Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

More fair and balanced reporting on the French protests

Craig Smith again. Maybe he wasn't listening to me yesterday.

If the law is significantly weakened, it will serve a serious blow to the prime minister, who hopes to run for president next year. It will also mark another defeat in France's long-running struggle to break the stranglehold of its rigid social-welfare system, which has kept economic growth sluggish and unemployment high for decades.
France has a strong tradition of often violent demonstrations and paralyzing strikes that is largely tolerated by the broader population, which has a cultural mistrust of government dating back to the French Revolution even as it retains a deep sense of dependency on the state.

The resulting tendency to rebel against any attempt to curtail entitlements has cowed many administrations into backing down from bold policies that might have helped remake the system in the past.

This is actually by far the worst--and most revealing--so far of these editorial judgments smuggled into news stories. It bespeaks an absolute belief in Friedrich von Hayek's economic theories, one not uncommon among today's reporters, and certainly not among Thatcher fetishists. If this judgment were the consensus opinion of serious economists studying France I'd love to hear it, but I don't really want to know what Craig Smith thinks.

If I may steal from a commenter at Steve Gilliard's News Blog:

"Is French unemployment higher than US unemployment? Again, yes."

Only very slightly. Because of America's extremely high levels of incarceration, much higher use of temp and contract labor in the US and the US's intentional use of a very narrow definition of unemployment, the headline US unemployment numbers are actually skewed down by about 2%. The actual consistent American rate is 7-8%, which is admittedly still less than France's consistent 10%, but it's not the US 5% versus France 10% that we always hear about.

Meanwhile, as another commenter points out, "the payoff is universal health care and secure pension plans." A third offers:

They did the same in Spain when I was living there. New laws allowing the companies to hire and fire almost at will with no cost, reducing coverage for unemployment etc... What happened was a total destruction of the work force. People being hired on monday and fired on friday, if you want holidays... fired for 15 days. The result is a majority of young people that still live with their parents well into the 20's or even the 30's because they can't commit to a 12 month lease on an apartment and even less to buy a house.

It's also notable that, if you look at the last line of today's Times article:

Ariane Bernard and Maia de la Baume contributed reporting for this article from Paris.

Which means Craig isn't actually over there himself. I would bet any amount that he has not himself talked to any of the new law's opponents.

I am not an economist. I am not even remotely qualified to judge what kind of employment law would work best for France. But I do know slanted coverage when I see it, and the Times is really outdoing itself here.

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  • At 7:12 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Yeah, I tried to make that point about the unemployment rate a couple times.

    I'm not so sure about that analysis of the Spanish labor market. I mean, I've never studied that particular market, but that seems like an oversimplified, alarmist spin.

  • At 7:27 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    I have no idea, but probably. I mostly cited it to show the kind of context that should be in the Times article and isn't. There's barely any explanation of why unions and students oppose this change except that it takes away their privileges--the article totally assumes they're being unreasonable, rather than asking at all if they have a legitimate gripe. That's been the case with all the articles I've read so far, and it's pretty much universally the case with any protests to neoliberal policy anywhere.

  • At 11:06 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Right, I understand the neoliberal bias. No big surprise coming from Tom Friedman's clubhouse.

  • At 12:06 PM, Anonymous emma.g said…

    As a 20-year old student in France, I couldn't believe how many of my fellow students were, like, 26 -- inconceivably old to me at that time. But they didn't HAVE to get a job. Unemployment among 20-somethings is a way of life in France -- but you get free tuition, free health care, discounted movie tickets, metro passes, subsidized housing, and more that I didn't even know about. People were always talking about their "bourse" and it took me a long time to realize that they were actually collecting money from the government! Sounds ok to me; I wouldn't trade it for a shitty job that I could lose at any time either. Neo-liberals want us to believe that the system is unsustainable, and I'm not an economist either, but I understand why you would take to the streets to protect it. (Although it seems like overwhelmingly only white French people benefit from this system, since non-white people from the suburbs have less access to the universities.)

    Incidentally, French people insisted to me last November that the French economy was larger and more successful than the British economy. I didn't believe it, but I didn't check their stats either.

  • At 1:47 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Completely, completely agreed that it's a fabulous lifestyle. And one prevalent throughout Europe. In fact, I've always liked to think of myself as not lazy, but elegantly Continental in my lackadaisical meandering through my 20s. Heh.

    I am unconvinced that it's unsustainable. That certainly is the conventional wisdom of everyone brainwashed by neoliberal economics departments, though.


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