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Qu’est-ce Que Se Passe?

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been watching the Paris riots with disbelief. The rioters seemed foolish–raging against a pragmatic law designed with the country’s future in mind. I’d been unable to really articulate my view until I heard an excellent NPR radio program. It’s an episode (MP3) of The Politics of Culture:

Are the demonstrations in France over a new law intended to get employers to hire young people a sort of canary in the mine? Can European social democracy, with the generous benefits it guarantees, survive in the face of globalization? KCRW General Manager Ruth Seymour speaks with Sebastian Rotella, Paris Bureau Chief of the Los Angeles Times, who’s been covering the streets demonstrations, John Peet, Europe Editor for the Britain’s bi-weekly Economist, and French philosopher and author Bernard-Henri Leevy.

As NPR points out, there are a ton of ironies in the French protests. The weirdest is that the protesting groups–students, unions, and so forth–fought so hard in 1968 for change. Now they’re actually fighting for the status quo. They want civil servant jobs, long vacations and a 35-hour work week. The government, meanwhile, is trying to render change.

Whether you’re well-informed or totally ignorant on the Paris riots, this show is worth a listen. It’s about half an hour long. Thanks to Todd for introducing me to this podcast.

As a bonus link, here are some pretty remarkable photos from the Paris riots.

4 Responses to “Qu’est-ce Que Se Passe?”

  1. Andy

    Ce qui se passe:

    French workers have achieved some social gains over the years and they (and the future workers) would like to keep them, not have their government take away from them. They fought for progressive measures in the 60’s and 70’s (80’s, 90’s, and 00’s too) and now they are fighting against anti-progressive measures, I don’t see any ironies or contradictions there.

    I concede the French weren’t rioting for job security in May ’68, it was something bigger they wanted, a new society they said. So now that they’re demonstrating for job security, we should hold it against them?

    I don’t know all the details of the French situation, but it seems like the government wanted to provide a solution to youth unemployment that tilted the balance of power too far in favor of the corporations. New hires would be disposable at will without motive for 2 years–even trial periods in the US don’t last that long. The gov’t has admitted so by proposing an amendment that cuts it to one year and requires a motive to be provided in writing.

    And why is this foolish? Why can’t they be trusted to know that the law will is not pragmatic nor good for their future? Their elected representatives are pandering to the interests of big business, and they decide it’s worth protesting over. In France, the power of the people still means something. Bernard Henri Levy and John Peet to some extent show how relative it all is–who are we to judge them?

    I’m tired of hearing the whole civil servant stereotype. Some French people, like some others in this world would like a stable job, and as in many places that means working for the government. In France, the state is the largest employer, and national education is the largest single payroll. So here is a country with decent national free public education provided by the state, and I can understand how some people think that is good and they’d like to be a teacher in that system. Of course there are slackers behind many desks of their bureaucracy, but isn’t that universal?

    And why is the moderator so passéiste, to use the mandatory French word, thinking that France was the avant garde before (when she lived there and believed in the same things–though she admits she didn’t understand much) and not now. Perhaps the revolutionary thought is that social entitlements can be had and kept in a global market economy. As John Peet pointed out, they seem to be succeeding in a way.

    I’m not saying there aren’t any problems in France, just wondering what makes everyone harp on the French.

  2. Darren

    Andy: I can’t answer all your questions, and I don’t think I regularly harp on the French. I will say the following:

    * The protesters have no right to destroy private property or attack police to make their point. Their actions are indefensable.

    * If any of those protesters can offer a peer-reviewed economic analysis where “social entitlements can be had and kept in a global market economy” I’d like to see it. The economists that I’ve read agree that it isn’t viable at France’s current level of entitlements.

    * As far as I know, there are few legally-imposed trial periods in North America. At least I’ve never been aware of any. I welcome anybody who can demonstrate otherwise.

    * I disagree that the current measures are ‘anti-progressive’–I think they’re pragmatic and reasonable.

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