Teaching France a Lesson?

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On August 27, 2004, financial columnist Stephen Moore published a column with the title "Grapes of Wrath" on NRO (National Review Online). The piece is typical for the kind of propaganda distributed by the National Review, Fox News, and other organizations that cater to the American political right: it is long on rhetoric and short on truth. In a way, this is understandable: facts are a problem when one tries to get the guy with the worst presidential record in history elected! One must therefore say what people want to hear, talk about anything but the issues and the record, and hope that not too many voters realize that they are dealing with pure propaganda.

This is not to say that the Democrats are running a totally fair campaign, but as a recent Los Angeles Times editorial pointed out, "It's one thing for the presidential campaign to get nasty but quite another for it to engage in fabrication." The editor went on to say, "The pro-Kerry campaign is nasty and personal. The pro-Bush campaign is nasty, personal and false." At least in some instances, I can actually verify this. Stephen Moore's article was such a case, and that's why I felt I could not let it go. I sent Mr. Moore the e-mail below. Quotes from his article are shown indented and in brown italic characters while my responses appear in black. Since the original article is not available on the NRO site any longer, I have a PDF version available here (508K).

Dear Mr. Moore,

I just read your column "Grapes of Wrath" on NRO, and as an American who has been living in France since 1990, I would like to comment. Of course, living in hostile territory, as it were, probably makes me incredibly suspect in your eyes. I'm sure that to you and your cronies, I'm just one of those socialist bleeding heart liberals, but that's OK. At least I am over here and am therefore well positioned to judge the validity of your statements. In addition, I must tell you that I do consider the term "liberal" a compliment, so by all means feel free to call me that if you wish. Under "liberal", my good old American Heritage dictionary gives the following as the very first definition: "Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry." Hey, that's cool! I'm glad to know that if one of us has to be bigoted or limited, it won't be me!

The latest reports on France's socialistic economy portray a bleak picture of French workers on a treadmill running faster and faster just to stay in place.

Really? That is not my impression at all. Evidently, it is not yours either since you seem shaky on this: is France a bloated welfare state of freeloaders or a country whose citizens work harder and harder to make ends meet? The truth is that the amount of leisure time has increased during the last few years at the expense of work hours.

The French unemployment rate has soared to 9.5 percent, and the economic growth rate over the past year has trudged forward at the turtle-like speed of 1.5 percent (versus about 4.5 percent for the U.S.). If the U.S. had an unemployment rate as high as France, there would be about six million more Americans out of work -- the equivalent of putting every worker in the state of Michigan in an unemployment line.

Believe it or not, the unemployment rate is actually lower now than a few years ago! However, unemployment remains very high, that is clearly a fact, though this is not a problem that is limited to France. Be that as it may, the economic growth rate in itself does not give me anything in particular. Even with this low growth rate, or possibly because of it, the quality of life is simply better over here than back home. I work to live, not the other way around. I have plenty of vacation and time off work to enjoy life and family. I earn a bit less (not that much less) than I would in New York, but my spendable income is higher than it would be in the Big Apple. I enjoy far better job security because of laws that care more about people than about increasing the already substantial profits of the few at the top at the expense of the many further down. Perhaps you call this socialism; I call it common sense.

Of course, the major reason France is suffering this economic sclerosis is its love affair with socialist policies. With Communism now on the ash heap of history and the nations formerly behind the Iron Curtain racing to adopt capitalism and free markets, arguably the most socialistic economy among the industrialized nations is based in Paris.

Have you checked Scandinavia lately? Or (for certain things) the UK and/or Germany? Besides, you are missing a huge point here: you seem to think that this government is somehow imposed on the people. I hate to be the one to break this to you, but France is actually a democratic country! The politicians with the most votes actually win (which is more than I can say for my own country in 2000).

Taxes are so high -- to feed France's obese welfare state -- that virtually no net new jobs have been created in France so far this century.

I suppose that's as opposed to the booming job market in the United States, right? In any event, have you ever worked in France? Have you ever been a tax payer in this country? Well, I have. Once you add up everything (Federal, State, and local taxes plus social security in the US and their equivalent over here), you find that the level of taxation over here, for incomes around, say, 150,000 euros per year, is actually less. It does, however, buy you a lot more, particularly in the area of health care. The fact is that in spite of higher unemployment and lower economic growth (at least on paper), the French don't have a problem with an ever increasing percentage of people who live at or below the poverty level, nor do they have citizens without any medical coverage, so no one is bankrupt due to catastrophic illness. I grant you that the flip side is that they don't have the same percentage of millionaires and billionaires, but you know what? I thought about it and it doesn't bother me.

Compounding France's economic miseries has been the residual damage from the boycott by Americans of everything French. Last year millions of Americans, incensed by the French government's outrageous failure to support the U.S. in the war in Iraq, heeded the advice of talk-show icon Bill O'Reilly and began a boycott of French products. Even though critics like the New York Times editorialized that the boycott was futile, the immediate impact of the voluntary decision by Americans not to buy French goods (from cheese to lingerie to wine) -- or to travel to Paris or the French Riviera for vacation -- hurt the French big-time in the pocketbook.

You wish! The fact is that no one cares. People over here still think that this whole French boycott is pretty funny, especially its linguistic manifestations ("freedom fries" being a favorite). But again, the main problem with your statement is not your erroneous belief that the US boycott is hurting the French in a big way; it's the assertion that there was anything wrong with the fact that the French government refused to back the U.S. in the war against Iraq. I realize that you and I will never agree on this, but to me, what's right is what is legal, not what the bully wants. The United States has chosen to disregard the opinion of the United Nations in starting a war for which there is no legal basis whatsoever. This is not the point of this reply, though, so I'll leave it at that. I will, however, point out that the French government is accountable to the people who elected it (as I said above, this is democracy). Clearly, the French population did not support the war effort. Had there been a real threat, things may have been different. As things are, the government respected the will of the people (by the way, the Spanish government did not, and the Spanish electorate reacted accordingly. Good for them!)

But despite assurances from French officials that the economy has weathered the storm and that no aftershocks persist, the truth is that France is still suffering from the boycott. The short-term impact of the boycott against the French was devastating to key French industries. According to a report by the trade publication Wine Spectator, French wine sales fell by 26 percent in the first three months of the boycott and the global share of wine sales by France for the first half of 2003 plummeted by half. A poll by the French Luxury Marketing Council discovered that nearly 4 out of every 10 wealthy Americans were swearing off French goods. Now the evidence for 2004 indicates continued residual damage to the French business environment resulting from the boycott. Real imports from France to the U.S., which stood at $2.6 billion a year in 2001, are on course to reach barely $2.5 billion in 2004.

Again, that's simply wishful thinking. The French economy is suffering not more, and probably less, than the US economy because things are just not booming anywhere at the moment. You give the figures yourself: going from 2.6 to 2.5 billion dollars represents less than 4%; to think that this would have a major impact on the French economy is simply laughable. Airbus probably picked up more than that from Boeing in 2004 alone. Is the French government upbeat in its statements? Of course, just like the American government. It's the nature of governments to play down what's negative and to exaggerate what's positive. Surely you're not saying that the French are the only ones doing it?

Of course, if anti-French fervor is evident in the U.S., the views of the French toward Americans are even more hostile. The French have launched their own boycott of American products, like Coca-Cola and McDonalds, but there's no evidence that it has harmed U.S. export volume much.

Wrong! There was simply no anti-U.S. hysteria in France that can compare to what happened in the U.S. I can say that I know many Americans who live over here, and not one of us has been harassed or treated differently because of any of this. On the other hand, I know a few French people in the United States who went through some pretty difficult times. So no, you are dead wrong when you say that the French are even more hostile toward Americans. It is certainly true that many French people, not unlike other Europeans, view the United States and its superpower status with a bit of envy, but that is nothing new. What I didn't find over here is this irrational rage and childish lashing out that was so common in the United States. People over here are frankly more amused and puzzled than angered by that. I will not deny that there is a strong anti-American sentiment in France today, but it is aimed at the current administration, not at the American people. The French don't like George W. Bush Jr. and frankly, I don't blame them. No President has done more to tarnish my country's image in the world. I grew up thinking that America stood for justice, that we were the good guys, that our cause was right. These days, sadly, I am more embarrassed than proud to show my American passport.

Anti-Americanism appears to be spreading in Europe, and this may hurt our export markets.

Again, it's aimed at the Bush administration. This is a sentiment that it not limited to Europe, by the way. It is a world-wide phenomenon. To an intelligent person, this should give food for thought.

The French are not our military allies, and they have unapologetically turned their back on a loyal friend. That's a sad statement to make on the 60-year anniversary of the U.S. liberation of France. But it is something Americans should remember when deciding between a French red wine and one from Napa Valley.

The French have not turned their back on a loyal friend in need; they have refused to help a loyal friend get himself into a mess. If the price to pay for not having this country's young people come home in body-bags is that you will drink Napa valley products (which, by the way, are excellent), then all I can say is, "Santé!"

D. Kiechle

PS I am really disappointed that one cannot publicly comment on at least some of the propaganda that is published on the NRO web site. I may therefore publish this e-mail and a link to the article that prompted it on my own web site. If I do, I will send you a link.

Daniel Kiechle
Valbonne, France
America Means Civil Liberties -- Patriotism Means Protecting Them!

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