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Some thoughts on the violence in France

By Andrew Pollack on 11/07/2005 at 05:05 PM EST

Aside from being a terrible thing, there is something that fascinates me about what's going on in France. By most accounts, France is a country with a decidedly strong socialist policy and economy compared with the US. The social safety net, healthcare, and similar programs represent a larger part of the budget nationally and taxes are higher. Despite all this, they are facing the kinds of massive urban frustration we've had in years past in some U.S. major cities.

I'm not really sure what this says. Does it mean there will always be this level of dissatisfaction and frustration no matter how much is spent? Does it give the far right an excuse to cut programs, saying they don't have a chance of working? Does it give the far left an excuse to increase spending even more?

I suppose this, like all things, will be used by both sides to justify whatever they already believe.

There are  - loading -  comments....

My own thoughts on this are...By Jon Johnston on 11/07/2005 at 10:12 PM CST
Are you sure the people affected in this case get to take part in that social
safety net? I thought that this was part of the issue - that because they're
"foreigners" even though some had spent much of their lives in France - they
are excluded from much of the same rights as "citizens".
This is more than the urban frustration we have in the U.S. We haven't ever
seen this level of violence. I really don't think you can compare the two.
There will always be some level of dissatisfaction because all governments are
inherently uncaring entities and inefficent in how they attempt to serve their
I do believe that there is a big lie about how much more Europe takes care of
their underpriviledged than we do in the U.S., or at least there is a
perception that we're horrible and Europe does much better in this area than
Whatever the case, it's horrific stuff. Normally I'd be laughing at France and
saying something obnoxious like they deserve it but in this case, it's just
In theory, yes they do get to take part.By Andrew Pollack on 11/07/2005 at 11:09 PM CST
France has a very strong policy of treating all people the same. There is
formally supposed to be not even any tracking of ethnicity or religion. You
are a citizen of France and that's identification enough. Its actually the
position many on the right wing here in the U.S. take when they speak against
affirmative action.

Despite a formally color blind culture, it certainly appears that many people
feel the color of their skin has a very negative impact on their ability to
join in at the higher levels of French economics and society.

It seems that color blindness also means no anti-discrimination laws of the
kind we have here. That means its much easier to discriminate and it happens
alot (at least according to those who are at present so angry).

I'm not in France, don't know French, and have never really studied their
politics so of course all this comes to me by way of National Public Radio.
Well, basically, yes, but it is too simplisticBy Jens on 11/11/2005 at 05:29 PM EST
One thing you should remember next time, as France has a strong history in
anti-discrimination and socialistic politics, there is not that much need to
have anti-discrimination laws. Or otherwise said, the lack of these laws does
not implicitly indicate, that discrimination is allowed, tolerated and hence
you cannot argue that way, that there is more discrimination.
My own thoughts on this are...By Wild Bill on 11/08/2005 at 03:01 AM CST
Ah. Without putting too fine a point on it - yes - France is a socialist
country, where everyone *should* be treated the same.

The reality in my humble opinion is more like the US in the 50's and 60's,
where each ethnic minority gets shuffled into ghettos, and forgotten about.

I was quite surprised when I worked in Paris for 6 months back in the nineties
- granted it was the oil industry (hardly a paragon of PC behaviour at the best
of times), but I'd never encountered such naked racism in my life.

Perhaps France is going through what the UK did in the 80's (when we had *our*
race riots) and what Germany went through in the 90's (with the turkish
immigrants) - the transition from talking about being multi-cultural, to
actually *being* multi-cultural.

All my own opinion, and I'm more than willing to believe (and perhaps hope) I'm
completely wrong about this.

---* Bill
I travelled in France this summer, By Bruce Perry on 11/08/2005 at 09:26 PM CST
I speak reasonably good French, and I spoke to a number of people, including
some total strangers, about the state of things in the US and France (all quite
amicably I might add).

Their social safety net includes universal health care, unemployment benefits
that don't expire, and retirement at earlier ages (usually) that we have in the
US. Naturally, all that has to be paid for, and, in general, they're concerned
about it. Also, they're facing the same kind of demographic dip that many
western democracies are facing. That is, there's an upcoming increase in the
number of retirees that will have to be supported by a relatively low number of
workers. As best I can tell without economic data handy, they do pay generally
higher taxes for all this.

There is certainly racism in France. It's not like racism in the US though.
It's mainly directed at Arabs. Many people in France have the idea that
Arabs/North Africans come to France largely to take advantage of the generous
social benefits. I don't know enough to judge if that's true or not, but
plenty of French people believe it. When I suggested that the US and France
had similar immigration problems the reply I got was, "At least your immigrants
want to work."

Why don't they fix things? Inertia, as always, plays a role. Things aren't
bad enough that they must change yet, and there's always the hope that an
improved economy will wisk the problems away. Benefit cuts would be vastly
unpopular as would tax increases. The current government is likely too
fragmented to muster a serious push for either. Some French people have told
me they believe Chirac is senile. If true, that can't be helping any.

One thing that Americans just don't get about France is the strikes. The right
to strike is not in their constitution, but it might as well be. Farmers dump
produce in town squares when they're unhappy, and truckers tie up traffic by
driving very slowly. The rioters have have clearly crossed a line with the
violence and property destruction, but to go on strike when you're unhappy
about politics is very French.
The US has a similar problem brewingBy David Bailey on 11/10/2005 at 11:09 PM EST
Your "At least your immigrants want to work." quote sums it up. We have an
enormous number of new immigrants in the US -- mostly from Mexico and many
illegal. It's true that the first generation immigrants do want to work and
they work really hard at the most grueling jobs. But, will their children?

I predict their children will expect the good life like their classmates and it
won't be available to them.
I don't agree at all.By Andrew Pollack on 11/11/2005 at 01:58 PM EST
I believe firmly that the dynamicism that makes our country such a force comes
directly from its constant flow of immigrants. Having grown up in Arizona and
spending a good part of my grade school years in schools that were centered on
the border between middle and lower income neighborhoods, I've known many
immigrant families and have found them to be no more or less likely to produce
offspring who did not want to work than any other families. If anything, I've
always found the hispanic culture to emphasize work and family perhaps more so
than the northwest European ones. That is of course, just a subjective
Obviously, I hope you're right...By David Bailey on 11/12/2005 at 08:50 PM EST
But, immigration is not what it used to be.
Good analysis here...By Richard Schwartz on 11/10/2005 at 03:50 PM EST


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