Monday, November 07, 2005


So, the riots in France finally made the front pages today, as tiny blurbs underneath the "big news" of a tornado. Here is a quick overview for the unfamiliar.

It's a touchy subject, and I'm not a leading expert. The surface data is simple: the rioters are primarily north African Muslims who live in shantytowns. People seem to be of the opinion that the riots are caused due to either:

A) The fact that most Muslim immigrants remain largely un-integrated into French society or

B) Muslim people follow a violent religion.

(B) is obviously untenable. Similar riots have occurred for various Christian religions. Even pagan religions have had such riots, back in the depths of time.

This isn't because a given religion is more or less violent, these days. It's just that religion is such a good dividing line. Because it is so clear, it is used to define "us" vs "them" - often interchangeably with someone's native location. For example, "all Irish are Catholic" or "everyone from the middle east is Muslim".

(A) is sort-of the problem, in the same way that "a sinus headache" is the "problem" when you have the flu. Of course, the real problem is that you have the flu, which causes all sorts of other problems most people call "symptoms" rather than "problems".

In my opinion, the non-integration wasn't a "problem", it was a "symptom". Like a sinus headache, it has made much of France extremely irritable. It could be considered the police's fault, or argued to be the poor's fault, but our interest is in solving it, not placing blame. The real question is: what caused that non-integration?

The answer, in my ever-so-humble opinion, is economics.

France's economy isn't good. While it is the fifth-largest, it is suffering horribly. It has a huge excess of foreign direct investments (other countries controlling French assets). It has the GDP per capita of a nation half its economic "size". It has a shockingly high unemployment rate.

Abot 10% of the "active" population is without a job, which is quite high for a "stable" nation. In addition, students prolong their studies to delay their entry into the work force, which makes that figure lower than it really is: it doesn't include students as "unemployed".

Their production is very good, which makes the nation look well off. But that wealth never reaches the population, because too many of them aren't working.

When this kind of economic pain occurs, the population starts segmenting. When there's a strong, golden economy, there's a lot of progress made towards integrating foreigners and minorities. Look at the eighties and nineties, in which the US economy did well and minority culture became mainstream culture.

Contrast this with the Irish in both America and the UK. Well into the nineteen century they were considered an inferior, violent race with a vile religion. Oh, how things change! However, as the industrial-revolution driven economy ramped up to speed, they became accepted. (Some people argue it was simply that the "inferior and violent" tag was passed on to the black. Perhaps, but the timing is iffy.)

When things start going badly, people start closing in. It's not just blaming other people for your misfortune: it's also not letting "strangers" in on your successes.

This creates an environment in which the poor stay poor. I can think of no better way to insure unrest.

Why does France's economy suck so hard?

Look into it. It's only a Google search away. That's not my beef with this post. My beef is:

A happy economy means a happy country. So, please, politicians, stop making my economy cry!

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