The estimable Tony Judt (whose Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals 1944-1956 I just finished) takes to the op-ed page of the New York Times to — gasp — sort of mildly defend Jacques Chirac! In passing, he aims a few darts at America’s Europhobes
On both sides of the Atlantic, Mr. Chirac’s political obituary is being written in distinctly unflattering terms.
But is the French situation really so dire? From every quarter one hears calls for “reform” to bring France more in line with Anglo-American practices and policies. The dysfunctional French social model, we are frequently assured, has failed. In that case there is much to be said for failure. French infants have a better chance of survival than American ones. The French live longer than Americans and they live healthier (at far lower cost). They are better educated and have first-rate public transportation. The gap between rich and poor is narrower than in the United States or Britain, and there are fewer poor people.
Yes, France has high youth unemployment, thanks to institutionalized impediments to job creation. But the comparison to American rates is misleading: our figures are artificially lowered because so many dark-skinned men aged 18 to 30 are in prison and thus off the unemployment rolls.