May 6, 2006

Weekend Question 3: Did the French Student Protests Make Sense (for the Students)?

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government,TWUQs — Tom @ 1:55 pm

The news coverage of the massive demonstrations against the revisions to France’s labor laws that were ultimately withdrawn has totally missed its dark side. Given what occurred last year in the Muslim sections of France, that should not have happened, as Dwight Lee at TCS Daily points out (bolds are mine):

The French government recently made a feeble attempt to reduce high unemployment among French youth (24 percent for those 15 to 25) by inserting a modest amount of economic reality into public policy. The attempt failed. The policy proposal was to make it easier for firms to dismiss young workers (those hired before age 26) within two years of being hired, thus making it less costly to hire them in the first place. The country’s students would have none of such a free-market policy; a policy they claimed would eliminate their job security by turning them into “Kleenex” workers who could be thrown away with impunity by profiteering firms. With the support of the most politically vocal French citizens, the students won.

But one can ask, what is the value of job security if the students don’t get jobs? Weren’t the French students protesting against their own interests?

….. But let’s not dismiss the intelligence of the French students too quickly. From their own narrow, short-term interests, they were probably smart to protest against improved prosperity for their country. Diogenes’ task of finding an honest man was surely no more difficult than the task of finding a French student who would admit to protesting for selfish reasons. No doubt they were all protesting for “liberty, equality, fraternity.” But by sabotaging the hope of serious labor reform, many of the students made themselves better off, at least for a while. And their gain comes at the expense of poor French youth of foreign (mostly of North-African) descent.

Those university students in the vanguard of the anti-reform protest are the ones most likely to get the secure jobs that are becoming increasingly scarce in France. And they increased their chances by stopping labor reform in its tracks. The student leaders are predominantly well-connected, upper-class types who have learned to expect privileges, such as university attendance at almost no cost. They are unlikely to be discriminated against because of their religious or ethnic backgrounds. Young ethnic minorities in France aren’t so lucky. They are discriminated against, in large measure because of the labor market restrictions the elite students fought to maintain. And why not? Discrimination protects the favored students from the competition of the less fortunate minorities for the permanent jobs that are available. This discrimination goes a long way in explaining why in some of the French communities populated primarily by North Africans, the unemployment rate exceeds 30 percent.

….. Labor market reforms would have given minorities a better chance to compete for jobs, and the on-the-job training needed to begin a productive career, by being willing to work for less, at least initially. Given this opportunity, minority workers would have a strong motivation to achieve the job security and good pay that comes from hard work and competence, not from privilege and protection again competition.

….. A more competitive labor market would increase productivity and reduce unemployment in France, but it would also undermine the artificial job security that so many French students now believe should be their right. Most of these students have no doubt managed to convince themselves that when sabotaging even the mildest labor reform they were also marching for the glory of France and, of course, the goal of “liberty, equality, fraternity.” Self-delusions are always comforting, certainly more comforting than reality. The reality (which, as Thomas Sowell tells us, is not optional) is that the French students were protesting against the freedom of contract, against equality of opportunity and for discrimination against, rather than fraternity with, the least advantaged of their fellow citizens.

The fact that most of the students would forcefully reject and be offended at this criticism doesn’t change its validity.

Wizbang Trackback Carnival Participant.

Weekend Question 2: Why Won’t Socialism Die?

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government,TWUQs — Tom @ 11:18 am

Great question. Lee Harris at TCS Daily, after reviewing Bolivia’s in-essence expropriation of its natural gas fields, has a good answer, but misses a big point:

The Peruvian economist, Hernando de Soto, has argued in his book, The Mystery of Capital, that the failure of the various socialist experiments of the twentieth century has left mankind with only one rational choice about which economic system to go with, namely, capitalism. Socialism, he maintained, has been so discredited that any further attempt to revive it would be sheer irrationality. But if this is the case, which I personally think it is, then why are we witnessing what certainly appears to be a revival of socialist rhetoric and even socialist pseudo-solutions, such as the nationalization of foreign companies?

….. When Hernando de Soto asserts that capitalism is the only rational alternative left to mankind, he is maintaining that capitalism is the alternative that human beings ought to take because it is the rational thing to do. But what human beings ought to do and what they actually do are often two quite different things. For human beings frequently act quite irrationally, and without the least consideration of what economist called their “enlightened self-interest.”

….. It may well be that socialism isn’t dead because socialism cannot die. As Sorel argued, the revolutionary myth may, like religion, continue to thrive in “the profounder regions of our mental life,” in those realms unreachable by mere reason and argument, where even a hundred proofs of failure are insufficient to wean us from those primordial illusions that we so badly wish to be true. Who doesn’t want to see the wicked and the arrogant put in their place? Who among the downtrodden and the dispossessed can fail to be stirred by the promise of a world in which all men are equal, and each has what he needs?

Here we have the problem facing those who, like Hernando de Soto, believe that capitalism is the only rational alternative left after the disastrous collapse of so many socialist experiments. Yes, capitalism is the only rational method of proceeding; but is the mere appeal to reason sufficient to make the mass of men and women, especially among the poor and the rejected, shut their ears to those who promise them the socialist apocalypse, especially when the men who are making these promises possess charisma and glamour, and are willing to stand up, in revolutionary defiance, to their oppressors?

….. Men need myths — and until capitalism can come up with a transformative myth of its own, it may well be that many men will prefer to find their myths in the same place they found them in the first part of the twentieth century — the myth of revolutionary socialism.

This is the challenge that capitalism faces in the world today — whether it will rise to the challenge is perhaps the most urgent question of our time, and those who refuse to confront this challenge are doing no service to reason or to human dignity and freedom. Bad myths can only be driven out by better myths, and unless capitalism can provide a better myth than socialism, the latter will again prevail.

Socialists, in the face of all evidence, even the tens of millions of dead bodies, want to believe.

The point I think Harris misses is envy. If people aren’t as well off as they believe they should be, it’s a lot easier to blame someone else than look inward. Taking what the rich people have, and justifying it by convincing yourself that they got that way by oppressing you, is a much easier “solution.” As long as capitalism’s inevitable economic inequality exists (inequality that is acceptable as long as there is a safety net and income mobility), any “leader” willing to exploit envy will have a potential audience. People who flaunt their wealth irresponsibly, especially those who haven’t earned it themselves, serve to make that exploitation more possible.

UPDATE: Moderate Mainstream has a great related post, with a great wrap-up quote: “As long as liberals continue to hold America and capitalism in low regard and joyfully assist other losers in cheating a system they see as flawed, we will be weaker than we should be and the Osama’s of the world will continue to take advantage of that weakness.”.

Weekend Question 1: What’s the Obsession with Mike DeWine’s “Independence”?

Filed under: Taxes & Government,TWUQs — Tom @ 8:10 am

From the RNC after Mike DeWine’s primary victory was supposedly assured (8:03 PM on Tuesday, or about 90 minutes before any results were released — Hmm):

U.S. Newswire — Statement by RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman on Senator Mike DeWine for re-election in Ohio:

“Mike DeWine is an independent conservative who has served Ohio since he was a prosecutor in Greene County. In the Senate, he is working to create jobs in Ohio, supporting tax cuts for families and small businesses, and working to protect our soldiers fighting overseas and help their families at home. His opponent, Congressman Sherrod Brown has a more extreme record than Dennis Kucinich. This race will offer voters a clear choice come November between DeWine’s record of accomplishment and independence versus Brown’s knee-jerk liberalism. The Republican Party stands firmly behind Mike DeWine.”

I guess publicly criticizing Rumsfeld is part of “protecting our soldiers fighting overseas”?

Anyway, keep track of how many times the RNC calls spending hawks like Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn or South Carolina’s Jim DeMint “independent.” I doubt you’ll run out of fingers — on one hand.

UPDATE: Linked to Right on the Right’s Trackback Party.

Positivity: “Radioactive Seeds” Treat Lung Cancer

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 7:17 am

It’s experimental, but it has already worked for William Greer: