Sunday, March 8, 2009

France: The Last Model Standing?

Bank of America's European Chief Economist Holger Schmieding recently wrote in Newsweek that the last model standing is France. "For better or worse, French-style intervention is gaining the upper hand as other economic models lose credibility," he argued.

One France Is Enough, retorts Roger Cohen in his latest Op-ed for the NYT, referring to Obama's bold moves to solve the country's financial and economic crisis. "I love France," he writes, "but I don’t want there to be two of them, least of all if one is in the United States."

Echoing critics of Obama's "French temptation," i.e. government interventionism (Socialism? Boo,) Cohen falls into the cliché that public intervention and market regulation kill individual freedom, choice, potential. "I lived for about a decade in France and later moved to the United States. Nobody in their right mind would give up the manifold sensual, aesthetic and gastronomic pleasures offered by French savoir-vivre for the unrelenting battlefield of American ambition were it not for one thing: possibility."

Possibility for whom? America may be embedded in the cult of the New Frontier, but it comes with a corollary: robber barony. Is the systematic socializing of costs and privatizing of profits what Cohen calls "possibility?" For a few fat cats who "make it," how many million Americans are working their lives away for a "possibility" that never materializes, or simply evaporates? How many of them are left on the side of the road, living in conditions that would shame a third-world country? When will they wake up to the fact that, not only have they been robbed again, they will also have to foot the bill?

In his usual fashion, Superfrenchie proceeds to challenge Cohen's arguments, yet both concur that the U.S. shouldn’t try to become France, just as France shouldn’t try to become the U.S. Still, there might be benefits in mutual inspiration. A healthy dose of regulation not only decreases overall costs to the community, and to the average individual, it also provides for better infrastructure, and a safety net conducive of freedom, choice and, yes, possibility.

As for those French locked in perpetual whining and demonstrating mode about La Crise, they may want to reflect on the psalm "Quand je me considère, je me désole, mais quand je me compare, je me console." Because they are far from the worst off.

UPDATE: Le vieux canard in The Economist: "The fury about 'European socialism' is not just wrong as a matter of fact. It is foolish as a matter of policy. Europe has plenty of things to teach the United States (particularly about running a welfare state), just as America has plenty to teach Europe (particularly about igniting entrepreneurialism). Indeed, a more telling criticism of the Obama administration is not that it is borrowing too much from Europe but that it is learning too little [...] Europeans and Americans are never likely to coalesce: their cultural traditions are too strong and their solutions to the problem of regulating capitalism too distinctive. But they nevertheless have plenty in common [...]

UPDATE: Vive la différence! in The Economist.

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