The Free State
"Man, in a word, has no nature. What he has is - history."

Saturday, October 21, 2006

It's the Demography! Stupid?

Reaching the symbolic "300,000,000" people living in America recently has made a few people write on America's curious position as one of the only developped countries with fair population growth (along, mostly, with the other immigrant nations, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).

This can be rather depressing for Europeans. The fact is, much of Europe (Italy especially) is achieving near-zero economic growth. This has little to do with the "Big Government" of most European countries. It has everything to do with the fact that the working populations of most of Europe are reaching close to zero or negative growth.

A stagnating active population, combined with booming retiree populations means that Japan and most of Europe have dreadful dependency ratios. Quite simply, the entire economy and state become geared towards making sure that most people lead comfortable lives from cradle to grave. Little is left for influencing the world, militarily or economically. The costs are enormous. While I like to cuss the America's military-induced budget deficit of $ 300 billion, practically defenseless Japan's deficit is also roughly that much. (much more egrigious given the relatively smaller size of Japan's economy and Japan's public debt is equal to over 150% of GDP, why does no one mention this, or am I missing something?)

So when it comes to power, military and economic, Europe and Japan are castrated. This is rather depressing for anyone who believes in the more rational, secular and humane aspects of the European liberal democracies: of societies which believe that poverty cannot be holy, that a planned family is desirable, that superstition is nonsense.

It's depressing because, even if Europe could be more "rational" and "humane"... but always powerless. Is this due to America's mentality? The religiousness and openness to immigrants? IE, the old adage that Conservatives will inherit the world because Liberals don't reproduce. Perhaps the godless, humane mentality simply makes people see kids as a question of cost/returns... while the rough individualism and religious capitalism of the US actually leads to a strong and growing nation.

Then I came across a few little factoids:
* America's population growth is due 2/3rds due to the excess of births over deaths, and 1/3rd due to immigration
* America has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developped world
* America has a 35% unintended pregnancy rate
* Over 1/2 of America's immigrants are illegal and unwanted

The hostility to contraception and abortion increases the number of un-wholesome pregnancies and families. While the growth through immigration... is, again, half unwanted.

America's population grows not thanks to her morals and openness, but despite them. It's some consolation for myself and advocates of the humane, rational and skeptical.

(no pictures for this one, brievity is divine)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Prince Charming

I'm sure we all remember the little incident when Bush tried warm up to a certain Deutsche-babe.

However, it appears Jacquie-boy was also charmed during a meeting yesterday:

Hmm. Well at least she's smiling, though this is not what I usually have in mind by "le couple Franco-Allemand". Jacquie-boy I think is going to miss being a Prince.

I wonder if Chancellor Merkel would be relieved to stop this frat-boy stuff if she were to meet a Presidente Segolene?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Characters: François Mitterrand

François (Maurice Adrien Marie) Mitterrand. Who is this man? A nationalist youth, a socialist leader and a President of France. Perhaps his contradictions are best epitomized by his view on religion: “I was born a Christian and shall doubtless die in that condition. But meanwhile…”

Mitterrand as a civil servant of Vichy France, the legal, authoritarian and anti-Semitic successor to the Third Republic. He served well, eventually being awarded the Francisque by Marshal Pétain. In 1948 he married Daniele Gouze, whose family had fought Vichy in the Resistance.

Mitterrand for President: Francois Mitterrand – a young President for a Modern France – Take your future in your own hands – Vote for the single candidate of the Left

De Gaulle had worked hard to create a Fifth Republic whose electoral systems (2 round elections for President and Parliament) would exclude extremist parties and create a permanent centre-right government. For two decades the Left was excluded, Mitterrand sought to overcome this through a tactical alliance with the (pro-Soviet and Stalinist) French Communist party.

Holding the rose, symbol of Socialism, Mitterrand becomes the elected-monarch which is the President of France with a massive parliamentary majority independent of Communists and Centrists. The result was massive reform: nationalizations (which had long gone out of fashion in other Socialist parties), tax hikes, boosted welfare/pensions and (attempted) decentralization.

Rushmore Mitterrand: “Ah! Mitterrand, he’s really missing in the political landscape” “Oh really? You think so?”

His victories had brought the Left (which had been excluded from power for two decades) to idolize Mitterrand: nicknames from Tonton (uncle) to, simply, Dieu (God). Ironically, after the failure of his initial inflationary economic policies (which some blame on the global economic recession) he instituted a regime of austerity which cut deficits and inflation which his right-wing predecessors had tried (and failed) to implement.

He set the precedent for experimentation and sensible economic policies which, because he was Left-wing, were legitimate (much like Nixon’s anti-communist credentials meant he wasn’t crucified by Right-wingers for his sane foreign policy) which continues to this day (Jospin later combined the 35h week with substantial tax cuts and privatizations).

National President: the Grande Arche used in the spectacular celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.

With the end of Socialist economics as a radical alternative, Mitterrand became a consensus President, incarnating the Nation rather than the Left. He instituted an activist foreign policy (defending Chad from Libya in 1983 and 1986, supporting US nukes in Europe and participating in 1991 Gulf War). Domestically, he created lots of semi-useful to useless public works from the Channel Tunnel, the Louvre I.M. Pei Pyramid and the Grand Arch above. Mitterrand was a master of symbols as a means of communication from Franco-German reconciliation to the Gulf War.

De Gaulle and Mitterrand on Chirac’s 10th anniversary as President: “Welcome to the Club!”

French presidents can last a loooooong time, too long for their own good.

Mitterrand: Socialist prince.

He was a tad vain and monarchical. Besides flirting with fascism in his youth, he tolerated corruption in his administration and intervened unconvincingly during the Rwandan genocide. He said leaving office: “I am the last of the great presidents. Nothing will be as before [because of European Unification/Globalization].”

Mitterrand's most enduring legacy: the reconciliation of the Left with Gaullism, the Fifth Republic and the market economy. Things like cohabitation and alternance (divided government and switching Right-Left-Right), present in America since the Revolution, finally became normal in French democracy.

The French have deep nostalgia for Mitterrand's presidency, his post-mortem approval ratings are higher than de Gaulle’s, but it really is time for France to say

Adieu Mitterrand!