Since the French Revolution, Americans have glanced over to our friends across the Atlantic Ocean as a model of what a country should not do. That tradition continues. France’s centralized planning of the economy, health care, education, the family, religion, and so on is not working. The New York Times reports:
The pervasive presence of government in French life, from workplace rules to health and education benefits, is now the subject of a great debate as the nation grapples with whether it can sustain the post-World War II model of social democracy.
Well, those who champion economic, moral, and political liberty predicted this ages ago. As expected, government control of French society has crippled France’s “capability to innovate and compete globally.”
What is more, “investors are shying away from the layers of government regulation and high taxes.” Again, not surprising.
The French government continues to raise taxes and create reasons to redistribute workers’ earnings. According to the article, in France “most child care and higher education are paid for by the government, and are universally available, as is health care.” The cost of health care is “embedded in the taxes imposed on workers and employers; workers make mandatory contributions worth about 10 percent of their paycheck to cover health insurance and a total of about 22 percent to pay for all their benefits.” This is unsustainable.
One of the enduring legacies of the centralized planning of all of life is that generations of French citizens now believe that a welfare state is a natural right. They seem to think it’s normal. The social assistance state is just the way things are supposed to be. Has France lost her imagination for a free and robust civil society? Generations have now been conditioned to the notion that it is government’s role to subsidize everything humans need. For example, in France’s entitlement society, “parents get a monthly payment for each child after the first, starting at $176 for their second child, and most salaried workers are required to take five weeks of vacation.” This may sound like a great idea on paper but France is learning that this is increasingly becoming economically impossible to maintain.
Why won’t France change course? Maybe it is because French society is addicted to government. Not only does the state have its tentacles all over French society but about 56% of France’s gross domestic product is spent on paying government employees. To make matters worse, nearly one in four would-be workers under 25 is now officially unemployed in France, according to the latest government figures, and living on welfare. A culture that is this dependent on government sabotages all of life. Pope John Paul II prophetically spoke about countries like France in 1991: “By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.” We are seeing this play out in France.
The article ended with an honest confession by a French labor union representative saying “The state has put in place a system…But we are also slaves to this system.” In the end it seems that “liberty, equality, fraternity” has turned into slavery, despair, and blindness. With every new social program American politicians create in Congress we move toward making France’s present America’s future. We can do better.
In Becoming Europe, Samuel Gregg examines economic culture - the values and institutions that inform our economic priorities - to explain how European economic life has drifted in the direction of what Alexis de Tocqueville called "soft despotism", and the ways in which similar trends are manifesting themselves in the United States.