Did you feel the ground beneath you shake? Maybe just a little bit?
There has been a bit of a "political earthquake" in France. And apparently at least a few certain individuals in the U.S. felt it (more about those “certain individuals” in a moment).
Much of the news from France over the past week has been very negative. You’ve probably seen the reports of angry young people rioting, burning cars, destroying buildings, and shooting people.
But, there might be a glimmer of hope in the midst of the chaos. That’s because the very unrest that has gripped the country for the past several days is a response to an extraordinary shift in French politics.
And it was social unrest that, in no small part, brought about the political shift in the first place.
Nikolas Sarkozy, the "conservative" presidential candidate, defeated socialist Segolene Royal a week ago. Thus, the home of Europe’s most sluggish major economy just elected a leader who has vowed to “shake things up,” and move the country in a very different direction.
Now, let’s be clear about what has happened. In a nation where the government provides “cradle-to-grave” social care, forbids workers to labor more than 35 hours a week, and requires that employees be “given” up to two months per year in paid vacation time, the citizenry just elected a president that wants to cut taxes, lift federal restraints on working “overtime,” and reduce the federal government’s payroll by half.
If the picture of France’s present economic situation isn’t clear, consider this. Half a century ago, the United States economy was largely described in terms of the “three big B’s” - - big business (large corporations), big labor (unions), and big government.
Today, while the three “B’s” obviously still exist, the U.S. economy can’t be described without plenty of references to “small businesses,” entrepreneurship,” and “private business ownership.”
This evolution in the U.S. economy has helped bring about wealth creation the likes of which would have been unimaginable decades ago. But France’s economy hasn’t evolved - - today it still resembles the “big B’s” economy of yesteryear - - and produces unemployment rates that often rise to double digit territory (the unemployment rate in France is currently about 9%).
Suffice it to say that France’s economy is not meeting the citizenry’s needs very well, has left the French feeling very pessimistic (polling indicates that 70% of the French believe that their country "is in decline"), and has produced a youth culture that is cynical and hopeless.
And it is this bleak outlook among the nation's youth that has people very scared.
Recall that for several months in 2005, Paris, as well as other parts of the nation, were terrorized from within - - young people night after night roaming streets, burning cars and public buildings, and destroying the social order.
The unrest was a wakeup call for France. Decades of socialism’s failed promises had apparently led a generation to believe that their best choice in life was to lash-out and obliterate their own country.
Worse yet, this hopelessness had also created a unique breeding ground for the anti-establishment, anti-western ideology of Islamo-fascism.
Rightfully, the link between these two issues - - economic despair and the threat of ideologically driven terrorism - - became prevalent in the race for a new president.
Socialist Segolene Royal addressed the nation’s problems with proposals of more governmental provision - - a hike in the federal minimum wage, increases to retirement pensions, and a “guarantee” of either a job, or more job training, to every French young person who graduated from a university.
Mr. Sarkozy, on the other hand, criticized his opponent’s unwillingness to confront “thugs, troublemakers and fraudsters” and seemed to suggest that Royal’s proposals amounted to coddling the malcontents and rewarding their bad behavior. At the same time Sarkozy proposed to cut the size of government and to reduce the amount of private wealth the government takes from citizens in taxes.
And the “law and order candidate,“ Nikolas Sarkozy, won handily.
Now, about this earthquake being felt here in the United States….
Why was it that the Hillary Rodham Clinton campaign was compelled to “speak out” about the French election after Royal’s defeat, assuring Americans that Clinton and Royal “don‘t have much in common?”
Maybe it’s because of Mrs. Clinton’s proclivity towards “more government provision” - - as in the government providing “universal healthcare,” increasing the federal minimum wage, and so forth.
But this we know for certain: at this moment in time, the people of France seem to be following the wisdom of President Ronald Reagan - - the wisdom entailed in his inaugural address of 1981, wherein he stated “in this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem…”
Whether or not the American people follow this wisdom remains to be seen.
Austin Hill is an Author, Consultant, and Host of "Austin Hill's Big World of Small Business," a syndicated talk show about small business ownership and entrepreneurship. He is Co-Author of the new release "The Virtues Of Capitalism: A Moral Case For Free Markets." , Author of "White House Confidential: The Little Book Of Weird Presidential History," and a frequent guest host for Washington, DC's 105.9 WMAL Talk Radio.