Are We Following in France's Steps?

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Barry
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Are We Following in France's Steps?

Post by Barry » Thu Jun 08, 2006 3:23 pm

The Philadelphia Inquirer
Thu, Jun. 08, 2006
Commentary
Just as timid as the FrenchWhen it comes to facing the hard problems, our political leaders are no better than theirs.
By Jim Geraghty
PARIS - The news from the land of croissants and stylish berets has been exceedingly grim lately: the car-torching ethnic violence of last fall, huge strikes and protests by young people opposing economic liberalization this spring, and in recent weeks, a collapse of public confidence in their elected officials. Instead of Liberté, égalité, fraternité, today the national motto seems more like Bureaucracé, urban-anarché, and demands for lifetime job securité.

It's easy for an American to look at France's problems and feel comparably lucky, despite the national gloom over high gas prices, immigration and the war in Iraq. After all, at least our country doesn't have young people violently protesting a law that would permit employers to fire them at will until they're age 26.

But France's problems will probably confront America in less than a generation, and we're doing a comparably poor job at facing up to the tough choices and trade-offs.

Start with those French students who expect lifetime employment and who called the you-can-get-fired-until-26 law "slavery." At least 20 percent of French youth are unemployed; few companies want to hire new workers because they know they're stuck with them for the long haul. Three-quarters of French young people want to work for the government, which is not exactly a formula for a generation of thriving entrepreneurship.

But the U.S. education system is churning out young people without the skills to thrive in the working world, handle credit-card debt, or save for the future. Many young people finish college or grad school with enormous debts from loans. They misuse easy credit, and they are at least one reason that the U.S. savings rate was negative in 2005, for the first time since 1933.

It's easy for Americans to tsk-tsk at a generous social welfare system that is unsustainable (35-hour workweeks, an average of seven weeks of paid vacation per year, unemployment benefits of 57 to 75 percent of a job-seeker's last salary for up to three years and sometimes longer for older workers), but our political system has been similarly paralyzed at making any serious reforms to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

When President Bush proposed a policy to make the entitlement problem worse, adding prescription drugs to Medicare, it passed on mostly party-line votes. (The Democrats generally objected that the program was too complicated and wasn't generous enough.) When Bush proposed a policy that would make the entitlement problem better, like letting citizens put some of their Social Security taxes into personal retirement accounts, the idea got squashed like a bug. Our lawmakers have a great enthusiasm for programs that add more benefits and make the problem worse, but little or no stomach for changes that actually fix a problem. This pretty much describes the mind-set of most French legislators.

As much as the French economy may be faltering in a world of globalization, our elected leaders are exhibiting the same timid kick-the-can-down-the-road mentality on tough issues like immigration and energy. Lawmakers' unwillingness to level with the voters about hard truths leads to festering ignorance and paranoia. A Fox News poll last month revealed that a majority of U.S. voters refuse to believe that supply and demand affect oil prices; 52 percent believe that recent high gas prices are caused by oil companies' greed.

Americans have caught up to their Gallic cousins' cynicism and disgust with public officials. In France, President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin are so widely disliked that they could envy Bush's approval numbers. But in America, a recent New York Times/CBS poll revealed a widespread disapproval of most of America's most prominent leaders in both parties - 29 percent have a favorable opinion of President Bush, 55 percent an unfavorable one; Hillary Clinton had a 34 percent favorable rating, 35 percent unfavorable, and John Kerry had 26 percent favorable to 38 percent unfavorable.

France has elections next year; perhaps some leader will give voters some straight talk: that they face structural problems with their slow economy, aging population, high taxes, bloated regulatory state, and inability to assimilate immigrants. Perhaps Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy will build a consensus for some radical reforms.

In America, we have a bit more time to address our major, structural problems - retiring baby boomers, insufficient means of energy production, a low savings rate and widespread financial illiteracy, and questions about how quickly and effectively we can assimilate our immigrants. But we shouldn't get too comfortable. This is no time for political ennui.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jim Geraghty (jiminturkey@gmail.com) is a contributing editor at National Review.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

http://www.davidstuff.com/political/wmdquotes.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pbp0hur ... re=related

Barry
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Re: Are We Following in France's Steps?

Post by Barry » Thu Jun 08, 2006 3:31 pm

Barry Z wrote:... our elected leaders are exhibiting the same timid kick-the-can-down-the-road mentality on tough issues like immigration and energy....
I watched some of Greenspan's testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last night on C-Span. The issue was the impact of our dependence on foreign oil.
He pointed out what's been obvious for years. It makes no sense to continue to try to compete with the Chinese, running all over the world and dealing with people who don't have our best interests at heart. We simply are going to have to lower consumption. He said it may be inconvenient to have to plug in your car at night and only be able to go for so long, but that.........I'll paraphrase here: "After all. We don't have any good choices here. We have not so good and horrible. And we have no real choice but to go with not so good."

That's incidentally the same thing that Kaplan points out a lot with regard to foreign and military affairs. There usually aren't any good options available to us. We have bad choices and worse choices.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

http://www.davidstuff.com/political/wmdquotes.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pbp0hur ... re=related

Corlyss_D
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Post by Corlyss_D » Thu Jun 08, 2006 3:44 pm

I agree. We have no leadership in this country. Everytime someone leans forward in the foxhole, he's shot to pieces. Only the wounded survive to hold office, and by then, who want's 'em? At some point the American voter has to give up his infatuation with the perfect and accept the fact that flawed human beings will always run the government. That's why the Constitution makes for such inefficient government. If it's true that most of the 18-35 get their news from The Daily Show, it's no damn wonder people are so cynical. When politicians select the electorate, and not the otherway round, it's no damn wonder people are so cynical.
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Werner
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Post by Werner » Thu Jun 08, 2006 3:49 pm

So the Constitution is at fault? Those eighteenth-century sages who saw beyond the agricultural socieety with a population of five million had it all wrong?

What's to replace it? What's acceptable? How do we account for the great being the enemy of the good, and how do we compromise?

Or is compromise a dirty word?
Werner Isler

Corlyss_D
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Post by Corlyss_D » Thu Jun 08, 2006 4:16 pm

Werner wrote:So the Constitution is at fault?
For inefficient government? Of course. I may not know as much as Ralph or Kevin about constitutional history, but this I know and know full well:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions. This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. - Federalist #51 [Emphasis mine]

"That each may be a check on the other" means the system is purposefully designed to be inefficiency because efficiency would require concentration of power.
Corlyss
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