French Politics: The Fruit of Welfare Statism

You have probably already been served a stack of hottakes on the French Presidential election taller than a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s.  Unlike most of those people, I won’t pretend to be an expert on the current state of French politics.  But I will note that it is yet another product of welfare statism.

As I have observed on several previous occasions, the prosperity that makes a nation think welfare statism is workable is such that the people see it as a replacement for the creation of human capital.  The resulting declining birth rates endanger the welfare state.  The political response is to import or encourage the inflow of human capital from other nations to make up the difference.

These problems are more acute in Europe than America because they got more socialist more quickly.  In addition, rightly or wrongly, they feel a greater moral responsibility regarding refugees (most likely due to their experiences in WWII).  Also, the nature of the largely lower-skilled Muslim immigration presented unanticipated risks.

Ironically, the supposed elites of Europe likely rationalized their immigration policies by looking to the United States.  “Look at how the Americans managed to assimilate waves of mass immigration,” they thought.  “If those bozos can do it, we advanced civilizations should be able to pull it off.  Sure, America has some racial problems, but they seem manageable enough.”

What Europe’s so-called elites did not realize is that immigration was always a tougher issue for Americans than we like to remember.  Moreover, while the much WASPier America of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries looked upon the Irish and southern Europeans as The Other, these immigrants were able to assimilate over the course of a couple of generations in large part because they were ultimately fairly similar outside of their Catholicism.

European Jews had their own problems migrating to and being welcomed America.  But the Jewish people historically expect this and have a wealth of experience and cultural tools for dealing with it.  And ultimately, the New Testament natives in America knew and respected the Old Testament as a common foundation.

What modern Europe did not notice, for all of their smarts, was that the earlier waves of immigrants to America largely did not convert to Protestantism.  To be sure, the descendants of Catholic and Jewish immigrants often became less devout or more secular, just like the descendants of the Protestants.  But there was never any mass conversion.

They further failed to notice that their robust welfare states, particularly their stultifying labor market regulations, would create barriers to the economic opportunities that would help Muslim immigrants assimilate into their new host countries.

This dynamic has been exacerbated as: (1) no elites fully comprehended the shocks of entering a post-industrial economy; (2) they did not anticipate that the end of the Cold War might erode the sorts of political consensus regarding issues like nationalism; and (3) Europe has taken in a large influx of refugees at the same time the developed world has been struggling to recover what was lost in the Great Recession.

In short, Europe, including France, has welcomed or accepted a large influx of immigration from Africa, a cohort further apart in race and religion from the native population than generally has been the case in America (even the Africans brought to America as slaves became Christian).  They have much more traditional nationalism than America, which was founded more on certain political ideals.  And the economic conditions in Europe if anything are causing new generations of the Muslim population there to become more devoted to Islam, not less, with all of the associated social friction (of which terrorism is only the most extreme expression).

These problems are born not only of welfare state mathematics and demographics.  They are also a product of the welfare state ideology that ostensibly meritocratic elites possess the knowledge, wisdom and foresight to manage national economies  — and if that means tuning out the voices of the proletariat, so be it.  The resulting populist eruptions can be seen in France and elsewhere in Europe.

Milton Friedman once famously opined that you can’t have free immigration and a welfare state.  He may not have fully understood how the latter creates a demand for the former.

The result is that the populace begins to have a love/hate relationship with the government, and the governing class in particular.  People demand a welfare state, but many of them do not like the methods politicians find necessary to provide it.

But don’t scoff at France, or Europe generally, too much for this.  We have a version of the same problem, albeit in a milder form.

Obligatory Note: This posting is based on my perception of what was and is, not what should be. Indeed, I wish this note wasn’t de facto obligatory.

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