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"France could learn from Canada:" an interesting article in Toronto's Globe and Mail

by Ben P Tue Nov 8th, 2005 at 06:36:33 PM EST

I don't have a lot to add to the following, because I largely agree with this author: Timothy Smith, a professor of French history at Canada's prestigious Queens University. I will largely excerpt, and provide a few comments. I'm more interested in the feedback from others.


Smith begins his analysis, taking on the French allergy to multiculturalism:

The French government refuses to recognize ethnic communities as legitimate actors - it would prefer that they simply disappear quietly into the mainstream. North Africans are expected to jettison all their cultural and religious baggage at the border, and pretend that their ancestors are the Gauls. Multiculturalism is dismissed as a dangerous Anglo-Saxon import, or even the path to Balkanization. Sixteen-year-old girls donning head scarves seem to threaten France's century-old official separation of church and state. The head-scarf ban was interpreted by Muslims as an attack on their religion and way of life, a sign that they are not welcome in France.

Indeed, they are not welcome: Opinion polls tell us that most French people believe there are too many Arabs in France. Apart from a couple of councils for integration and for the Muslim faith, dating back to 2003, the Republic tolerates no intermediary bodies that might stand between the individual and the state. The French believe that multiculturalism would only privilege individuals by association with their ethnic, religious or racial roots. There is no such concept as Algerian French. By contrast, one can be Chinese Canadian and still be considered a full citizen. Before immigrants to Canada become equal in the economic sense, their culture is already considered equal in the theoretical sense. The one helps lead to the other.

Now, Smith moves on to a discussion of unemployment and labour markets:

Canada is no bed of roses for thousands of recent immigrants toiling at minimum-wage jobs, but history suggests that, in the long run, many of them will enter the lower middle class. And, as the French riots suggest, no jobs are worse than bad jobs. Multiculturalism embodies a message of hope and puts a high ideal in our sights. France tells newcomers that their past belongs in another country. Most Canadians see immigrants in a positive light - they add diversity to the cultural scene, they spice up our cuisine, they make important economic contributions, they will help pay for the boomers' pensions. In the context of chronic high unemployment, a large chunk of the French-born majority sees immigrants as threats to its share of a limited system of spoils.

In France, well-intentioned labour laws, high payroll taxes and red tape have slowed job creation in the low-wage sector. Hiring and firing is a costly and time-consuming affair. Consequently, many firms simply do not bother to hire. North Africans are the last hired and first fired. Wages and vacation time are increased for the comfortably employed insiders, a moat is dug around the city, the drawbridge is raised, and those left knocking at the walls are denounced for refusing to support a system that excludes them.

No comment here. We've been discussing this for a while, and I tend to occur with Smith's sentiment as well as his recommendations. Well-intentioned laws - defended for dogmatic and/or cynical reasons - are no longer useful if they don't work well.

To conclude:

France is still waiting for a politician to lead them back to full employment - without which there isn't a glimmer of hope in the French suburbs. The recent inflammatory remarks of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy may spell the end of his presidential ambitions. (He has called the rioters "scum" and "rabble.") But Mr. Sarkozy is also the only prominent French politician courageous enough to confront the French with the gravity of their economic problems. (He has advocated reforms that would weaken the power of the trade unions and open more opportunities for immigrants. He has also called for affirmative action in hiring and anonymous resumés to reduce discrimination.)

Amazingly, there isn't a single member of the National Assembly from mainland France who is a visible minority, even as 9 per cent to 10 per cent of the population is Muslim. If there were one such politician, perhaps he or she could visit the suburbs and deliver a message of hope. Until then, it will fall to Mr. Sarkozy to ask the French people, "What kind of a social model tolerates 10-per-cent unemployment for a quarter of a century? How long can this continue before we wake up?"

And again, I concur with this author's sentiment. Sarkozy is a flawed character. His grandstanding, his politicing, his cynical appeals to racism, his law and order lust are all marks against him in my book. However, at least Sarkozy is willing to think "outside the box," and he is not afraid to address serious problems with substantive ideas. The Socialists and others try to dismiss the entire Sarkozy package by hiding behind his ugly side. But simply calling him racism doesn't change the fact that some of his ideas are good and necessary.

My problem with Sarkozy is that he isn't going to win because of this, however. He's going to win because of his law and order rhetoric, which many French voters will interpret as a subtle, yet powerful endorsement of their own bigotry, whether explicit or implicit.

As such, Sarkozy is going to have a mandate to do things that I think are not useful, while he is going to have a lot more trouble doing things that would be: challenging laicite, implementing affirmative action, recognizing that there are minority communities in France, changing the labour laws.

So I don't hold out too much hope. But considering the other options, I don't see much else to vote for. Unless the Socialists get a clue - maybe Fabius? - but I don't see that happening. I made this point after the referendum as well: i.e. unless the French left is willing to take a hard look at itself and at the nation as a whole, Sarkozy will become the next President. And perhaps he should.

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Yes, an interesting piece, but I (as usual) quibble with some of the unexamined economic assumptions here -- especially the assumption that high unemployment and social exclusion will be solved by "labor market reforms."

Canada, for example, even with weak labor protections by European standards, has consistently had rather high unemployment rates in the 7% to 8% range, which is below French levels, but is higher than in Sweden or Norway, and about the same as in Western Germany. Canada also has about the same level of economic inequality as France.

Perhaps in France there are higher differential effects of labor market regulations on young people, or immigrants, or the unskilled, relative to Canada, but I would like to see some evidence first. In Canada, unemployment among 15-24 year olds is 12% according to this article. Long-term unemployment rates are lower in Canada than Europe, but France does better in this regard than most other European countries, too. Canada does not seem to do much better than some European countries in employing workers with low levels of education attainment, either.

Here's some data from the ILO:

                   Labor Force   
                   Age 15-24   

                   Canada    France
LFPR        
  15-19          53.4%    11.8%
  20-24          77.9%    54.9%
Employed         917      2149
Unemployed     203        560
UE Rate          18.1%    20.7%

So here we have something -- youth labor force participation rates are much lower in France than in Canada.

To the extent that this is caused by bad labor market regulations, then the author has a point. The result of such reforms might be better job prospects for French youth, at the cost of increasing economic insecurity for "insiders".

So how to compensate the losers from this policy? Expansionary monetary and fiscal policies to reduce general unemployment rates so that the newly fired "insiders" can more easily find jobs elsewhere? An expansion of public-sector hiring to soak up unemployment, as Scandinavian countries do? More training and relocation funds for workers? Wage subsidies for firms?

The emphasis is always on labor market deregulation, and we never hear about the necessary other part of the equation: enhancing "flexibility" in a way that preserves living standards and economic security.

by TGeraghty on Tue Nov 8th, 2005 at 08:47:33 PM EST
I don't think that bringing up Scandanavian countries is very useful, as they always seem to be off the charts in the "good" direction. Maybe it's because they have very homogeneous populations? Who knows. But trying to transplant their economic policies without also transplanting their broad society is a recipe for failure.
by asdf on Tue Nov 8th, 2005 at 10:45:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's funny how nobody ever makes that argument for, say, the US or UK. That the economic successes of those countries are because of unique characteristics that can't be copied elsewhere. We never hear that Reagan/Thatcher style deregulation can't be transplanted to, say, France or Germany because their cultures or so different from American culture. Unfettered markets are universally valid economic institutions, supposedly.

But when a group of countries - Scandinavia, but also the Netherlands, or Ireland, or Austria - achieve economic success through ways not entirely consistent with neoliberal nostrums, we can chalk it all up to idiosyncracies of their culture or population makeup or whatever. And that doesn't stop people from arguing that, say, Sweden needs a good dose of Thatcherism, either.

So excuse me if I call bullshit on that. It's a right-wing talking point. Sure, you can't exactly copy economic models unique to one country, but you can get ideas for policies that can be adapted to individual nations.

Thus I'm calling for a French/Keynesian economic expansion and active labor market policy for France.

by TGeraghty on Tue Nov 8th, 2005 at 11:43:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Or maybe it's their high tax levels? Why don't we use their example to increase taxes?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Nov 9th, 2005 at 04:43:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Again, I will rail against this desire for "integration" to be successful in the span of a few years or even a few decades. Integration of the Polish, Italian and other immigration waves did not happen so smoothly or so quickly.

So yes, the situation is not great today, but do we really have any reason to think that the French model of integration will fail. Who's pushing these ideas? Isn't it the same people who have been pushing for unfettered "deregulation" and "flexibility" and focused exclusively on return on capital criteria and created the biggest financial bubble ever, and who use their happiness at the end of their drunken binge to tell all others around who haven't splashed on the champagne that they are losers?

It's the same battle, and it's an ideological battle, and we do not have to accept the terms of the debate set by Murdoch and co.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Nov 9th, 2005 at 04:48:13 AM EST
I back Jerôme's viewpoint... :-)
Each system has it's logic and it's rightness... But there is a cabal in the Murdoch press against the french system, overseeing history, statistics and compared unemployment...
And then, we don't try to export it to Canada (or elsewhere)!
There is a nasty bit of Evangelist mission in this constant nitpicking...!

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman
by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Wed Nov 9th, 2005 at 10:32:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with you about the Murdoch press, but the globe and mail is far from being a part of his empire. Indeed, it is part of the "liberal media establishment" in Canada, a Canadian version of the NYTimes or the LeMonde: exactly the kind of paper that local right wingers complain about, and exactly the paper (now disgraced) Murdoch wannabe tried to take on by launching the much more conservative National Post in '98.

Also, this guy writing the article is clearly not some Francophobe crank.

One of the things I find frustrating is that many French people are unwilling to take any criticism from external sources. There is not some organized conspiracy of the entire English speaking world against France. Indeed, I'm something of a Francophile, but this does not make France beyond criticism for what - to my mind are serious shortcomings.

Indeed, I don't object ot your criticisms - or Jerome's or most people's criticisms of the US or the UK. I share many of them myself. I don't think you should be so uncomfortable with them either.

Ben P

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Wed Nov 9th, 2005 at 03:58:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You know, I think the FT is actually a pretty balanced and decent newspaper, but the background for its articles is that "common wisdom" I am mentioning which is heavily influenced by the French-hating press. I love the FT, but as you see on the occasions where I deconstruct some of their articles, they are relying on CW that are simply not based on facts.

For some strange reason, the CW about France is overwhelmingly negative and critical ("stagnant", "rigid labor market", "Statist", less open, less tolerant, declining, etc...). Fighting that CW does not mean that I am not critical of France.

And you have to wonder - how much do you read in the English language press about France, and how much do you read about other countries. There is an obsession about France and it linked to the fact that there is this ideological struggle going on, and France is the inconvenient example that there are other solutions that the neoliberal/neocon domination. It's not a perfect example, but it works well enough that it needs to be discredited at all costs.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Nov 9th, 2005 at 04:50:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They wouldn't write about France if it didn't matter!

 I think this is especially true in Britain, where the penetration and relationship between France and Britain is strong and long-standing, and on paper, the two nations possess very similar characteristics: in geopolitical and economic terms. Thus, the Murdoch obsession.

In the US, its quite different. France is basically taken as shorthand for "Europe," again an acknowledgement that France matters, as it is seen as the most important voice coming from the continent. There is a long standing tradition of creating an American identity in opposition to Europe. This goes back to the 17th century, and is laced through American political and literary writing.

Also, because France is willing to stand up to the US on occassion. Thus, France became a scapegoat for a lot of the feelings of insecurity Americans had about their recognition they are not well-liked right now in the world. Its a lot easier to blame it on one country.

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Wed Nov 9th, 2005 at 05:59:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Alas... There is much to criticize about France and our different political parties !
But as Jérôme says, there is more to those critics then just the sheer facts.
There is (for me at least) a sort of perverse logic in action.
Answers to unemployment, to new economy, to the different challenges of modernity can be debated (and that's why I'm here, to learn and read :-) ), but since a few years, it looks like there is an ideological battle... Not only between the classical forces of "left" and "right" but also on the goals of those economies!

Posts in DKos or here (much less!) give me sometimes the feeling of the arch-old debates between protestants and catholics... Something that is not about algorithms but faith !
It's not only in international press, you can feel it here too, UMP or PS are loosing ground because of those "internal criticisms" that doesn't aim the "how" but more a re-definition of the objectives...

I believe we (the French's) are just as lost as others, but, maybe because we have a different discourse at the beginning, we don't want to throw the baby with the bath's water...

Maybe you are are right... And it's stubbornness ???

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman

by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Wed Nov 9th, 2005 at 05:47:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
about "discourse." I think that the basis for, say, American or Canadian politics and the history of how their political cultures developed are considerably different than France's. Thus "left" and "right" in the two contexts are going to look different.

Ultimately, its up to the French to sort out the problems within their society. I just make observations based on my experiences of what I think could help. Nothing more.

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Wed Nov 9th, 2005 at 05:54:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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