The French government has an active "industrial policy," guiding "investment" in favored companies and industries. Employment is highly regulated. Until 2008, the government required that workers be asked to toil no more than 35 hours per week and guaranteed a month of paid vacation each year. The health care delivery system is public. And taxes are high -- a marginal rate of 50 percent -- among the highest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
But France is deeply in debt and faces an aging population. In order to maintain its AAA bond rating, the French government is frantic to find economies. Thirty-five years of uninterrupted deficits have driven France's gross debt to 1.4 trillion euros, equivalent to about 86 percent of GDP, according to Bloomberg news. (We are not far behind, with debt equivalent to 67 percent of GDP.)
But all of those goodies distributed by the state -- all those free lunches -- have significantly corrupted France's civic culture to the point where any cut in benefits, even a trifling change in the retirement age, is violently resisted. One protester, Reuters reports, carried a sign reading, "To hell with the national debt! We'll give them nothing and we don't give a damn about their AAA." Those are socialism's spoiled brats.
What Democrats have most to fear is that American voters will perceive that, indignant denials notwithstanding, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, Patty Murray, Joe Sestak, Barbara Boxer, Jerry Brown and the Democratic Party, in general, are indistinguishable from the socialist parties of Europe. With this difference: Where the Europeans are struggling to reverse their leftward lurch, the Democrats are accelerating ours.