How Socialist Are You?
For almost 60 years, since they formed the European Common market in the late 1940s,
France and Germany have almost been identical in outlook, socially, politically,
economically, and in matters of European foreign policy. But coming this fall, as the
European economic crisis deepens, and the reaction to France and the Netherlands’
rejection in May of the European Constitution sinks in, France and Germany are on the
verge of a divorce.
Suddenly, Oregon looks more like France than Germany does. Similarities are notable:
France has a dramatic coastline in Normandy; Oregon has a dramatic coastline. France
produces world-class pinot noirs in Burgundy; Oregon produces world-class pinots in
Yamhill County. France makes great cheese; Oregon makes great cheese.
France has world-class companies competing successfully in the global market; Oregon
has world-class companies that are global winners. Politically there are parallels as well.
France has strong unions. Oregon has strong unions. Charles de Gaulle once defined the
grandeur of France; Tom McCall once defined a grand vision for Oregon. French
president, Jacques Chirac and prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, enjoy thumbing
their noses at the American president for starting the second Gulf War; Portland mayor,
Tom Potter enjoys thumbing his nose at the American president for the same reason.
France has suffered in the last decade from high structural unemployment, 10 percent
(Germany’s rate is 12 percent). Oregon too suffers from high unemployment, recently
dropping to six percent from their nation-leading high of eight percent. Despite bad
economic times, the French, like Oregonians, believe theirs is a unique society, and they
seek protection from the rough game of globalization. The French, again like Oregonians,
dig deep to protect past fantasies and utopian visions of greatness (France) or “quality of
In the Wall Street Journal French writer Philip Broughton said of Prime Minister de
Villepin’s stubbornness to change:
Mr. de Villepin has made reducing unemployment his priority and said ‘nothing is
off-limits’ when it comes to ideas for reform. Except, of course, anything derived
from Britain or America. He has no patience with the views of France’s business
class…that France’s fate is an Anglo-Saxon social and economic model. In a
newspaper interview he dismissed the British and American ‘workfare’ model
saying that if France was looking for a country to follow, Denmark was the one.
Broughton writes that British press like to print the French Prime Minister’s full name,
Domonique Marie Francois Rene Galouzeau de Villepin, “as it makes him sound like one
of those dastardly Frenchies from the ‘Scarlett Pimpernel.’”
David Brooks, op-ed columnist for the New York Times comments about the French
economic crisis: The core fact is that the European model is foundering under the fact that billions
of people are willing to work harder than the Europeans are. Europeans love
their way of life but don’t know how to sustain it.
Over the last few decades, American liberals have lauded the German model or
the Swedish model or the European model. But these models are not flexible
enough for the modern world. They encourage people to cling fiercely to
entitlements their nation cannot afford.
Germany appears to have had it with chronic unemployment. The 60-year post-war
marriage of France and Germany, the inventors of the European Union, is cracking under
two differing visions of future economic competitiveness.
This fall, Germany will likely elect Angela Merkel, a trained physicist, raised in East
Germany, who will lead the Christian Democrats back to power and defeat Chancellor
Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democrats. Merkel is being coined Germany’s Margaret
Thatcher. She told German voters last month that Germany’s social-welfare system was
no longer sacred. According to the WSJ, Germany currently spends 48 percent of its
budget on social-welfare entitlements and 14 percent on interest payments on debt, a non-
competitive, bankrupt position. German writer Gotz Aly contrasts Merkel’s East German
childhood with those raised in the post-war boom years of West Germany: “Merkel likes
to tell them, even those in her own party, ‘You have no idea how socialist you are.’”
Neither France nor Oregon is prepared for the “plain” talk that Merkel delivers. Only
leaders of the maligned business classes speak the truth about the future. And voters in
Oregon and France haven’t yet even been asked to change by their leaders. France still
clings to a 35-hour work-week and six weeks of annual vacation—a non-competitive
position in the global marketplace. Oregon teachers still retire in their early 50s, with
PERS benefits more than 100 percent of their last salary—a non-competitive position in
the global marketplace. Angela Merkel’s words are as fitting in France and in Oregon as
they are in Germany: “You have no idea how socialist you are.”
BrainstormNW - July 2005