Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Vile France

I once saw one of the currently rioting cités looming in the distance while enjoying the pleasures of tourist Paris. I found its Bauhaus architecture repellent and had no desire to investigate. Most of those who would publicly express an opinion in English about the “root causes” of the ongoing Muslim insurgency in France have gotten no closer to the areas affected than I did. So, how do we make sense of it all?

The best we can do is to attempt to formulate an understanding of what is taking place by collecting those undisputable facts available to us, considering the anecdotal reports of those with some direct personal experience of the situation and weighing the competing analyses of those who would explain it all to us. This is no easy task but useful progress is possible. Let us first consider some pertinent facts:

There are approximately 750 to 800 largely Muslim residential areas scattered throughout France that are lawless. They are called zones sensibles (sensitive areas) collectively called la Zone. They are public housing projects located in suburbs and surround every major city in France and many large towns. Control of those areas was deliberately ceded to Muslim street gangs. As the rate of crime inevitably went up, the number of police assigned to those areas was systematically reduced.

Theodore Dalrymple in his prescient “The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris” published in the City Journal in August of 2002 summarizes the effect of this policy:
“Reported crime in France has risen from 600,000 annually in 1959 to 4 million today, while the population has grown by less than 20 percent (and many think today’s crime number is an underestimate by at least a half). In 2000, one crime was reported for every sixth inhabitant of Paris, and the rate has increased by at least 10 percent a year for the last five years. Reported cases of arson in France have increased 2,500 percent in seven years, from 1,168 in 1993 to 29,192 in 2000; robbery with violence rose by 15.8 percent between 1999 and 2000, and 44.5 percent since 1996 (itself no golden age)."
More than 28,000 vehicles had been torched this year before the recent insurrection while police during the same period reported 9,000 instances of their vehicles being stoned while driving through la Zone. Worse yet, French judges are notoriously lenient in dealing with criminals.

The French national unemployment rate is slightly less than 10%. Unemployment rates in zones sensibles are on the average about 30%. Those residents who are employed earn on the average 40% less than those living elsewhere. While they are the primary victims of the criminal gangs that rule their neighborhoods they earn too little to escape the public housing projects.

The French welfare state devours 54% of the French GDP. It is generous with its benefits. The jobless poor and the poor with jobs are well fed, tolerably housed, receive good quality free medical care and free education through graduate school. Substantial public funds are spent on renovating and improving public housing, providing recreational outlets for the idle and the like. The inhabitants of la Zone needn’t fear starvation, homelessness or lack of medical treatment. The state provides for all of their basic needs with the exception of public safety. That summarizes the most salient facts available to us.

This will all seem quite familiar to those of us who remember the original promise and utter failure of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and who later watched neighborhoods in Detroit, Watts and Washington D.C. burned down by fully assimilated black Americans.

We needn’t invoke the specter of Islam to explain either France’s or America’s past and present zones sensibles. If there are major differences between French Muslim street gangs and the black and Hispanic street gangs that bedevil many of our American cities I have yet to discover them. Pride, honor, revenge, alienation, tribalism, territoriality and a complete disregard for the suffering of their victims are what make them all similar.

Faced with a soaring crime rate, much of it perpetrated by blacks against blacks, America got tough on crime. We incarcerate a higher percentage of our population than any other Western country. Our national crime rate is, as a consequence, approaching a 40 year low. We no longer build massive public housing projects and have had the good sense to demolish many of the worst of them. We instead rely on the free market to provide housing while offering Section 8 rent subsidies contingent on good behavior. Half of those who may have once spent the rest of their lives on public assistance are now at work due to welfare reform. Aggressive and effective policing has restored order to New York City -- now a far safer place to live than either London or Paris. America learned from its failures. But can the French learn from our successes? I think not.

If the French are ever to climb out of the very deep hole they have dug for themselves they must do at least two things, one very difficult and the other impossible. They first must do what interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy promised to do – restore law and order to la Zone. Regrettably, French law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system are ill suited to this task. Restoring public order would entail major reforms that would discomfort entrenched political interests and lead to the usual strikes, riots and protests. The second thing that France must do is quadruple its annual rate of economic growth. France needs to look no further than Ireland to find ways of doing so. France must reduce government expenditures to 40% or less of GDP. That would entail a staggering 26% reduction in government spending over time that would come at the expense of the country’s most powerful public sector labor unions.

France would also have to greatly liberalize its labor market and reduce its lavish farm subsidy programs. In so doing it would invite strikes and riots. Reducing the lawful minimum wage, twice the size of ours, in order to increase the number of entry-level jobs would be political suicide.

Clearly, the majority of French people will have to make sacrifices if the least among them are to have jobs for the first time or find better jobs that will pay them enough to escape la Zone and work their way up the economic ladder. If the few are to have opportunity the many must relinquish some of their security. That will not happen. The French lack both the temperament and the moral character necessary for rescuing the hopeless denizens of la Zone. They will find a more palatable alternative in the stick of repression and the wilted carrot of loudly hailed cosmetic programs that achieve nothing of consequence.

There are of course problems that all Western nations with Muslim minorities must deal with. Those include anti-Semitism, separatism, intolerance, terrorism and the oppression of women. France will need to find ways to deal with all of those. In the meantime, public disorder and hopeless poverty can only make them much worse.


Blogger Second Class Citizen said...

"We instead rely on the free market to provide housing while offering Section 8 rent subsidies contingent on good behavior."

Unfortunately, while "rely[ing] on the free market to provide housing," we simultaneously regulate, restrict, and overtax housing which might be affordable to the poor, as well as those who would provide it. Simply put, homeowners don't want apartments and trailer parks in their neighborhoods, and zone them out, relegate them to remote, undesirable locations, and restrict their quantity and capacity. Thomas Sowell (Markets and Minorities, 1981) has demonstrated that housing and zoning regulation redistributes income upward from (lower income) renters to (higher income) homeowners. (Median homeowner income is more than twice the median income of renters.) What Sowell didn't mention is that property tax rates are higher on rental property than on owner-occupied homes in roughly half the states. In a truly free market, affordable housing would exist in ample supply and rent subsidies would be unnecessary.

Under current unfree market conditions, existing Section 8 rent subsidies are entirely insufficient to house more than a small fraction of those in financial distress - the vast majority of low-income renters receive no rent subsidy. Waiting lists, which vary from city to city, are often years long and closed to new applicants more than 95 percent of the time. (Once every few years or so, a local waiting list is opened for one week and then closed again. If you weren't following closely and missed that one-week window, you can't get on the waiting list until the next opening a few years down the road. If you are temporarily disabled and need short-term assistance, you can forget it entirely.)

2:07 AM  
Blogger Moved Elsewhere said...

It would be nice to have a much freer market. But that is not going to happen.

2:31 PM  

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