At an electricity substation on a bleak industrial estate north of Paris a masked union militant is preparing to deprive a neighbourhood of power. His colleague is outside, dragging nervously on a roll-up cigarette while keeping a lookout for police or security guards. "Get a move on," he says. "And then let's get out of here." A switch is pulled down, the door of the sabotaged transformer is locked and the two activists – employees of EDF, the French state electricity supplier – drive off. In their wake hundreds of houses and a handful of businesses in Montigny-lès-Cormeilles are left without electricity for much of the morning. It was the second time in a week that blackouts had hit the Paris region as striking gas and electricity workers adopted radical tactics to support their call for a 10 per cent pay rise and an end to outsourcing of jobs. They are denounced as industrial saboteurs by the Government and face disciplinary action and prosecution, but say they are determined to press ahead with what they portray as a struggle against free-market forces. After failing to prevent the partial privatizations of EdF and GdF, the gas supplier, they believe that the tide has turned in their favour because of the recession. – TimesOnLine
Dominant Social Theme: The French strike back.
Free-Market Analysis: Americans are plenty confused about what's gone wrong in the world and how to make it right. But the French are a great deal worse off. The American Revolution enshrined a variant of classical liberal tendencies within that country's nascent constitution, but the French Revolution was a good deal more incoherent, bloody and ultimately ended up with government at its core.
In America, especially, the individual was provided inalienable rights. In France, both before and after the Revolution, individual rights were subject to the approval of the government. And it is ever thus. Today, the thrust of the European Union (and of its constitution were it ever ratified) would be to ensure that the individual remains subservient to the state. The EU's putative constitution is written that way, not surprisingly by a leading French politico.
In America, the situation is a bit more complicated because there is still an appreciation, a growing one, of individual rights. The genius of America, in fact, was the genius of Thomas Jefferson, as towering a sociopolitical intellect as any that has ever lived. The deprivation of the French was that their best intellectuals – Voltaire, Rousseau, etc. – believed that humans could be perfected; unfortunately the agent of perfection was to be the state. Jefferson rightly distrusted the state, distrusted state debt, distrusted all the accoutrements of the European state, especially central banking. Ironically, the American civil war would put paid to Jeffersonian democracy and usher in the era of big (federal) government under which Americans live today.
All this is to say that Americans, probably more than the French (how much more is hard to say) have a more precise cultural understanding of free-markets and individual freedom than many in Europe. However, it is not genetic or biological (how could it be?) but merely a happy accident of culture and history. It still exists even though it is vitiated and uncertain.
Because the European conversation — and certainly the French political conversation — was born out of violence and nursed on the government teat, it is harder for Europeans to think outside of the statist box. As a result, the conversations in France and elsewhere, especially as reported by the mainstream media, tend to provide only two alternatives to the current economic crisis. More government control can pass into the hands of the "people" who will use it somehow to free themselves of the yoke of the exploiting classes' or more control can remain with the elite and government will continue to be run oppressively. In either condition, the utilization of government is a given — a lever, a fulcrum.
It is only, or mostly, in America where there is a thriving movement that looks past government solutions to reclaim the classical liberalism (individual human action) implicit in the Jeffersonian political methodology. Jefferson believed in small government, limited government – and saw no avenue for government to empower either the poor or the rich. And Jefferson, who was bitterly opposed to central banking, would understand easily the current economic collapse and analyze it as a paper-money meltdown.
But thanks to the Internet there is now a Jeffersonian resurgence, a growing group of individuals, numbering in the millions in America who understand much the same thing and are culturally sympathetic to the message. This is, we believe, much different than in Europe, and especially France, where the template remains the utilization of government on behalf of the "people."
The European enculturation – despite stirrings of individual initiative – remains focused on government empowerment, at least to hear the mainstream media tell it. We have a suspicion, however, that the Internet has made inroads on such cultural conditioning, especially given the continued rejection of additional powers for the EU. In America, the culture is far more sympathetic to human action and therefore the confusion over economic failure is not nearly so widespread or deep.
You will not find a large union movement agitating for more socialism – as a cure for the global economic meltdown (government initiated to be sure) in the states. Over time, in fact, Europeans, too, may become more convinced that what is needed to put things aright is more freedom and less government. Right now, in France, this idea has yet to take root in a big way, or so it seems. But if the French believe they can fight the financial crisis through government interventions on behalf of the "working class," then that country will have an agonizing Japanese-style recovery rather than a Western one.