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.

19 thoughts on “How the Left Failed France’s Muslims: A Libertarian Response

    • 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!

      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).

    • I know this is an overly broad and overly simplified follow on question; apologies in advance. How much of the economic stagnation is French and how much is EU? Clearly some countries do better than others but there seem to be problems common to all as well.

      “Terry you should read Delacroix…”

      I just finished reading Delacroix. Pretty good although I’m hoping that the next installment will have more gratuitous sex.

    • Jacques–

      I read your piece in Liberty Unbound and liked it. If my blog weren’t currently mired in discussions of more important topics, like the ethical ramifications of Fifty Shades of Grey, I’d be discussing it there right now. But I will at least mention it in the near future.

  1. Terry: The gratuitous, despicable sex is coming soon (under a separate, brown cover).

    Irfan: You made the right choice. Between Fifty Shades and anything by Delacroix, well, I can’t even finish my thought…

    • Your question makes so sense. Germany is doing reasonably well by any standard, so is Finland, so is Sweden. Ten years ago, the German and the French welfare systems were very similar. Then the Germans reformed in a way that was heavily criticized and even derided in France. The rest is history. Age at retirement both legal and actual will tell you a great deal quickly about differences within the EU.

  2. Thanks for your quick response Jacques. I’m surprised that you take the position that the EU places no restrictions or constraints on economic development. Live and learn.

    • Terry: I did not say that the EU places no constraints on development. It’s a giant bureaucratic machine. It’s also a customs union, which is a really good thing. Of course, it’s obvious that Switzerland, which is not a member, is the European development champ. (And no, tax-free foreign deposits don’t explain everything.) It’s just that among the countries operating under the same EU weight, there are big differences in economic performance. Some of those, such as between Germany and France are recent enough that one cannot invoke some murky cultural differences to explain them. There are big differences between EU countries regarding taxation, welfare benefits (broadly defined), and socially motivated restraints on competition. It’s difficult to not believe that those differences have a lot to do with differences in economic performance. Incidentally, the actors themselves will tell you this at the drop of a hat. I will never forget the small restaurant owner who told me, ” You live abroad, you don’t understand, in France, hiring is worse than marrying, it’s for life” ! Or the pork butcher who told me he couldn’t find an apprentice to hire: “I can only pay them X/hour when they start because they are almost useless at the beginning of their training. For this, they have to be at work at 5 am. They calculate that staying on the dole, only costs them (some ridiculously small amount) for each hour of additional sleep until 9 am.

      If they asked me (they won’t, I know). I would not junk the EU. I would make it largely get out of the business of regulating: There was once an inter-country committee that worked for months on the matter of what color strawberry jam should be. They did not even reach an agreement!

      My intuition tells me that much that is blamed on the EU is just a manifestation of old age arthritis within each country and also, of bad habits acquired so many years ago that they don’t remember not having them. I followed well the last French presidential election. There was almost no serious talk about what to do about the flagging economy. It was surrealistic. (That’s by my American standards, of course.) The Greeks who paint Chancellor Merkel as a Nazi during street demonstrations, have no idea of how the world sees them, I think. If the creditors of Greece said, “OK, forget your debt, you are on your own you lazy, ungrateful bastards, ” they would be astounded.” Fifty years of irresponsible pseudo-socialist babble has left many Greeks believing that someone, somewhere has their money and is not returning it. They figure, “Why not the Germans; they used to be really bad.”

      I wish American liberals knew more about Europe. It would cure them of some dangerous delusions. The most interesting one concerns culture: Quick, name one German novelist other than Gunther Grass. (You should read Delacroix on this.)

    • Correction: I wrote earlier on this thread that the French law prohibiting large retail establishments from opening on Sundays had recently been maintained by the French parliament. This may be changing as I write. The French parliament is considering a thick law liberalizing a large number of such restraints on trade (loi Macron). In European parlance, “liberalizing” means moving toward capitalism. Even the allegedly “socialist” government of Mr Hollande seems to realize that something is wrong with restrictions on economic competition. One must never lose hope. (I have to try and remember this!)

  3. Belated response to Brandon:

    My long essay does mention colonialism. Read more carefully, please. Here is more: After Algeria became independent, Algerian emigration to France increased. Algerian independence, which I supported in my youth (Read my book: I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography), was a fiasco and a human tragedy. It replaced slowly evolving French rule with downright fascism, not a good trade-off.

    Immigration from superficially ruled Tunisia and Morocco into France keeps increasing to.

    Of course, one can speculate that colonialism is the deep reason for the abject failure that are many third world countries today. This would explain why, Senegal, which was never colonized is a functioning democracy while Afghanistan which was deeply colonized has been in flames for sixty years. Wait, wait, I got it backward! It is Senegal that was deeply colonized and Afghanistan that beat back the British imperialists; what do you know?

    Some viewpoints are now so tired that they are just to tiresome to discuss.

    • No, your long essay doesn’t mention colonialism. I ctrl+F’d it. The word doesn’t appear at all. ‘Colonial’ appears twice, in the same paragraph, in relation to language. Because Algeria’s independence movement became fascist (in order to protect democracy and secularism from Islamists, no less), the French Empire was good?

      There’s nothing “democratic” about Senegal. That’s laughable. You are embarrassing yourself again, like how you refuse to acknowledge that the US military presence in Saudi Arabia was responsible for 9/11. The fact that you view “democracy” as the highest good only shows how morally bankrupt your generation actually is. Democracy is just another excuse to invade and oppress, like “stopping slavery” in West Africa.

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