There’s an amusing and on-the-money article by John MacArthur at the Harper’s web site titled “In Defense of French Dirigisme”. I’d link to the Wiktionary definition but there isn’t one; my Merriam-Webster defines “dirigisme” as “economic planning and control by the state”, and therein lies the tale.
MacArthur is riffing on a piece by the right-wing New York Times columnist John Tierney. The article is introduced with a flourish:
They live longer. They eat better. They work less. So why do Americans want to beat up on the French?
This, of course, is called answering your own question. Anyone who’s read Chomsky will reply with that favorite New Yorker expression, No duh. Like Venezuela, France poses the threat of a good example, generating fear in right-wing Americans. Hell, France has built a country that provides a decent life for most of its citizens; we could do it too if it wasn’t for our ideology. Since we know what we believe, and the facts contradict our beliefs, we have to deny the facts. Simple, and completely in keeping with the approach to facts taken by the Republicans’ base, right-wing Christians.
MacArthur states the obvious with some relish:
Tierney finds it amusing that France is in upheaval over a new labor law, the Contrat Premiere Embauche (contract for first-time hires), that would make it easier for businessmen to fire young workers within the first two years of their employment. Private employers in France pay a heavy price for firing anybody — in justifying paperwork and money — so the theory is that they would hire more raw, untested types if it weren’t so hard getting rid of the deadbeats.
If you’re an employer, this makes perfect sense; if you’re a member of France’s “rightist” government, it’s a great way to satisfy your corporate backers, as well as appearing to address the problem of high youth unemployment. If, on the other hand, you’re a college student or trade unionist, the new labor law sounds like what it doubtless will be: discrimination permitting bosses to exploit and churn the lowest-paid people with the least seniority.
Since the article was published, the strikes have forced the French government to back off on the law. One more threat in the form of a good example.
The political calculus is similar to the scams of the US government with respect to illegal immigrants. Big business benefits from employing people without having to follow the law; but this angers a certain subset of the population enough that the protest threatens the jobs of some politicians (the only way to produce change in our system). Government of, by, and for the corporations reacts swiftly and decisively. If idiotically.
MacArthur points out that the French now get 78 percent of their nationalized electrical production from nuclear power, as compared to second-place Germany with 28 percent. This makes France mostly independent of Middle East oil, and thus capable of ignoring, and ridiculing, the US demand for support in Iraq (and Iran).
He also notes that, despite the obvious problems of racism and cultural difference in the French model, France graduates (on a percentage basis) twice as many students with bachelor’s degrees in science, math, computer technology, and engineering as the US.
Some may recall Thomas Friedman’s big laugh line about France’s rejection last year of the European constitution: “French voters are trying to preserve a 35-hour week in a world where Indian engineers are ready to work a 35-hour day. Good luck.” This might be mildly funny but for a 2005 French government study that found that the 35-hour week created about 350,000 jobs, from its application in 1998 through 2002, and that the affected businesses enjoyed productivity gains of 4 to 5 percent during the same period.
“Ridicule”, said the greatest chess theorist, Aron Nimzovich, “can do much, for instance embitter the existence of young talents; but one thing is not given to it, to put a stop permanently to the incursion of new and powerful ideas.”