France’s Legislators Posted by: Dale Franks
on Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Peter Brown notes the interesting difference between the last week's protests in France, and the protests in the United States, and the opposite outcomes of each. As he puts it:
In France, they apparently are able to make law in the streets.
Here in the United States, it's still done in the halls of Congress.
Or, in the case of meaningful immigration reform, not made in Congress.
To most of us on this side of the pond, the French protests were simply unfathomable. From an American point of view, it is an odd spectacle to see french youths, who have a 20% unemployment rate, demonstrating against a law that, while it would've made it easier to fire them, would also have served to help reduce that staggering rate of unemployment. Apparently, French youths feel that no job at all is better than a job that you aren't guaranteed to keep for life. It just seems irrational.
But then, much about France is irrational.
[P]olls show the French people are much more committed to a government-regulated society that supplies a guaranteed social safety net but produces lower living standards for its people than enjoyed in the United States.
And, in fact, polls showed the French public agreed with the demonstrators that the change in the employment law was harmful to the status quo they cherish.
Interestingly, this is not a new feature of French culture. Last week, the History Channel ran a documentary about the Little Ice Age. Prior to the LIA, European culture was heavily weighted in favor of cereals. The climate change of the LIA was devastating to cereal-based agriculture, often leading to widespread food shortages and even famine. For most of Europe, this broguth about many new innovations in agriculture. Additionally, when potatoes arrived in Europe from the New World, they created a revolution in European food production, despite initial opposition from the Church and some governments.
But the potato was not only a fantastically nutritious and pleasant little tuber, it was also, coming as it did from the cool climate of the Andes, much hardier than cereals in the LIA climate of Europe. By the end of the 17th century, potatoes were widely cultivated, food production had increased dramatically, and food shortages and famine were very rare.
Except in France. French peasants, for the most part, refused to grow or eat potatoes. They remained wedded to cereal crops, and the attendant crop failures made food shortages a regular feature of French life. The King of France let it publicly be known that he enjoyed potatoes for supper, in an attempt to encourage farmers to switch over to potato production, to no avail. The French peasantry spurned both the potato, and many of the other agricultural innovations that had become common practice in the rest of Europe by the end of the 1600s.
So, they starved.
Needless to say, the debasement of French peasantry contributed to the increasing debasement of French political and military power as a whole, and the increasingly vast social and economic gulf between the rulers and the ruled in France continued to increase, until the whole mess exploded in 1789.
Which also shows that when the French do decide to make a change, they don't do it by half measures, as the ensuing strife and bloodshed over the next 25 years made abundantly clear. But, when that was all over, France once more had a Bourbon king, Louis XVIII. One suspects that a more enlightened self-interest among the French populace would've gotten them to the same place by 1814, without all the beheadings, and wars.
Looking that the protests of the last few weeks in France, it is obvious that is is not for nothing that the French coined the phrase, Plus Ça Change, Plus C'est La Même Chose.1
As an aside, it's also no accident that the French have another phrase: Il n'y a aucun ennemi du côté gauche.2 Heck, that's almost their national motto. ___________________ 1 The more things change, the more they stay the same. 2 There are no enemies on the Left.
I’ve always believed that in a liberal democracy a people should be allowed to make as many mistakes as they like. They should also take responsibility for those mistakes. As long as the French don’t blame "the Anglo-Saxons" for their gradual immiseration, let them be. That potato thing is interesting.
Never heard the second proverb; maybe an invention of the author or some obsure and long forgotten "dicton", but I have serious doubt about that such proverb exists. It sounds as if written by somebody who does not speak French as a first language.
The rate of unemployment of the population is 9% and the Ministry of Home Affairs wants to open French doors to immigration partly because, the population is declining. So 17% unemployed youth among the less educated (30%) and no dubt a premium to the educated.
The starvation of French peasantry may have something to do with the way the crop were divided into by the Landlord and the tenants; who knows, the French Landlords were ahead of time; they concentrated the wealth of the time, food and land, in a way that may be even difficult to understand in the USA where the percentage of national wealth owned by the highest quartile has been ceaselessly increased in the last decades.
That the French farmers do not listen to an absolute king is a refreshing thought, even if it is at the cost of their own welfare.
It is nice too that the street can make hear its voice and that the democracy is not meaning exclusively periodic "election".
All the best to your remarkable articles, remarkable in so many respects, indeed.