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    Thursday, November 10, 2005

    France's Indigestion

    Minh-Duc has a good post cautioning about Islamo-terrorism in the wake of the French uprisings over at State of Flux. However, even as I agree such uprisings can lead to wrong actions later, I am one of those people who find myself watching the news and rooting for the rioters...calling on them to continue. Minh-duc calls us "those who see this as poetic justice - something France deserves." Let me explain how I believe it is poetic justice and beneficial.

    First, "deserves." Nobody wants anyone put in bodily danger if another option is available. In this situation, I would use another word (not to quibble over symantics), "sowed." France is reaping what they've sown. Here's a quote from a frenchman:
    All empires die of indigestion.

    Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)
    We have seen this verity in the Roman Empire. Three things (to simplify 1000 years) helped cause "indigestion" -- loss of religion, free bread, free citizenship.

    As the Roman empire grew, it realized that it's volunteer army of "weekend warriors" was inadequate for the job. To combat this trend, it instituted professionalization. However, these carreer soldiers realized that they could gain popularity and status by returning to Rome victorious. This social pressure caused the empire to expand at a rate untenable to the citizens of the empire. In order to continue expanding, it gave citizenship to "barbarians" in exchange for their help in conquering new barbarians. Eventually, this (very prevalent in some eras) giving of citizenship to those not loyal proved Rome's downfall. People with alterior motives became heads of Roman armies, caused civil wars, or ran in the face of not-so-superior foes they held kinship with. And Rome fell.

    Second, as the republic progressed into the empire, senators and other politicians gained votes by promising free bread to the masses of the cities. Rome, like other large cities, had massive unemployment. Over generations, this segment of society became accustomed to (and felt they were entitled to) free bread. The ante went up every generation as the new politicians tried to get elected over incumbents. When Rome ran into trouble, and had no bread, the masses rioted.

    Third, Rome had a strong indigenous religion that slowly gave way in the upper eschelons of society to greek paganism. The Greek ethos held very liberal morals, which allowed many people to believe or not believe wanton and radical things. Such liberalization of religion in the wake of the other two items, caused Rome to lose a valuable stabilizing force in people's lives. Eventually, people did not feel a kinship with each other religiously, they felt entitled to things the state couldn't provide, and those with weapons had the power to change things and no loyalty to the state.

    Rome collapsed.

    France has mimicked Rome to a smaller scale. First, it has lost religion. I am not arguing for any certain religion, but religion in general. A state religion has obvious ubiquitizing overtones, but it is not necessary. Any state that generally encourages people to practice religion has the benefit of it's solidifying properties. In France, many are areligious, losing that benefit, and the large population who is religious happens to be the disaffected one. Hence it's so easy to raise masses of people to riot--there's a kinship.

    Europe is one large welfare state. The rate is currently at 8.9%, expected to hit 9.1% by the end of the year, and worse in some areas. Among the lower class, it has rates of 30-40%, and among lower class, muslim, males, age 18-24 rates are over 50%. And they want their free bread.
    When French people do work, they devote less time to it than their European neighbours. They work an average of 39.1 hours per week, the least among the 25 EU countries, according to Eurostat, the EU's Luxembourg-based statistics office. That compares with 42.2 hours in Britain and 42.6 hours in Poland.

    Unemployment benefits in France equal 57 per cent to 75 per cent of a jobseeker's last salary, capped at €5126 a month. Benefits can last for as long as three years, and sometimes longer for people nearing retirement.

    In the US, the benefits are equivalent of about half the person's last salary, up to $US2000 a month in the highest-paying state, Washington. Benefits expire within six months in most states.

    The French can expect jobless benefits and other government support, such as housing subsidies, to amount to 44 per cent of the former salary, compared with 17 per cent in Britain and 14 per cent in the US, according to the OECD.
    Now that the cost of unemployment is ballooning, the state is running out of the ability to pay for the bread.

    France has built it's reputation on being tolerant, and bringing immigrants in, but still has the reputation of being prideful. If you are not French, you are second rate. Today France has a large group of North Africa (especially) Muslims who on face value have equality but in reality do not. Society looks down on them. They have legal standing in the country, but do not feel a part of it.

    And so, France is dying of indigestion right now. This is a good thing. Another Frenchman, Victor Hugo, said
    "Social prosperity means man happy, the citizen free, the nation great."

    Les Misérables [1862]. † Saint Denis, bk. I, ch. 4
    In 1968, riots spawned general strikes of 10 million workers and changed the government of France. Something better can come from this. I do not think that the rioters want to be suicide bombers. A few bad apples, maybe, but they would do it anyway. France needs to merely reverse it's direction. Social unrest and a new government might provide the impetus to do it. It needs to cut unemployment and jobless benefits, so that the populace has the incentive to innovate and start businesses. No more free bread. It needs to actively throw out those clerics or other leaders of the community who might encourage or preach terrorism. It must also create programs that help the people feel involved in their government. No more cheap citizenship. Finally, it must actively support Islam and other religions. A social change will bring much needed stability where free bread cannot. Freedom of religion is important for it's inclusiveness just as it is for it's protection of exclusiveness. No more absence of religion.

    A France which does those things stands to join Britain and the US as a well-working market with low unemployment and rising standard of living. It stands to lead the EU into a new era of prosperity, where it helps push the world economy instead of draining it. As long as this option is a possibility, I will brave the possibility of future suicide bombers for the hope of a better tomorrow. This is why I hope France gets what it "deserves."

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