George Will

So welfare states are, paradoxically, both enervating and energizing -- and infantilizing. They are enervating because they foster dependency; they are energizing because they aggravate an aggressive (think of burning Peugeots) sense of entitlement; they are infantilizing because it is infantile to will an end without willing the means to that end, and people who desire welfare states increasingly desire relief from the rigors necessary to finance them.

Twenty-five years ago, President Francois Mitterrand, a socialist who had won election by promising to ``break with the logic of profitability,'' was keeping that promise and, in the process, killing socialism. He promised stimulative spending through expanded entitlements, a short workweek with no reduced compensation, job-creation through public spending, and higher taxes on the investing classes. So productivity fell and unemployment -- it has not been below 8 percent since 1981 -- rose.

Statism, the inevitable concomitant of government attempts to administer France's three ideological incompatibles ("liberty, equality, fraternity"), continued. And 47 percent of the French electorate just voted for Royal's promise of much more of it, even though France's 2006 growth rate was lower than that of 21 of the (then) 25 members of the European Union.

Sarkozy wants to lower taxes, including inheritance taxes, and eliminate the tax on overtime work. That tax, along with government snoops patrolling companies' parking lots to detect antisocial industriousness, enforces the 35-hour workweek. He wants to do what Margaret Thatcher did after she was elected in 1979 because Britain was weary of being governed less by parliament than by unions. Even before Sarkozy was elected, public sector unions -- government organized to pressure itself to fatten itself -- threatened a paralyzing national strike because he opposes allowing 500,000 employees of government-controlled companies to retire earlier than private sector employees, and with larger pensions.

During the 25 years that the French left and some right-wing nationalists have spent reviling "cold, heartless impoverishing Anglo-American capitalism," France's per capita GDP has slumped from seventh in the world to 17th. Sarkozy's task is to persuade the French that their government's solicitousness on behalf of their security and leisure explains the work they must now do to reduce their insecurity.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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