Through a combination of socialism at home and appeasement abroad, the French believed they had found a viable alternative to, in former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's phrase, "jungle capitalism," as practiced by you know who. Jacques Chirac was more direct, condemning "ultra liberal Anglo-Saxon" economic policies, while also famously boasting that France would anchor a European pole in a "multipolar" world, with American influence vastly reduced. With 300 French cities in flames, French pretensions lie singed and shriveled.
By "ultra liberal" Chirac of course meant free market, not liberal in the American sense. American liberals are equivalent to European socialists. And French socialists have set the table for the current crisis. Yes, the rioters are all Muslim youths from North Africa and the Middle East. And the racism of French society may fuel the flames to some extent, but the most important factors in this story are economic. The French have accepted wave after wave of immigrants with no prospect of employing them. In the U.S., the unemployment rate among natives and immigrants is the same. Not so in France.
The French have enacted all of the economic policies that liberals would like to see implemented in this country. So, for example, jobs are protected. If a French company employing more than 600 people wants to fire someone, it must endure administrative procedures that last an average of 106 days. Because it is so difficult to fire employees, French companies are less willing to take risks in hiring. This hurts young, inexperienced workers disproportionately. Once unemployed, 40 percent of French workers can expect to remain so for more than a year. Not only are jobs hard to find, but joblessness is softened by generous benefits. Unemployment benefits range from 57 to 75 percent of the worker's last salary and can last as long as three years (with a cap of 5,126 Euros per month).
The French boast of (and American liberals drool over) France's 35-hour workweek. But French economic growth slowed to 0.1 percent in the second quarter of 2005 and is unlikely to reach 2 percent for the year. American economic growth, by contrast, was 3.8 percent in the first quarter of 2005. Payroll taxes are higher in France than in any of the other 30 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
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