Sunday, July 13, 2008

Are There Cracks In The French Social Model?

I have read many accounts written by Frenchmen that truly believe that the American social model could take lessons from that of France. To hear them tell it, France is a model and panacea for the entire world to take note of, if they want to achieve the high level of social justice and equality in which the French have always believed they stood for.

Not all are convinced, this is the case here.

Here is an essay that analyzes a book which makes some pretty bold claims.

That France's famed social model is economically inefficient and morally flawed--as opposed to being economically inefficient but morally virtuous--is an argument brought home with eloquence and vigor by Timothy Smith in his book France in Crisis (Cambridge University Press, 2006). Originally published in 2004, the book has not received the attention it deserves.

To say that France's social model is far from perfect is an understatement: in spite of the state absorbing more than 50% of GDP, France has suffered, since the 1980s, from rising child poverty rates, persistently high unemployment, a chronic sense of economic malaise, and the continual enrichment of the system's "insiders" at the expense of the system's "outsiders." More importantly, France's social model fails to deliver precisely what it proclaims to: economic justice, inter-generational fairness, economic opportunity and social protection, particularly to young workers entering the labor market, minorities, immigrants, middle-aged women and other vulnerable groups.

The article goes on to elaborate further and is not kind in its overall conclusions. Whether this book by Smith or the review that the essayist puts forth is accurate or not, the bottom line from where I stand is simple:

If this is what France wants, so be it. This must be determined by the French people, and them alone. I care very little for how their system works, pass or fail - if they like it, I like it. I am not going to benefit, nor suffer, if it does either. But know that I do not wish to see it implemented here, because i firmly believe it cannot work here.

France is smaller than the US. And for whatever benefits are perceived to be available to the French citizenry, it will not automatically translate to the American social and economic models. No one wants to be in the 50% tax bracket to pay for the perks. Can you blame us? The federal government cannot manage anything with any efficiency, as it is. Everything they touch turns into a nightmare and a bureaucratic mess. So why would we suddenly be able to achieve this pipe dream with a larger influx of cash flow?

The ultimate goal of socialism in its purest form is equality. No rich, no poor, no class distinctions, everyone is the same. Everyone lives in a harmonious bliss. It sounds noble, but in reality it's not achievable. The New Harmony experiment is a microcosm of what we could expect from a greater theater. If that is not enough, ask those that lived under the Soviet system, and you'll see that not all are looking back at that social model with endearing eyes. The USSR experiment sounded noble on paper, but it was nothing more than a sales campaign that did not deliver and went bankrupt.

In both cases, apathy replaced enthusiasm. This being the case, it's hard for me to understand why the status quo must be maintained in this instance, and why some people in America think the French system is so great they want it here.

Maybe I am wrong, but are the headaches generated by high taxation and high levels of entitlements to those that are on the inside, worth it? I mean, talking about a flawed theory (based on emotions) while thinking it can work is one thing. Making it work is an another. Is it a good system? Doesn't sound like it from this perspective. But like I said, I do not live in France. I live here and from what I hear, there are certainly mixed reviews.


Mustang said...

I agree with you, LA … if socialism fits the French national psyche, that’s fine with me. It is difficult for Americans to understand a society that for its entire cultural history has relied upon the good graces of the Crowned heads of Europe or the Papacy. They have not had to rely on rugged individualism – big brother has always been there to tell them what to do, how to do it, where to do it, and in what quantity. Europeans who resisted government bullying became Americans, everyone else stayed home.

Greg said...

I can't say I've studied this in depth (though I wrote a little paper in college on the "allocations familiales," which is basically a system of entitlements for families, often based upon the number of children). On the other hand, I know a lot of French people and take liberty to pass along my impressions of their opinions on this subject.

I think most French people would be horrified to see even a small amount of social programs diminished/eliminated. You can only give them more - don't dare take any away. I think there is an understanding that the system is intended to "foster equality" - meaning that no one will be too poor and no one will get too rich. They also understand that the system they have chosen means more money to the government at every level of the economy, and less discretionary spending for families.

At the same time, there is general resentment at the system. Often, you will hear someone complain that the system doesn't give enough value for the price. Also, I think the observation that there is general morosity surrounding the economy is true (why wouldn't there be with natural unemployment around 10%?). You will also hear the complaint that you "can't get rich" in France.

Anyway, it's a different system. I think the French are pretty unhappy about their system, but they are also vehemently opposed to reforming it significantly. One example I read about recently was reforming the 35-hour work week. I'm sure Rocket could tell us about that....

Anonymous said...

What French model are you talking about? Don't they all have cracks?

Eric Cartman

LASunsett said...

//They have not had to rely on rugged individualism //

This is the biggest factor in their inability to understand why we are the way we are. Their rugged individualism period was sometime before the era of the Gauls, when the area now known as France was populated with pagan tribes. That was a long time ago and records of that period were not kept like they were when we went through our period. Ours is fresh in our minds, theirs left theirs a long time ago.

LASunsett said...


What you describe (the desire for social programs and yet bitching about not getting their money's worth), is not surprising. Once government gets their hands on money, they rarely get the best bargains. They mismanage, embezzle, and outright get ripped off from the private contractors they do business with. Nothing new here.

That said, it's hard to feel empathy for those that think they aren't getting enough bang for their buck (or in this case, Euro).

LASunsett said...

//Don't they all have cracks?//

Now you are cracking me up, Eric.