How We Became the United States of France?

by Christina Geyer on September 22, 2008 · 20 comments

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I guess the author of the Time magazine article How We Became the United States of France is trying to be humorous, but the more I read of the article, the more I was insulted.  What is so wrong with France, anyway?  I don’t get this (yes, I know it’s supposed to be a joke, but I personally don’t find it funny).

This is the state of our great republic: We’ve nationalized the financial system, taking control from Wall Street bankers we no longer trust. We’re about to quasi-nationalize the Detroit auto companies via massive loans because they’re a source of American pride, and too many jobs — and votes — are at stake. Our Social Security system is going broke as we head for a future where too many retirees will be supported by too few workers. How long before we have national healthcare? Put it all together, and the America that emerges is a cartoonish version of the country most despised by red-meat red-state patriots: France. Only with worse food.

My God, how LONG before we have NATIONAL heathcare!  The horror!

Admit it, mes amis, the rugged individualism and cutthroat capitalism that made America the land of unlimited opportunity has been shrink-wrapped by a half dozen short sellers in Greenwich, Conn. and FedExed to Washington D.C. to be spoon-fed back to life by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. We’re now no different from any of those Western European semi-socialist welfare states that we love to deride. Italy? Sure, it’s had four governments since last Thursday, but none of them would have allowed this to go on; the Italians know how to rig an economy.

Aha, couldn’t write an article on economics without a dig at those crazy corrupt Italians!  Also, I wouldn’t exactly say that there is no difference between the US and those silly Western European semi-socialist welfare states. The system pretty much works over here, at least for now.

You just know the Frogs have only increased their disdain for us, if that is indeed possible.

Especially if they read this article!

And why shouldn’t they? The average American is working two and half jobs, gets two weeks off, and has all the employment security of a one-armed trapeze artist. The Bush Administration has preached the “ownership society” to America: own your house, own your retirement account; you don’t need the government in your way. So Americans mortgaged themselves to the hilt to buy overpriced houses they can no longer afford and signed up for 401k programs that put money where, exactly? In the stock market! Where rich Republicans fleeced them.

I think there were probably some rich Democrats involved in the fleecing too.

Now our laissez-faire (hey, a French word)…

No shit!  (Excuse my French, hahahahaha)

…regulation-averse Administration has made France’s only Socialist president, Francois Mitterand, look like Adam Smith by comparison. All Mitterrand did was nationalize France’s big banks and insurance companies in 1982; he didn’t have to deal with bankers who didn’t want to lend money, as Paulson does. When the state runs the banks, they are merely cows to be milked in the service of la patrie.

Wasn’t there some small financial scandal a few months back involving a French bank?

France doesn’t have the mortgage crisis that we do, either. In bailing out mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, our government has basically turned America into the largest subsidized housing project in the world. Sure, France has its banlieues, where it likes to warehouse people who aren’t French enough (meaning, immigrants or Algerians) in huge apartment blocks. But the bulk of French homeowners are curiously free of subprime mortgages foisted on them by fellow citizens, and they aren’t over their heads in personal debt.

Because unlike France, America is so good at dealing with immigrant issues. Note: Germans aren’t over their heads in personal debt either.

We’ve always dismissed the French as exquisitely fed wards of their welfare state. They work, what, 27 hours in a good week, have 19 holidays a month, go on strike for two days and enjoy a glass of wine every day with lunch — except for the 25% of the population that works for the government, who have an even sweeter deal. They retire before their kids finish high school, and they don’t have to save for a $45,000-a-year college tuition because college is free. For this, they pay a tax rate of about 103%, and their labor laws are so restrictive that they haven’t had a net gain in jobs since Napoleon. There is no way that the French government can pay for this lifestyle forever, except that it somehow does.

Baffling, isn’t it?

Mitterrand tried to create both job-growth and wage-growth by nationalizing huge swaths of the economy, including some big industries, including automaker Renault, for instance. You haven’t driven a Renault lately because Renault couldn’t sell them here. Imagine that.  An auto company that couldn’t compete with a Dodge Colt. But the Renault takeover ultimately proved successful and Renault became a private company again in 1996, although the government retains about 15% of the shares.

Dude, I drive a Renault and I love it.  I guess they’re a failure though cause they didn’t make it in the US market.

Now the U.S. is faced with the same prospect in the auto industry. GM and Ford need money to develop greener cars that can compete with Toyota and Honda. And they’re looking to Uncle Sam for investment — an investment that could have been avoided had Washington imposed more stringent mileage standards years earlier. But we don’t want to interfere with market forces like the French do — until we do.

Okay, I’ve had enough of this guy.  I’ll let you read the rest in peace.

Mitterand’s nationalization program and other economic reforms failed, as the development of the European Market made a centrally planned economy obsolete. The Rothschilds got their bank back, a little worse for wear. These days, France sashays around the issue of protectionism in a supposedly unfettered EU by proclaiming some industries to be national champions worthy of extra consideration — you know, special needs kids. And we’re not talking about pastry chefs, but the likes of GDF Suez, a major utility. I never thought of the stocks and junk securities sold by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley as unique, but clearly Washington does. Morgan’s John Mack calls SEC boss Chris Cox to whine about short sellers and bingo, the government obliges. The elite serve the elite. How French is that?

Even in the strongest sectors in the U.S., there’s no getting away from the French influence. Nothing is more sacred to France than its farmers. They get whatever they demand, and they demand a lot. And if there are any issues about price supports, or feed costs being too high, or actual competition from other countries, French farmers simply shut down the country by marching their livestock up the Champs Elysee and piling up wheat on the highways. U.S. farmers would never resort to such behavior. They don’t have to: they’re the most coddled special interest group in U.S. history, lavished with $180 billion in subsidies by both parties, even when their products are fetching record prices. One consequence: U.S. consumers pay twice what the French pay for sugar, because of price guarantees. We’re more French than France.

So yes, while we’re still willing to work ourselves to death for the privilege of paying off our usurious credit cards, we can no longer look contemptuously at the land of 246 cheeses. Kraft Foods has replaced American International Group in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the insurance company having been added to Paulson’s nationalized portfolio. Macaroni and cheese has supplanted credit default swaps at the fulcrum of capitalism. And one more thing: the food snob French love McDonalds, which does a fantastic business there. They know a good freedom fry when they taste one.

Is he really comparing cheese-flavored, orange powder to France’s amazin array of delectable cheeses?  And freedom fries?  BLAH!

Have I just lost my sense of humor?  What do you think of this article?

  • Jul

    I couldn’t bring myself to read that whole thing. Healthcare for everyone? Six weeks of vacation? OH THE HORROR!!!!!!!! Can you imagine what life would be like then, what with us all getting the healthcare we needed and not getting to work all the time? I shudder at the thought.

    I hate stupid people.

    Juls last blog post..Two days down, 14 more to go

  • g

    I think the author is actually pro-French– the crack about the food being worse in France should be a giveaway– but the satire is so thick that it is almost hard to tell which side he is on.
    I don’T have the answers for the financial crisis, but it looks to me like the present bailout proposal will benefit primarily the people who caused the problem, and in the process saddle the economy with debts that will echo on for a generation.

  • Sarah

    I think it’s a load of merde.

    It would have worked better without the hyperbole (“tax rate of 103%”, “19 holidays a month”) and the insular, snide tone. The article reads like a a giant pity party, i.e. “Boo-hoo! We’re not better than France anymore!!”

    Hey genius, we never were. We were just different. And their blood-curdling, spine-chilling socialist actions that our demagogues loved to foam at the mouth over? Our own horrific administration seems to think they aren’t half bad now that the financial system is crumbling from their hubris.

  • Claire

    I am not sure what point he is trying to make, other than the fact that he does not understand Western European politics. “National Healthcare” is a misnomer and I would not call France and Germany semi-socialist.

    Claires last blog post..Crawling

  • Joseph

    Yep. If you can’t work out whether it’s supposed to be satire… well…

    Josephs last blog post..Wired: Social sciences influencing counterinsurgency

  • Christina G

    @jul: It’d be like living in Europe! Egads! 😉

    @g: I don’t have an answer either (for the financial crisis), having only taken intro to micro- and macro-economics in school. I too *think* the author is pro-French, but needs to work on his satire writing skillz.

    @sarah: Dude, that was a lot of big words! Respect!

    @claire: Yeah, he’s not so good at getting his point across.

    @joseph: I can figure out that it’s *supposed* to be satire, but it fails miserably at achieving this.

  • Joseph

    My mistake–I meant that his writing made us pause to ask, not that you couldn’t figure it out! Perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to criticize… 😉

    Josephs last blog post..Wired: Social sciences influencing counterinsurgency

  • Joseph

    Ummm… I just went back and re-read this as I worried that I had been too harsh after just scanning it. I wasn’t. Is that what’s in Time these days? It’s not clear to me whether the author envies or loathes the French way of life.

    For what it’s worth (from this American living in Holland), it’s kind of cool being able to have a glass of wine at lunch without disapproving glances from the next table–or knowing that one wouldn’t be left to die if hit by a bus. Just sayin’.

    Josephs last blog post..Wired: Social sciences influencing counterinsurgency

  • Snooker

    I completely agree that the author needs to work on his satirical prose. It is hard to tell which side he’s on… which side he’s laughing at.
    What I found so interesting about the article is just how far America really has moved toward the Socialist model. Even though I’ve always been taught that Socialism was SO bad. But after a few years living in semi-socialist Germany I really don’t see the big problem.

    Snookers last blog post..The United States of France

  • Christina G

    @joseph: Sorry! Thought you were answering my question about whether I’d lost my sense of humor with “Yep.” It’s hard to believe this was in Time magazine. I haven’t read it in years, but I thought they had higher standards.

    @snooker: A few years in Germany can do that to you. I was Republican before moving to German (hard to admit, but true). Now a family member has stated that I’ve been European-ized and that maybe I better stay over here!

  • Sarah

    Cliff and I are feeling pretty Europeanized ourselves. Kinda funny – all of the scary rhetoric about Socialism never seems to touch on the quality of life safeguards that are inherent to a well-constructed system. Now if only there was a government program to assuage the guilt of an expatriate who’s living the good life while her family and friends are walking the U.S. economic tightrope without a net…

  • Joseph

    I guess people criticize what they don’t understand–or haven’t experienced. I find myself being a little careful with family and friends when I give them updates on life here. I’m pretty stoked not to be in the US during these last few months, but one doesn’t want to sound *too* smug about it.

    Funny how no one wants the safety net until everybody needs it.

    Josephs last blog post..BoingBoing: DHS reads minds

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  • Herbert

    I’m also an American living in Europe…and people where I am also love to hate the French! lol

  • Erik S

    What’s wrong with France or Europe? For one thing, the propaganda (for want of a better word) that allows its citizens (as well as expatriate Americans!) to believe that “it’s kind of cool … knowing that [unlike America (sic)] one wouldn’t be left to die if hit by a bus.” Or the propaganda that allows one to believe that in the United States “no one wants the safety net until everybody needs it.”

    Stuart Browning has commented on these “facts” in his films, the Free Market Cure, notably America’s alleged lack of health care with the allegedly glorious European/Canadian health care systems.

    The best film of all being “Uninsured in America”

    Erik Ss last blog post..Translation Needed

  • Jakob W

    @Erik S

    propaganda that allows one to believe that in the United States “no one wants the safety net until everybody needs it.”

    Do you say that Americans want nationalized health care? I did not find this to be true. Europe is not perfect but after living in the US for 3 years, I was happy to return to Germany. When I was injured in the US I had to wait 6 hours in the hospital for treatment because of all the poor without insurance wanting to visit a doctor. My friend fell on the ice in Berlin last week and there was no wait at the hospital. That is not propaganda it is the truth.

  • Kelsey

    What I don’t understand is how people can seriously mock them? They have one of the highest standards of living in the world, they have a great workweek, they have great vacation, they have free education and cheap healthcare, they have a great lifestyle, they are very family-centric…what’s not to like? I mean, seriously, what’s wrong with becoming more like France?

    People like the guy who wrote that article really boggle my mind.

    Kelseys last blog post..To Do:

  • Joseph Logan

    Political leaders train Americans to be Francophobic. France isn’t perfect, but it’s a very good place to live.

    Joseph Logans last blog post..Week in Public Organizations, 10May2009

  • Kelsey

    @Joseph: Indeed. America has always had an oddly complex and often negative relationship with France. I have often wondered why, considering that historically, the two populaces have more than a few things in common.

    And yes, it’s not perfect, but it’s still nice. My boyfriend is French, and while he likes living in the US (he has been here for 8 years), he has mentioned that if things don’t improve, we might end up getting married and moving to France. I’m most definitely not averse to this idea.

    Kelseys last blog post..To Do:

  • Howard

    The crack about Italy having four governments since last week is really based on one of the longest running inverted notions of reality of all time. In fact Italy has barely had 3 or 4 governments since WWII. All that crap about 50 governments in 50 years is really about nothing more than glorified cabinet reshuffles. The same guys have been in all their governments.
    Its just musical chairs. So in fact Italy has had the least change
    in its governments not the myth of the most.

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