Thursday, May 21, 2009

The French and L'Etat.

On of my FB friends had this video on his wall :

Then my friend - we'll call him M - made this comment which really blew my mind :

Why do people vote with their feet and line up behind the US embassy? Why does the US grow faster than France? Why does the US have more millionaires than anywhere else?May seem like small issues but over couple decades to couple hundred years, these small changes will make a huge difference. If we are concerned about preserving civilizations, we should do a better job than France.
It's an issue of where we as humans can propagate memes (ideas) in the most efficient manner and at the same time take advantage of these ideas. only in free societies! at some point the french culture may need to be saved from France.

So of course, I had to say a 'few' things back and decided to go into some details :

  • First of all this woman is an ideologue with a clear agenda. (I checked her out on the internet – quite a resumé). I'dbe curious to see where her figures come from – no source quoted. Some seem ok, others a bit off. But in any case, “per capita income” is rather meaningless. By that account, Lichtenstein or Qatar or Luxemburg has the highest “income per capita”, but what does that mean?
  • Her conclusion that “Americans are FAR wealthier” is just as meaningless. It depends where you are in the social spectrum. Every measure shows that over the last 25 years, those at the top have done better than those in the middle so it is those at the top who have benefited from this new wealth. Your argument that the US has more millionaires is certainly good for those that are, but for the vast majority of Americans, I don’t think they care. In fact, that should be cause for concern.
  • People line up behind the US embassy, but they also do so at other embassies or other wealthy country. What is certain is that the US is more a land of opportunity. I give you that, but it is also a tougher country where you can win big and lose big. So the best part of the video is really when she says that “by any comparison, the American way makes EVERYone better off”, (she insists on “everyone” as you may notice on the video). This must be a joke!

The United States is the country with the highest inequality level and poverty rate across the OECD, Mexico and Turkey excepted. (OECD report)France is one of only five OECD countries where income inequality and poverty have declined over the past 20 years.

  • Finally her use of the argument that “it is one thing to visit France, it’s a whole other thing to live there” is all the more ironic that she lives in the U.S. Besides, since when being born and raised somewhere makes you right about economics.
  • Your concern about “preserving civilization” is mind-blowing…. Where does that come from? What’s your point? It sounds like a Dick-Cheneyish argument of fear.
  • As far as freedom is concerned, there are freedoms other than economic freedom – the freedom to have access to healthcare for instance. What’s your point when you talk when you say “benevolent dictators have delivered better economic results than those that have embraced capitalism.”? What’s the link with our topic here? France is a capitalist country but with more regulations than in the US, that’s all. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that the French model should be followed by Americans. That would be irrelevant. The two countries are two distinct. Comparisons are impossible.
  • Just the way the French generally make false assumptions about the US, you, like most Americans, make false assumption about France. The meaning of the word “état” in France is so particular that it doesn’t translate. It defines the country and is at the core of its identity. “L’état” has not only guaranteed stability and common good (a very important concept in France) in the last few centuries in France, but it actually created France out of a much divided culture. Most countries favored federalism to accommodate the populations, but the French solution was centralization. You may not like it but that’s because it is foreign to you. It is thus part of the French identity and it is a concept entirely alien to Americans (and to most non-French people). (As a result, the French don’t want their politicians to promise tax-cuts, they want that the état do more and better.)
  • By the way, this must not have worked so bad for the French – it is the only European society that never emigrated en masse to America at some point in history, a fact that has been much discussed by historians. I am not saying France is better than the US. It is just different.
  • The French and the Americans have made different choices : The French emphasize equality, (a pillar of the French Republic) and common good, when the Americans emphasize individual freedom, self-interest and prosperity.

There are some things I prefer about the US not because they are intrinsically better but because they suit my personality and my aspiration, and in the same way, there are other things I prefer about France. But comparison requires a level of understanding that most Americans simply can’t have (not speaking French does not help). If you think France is like Communist China or India, think again.


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