Every year, dozens of books are published in France affecting the charm of despair. The French don’t like themselves any longer—they’re one of the world’s most depressed populations, a huge consumer of psychotropic drugs and tranquilizers—and don’t expect others to like them, either. A country so unsure of itself, needless to say, is incapable of inspiring enthusiasm among the young, whether immigrants or native-born.

In fairness, the French malaise dates to well before psychoanalysis. Freudian psychoanalysis was a proposed solution that became part of the problem.

In Bruckner’s words:

Contemporary France, then, combines arrogance with self-hatred—a matchless vanity, rooted in the ages of Louis XIV and the French Revolution, with a lack of confidence typical of nations in decline. France lacks both the self-assured pride—without which nothing great can be accomplished—that has long characterized the United States and, more recently, China and India, and a curiosity regarding other cultures, the passion to learn from what is foreign, which is a sign of intelligence and reason. Our attitude makes us bound to lose on both fronts: pretension prevents us from benefiting from others’ experiences; doubt paralyzes us.


The next time someone touts the glory of the French system, be skeptical.

1 comment:

n.n said...

While Americans are joining the Dodo Dynasty at the end of emotional blackmail, the French rejected normalization of homosexual behavior, and demonstrate an awareness that abortion is not an unconditional right. Otherwise, they too are trapped in the civilization paradox.