From the Comments: Why do France’s banlieues have 40% unemployment?

Dr Amburgey asks the question, and Dr J gives the answer:

Terry: Good question but the answer is implied: Policies that allow for much higher economic growth than has been the case since about 1985.

It’s hard to figure an explanation for persistent French economic stagnation that does not implicate government action (ACTION, not inaction). Two examples: Retail stores can only hold sales for twice two weeks in a year. (That’s as in “on sale.”) The government decides when the sales seasons take place all over France, at the same time, irrespective of local conditions. Yes, you read that right. Second example. An ideological battle has been running for at least ten years at the highest level of government about whether or not to allow large stores to be opened on Sundays. The pros just lost again! [but see Dr J’s update – bc]

I am a weak man, I can’t resist adding a third example: On Sunday mornings, you can buy delicious croissants in bakeries everywhere but they are not allowed to sell coffee! The cafes open late on Sundays. Dunking is effectively illegal in France for several hours every week.

The French political elite, almost all statist, seldom loses an opportunity to prevent employment from growing. Note that I am not especially blaming the current Socialist administration. There are almost no conservative parties in France today, have not been for many years. The word “libertarian” has no current French equivalent. (The French word “libertaire” is related but it means something else.)

French schools are mostly very bad. They are run by a centralized government bureaucracy.

Of course, economic stagnation is not about the children and grandchildren of immigrants specifically. It’s just that those least favorably positioned with respect to the job market tend to suffer most from stagnation. Children and grandchildren of immigrants are among those. If the French economy grew at an annual rate of say 2.5% – the current US rate, I think – even the children of immigrants in remote banlieues would see their employment opportunities multiply. At least, they could compete for something. There is not much leftist municipalities largely in charge of those immigrant-heavy areas can do, really. The best among them set up good soccer clubs, that’s about it.

Poor economic performance does not strike everyone equally. The offspring of immigrants are disadvantaged mostly for reasons that would not matter elsewhere, in Germany, next door, for example. I think racism and xenophobia play a small role. It seems to me that both were much much worse in the sixties and seventies yet, immigrants and their children had work then when the country’ s economy was growing at a normal pace.

Stagnation does not hit everyone equally: The outflow of graduates from the best schools (mostly engineering schools) is perceived to be so great that last year, the Socialist government created a new cabinet post for them. I suspect it’s to hold them back or to try and lure them back. Would I make this up?

Being an immigrant is just a potential basis for social organization (a la Marx). Being an immigrant from already secular Portugal or from Romania is not a good basis for such. Being an immigrant from a Muslim country (probably most immigrants to France) creates clear delineation because so much of Muslim culture is violated every day by ordinary French behavior. (Yes, some stereotypes are factually correct!)

Going back to your question about libertarianism specifically: I think that if 10 % of all government economic regulations were abolished suddenly, on a lottery basis, the French GDP growth rate would double immediately, with positive consequences for immigrants’ progeny, of course.

Terry you should read Delacroix (recently in Liberty Unbound). [“Religious Bric-à-Brac and Tolerance of Violent Jihad” – bc, again]

The rest of the thread is well worth reading, too, as Jacques and Terry size up each others’ views on the European Union.

A Short Note on Islam and Violence: Russian Edition

Many notable, and many more unnotable, commentators will swear by Islam’s “violent penchant.” They don’t care for nuance. They don’t care for facts. Instead, they adhere to the old principle of repeating something often enough until it becomes true.

I think there is an issue with Sunni Arabs and cultural chauvinism (the Qur’an is supposed to be memorized in the Arabic language only, for example) masquerading as religion. I think religion itself is mentally and emotionally abusive. Yet I am confident in stating matter-of-factly that there is no penchant for violence in Islam. Each instance of violence perpetrated by an Islamist can be explained by his or her political, or better yet institutional, situation. Islamism is, after all, a relatively new political paradigm that has arisen only with the advent of the nation-state in the Middle East.

Incidentally, these same detractors – the ones who repeat themselves over and over again – are also hawks when it comes to Russia. If I am not mistaken, Russia is a Christian nation (with a few exceptions along its peripheries) and unofficially a Christian state (did anyone catch the Patriarch’s recent speech to the Duma?). The Russian state is violent and aggressive. Russian society is violent and parochial. Moscow routinely violates individual rights. Because the vast majority of Russian citizens support the aggressiveness of both the Russian state and the Russian communities in post-Soviet space, this means that all Christians are violent and aggressive, right?

How the Left Failed France’s Muslims: A Libertarian Response

Walden Bello, a sociologist in the Philippines, has a piece up over at the far-Left Nation titled “How the Left Failed France’s Muslims.” As with everything Leftist, it was packed with mostly nonsense coupled with a couple of really good nuggets of insight. The nonsense can be explained by the Leftist urge to attribute grand theories that don’t involve an understanding of supply-and-demand to problems dealing with oppression. Below is a good example of another weakness of the present-day Left:

Failure of the French Model of Assimilation

In the “French model,” according to analyst Francois Dubet, “the process of migration was supposed to follow three distinct phases leading to the making of ‘excellent French people.’ First, a phase of economic integration into sectors of activities reserved for migrants and characterized by brutal exploitation. Second, a phase of political participation through trade unions and political parties. Third, a phase of cultural assimilation and fusion into the national French entity, with the culture of origin being, over time, maintained solely in the private sphere.”

What the technocrats didn’t face up to was that by the 1990s the mechanism sustaining the model had broken down. In the grip of neoliberal policies, the capitalist economic system had lost the ability to generate the semi-skilled and unskilled jobs for youth that had served as the means of integration into the working class for earlier generations of migrants. Youth unemployment in many of the banlieues reached 40 percent, nearly twice the national average. And with the absence of stable employment, migrant youth lacked the base from which they could be incorporated into trade unions, political parties and cultural institutions.

Impeded by ideological blindness to inequality, political mishandling of the Muslim dress issue and technocratic failure to realize that neoliberalism had disrupted the economic ladder to integration, authorities increasingly used repressive measures to deal with the “migrant problem.” They policed the banlieues even more tightly, with an emphasis on controlling young males—and, most notably, they escalated deportations.

Notice how Bello doesn’t challenge the fact that the French government has a model for integrating human beings into a system it assumes is already in place? That’s the problem in Europe (and Japan/South Korea), but instead of acknowledging this – or even recognizing it as an issue – Leftists throw in terms like “capitalist economic system” and “neoliberalism” to explain away the failures of the French state’s central planning efforts. Naturally the real threat according to Bello is a Right-wing populism rather than the widespread, unchallenged belief (including by Bello) that government can assimilate one group of people with another in stages.

Just keep government off the backs of people, and they’ll associate in peace (peace is not the absence of conflict, of course, but only the ability to handle conflict through peaceful means, such as through elections or boycotts or marches or consumption). Does this make sense? Am I being naive here?

Ceding power to a central government in order to integrate immigrants into a society in a manner that is deemed acceptable to the planners is going to cause conflict rather than temper it. Planners are beholden to special interests (this is not a bug of democracy but a feature; ask me!), and they cannot possibly know how their plans are affecting the individuals being planned for. Immigrants, left largely to their own devices (which include things like communities, religion, and creativity), are beholden to their own interests (again, which include things like communities, religion, and creativity). Which way sounds less likely to cause resentment all around? Again, am I being naive here? Am I knocking down a straw man? Is this really how European governments approach immigration and assimilation? Is this really how the US approaches immigration and assimilation? These are genuine questions.

An even bigger question remains, of course: how can Europe better assimilate immigrants? Open borders, discussed here at NOL in some detail (perhaps better than most places on the web), is one option, but in order for open borders to work you need political cooperation, and political cooperation means more than just cooperation on matters that interest libertarian economists. Thus, I argue for federation instead of plain ol’ open borders. Another option would be to have governments in Europe cease planning the lives of immigrants for them. This option is a very viable short-term policy that probably does not get the attention it deserves because Leftists are currently unable to see the forest for the trees. Exposing neoliberalism and capitalism is, arguably, more important than petty day-to-day politics after all.

Another round of warm welcomes, please

Ladies and germs, may I present to you Adrián, Amit, and Chhay Lin:

Adrián Lucardi (personal website) is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at Washington University in St. Louis. He got his B.A. in Political Science at the University of San Andrés (Buenos Aires, Argentina), where he developed a long term interest in political institutions, federalism, and subnational politics. He is currently working on a dissertation on the interaction between government and opposition parties in competitive authoritarian regimes. But from time to time you can also see him rambling about more fundamental issues, notably Argentine politics, soccer, and literary criticism.

Amit Ranjan is currently a Research Fellow at the Indian Council of World Affairs in New Delhi. He earned his PhD in South Asian Studies from the School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, also in New Delhi, in 2013. His essays have appeared in Journal of Asian Politics and History, Asian Affairs, Foreign Policy Research Centre Journal, Himalayan and Central Asian Studies, Pakistaniat: A Journal of Pakistan Study, and several scholarly and popular outlets. His ongoing research interests include disputes and conflicts over water, Indian foreign policy and internal security, and Pakistan.

Chhay Lin Lim is a blog writer who has earned a BBA in International Management (Amsterdam School of Economics and Management) and a MA in Philosophy & Public Affairs (University College Dublin). He also embarked on a BSc. Economics program (University of Amsterdam), but left the program to co-found the company AgroLim in Cambodia which cultivates such food commodities as corn, cassava, bananas, mangoes and papayas. His parents are of Cambodian origins (Kampot), but due to the civil war in the 70s they fled to Thailand. It was in a refugee camp in Thailand (Khao I Dang) that Chhay Lin was eventually born. He is currently mainly occupied with his work in logistics and a second agricultural company, BCS-Cambodia, that he has recently founded. However, he still loves devoting his free time to engage in conversations about Philosophy, Economics, and Public Affairs.

Adrián will be blogging mostly in Spanish (he’s already started), and Amit and Chhay Lin will be adding their thoughts from the front lines of the war between liberalism and conservatism. Please, give ‘em a hearty, NOL-style welcome when you get the chance.

A Humble Creed

I’m talking about substance, not style. Regrettably, someone could display arrogance while insisting that neither he nor anyone else could possibly know enough to plan other people’s lives. However off-putting that style, it does not change the fact that the position embodies a fundamental humility. There are inherent limits to any individual’s knowledge, and therefore government social engineering, which requires the use of aggressive force, must fail.

To put it succinctly, libertarianism has humility baked in at the most fundamental level.

Humility is not to be conflated with radical doubt, however. One can be humble while also believing it is possible to know things. And some things, including the nature and market implications of human action, can be known conceptually. One can know, for example, that intelligently planning an economy or even a particular market is beyond anyone’s, including one’s own, capacities.

This is from the one and only Sheldon Richman, writing for the FFF. Check out the rest. (h/t Warren G)

NOL‘s own tagline, “Spontaneous thoughts on a humble creed,” comes from this same recognition. I first came across the argument that libertarianism is a “humble creed” in F.A. Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty. Hayek’s simple but hard-to-see point was what sold me on libertarianism actually.

On the value of nature

I was listening to a really cool episode of RadioLab. The third act asks the question, “what is nature worth?” During part of it they discussed the fall and rise of bees in Mao county, China. Bees disappeared after farmers started using pesticides and had to be replaced with human labor. Against all expectations output actually increased 30% (they never did say how much these workers impacted bottom lines compared to when the bees were doing the job). But then economic growth happened and increased wages and put pressure on farmers.

This lead to a question about how to go about discussing the issue of conservation. On the one hand, this economic analysis means that we don’t take nature as being implicitly worthless and discussing it this way will help the cause of conservation. On the other hand, it doesn’t jive with our intuition (or perhaps our moral sense) that if some aspect of nature appears worth very little or seems irrelevant we still probably shouldn’t downsize nature.

All fair enough. So here’s where things go bad… the host then asks if there is an alternative to the conservationists moralizing and the economists’ cold calculating. Economics does in fact have an answer! Two if we can call Nassim Taleb an economist (surely one who does a lot of normative work).

Taleb would argue (with allusions to the argument I’ll present below) that prudential risk management (i.e. management of fluctuations in those economic values brought up above) calls for an appreciation of the potential for black swans. In the case of the bees there was a series of black swans; the bees disappeared (-), human workers were more productive (+), economic growth (+) made human labor too expensive (-, for farmers and pie-baking grandmothers). We want to be averse to the sorts of risks that might be wildly negative and so should diversify our approaches and bee (that was a typo but I’m keeping it) sure we’re not opening ourselves up to negative black swans–which would involve being very skeptical of cost benefit analyses that justify excessive environmental harm. This point was made (but not fully appreciated, I would argue) by an environmental economist on the program in pointing out that some changes are irreversible.

Taleb’s argument works because the complexity of ecological and economic systems means that such wild variation is possible. There can be cascades of cause and effect that create dire consequences to what may look like a small change. In other words it would be a fatal conceit to imagine that anyone can engineer an environment.

Not so obvious is that if we don’t want to deliberately prune too aggressively we also don’t want to sterilize nature by trying to stop all change. We are part of this environment after all; glorified beavers at the end of the day.

That said, what they closed with was good thought: biodiversity [like market diversity] serves as an extension of our brains. We can draw on the imagination evolution provides us to live better lives. I would add that you can view that as narrowly economical (imagining “imagination capital” being depleted along with rainforests) or more broadly as pursuing “the good life.”

Strange Historical Facts

Not long thereafter, they erected the first sawmill in what was to become the state of Washington on a site by the lower falls of the Deschutes River. Much of the capital for erecting the mill apparently came from George W. Bush, Washington’s first black resident. The cut of this mill, it has been claimed, was marketed through the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Nisqually and found its way to Victoria and the Hawaiian Islands. The first shipment was supposedly made on the Hudson’s Bay Company steamer Beaver in 1848.

Um, wow. I don’t know where to begin. This excerpt comes from page 25 of a 1977 book by historian Thomas R Cox titled Mills and Markets: A History of the Pacific Coast Lumber Industry to 1900. Aside from the interesting anecdote quoted above, it’s not very good. I picked it up because of the possibilities associated with such a subject, but instead of a theoretical narrative on globalization, identity, state-building, and property rights, it is a book that reads a lot like the excerpt I quoted above (the local history aspect I have enjoyed, though; local history is one of my secret pleasures, the kind of stuff that never makes it into grand theoretical treatises but always lights up my brain because of the fact that places I know and places I have lived are the focus of the narrative).

I blame it on the year it was published, of course. 1977 was at the height of the Cold War, which means that scholarly inquiry was inevitably going to be policed by ideologues, and also that works appraising global or regional scales and scopes just weren’t doable. For instance, there was virtually no mention of Natives in the book. (See archaeologist Kent Lightfoot’s excellent, highly-recommended work – start here and here – for more on how this is changing.)