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French Voters to Establishment: Apres Nous Le Deluge

A country’s presidential election is partly a reflection of its political identity. The contrast between the United States’ messy but direct, democratic horserace primaries and the seamless power transfer China hoped for before l’affaire Bo Xilai ruined it all speaks volumes about the respective natures of these two countries’ political systems.

Now turn to France, where the French elect a new king every five years in a two stage electoral process that reveals that state of the French soul.  The hate murders by a deranged fanatic have set the stage for a debate among the candidates over the nature of France and the central challenges facing French identity, and President Sarkozy, struggling to overcome a huge disadvantage, is making the most of his opportunities.

Marine Le Pen, the French right’s candidate, lashed out against what she called “the gangrene of radical Islam.”

How many Mohamed Merahs are there in the boats and the aeroplanes that arrive every day in France full of immigrants…How many Mohamed Merahs among the children of those non-assimilated immigrants?

Sarkozy has responded to the killings by boosting his own speeches on security and immigration. Many observers note that if anything his campaign has gotten a boost. He’s able to position himself between the socialists (seen by many as hopelessly ‘pro-immigrant’ and pro-welfare for immigrants) and the unacceptably harsh National Front. He’s the man in the middle where the voters want him to be: not too hot like the Front, not too cold like the socialists — but just right.

Yet immigration and inter-cultural relations are just one issue in the French election. Polls taken after the killings show that the French still care much more about economic issues than security or immigration. New data this week showing that France avoided recession last year may prove much more helpful for Sarkozy than his swift response to the tragic killings and efficient operation against the killer.

France’s economy grew (a relatively dismal) 1.7 percent last year, but this was better than in 2010. The economy still remains the dominant concern of the French and well it should. But there’s a problem: the French don’t like their economy the way it is, but they also don’t want the changes that could make it work better. While France isn’t a Greek or Italian style monstrosity of licensing, closed professions and obscure anti-market labor regulations, it is very far from being an easy place to do business.

Its economic sclerosis and its angry youth problem are, of course, connected. Young workers are the ones hurt most by protectionist labor policies; employers are very reluctant to make new hires when that hiring involves a lifetime commitment to a new employee.  Imagine if you got tenure working at Starbucks and couldn’t be fired; France, like much of the rest of Europe now has a two tier labor market of tenured older workers and young ‘gypsy’ workers on temporary contracts — or simply unemployed.

But while the French hate the results of their economic and labor policies, they are much too attached to those policies to give them up. The likely result: the next French president, whoever he is, will continue to preside over a country that falls farther and farther behind Asia, the US and, worst of all, Germany even as unassimilated minorities, cut off from most opportunities for work by byzantine labor market codes, curdle and fester in the banlieus.

None of this is pretty, but it seems to be what the French prefer to any of the possible alternatives. The deluge may come, but not yet.

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  • Anthony

    WRM, for France it begins with: Declaration des droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen (the declaration of the rights of man and the citizen) – the deliuge is perhaps secondary in concern for average Frenchmen.

  • Anthony

    …as a matter of fact Apres Nous Le Deluge may not only be secondary in this instance but also absent from spectrum of French public interest.

  • Leon Haller

    No Western country is remotely genuinely capitalist. The overvaunted USA has govt at all levels consuming well over 40% of GDP!

    The key to the best possible society is: Capitalism (growing out of ultra-secure property rights) + Ethnic homogeneity.

    Obama is thus exactly NOT what is needed. USA should end immigration (and deport illegals), and otherwise radically reduce govt in size and scope.

  • Lorenz Gude

    Labor market reform is critical to economic success. Few in America would realize that Australia achieved it under the Hawke and Keating Labor governments through negotiation with the unions – constantly exchanging wage increases for real gains in productivity. Later the Liberals – the conservative party in Australia – pushed for and got individual contracts established as an alternative to collective bargaining which did not end in widespread worker abuse but loosened things up sufficiently so that people at the fringes of the labor market were able to find employment. Sarkozy proposed labor market reform when he was first elected, but I see he has on gotten very far.

  • Pete

    How dare anyone assume that muslims belong in France.

  • Beauceron

    We’re not permitted to talk of it in polite company, but France will be majority muslim in 30-50 years.

    We’re not permitted to say this either, but that fact (and it is a fact) is more important than their economy, the Euro crisis, and who wins the presidential election. In my despair for the countries and culture of Europe and the horrible, even evil, mismanagement of European elites, I’m willing to give players like madam LePen a lot more latitude.

  • Jim.

    So is part of this young / old crisis the fact that most of the old are French and most of the young aren’t?

  • g6loq

    I am always very when Yanks, even articulate ones, are commenting on France.
    When feeeeeeling Yankee smug remember that the great American sheeple reelected FDR, a commie who collaborated with the Vichistes and liked Stalin a lot, four times.
    It is not the sheeple that matters, it is the small constituency of determined men and women.
    They’re there, they’re gearing up. And, when all is done they’ll fade in the background until the next time.
    Like many of you, I’m more than casually interested in American history, and more than a casual viewer of the Hitler channels documentation of our past. That the History Channel’s “Beltway Unbuckled” would yield new information about FDR, then, is illustrative of how media selectively protects the image of patron Liberals, while targeting what were once called mainstream Americans.

    FDR mistress Daisy Suckley’s diary, which was discovered under her bed in 1991, isn’t a secret as I discovered by searching the term. But, it sure as hell has not been been publicly aired. I’m talking about FDR telling Ms. Suckley about D-Day details a month prior to June 6th, 1944 (“… technically treason”). I’m talking FDR’s plan to partner up with Joe Stalin after the war, to crate a new world order, with FDR running the planned United Nations. Doris Kearns Goodwin, call you office.

    I dedicate this post to Senator Joseph R, McCarthy, who died for our sins.

  • PacRim Jim

    Charles Martel, où êtes-vous?

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