Published January 23, 2015
Obama’s sixth State of the Union address was an homage to France. The president might not have intended it as such — he mentioned the nation only glancingly when denouncing terror attacks in Pakistan and Paris — yet France was at the heart of the president’s address.
France has everything that Barack Obama finds wanting in his own country. His entire presidency is a prolonged effort to tear the United States away from free-market economics and decentralized political power (what the French deride as the “Anglo-Saxon model”) toward the kind of socialist, government-dominated society that France has achieved.
France is Obamaland. Government sucks up 56 percent of GDP. The state offers cradle-to-grave subsidies for child care, health, disability, unemployment, old age, and more. The welfare state discourages work in myriad ways — most French retire at age 60, and many at 55. The work week is 35 hours. (Obamacare defines it as 30 hours.) France’s labor code is 3600 pages long (sound familiar?) and makes it practically impossible to fire anyone. Shockingly, businesses are wary about hiring. France’s growth rate has averaged .3 percent annually since 2008. Everyone from taxi drivers to notary publics to dentists goes on strike at the drop of a chapeau.
All of this looks like paradise to President Obama. Consider his latest brain storm: He wants the first two years of community college to be “free” for students who maintain a C+ average. “Free” is a word Democrats use to mean “you pay, not me.” It’s deceptive, because when the state takes on more debt than we can possibly repay, it’s the poorest who suffer the most in the crash that eventually comes. Ask the Greeks, or the Italians, or the Spanish, or speakers of la belle langue. The French have “free” (or nearly so) public education all the way through university. The system suits students who are terrific test-takers (grades don’t matter much), but their system would never be tolerated here. Students are culled through high-stakes tests starting at age 15. The American ideal of second chances and “it’s never too late” doesn’t translate. Besides, France’s generous education subsidies are part of what is bankrupting the country.
France boasts “free” health care, too — Barack Obama’s beau ideal. France has a modified single-payer system, with tremendous regulation and red tape from the central government. In 2010, according to an OECD study, 47 percent of French patients had to wait four weeks or longer to see a specialist compared with 20 percent of Americans. That, of course, was before Obamacare, so don’t worry, we’ll likely catch up. Then there’s this nugget from Businessweek: “Anita Manfredi got nine massages and 18 mud baths at a luxury spa in November. The French government paid two-thirds of the $1,022 bill.” She feels much better, you’ll be glad to know. French taxpayers also pay for taxi rides to and from clinics and other luxuries. Businessweek quotes a London financier who describes France’s system as “simply unaffordable, unsustainable, and . . . a huge burden on the economy.”
Doubtless Mr. Obama admires France’s approach to immigration. For decades, France has been absorbing millions of Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa and now finds that a small but dangerous minority of those newcomers are jihadists bent on destroying liberté, egalité, and especially fraternité. Unemployment in the banlieues (the suburbs where most immigrants reside) is 40 percent among the young. In 2005, the banlieues were the site of three solid weeks of rioting.
There are cultural problems integrating Muslims into French society, and economic stagnation has led many, immigrant and native-born alike, to lose hope. A young man whose parents immigrated from Tunisia told the Telegraph “When my parents came here, France had lots of work. Now it has lots of fascists.”
Socialist president François Hollande’s idea — almost indistinguishable from Mr. Obama’s — was to impose a 75 percent tax on millionaires. Mr. Hollande sold it as an effort to make the rich pay their fair share. It was signed into law in 2013. One year later, it was quietly buried. It didn’t bring in much revenue, but it did cause a number of successful Frenchmen to leave the country.
France has its virtues, but the policies Obama admires have brought the nation stagnation, unemployment, high taxes, constant strikes, restive and unassimilated immigrants, and domestic terrorism. The French don’t seem to know what went wrong. Our president doesn’t either.
— Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. © 2015 Creators Syndicate, Inc.