The implosion of French society continues unabated as the protest by French students has turned violent:
It was just the scene the French government had been dreading: burning cars seven blocks from the Eiffel Tower, shop windows smashed along one of the capital’s toniest streets, and columns of helmeted riot police advancing across the greensward of a prominent tourist venue.
Antoil Ethuin, 48, stood outside the shattered windows of his Bike n’ Roll rental shop Thursday, stunned by the destruction of the worst violence in two weeks of student protests in Paris and other French cities.
“My country is broken,” said Ethuin, gazing at the smoldering automobile carcasses a few yards away and the carpet of glass shards, broken dishes and computer pieces covering the sidewalk in the heart of one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods. “I never imagined I would ever see this in Paris.”
The students are protesting a law that would allow “at-will” employment, reversing France’s deeply sclerotic labor market. Because French companies can’t fire new workers except for cause, they don’t hire student workers, and the unemployment rates in France for young workers are nearly 20% – four times that of the United States. The paradox of French culture is taking roost – while the French are rightfully proud of their centuries of cultural influence, civil society in France is breaking down on a profound level. The French welfare state and the doctrine of multiculturalism has alienated much of French society from any real sense of patriotism. Unfortunately, France isn’t alone in that regard:
The demonstrations have underscored the widening divide between the French government and its people at a time when France is losing both economic and political clout on the global stage. Street protests and general strikes, often occurring in the spring, have long been an accepted political ritual in France, and they now have become a symbol of the country’s inability to reform a stagnant economy hobbled by inflexible labor laws, high taxes and a corpulent welfare system.
It is a crisis also facing other countries across Europe as governments of the left and the right have similarly attempted to alter their costly systems of generous health, unemployment and welfare benefits; most, like that of former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, have failed in the face of widespread resistance to change.
French youths can’t get jobs because of France’s flexible labor laws and employers won’t hire students under the current laws. These youths are protesting the very thing that would get them out of the mess they’re in – so inculcated they are into the entitlement worldview bred by the welfare state.
Europe’s problems are a warning to us – this is what happens when a society strays too far down the road to serfdom. The welfare state has worn down French society by creating a culture of boundless entitlement that is simply not sustainable – and now that French politicians are finally waking up to the situation in which they’d placed themselves, they’re finding that they can’t take it back without massive protests. The French political traditions of the manifestation and le grève have always caused the government to wave the white flag – and so they’ve become one of the major ways in which France’s entrenched special interests like the powerful CGT labor union can hold the government hostage.
It’s not too late for French society, but it is quite clear now that the kind of sweeping social and economic changes necessary to bring the French economy into the 21st Century will be met by resistance – sometimes violent. The question is, will the leadership of France have the fortitude to push these reforms through? Based on history and their current reaction, it seems like they will not, which means that things may get even worse before they stand much chance of getting better.