One France Is Enough

President Obama, in his restorative counterrevolution, must be careful to steer clear of his French temptation.

Comments: 125

  1. A big difference between France and America is that France has a highly professional civil service staffed with the elite from their from their universities. The United States has a bunch of Congressmen with big egos and mediocre minds.

    There is no chance of America doing central planning as well as the French. Our system simply isn't set up for it. We would end up like Latin America, not France.

  2. Is the point of this column that one extreme leads to another? I find a lot of this unintelligible.

    "When the Big Three automakers, their heads in the sand, have made the wrong models with the wrong technologies for years, while their competitors adapted, I think it’s inevitable that one — probably Chrysler — must pay the price. Bankruptcy is not necessarily the same as liquidation..."

    Really? Would you buy a car with a 10 year warrenty from a bankrupt entity? Would you buy a car from a bankrupt entity with the knowledge you might not be able to buy repair parts?

    I admit that I am overwhelmed by the size of the problem. The good/bad news is, that we have neglected needs at home for so long, we will have to move like revolutionaries merely to claw our way back to the middle, from the far right-wing ledge we are hanging on to by a thread.

  3. Mr. Cohen, you'll always have Paris. Of course, we also have a Paris (here in Texas) and it, along with the rest of the country, are not going start eating brie and singing La Marseillaise at the rodeo or baseball game.

    The efforts of the administration have been toward salvaging what is needed to get us on our feet, and steps toward what we need to do better in the future. I think we are in no danger of adopting Mitterand as a symbol of success. In fact, if the administration is not successful with a turnaround our version of Napoleon (by way of Rush and Steele) may be closer than we wish.

  4. Presidents Obama chose an ideological avenue to respond to the nation’s financial crisis. He fully believes that his response is right, and history will be his vindication.

    A community organizer by trade, Obama’s call to historical greatness revolves around the financial crisis in 2008, and the “opportunity” to enact a social agenda in American by way of a highly partisan stimulus package and spending bill. Obama is driven by his desire for social change, and all aspects of his background are consistent with the development of the entitlements in this stimulus package.

    The “Europeanization of America” could be the title of his future biography. “Obamanomics” is a bottom up economic philosophy. Redistribution of wealth from the rich to those with less opportunity drives his philosophy because redistribution is “just” and “fair”. The Obama program promotes class warfare and the same “victimology” practiced in the inner city of Chicago by Jeremiah Wright and other Obama associates.

    Obama could have unified the country by producing a bipartisan bill which included some elements of Republican ideas (tax cuts for Americans and businesses) as well as “New Deal” type work programs that Democrats support, but Obama chose an ideological path that he hopes will draw comparisons to the “New Deal” and Franklin Delano Roosevelt by future historians. Note that he is already drawing comparisons by the liberal media - the title of Nicholas Kristof‘s commentary, March 1, 2009, is “Franklin Delano Obama“ (New York Times).

    In my opinion, Obama never considered a bipartisan approach to the stimulus bill. There is an arrogant “call to greatness” (attitude) in his domestic policy which places the ideology of Obama above the good of our economic system.

  5. To claim that Obama is in danger of turning the USA into France is in direct opposition with the observed facts.

    If Obama wanted to do this he would have signed two executive orders on the day he became president.

    1) Hedged Fund and Private Equity managers would have been taxed at the maximal tax bracket, instead of the outrageous 15% they enjoy now.

    2) Citigroup and Bank of America would have been nationalized, their management fired, and they would have been yanked from their holding companies and the derivatives and hedged funds.

    Obama did not do any such thing. I hoped he would, but he did not, quite the opposite ever since. Actually Obama is clinging to the notion of privacy to the point of ruining the world economy. Baker, Greenspan and Graham, all right wing statesmen, have begged him to nationalize the four giant banks that are blocking the world economy. But Obama clings to his hedge funds managers like a little one to mummy.

    The credit system is still frozen, and the world economy is in free fall. Obama is advised by Larry Summers, the greatest advocate of Credit Default Swaps, that have destroyed the financial system. Germans and French want to regulate those, Summers wanted them free, so they were set free, and destroyed the world. Summers did that in 1998, when he was assistant Secretary of the Treasury.

    To claim that there is "possibility" in the USA and much less in France is disjoint from the facts. It cultivates anti-French bias. Perhaps companies get created and destroyed in the USA, but so it is in France. Because the USA is bigger, and because of less social legislation, a company such as Wall Mart can grow faster than its French competitor, Carrefour (which is nearly as big, but which allows union membership).

    When looking at the history of inventions, art and ideas, France arguably did much more than the USA, even in recent times. Accusations that are too off base, smacks of racism, and the last thing the USA needs right now, is a bigger serving of hubris, while taxing Obama of being French. Obama is so completely American, it's not even funny.

    The immensely catastrophic socioeconomic system that is devouring the USA needs no encouragement. The usual trick of the US plutocracy is to claim that France is a disaster for creativity, riches, etc. And then to claim that any socioeconomic progress in the USA smacks of France, thus is unpatriotic. In truth, France is richer per capita, has better health care, better high technology in roughly all dimensions, has higher productivity per hour, and so on. What the USA has that france does not, is the wealthiest class in power, having reduced the middle class to crumbs. To bash foreigners to justify the increasing backwardness of the USA is getting a bit old.

    I will try to put more details on my site(s).

    Patrice Ayme

    http://patriceayme.wordpress.com/

  6. Good Points, all, but here, quoting you, is the lead: "Romney’s got it upside-down. The Republicans under Bush destroyed the American economy and what America stood for in the world." And because of that fact, now, as in the 1930,s, when FDR's "socialism" made it possible for capitalism to survive, we may have to accept some similar actions in order to restore some sanity, trust and fairness to the financial system and to the way the prosperity is distributed. In all your nostalgic reminiscing about the possibility that capitalism promises you neglected to mention that for the last 30 years the only segment of the population that has benefited from it is the wealthy. The rest of us have had to work longer for less while the cost of living has risen and good jobs have been exported. We may not want to be Mitterand's France, but neither do we want to be Victorian England.

  7. Amen Mr. Cohen for bringing a nice perspective to the current problem. Yes, France is indeed wonderful, but America is also wonderful and there's no reason to expect one answer or way for all countries and all people. There will be pros and cons with any system.

    Your point about what Bush did to the image of America is critical. America really has offered a dream to humanity (and Americans themselves), despite how silly or cliche that sounds. It offered a chance to try again, make things better and to succeed. Bush did things in America's name that will take a generation to correct. The torture and mistreatment of prisoners is something I never would have dreamed of 10 years ago. And because America is based so much on abstract ideas of liberty, tolerance and justice, when Bush undermined these abstractions he hurt how Americans are viewed and ultimately how Americans view themselves. This damages the American spirit and the opportunity of America more than any financial crisis ever could.

  8. So what's it going to be? French fries or freedom fries?

  9. >> For an immigrant, it lies in the ease of American identity and the boundlessness of American horizons after the narrower confines of European nationhood and the stifling attentions of the European nanny state....

    Funny that. I left the US to move to France, and I never looked back. Those 'stifling attentions' you demean kept me alive, and working, when I was one of those Americans who was uninsured and uninsurable. The US, my own country, offered me a choice of a life of poverty on disability -- disability to get the medical care, you see -- or one of severe illness, if left untreated. Some choice.

    In France I work, and am now both healthy and affluent. I am pleased to pay the taxes, as I never forget how French taxpayers once welcomed me and looked after me when my own country offered me nothing but 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps' lectures.

    I'm a French citizen now, and I'm never coming back.

  10. Your column is quite thought provoking, though it needs a short historic background to avoid stereotyping the French. I'll give it a try:

    Since the 17th century, France has suffered disasters that no nation would have been able to withstand intact:
    - The plundering kings of France.
    - The French revolution and its cold blooded massacres
    - Napoleon, and his disastrous European wars
    - The ‘commune’ civil war
    - World war one
    - World war two
    - South East Asian and Algerian liberation wars
    - Weak governments thereafter followed by the Mitterrand nationalizations.

    Yet, France overcame what should have been its demise by dismemberment.

    The main reason: France is a rich country.

    Not only because of its generous geographic situation but also in its history of developing the arts and sciences. Since the 16th century, France has been at the heart of the R&D of what has become our 21st century. This is undeniable.

    Then what is the reason it stalled, and caused it to trail behind some of the more successful neighbours such as Germany, Holland, Denmark.

    The answer probably lies in the fact that the French were busy discussing and experimenting stale and ‘nombrilist’ economic theories while the neighbours toiled and developed strong economies based on free enterprise and the then huge export markets.

    Yet Germany is no social lager. It has almost the same social security and Medicare that the French enjoy, which is the best in Europe, if not the world.

    Therefore steering America towards France, the German way, could be what Obama should be aiming at while trying to manoeuvre the oversized rusty tanker the US has become under incompetent Republican management and Wild West banking theories.

    America has led the world in R&D in the new technologies and the sciences.
    This is where it will lead it again, after it has cleaned up its act and provided a more stable healthcare and social security to its workforce, and a more diligent banking system.

    The main reason America can afford and do it: America is a rich country.

  11. I also think there are a few things - next to the good food and savoir-vivre - that the US could learn from France, such as universal health coverage that works, high worker productivity...
    I can never figure out why American columnists condemn the European way of life. We don't live in "socialist" states, we don't have a nanny government that watches over us - perhaps I should clarify that the government doesn't just watch out for big business, but also protects consumers! For example, we do not have a national health coverage in Switzerland, but everyone has to have health insurance and companies cannot turn anyone down for preexisting conditions. That is the difference between universal coverage and masses of people with no options.

  12. "When the Big Three automakers, their heads in the sand, have made the wrong models with the wrong technologies for years"
    This particular observation would seem to be wrong. For years, the auto companies were able to sell larger vehicles because of loopholes in the regulations, and because people were buying them. We've been told for years that these vehicles were the money makers. So to some extent the auto companies were just doing what the government encouraged them to do, and which the buying-public whole-heartedly supported. Is it the government's fault? No. But few people are selling cars and making money in the US right now, not just the big three. As for the bigger issue, I think we have a long way to go before socialism saps American virtue and righteousness out of our marrow.

  13. I must preface my comments re Cohen's column about America and the French with a divergent question--did Hillary read his column about Iran and its jewish population before lashing out against Iran?

    As for the gallicizing of America, Cohen strikes awarning note that must be shared by most Americans. Obama's approach to solving America's problems is a blueprint for the soul-numbing petrified stratification prevalent in France and most of Europe.

    The American dream is built on the idea of a fresh start, regardless of who or what your parents were. In my business career days I recall that our salesmen were trained, when calling on architectural firms, to make it a point to stop and chat with draftsmen and other lower-echelon workers, recognizing that these same individuals would likely be running their own design firm in a few years. This dynamic is missing in other countries. Class is destiny, abroad.

    As the adulation fades, a closer, objective look at Obama will reveal a skilled speaker with a muddled view of America's essence. Let's hope we don't wait too long.

  14. Queasy? Bash the rich?

    Huh? Come on Roger, you're usually so articulate and have such smart things to say, I can't believe you are falling for this nonsense.

    In Obama we have a president who represents the majority of Americans not just the big business interests of Big Pharma and their cohorts in the corporate world. Are you actually criticizing this? Unreal.

    The budget is the first budget in years that actually outlines all of the money the government will be spending. Me, I prefer transparency over the sneaky-let's-spend-like-crazy-while-hiding-it-from-the-masses-attitude of the Bush administration.

    You should applaud this welcome relief from the nightmare of the last eight years instead of criticizing it.

  15. Interesting comments. For some time I have been writing on these forums that post-Obama America may look more like Sweden than something like Mr. Cohen’s (bit fictional) America. France, of course, is an alternative Cohen explores at some length.

    Being born in Europe and never adapting to the somewhat medieval culture of In God We Trust here (mostly just tons of hypocrisy anyway), I have no problem with Europeization of this country. The conservatives have a point: they have to fight it at at all costs.

    Mr. Cohen should pay closer attention to the basic facts here: the 'lower' classes are going to suffer the most during this crisis. Millions of unemployed certainly do not enjoy the 'boundless frontier spirit' Mr. Cohen write about. The rich made themselves richer (or super-rich) during the Reagan/Bushes era at the expense of common sense and with no sense or responsibility.

    Obama is not, as Mr. Kaye (or whatever), the Republican High Priest of sheer nonsense, a 'radical communist'. He is just trying to bring bit of fairness into this society and insist that the rich (specifically the ones with an income over quarter million a year) pay slightly higher share to restore this country.

    Mr. Cohen believes that many French (and other Europeans) rather remain unemployed and take advantage of the 'nanny state' than work. Well, we have a sizeable number of people who are not even counted as 'unemployed' because they are unemployable for many reasons - not enough education, too many children with absent fathers and some such.

    It would be of some interest to demonstrate how they enjoy the 'possibilities' of American society Mr. Cohen is so enthusiastic about.

    OK, during my 40 years only three Americans told me that if I do not like it here, I should return where I came from. Not too bad, actually and some comments here are very likely to repeat it. As an immigrant to ANY European country I would have suffered much more blatant discrimination.

    Obviously, at 75 I am not going anywhere for many reasons. As an American citizens who had lived under many presidents starting with LBJ and seeing incredible amount of nonsense and an incredible degree of progress, I would like to spend my last years watching this country to progress to, at least, the mid of 19th century in its secularization and respect for reality.

    So, all what I can say: All power to Obama. It would be wonderful if after his two terms we are bit closer to some European countries, in my case I prefer Scandinavia but even France would not be as bad as Mr. Cohen is trying to tell us.

  16. There must be a 3rd option - neither a nanny state nor an uncaring corrupt machine that chews up and spits out the very people who made it the jewel it was and could be again. I don't believe Obama is "overly French" in his objectives and it doesn't trouble me that a few bloated, greedy heads may roll. In fact, that will be a necessity.

  17. Dear Mr Cohen

    Although I find your article very enjoyable, I would like to add a few things. I understand your choice of France as an example of "étatisme" - not just because of your time spent there - but there are several nuances to be made.

    First of all, France's relatively high unemployment rate - compared to its 'northern' neighbours is not accounted for solely by the fact that one could call it a nanny state. Just to name a few important factors: the high unemployment rate among France's immigrant population, the diminishing quality of its education system, the relative conservatism of most French politicians and unions, etc. This said, it's also a fact that the French can be innovators: Minitel in the past, TGV and ultra cheap broadband in the present, just to name a few.

    Secondly, there are numerous examples of so called nanny states out there that have succeeded in finding a balance between private entrepreneurship and government interventionism. Finland, for instance, which in recent years has seen a steady decline in its unemployment rate. It has a highly educated workforce, low levels of poverty, and so on.

    Despite your warning it should be clear that the US will never 'become' France. Innovation, entrepreneurship, flexibility and migration will always be a fundamental part of the American way of life. But there's nothing wrong with adding a little French (or Finnish) "savoir vivre".

  18. After several inspired Op-Eds on Iran Roger Cohen reverts to U.S. Exceptionalist nonsense (sorry, Roger). He states "High French unemployment was never much of a mystery" without pointing out that today's 'real' U.S. unemployment rate is well over 20 %, the difference between illusion and reality represented by the fact that U.S. unemployment figures include neither part-time workers nor the long-term unemployed (= unemployed longer than 6 months) that constitute a massive 15 % of the U.S. labour force. 15 % plus 7 % = 22 % 'real' U.S. unemployment.

    Finally, Roger's last paragraph has it back-to-front: He writes that "the U.S. is in full post-Bush nemesis". In fact it is more reasonable to argue that Bush was the nemesis of U.S. Exceptionalist Hubris, and that to save itself the U.S. must more closely approximate Germany and France.

    Roger's appeal for the U.S. to conduct 'business as usual' and dig itself deeper and deeper into the Supply-Side Darwinian Hell-hole could lead to civil war as its citizens suddenly start to question the deafening injustice that favours only those with inherited brains or inherited wealth, and why Ponzi artists like Madoff enjoy the benefits of a luxury penthouse while petty criminals with poor lawyers are locked up.

  19. I think this article totally lacks in any specifics or statistics. It essentially says very little outside of ideology-filled stereotypes. I lived and worked in France for over 4 years. On numerous occasions, I experienced how France got it right, in terms of inexpensive education and socialized medicine. There are admittedly cases where France still hasn't got it figured out.

    While France does lack the GDP numbers of other countries, there is little doubt that its social system is much healthier and stronger than the US's, namely in the case of health care, which is both less expensive, more efficient and better providing than in the US. We shouldn't judge a country purely on this biased number. This article lacks any specifics and simply a classic example of "Hate the French!" in the same line as "Freedom" Fries. Grow-up! In these complicated times, we need a balanced and nuanced understanding, not just hot air.

  20. THE RISE OF THE AUTO-ENTREPRENEUR: France has passed legislation for unbridled self employment ventures and has been met with a rush to sign up. Christine LaGarde,French finance minister, was shocked at the pent up interest in self employment and delighted at the risk taking ambition of young French men and women.

    You are living in the past, Roger. The France you knew in your previous life has evolved into a future oriented society. This, combined with France's high fertility rate, will result in a new generation of entrepreneurs.

  21. I'm sure those millions of workers you think need to go into unemployment -- and to lack healthcare and good education for their kids, etc -- to keep America properly American and churning appreciate the advice.

    Especially with you yourself being so willing to accept such consequencs of your own failures.

  22. Great article! I'm glad more people are voicing centrist views and at least questioning Obama.

    I really like Obama, but any leader's actions need to be scrutinized.

  23. Who would have a problem with a "french" way of life and government here? Just observe how people in France respond to anything from their government the don't agree with...out and on to the streets. Here we have not seen this since Vietnam. Could France have a W.Bush to lead them into a war based on lies...?
    And who doesn't want to enjoy french art de vivre and bistros instead of Dunkin's, and Dairy's ?

  24. Roger, you have the right idea. France is a wonderful place to visit, in August as most of the French have left on vacation! Everyone who can should go there, if for no other reason than to see what you don't want the U.S. to become. I would put our president as more of an American version of Henri Lefebvre, Intellectual, theoretical, and neo-Marxist. The result of those sort of policies is France in particular and Europe in general have higher rates of unemployment during prosperity then we will see in "the worst downturn since the 1930s". They, Europe, always run in the double digits on unemployment! Even with those sort of numbers they have large migrant populations that do the work and of course no real French man would lower himself to work 40 hours a week. In short France is a great model if you want to see what a once great country looks like after a few generations of socialism. There is lots of culture and not so much opportunity. In Paris It's a short walk from the Eiffel tower to the "on the dole" slums. The French don't go there and if the people there come to the "better" parts of Paris they are stopped by the police and harassed. I don't want us to go there how about you?

  25. There are many observations well taken in this piece...After settling in France for a number of years I am aware of the etatisme in place...Of Segolene Royal of the French Socialist Party bemoaning that changes she proposes are admired only by the French when observed by the new Obama administration. I am comforted here by the reality of a social contract that is inclusive...admiring of a politics devoid of extreme religiosity...of the strenght of unions that march for their rights...The French admire the American energy manifested in the arts and fields of entertainment. They are aware of a certain degree of scleroticism in the national institutions and the need for transformation but find it difficult to counter the historical result of extreme centralization...something that brought de Gaulle down decades ago...
    One might note that other European countries resemble France in their social format..that all have a network of social protection-healthcare- which is not an overriding topic of conversation here and a generous support system for its young and elderly...I suppose this would fit under the unacceptable umbrella of "socialism" a term which makes Americans run scared as does "nationalization". The French and Europeans in general have lived with and still live with degrees of both these realities and seem not to have been tainted by strains of the "socialistic disease" so feared by most Americans and all Republicans.
    It is also my observation that Americans fall back on trumpeting the validity of exceptionalism which leaves aside any critical comparison and appreciation for otherness and excellences in other places...
    The French have an enormous admiration and enthusiasm for Obama and a hope expressed by my neighbors for his and our success.
    It is ironic that you perceive a French temptation in Obama when Sarkozy attempts to emulate a watered down version of the Bush era programs...
    Less exceptionalism...less preaching ...less export of our "values"...less hubris
    More listening ...more redirection of policy...more diplomacy...more humility
    Obama knows all this and I hope that he may prevail over the lobbies, over the closed fists of the Republicans...Well,yes an audacity to hope.

  26. It is difficult to accept the wisdom of restraint when so many crimes remain hidden behind a veil of wealth and power. As Lincoln so presciently noted: it is infinitely more desireable to have tyranny without the "baser metal" of hypocrisy mixed in. If Bush and Cheney (and their enablers and apologists) truly believed in the rightness of their cause, there would have been no sacrifice to large or too small to ask of us. Instead, they turned the "war on terror," and the deaths of brave soldiers and innocent civilians, into a chance to go shopping--so that wealthy people could get wealthier. If that doesn't constitute a breach of their sacred oath and the public trust, then nothing does--and they need to be called to answer for their actions.

    The fact that they have thus far refused to do so betrays just how afraid (and hollow) they truly are.

  27. Roger Cohen is obviously hoping to bring about a counter-counter-revolution but it won't work, he is still stuck reading from last year's script. He says - 'Punish capital and it will punish you by saying, “Hasta la vista!”' This is the same disproved argument that those wise guys in Wall Street and the City had to be paid such obscene amounts or their genius would simply go elsewhere. But these days, which 'vista' are all these Lords of the Universe going to 'hasta' to exactly? The bluff has been called, their threat is hollow. Please leave. Perhaps they could try France, they do have an America loving President there at the moment who would love to create a New America. We want a divorce, and we might have to get a restraining order with the threat of incarceration. Just go.

  28. Waow, France sounds like the devil again. I thought that a decade stay in France would prevent M. Cohen from writing such a cliche. I guess he did not go outside Paris Intra-muros...
    Only went to the US for a few weeks, and it did not take me a decade to realize that America was not the bloody capitalist evil, and that there was not that many Cow Boys anymore...
    Come Back to Paris M. Cohen, just walk accross the peripherique, and leave the touristic areas such as Saint Germain des Pres

  29. French-bashing by Roger Cohen? God, I thought this was a Safire (or even Kristol !!) piece. Really disappointing from you Sir, as you should know better. Yes, we know where the high rate of unemployment in France comes from. But we also know where the low rate of unemployment in the US comes from : poor statistics (even worse than our own cooked-up books), hourly wage jobs that account for the higher number of working poor in your country (20 and maybe now 25% below the poverty line, if I am correct), shameful healthcare system that forces people to accept ANY job just not to die. Who is cutting edge in nuclear energy and high-speed rail? Who is world-leading in number of preventable deaths? Yes there are many things in the French model that do not work: agricultural subsidies, post-colonial relationship with outrageous African dictators, dysfunctioning bureaucracy or higher education (at least for the "universités", the "Grandes Ecoles" are doing all right, thank you), just to name a few of my favorites. But I doubt that the "nanny-state" has anything to do with our problems (OK, I agree, it has a bit to do with our debt problem, but only because we do not want to pay for it). Ours is a generous model, one that tries not to leave you dying for lack of insurance or survival income, one that tries to mitigate inequities and one that gives you plenty of leisure. By the way: French workers are the most productive in the world. The GDP discrepancy is thus linked to our getting more vacation and downtime. Looks like an acceptable trade-off now, and will look like the better way a few years from now, once peak-oil and global warming will do the GDP growth dogma in. Also, you might think twice about likening Obama to Robespierre: the guy who abolished basic rights like habeas to fight the "enemy" was 43, not 44.

    As much as I admire the innovative and hyperactive spirit of the American people and its relentless pursuit of freedom, and feel grateful to the men and women who serve in your military and saved us from Nazi and Communist tyranny, I am glad that this crisis ended Sarkozy's project of importing the Anglo-American model in France. We can certainly buy a few things from you, but, trust me, you could become a little bit more like us and be better off for that.

    I hold no grudges, though, and anticipate your next column.

  30. Alors, this was more like Limbaugh Lite instead of the thoughtful, intelligent Roger Cohen whose columns I always look forward to. France - nanny state and lack of "possibility"? I've lived in and worked - and pay my taxes - in France for almost 9 years and there are many more things France does right than art and gastronomy. Americans should be so lucky to have a health care system like France (no, I don't have to wait for services and yes, I can see any doctor I want and be re-imbursed - and the quality is second to none). Admittedly, I do miss my dentist back in the US.
    The public transportation system, infrastructure, broad band internet access and speed far surpass US standards. The educational system is affordable for all who qualify and the system of apprenticeships for those want to learn a trade works nicely. Free enterprise and small businesses abound - just on our street there are probably 20 small, one-three person companies - boutiques, bistrots, art galleries. Oh - and while those ambitions and dreams are being pursued - there's "nanny state" child care!! So, as much as much of the world admires the American Spirit - the US could do well to open its eyes and learn quite a bit from Old Europe.

  31. I like the reference you made to one of the most famous formulas from studies of ancient Greek tragedy regarding hybris. However, you seem to have left out a step - hybris (arrogant violence - the word actually means assault and battery) leads to ate ("infatuation" or "folly" or loss of self control) leads to nemesis (retribution or as we would say now payback) The classic case in ancient Greek drama of this progression of actions and consequences is the Agamemnon of Aeschylus.

  32. I couldn't disagree with Mr. Cohen more. If America is fulfill its destiny it must become as valiant a nation as the one that insured her creation: France.

    The great depression was the catalyst that brought substantial but incomplete change to the American economic system, introducing for the first time the patchwork welfare state with which we currently struggle.

    The greatest legacy of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was to rescue the basic capitalist system that America has unfortunately employed throughout its history.

    By saving capitalism from itself, Roosevelt lifted millions of Americans from destitution. That was a profoundly moral thing to do.

    But in the longer sweep of history it created a climate that eventually led to the evil ascendancy of economic royalists such as Ronald Reagan and his pack of laissez-faire jackals. And for the last 30 years those jackals have ruled and ruined America.

    Now we have come to another economic reckoning. If the result of this new disaster is to merely tinker around the edges of our economic system--as President Obama has currently proposed--we will once again be in the position of saving capitalism from itself and setting the foundation for laissez-faire capitalists to rebuild the temples of their god Mammon.

    Thus we may have to endure a deep, long and painful depression before many Americans such as the misguided Mr. Cohen are willing to abandon their infantile belief in let 'er rip capitalism.

    What to do?

    I think its incumbent on all of us who believe in the common good to push for a deeper change.

    American must come to adopt the mixed economy that so many of the free peoples of France and other innovative European nations thoroughly enjoy. Their economic miracle--which, depending on your point of view, could be called socialism with a capitalist face or capitalism with socialist aspirations--represents the ideal model for patriotic Americans to work towards.

    Why?

    I could, of course, list the many economic benefits that these people relish as their right, most of which are denied to us here in a suffering America.

    But more importantly the farsighted people of France and other great European nations believe, as the socialist international enunciates in its dry but clear declaration of principles that "Human rights include economic and social rights...Economic rights must not be considered as benefits paid to passive individuals lacking in initiative, but as a necessary base from which to secure the active participation of all citizens... This is not a matter of subsidising those on the fringe of society, but of creating the conditions for an integrated society with social welfare for all people." (To find out more about the 100 principles of the socialist international go to http://www.socialistinternational.org/viewArticle.cfm?ArticleID=31)

    It is this vision--the common good must come first--that America can surely find the wisdom to adopt. And then the real American dream will begin as we reward ourselves with the joys of economic justice and social democracy.

  33. I have to laugh at the number of references to France in the US press these days. "Horrors! We're becoming France!" The two countries are so different that there is little chance of that. It would be good for each to imitate the other a little more. No free-market incantations can hide the fact that the American health care system is a giant boondoggle, costing Americans twice as much as any other country while delivering overall abysmal care. It's great to live in a country where I no longer fear bankruptcy due to illness. OTOH, the French penchant to allow public-employee unions to set the bar for labor rules remains a major hobble on the economy, and society as a whole. As for étatisme, let us remember how, among many things, the modern jet airliner came to be: a US government-funded project. America and France have always learned from each other, and this age is no different.

  34. "Americans, at least in their imaginations, have always lived at the new frontier;"
    Mr Cohen,
    During the last 8 years the main export product of the Land Where Everything Is Possible were "repackaged" NPL's from consumer credits and mortgages. In other words, the Wall Street executives and probably the state itself refurbished its morbid and de-industrialized system with the fraudulent business of selling toxic debts. These top (AAA) rated securities amounting 27 trillion US Dollars, a sum which excedes twice the Gross Domestic Product of the USA, were purchased by European banks, insurances, private pension funds, even towns and communities. I am so comfortable with the thought that someone is yachting around the island of Mustique at the cost of my taxes and my retirement pension, while his wife is shopping haut couture in...right......in Paris.

    As for the nanny state, one of the multiple advantages, the overall and centralized health insurance is one of the greatest advances in civilization. Maybe you could explain, in your imagination as an immigrant in the Land Where Everything is Possible, how the system works there. If you are not a worker in the "right company" you might as well not be covered. Non merci, Monsieur. Don't try to convince us. Europe is not perfect and we can learn a lot from the USA, but many things here are excellent and worth keeping them.

  35. Is Obama heading for France or for ......Canada? I would suggest the latter. National health care, well regulated banking system, same work ethic as ours, and, at this point looking pretty good.

  36. While I agree that America is a place of hope and optimism and opportunity, these three abstractions don't give you world class health care and public services, paid vacation, retirement, and the time to enjoy life outside of work. To the millions of Americans who never achieve the American dream they've been sold, and end up in debt or worse trying to pay for it, who can't go to the doctor because it's too expensive, and who work their whole lives in jobs they hate, and are poor anyway, I say Vive la France.

  37. Thank God for the sentence:"Decidedly the “Decider” delivered a debacle. President Obama (is)its recipient." Much of the article is true, one thing is wrong: health insurance in the US. It's OK for the well-to-do who have the means and discipline to care for themselves. What about others, less privileged or well organized in the conduct of their lives? It's an essental quality of life to have some pertinent form of security of health protection. Loose it and your life may be in shambles or shortened because of lack of proper (expensive) treatiment. We see it this way in Europe: Pay your monthly premium as you pay for a mortgage,a pension,the rent of an apartment or down-payment of a car, saving for your child's education etc. Take care of your life-style because this way you help yourself and all others who also pay in and who altogether form a community based on the principle of mutual solidarity And then forget about the ravages of illness.

  38. "bash the rich righteousness"

    I don't see it that way, and phrasing it in that manner gives undue credence to a Republican talking point. Obama wants to increase the tax rate a few percentage points on high income earners This would represent an approximatee return to the tax rates on the wealthy during the Clinton years which were wondrfully prosperous both for the rich and for everyone else.

  39. What exactly should the average (not newspaper columnists or financial experts who have a comfortable amount of "nut" in the bank to cover a luxury home or two)US citizen's fear be about being like France?

    Would that be...

    Free Health Care?

    Free Child Care?

    35 hour week?

    Minimum wage double the US level?

    Free College Tuition?

    6 weeks paid vacation?

    Unemployment insurance of 80% of salary that never runs out?

    A 21st century transportation network (at affordable prices)?

    One sixth of the US prison population?

    Even millionaire journalists like you and Friedman and the other "experts" who did't foresee the crisis spend enough time in France. Even neocons have a house in the South of France for August.

    And I didn't even mention the cheese!

  40. very well stated. before pumping anymore tax payer dollars into some of these bloated would be carcasses, the question as to what happens if they fail - needs to be answered. are there smaller nimbler companies who'd be left - not unlike the age of mammals following the age of dinosaurs - who could buy up the existing policies of say an AIG such that we policy holders could simply send our premiums to them? after all, were it not for the sub-prime mortgages, the rest of their business is supposedly solid.

  41. In your article "One France is Enough" you should not fear a French revolutionary zeal with rising taxes when the rise on the rich is simply a roll back of the Bush tax cuts which will be left to expire in 2011. Going back to a pre-Bush tax basis is hardly comparable to "off with their heads".
    All that has happened is a change of emphasis to favor the middle classin tax cuts.
    Nationalization is a dirty word but if the government is going to invest in private banks it needs to have a minimum say just like any other major investor the contrary would lead to irresponsibility. Again having a share-holder say is a far cry from nationalization.
    See the Swedish example which went further since they nationalized temporarily their banks in the 90's and returned them to the private sector successfully after the crisis was over.
    Let's not push the panic button of ideology and move to save a situation caused by the excess of unbridled deregulation

  42. 'Possibility' in the US has been declining for the last twenty-five years. Social mobility has stalled. There are numerous studies that show this. The proverbial 'little guy' has been squeezed out by the fat pigs dining at the government trough. The bailout culture we are now stuck with is an extension of this, not the importation of a French model. The US urgently needs to redefine the playing field so that everyone, including those traditionally marginalized here, has a decent chance. That means not only health care, but improvements in education, union organizing, reducing the prison population, and, yes, expanding the state in some ways. Scare tactics from closet Reaganites should be ignored.

  43. Professor Cohen -- I hope you don't mind the tag, but you are scholarly -- tonight you bit off quite a chunk, and we'll have to chew on it a bit to see what's really threatening America and where perhaps you've overdrawn the French/nanny state analogy. Perhaps the best place to start is 'President Obama's counter-revolution,' which I submit is a revolution, not counter.

    Presumably you say 'counter' because you accept that there was a 'Regan Revolution.' But if we think about it, what Reagan did was counter to the American Revolution and every progressive period since. We started our Grand Experiment by breaking away from aristocracy and a near-caste system, by extolling the individual, freedom, and liberty. The period from at least FDR's inauguration though Jimmy Carter was one where the middle-class was on the upswing. But there were Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, and others -- and periods/decades -- where the lower and middle among us demanded and got better wages, a fairer slice of the pie, and more rights and freedoms, including civil rights, women's liberation and the right to vote. Along came Reagan and the right-wing, and the likes of Alan Greenspan and Richard Viguerie, and the horrible Bushes, and the aristocracy and super-rich devised and waged the 'war of the 10,000 long knives' on us -- the 'leveraged fleecing' of the country, as you put it. We were being sliced a new cut every day by the time George Jr. was in office. Perhaps learning a lesson from Goebbels, or he from us, the Reganites knew that one way to prevail was to call their counter revolution a revolution. It worked, sort of. They got a 28-year run, stole us blind, and are still railing from their dead-party grave, for that what the Republicans are today: the zombie dead. May they not rest in peace.

    You worry: "Punish capital and it will punish you." You don't define punish, though you do mention some of the targets: oil companies, drug companies, Chrysler, A.I.G., and the usual off-with-their-heads targets of the French Revolution. Somehow you're assuming -- perhaps because all these 'targets' are screaming, egged on by the new head of the Republican Party Rush Limbaugh -- that they're about to be massacred and we'll see the end of business, individuality, profits, and creativity. I suggest we 'educate' capitalists and stop letting some two-thirds of corporation escape paying taxes by pretending to be post office boxes on Grand Cayman Island. Mr. Gates seems to get it, as does Mr. Soros and scores of others. Whether through simple logic and analysis some top businessmen and women 'get it' or through education, the point is that this can happen. Or perhaps we could view what's needed is to 'discipline capital,' like we used to do school children before the age of rampant individualism came to mean that misbehaved little Johnny was a sacred being and couldn't be touched by a representative of the collective whole.

    The real heart of your essay is that 'possibility' is in jeopardy, that the rough-and-tumble creativity and passion that has made America will falter. You could make no stronger point, and nothing worries me more. You say: "save the zombies and you sabotage the vital." You mention zombie corporations, but I include zombie sheeple in America and abroad as well. I was in Europe a year ago and was appalled at the homogeneity and SOME aspects of the nanny state. With my friends, we talked often about how could the better aspects we were seeing be retained while ridding Europe of complacency? And we certainly must guard against becoming Masaru Tamamoto’s Japan (NYT, op-ed, 3/1/09). This is the big challenge of the Obama Revolution, and I'm confident he's well aware of it. But we can help with ideas and by accepting your worries as valid. Awareness is the first tool of correction.

    You should not be 'queasy' about Mr. Obama's $3.6 trillion budget, nor the paltry tax hikes he's proposing. Probably Dr. Krugman is correct and in a couple of years we'll have a value-added tax, hopefully no more than a couple of points to be sunset once we're on our feet again. But perhaps never, as we owe the world a lot and have to get the money somewhere to invest in the infrastructure, greening, and industry of those less fortunate. Otherwise they will eventually overwhelm us, and in the interim cause us much-deserved shame and guilt for being so rich and helping other so little.

    "Hope is on hold." Not so, Professor, hope is never on hold. Viva la Obama Revolution!

  44. Yonkers, New York

    05 March 2009

    I am a bit surprised that Roger Cohen should accuse President Obama of "bashing the rich" simply after Mr Obama refused to make permanent those obscene tax cuts to America's wealthiest 1%.

    America's wealthiest 1% have been "on the hog" all these past eight years during the Bush administration, which justified giving America's wealthiest those tax cuts because it is this wealthy class "which creates jobs."

    I am sure Roger Cohen has observed that during those eight years under Bush, the number of billionaires and multi-millionaires in America increased by a big factor. On the other hand, millions of middle-class Americans struggled, and many had joined the poor. Inequality thus widened and when Bush left office, the chasm seemed unbridgeable.

    30 million Americans are living below the poverty line. They are living on food stamps and charity--and this in a nation that is ballyhooed to be the wealthiest on planet earth.

    47 million Americans are without health insurance. When they get sick, their only option is either to go to the ER, or do without medical or dental care.

    President Barack Obama and his admnistration, all too aware of this blatant inequality and injustice in American society, are now trying their very best to redress this inequality and this injustice which have victimized millions of Americans.

    No, Roger, Mr. Obama and his administration are not "bashing the rich."

    Mariano Patalinjug

  45. Philosopher/poet Wendell Berry might add an addendum to this concept of America always on the new frontier. He suggests we are a nation that uses up what we inherit then move on to that next frontier, leaving the cleanup to those who remain behind. King Cotton wrecked the soil in the South. The wealthy move from their cities, letting the urban cores decay and turn into places for the poor. Industrialization yet wrecks the land and air. And in our time, the GOP let financiers wreck the nation's economy in pursuit of ever-expanding wealth.

    The question rightly is where to find balance and how much we are willing to give up as a nation in order to keep things from tilting too far one way or the other. But while we look for that answer, I hope we long remember these Republicans were allowed to destroy a whole lot in their ambition to prove their belief certain in Ayn Rand, utopian, free-market capitalism.

    Belief certain - whichever side has it - is something to guard against. Sadly, Congressional Republicans still seem to have their same core belief, just as blindly followed today as it was before America led the world into this economic mess.

    Bob Benish

  46. I am an American, who moved to France for the opportunities that it offers. In the United States, I had the freedom to compete for more. As a one of the lucky ones, I did gain a great deal more, more everything. That reflects one set of values, neither good nor bad. In France, I have the opportunity to live in a country where poverty is less tolerated that in the United States. Where freedom from hunger and the fear of losing your job, or losing everything to a health problem beyond your control, are considered to be basic rights. I don’t use any of these benefits; fortunately, I don’t need to. Not now. But the values here are different. Not better, or worse, just different. And I, like most of the French, feel better for living in a country that democratically chooses a system that cares for all, not just a few. I’m tired of my fellow Americans knocking the French system, which chooses to care about its fellow citizens in a way that the United States has always ignored. As an American, I also had a problem asking a fundamental question: “more? What for?”

  47. Couldn't your concerns have been equally leveled at FDR when he launched his ambitious programs? I am sure many people at that time thought they were witnessing the end of the American way, and most now feel he helped save it.

  48. Good article Mr. Cohen, but you must realize that most of the readers of this newspaper believe the main problem with the United States is that it isn't a lot MORE like France! And have felt that way for decades.

  49. Why is France always presented as the model Americans should fear, as against the 'American spirit'. By representing France as somehow anathema to everything American, not only do we fail to draw a nuanced line between the two countries, we also fail to learn from the concrete examples of how France benefits from its social security policies (big government, oh no!). By dedicating a large budget to a public healthcare plan, and by improving education, and investing in science and new technological innovations, Obama is not moving the country backward towards the old continent, towards a European model. The President is making the needed changes in response to what have been our recent failings. What more can be said for this country's ability to be flexible, a characteristic of the States Cohen fears we may be inhibiting. If we did not make these changes, if we did not impose regulations after the financial meltdown, then we would be showing a real intransigence. No need to cry out that the Revolution has begun, beware the rolling heads! Why fear the revolution anyway? In what concerns our revolutionary histories, France and America are the two states responsible for ushering in the democratic era. Instead of decrying the radical revolt of France's past, we should remember the initial 'American (revolutionary) spirit'. By refusing to make the necessary changes in light of the present crisis and instead opting for a vague yet compfortably familiar mixture of continued deregulation and weak public investment, we not only fail to match a French revolutionary cry, but we side with the tories of our own revolutionary past.

  50. I think Ernest Bevan, a British Foereign Secretary, may have been the first to make the comment about Germany that Mr Cohen attributes to Francois Mauriac.

  51. "The Republicans under Bush destroyed the American economy and what America stood for in the world." That single sentence is the most succinct summary of the last eight years that I have seen. (Perhaps it was a mistake to elect to the highest office a man who had never succeeded at anything in his life, other than getting elected.)

    I don't share Mr. Cohen's apprehension that the Obama administration may take this country too far toward the European model. Having lived in France (as I have, too) he knows that state owned companies make things ranging from Gauloises and Gitanes cigarettes to Renault cars and trucks. In France, that kind of state ownership (which goes beyond Marx's "means of production") reflects an ideological position. In this country, if the federal government comes to own banks and automobile manufacturers, it does so despite its ideology, not because of it. That kind of nationalization occurs when capitalism was not the solution; capitalism was the problem.

    In most of Western Europe, and even in Cuba, the consensus is that medical care should be dispensed on the basis of medical need, so that the affluent have no advantage either in access to, or the quality of care they receive. An analogous belief governs education as well, so state financing ensures that all have access to the same schools, regardless of ability to pay. If the new President succeeds in getting us even half way toward these goals, the county will have taken a giant leap toward catching up with the rest of the developed world.

  52. Are you kidding? This is absurd, anytime an American politician mentions a project involving the State and not private investors the word FRANCE (Oh la la... so scary) is invoked to scare people. Come on. You're watching too many cable news programs.

  53. Easy to say on a full belly. As Newsweek put it on their cover recently "We're all socialists now". The president of China gave a speech yesterday about the lack of a safety net in that country.

    France is not the only European country with a safety net. Iceland was a country that put an extreme priority on freedom. The Latvians and Hungarians are now questioning the value of freedom, when you're out of work, out of money and out of luck.



  54. Oh, phooey! While I usually look forward to one of M'sieur Cohen's missives for the fun it provides in tearing into his rather pompous "look at how sophisticated I am" references to where he's been and what he's read, today I am disappointed. I actually agree with him! (Which, of course doesn't mean this column is not resplendent with the above mentioned.}

    I agree that there is a great deal to recommend the French, their art, literature, and cuisine among them; but an economic policy ain't one of them! Etatism (and, no, Professor, I didn't need your definition)is at the root of much of what plagues France and that appears to be the road we're headed down in devising an American brand of socialism.

    Now as for the Revolution, I would be more inclined to call Obama the Abbe Sieyes of this foray, but then I'm one of those he turned his back on for expediency's sake and have my own guillotine to grind. His defenders might prefer to style him Danton, but, well, we know what happened to him.

    However, since it's my country, too, bon chance M'sieur le President.

  55. Unfortunately, Cohen has no idea what he's talking about. Maybe he should actually go to France and live there for a while - a couple of years, or so - so that he can get a feel for what it's like.

    French workers just happen to be more productive than American. They work much less and they spend much more time with their families. What's there no to like about that?

  56. Since when is France equivalent to Europe? Why not compare Germany, Britain, Denmark, Spain, etc? This myth of the "nanny state" is nonsense as is the notion of "possibility" being limited to the US.

    Welfare entitlements are not so high as to cause people not to work. In fact, in Spain they are far, far less than in the US. However, basic things like healthcare and decent education are a given for all, thus "possibility" often translates into "reality" for more people in many European countries.

    Not to mention the far broader range of rights and safeguards for one half of the population, immigrant or not--women.

  57. Where are all the supportive comments from your regular readers? I thought this was pretty good. Fair and Balanced you might say.

    Thanks

  58. Fears that the US will become like France are truly misplaced. Unfortunately there is no chance the US will ever approximate France in those respects that are admirable, like their health insurance system, a well oiled public transportation system (when not on strike) and delicious food. No country is perfect and
    certainly there are problems in France, as pointed out in this column, but the US could do worse than emulate some aspects of French culture.

  59. I think Roger eloquently expresses the queasiness that many of us feel about the financial sector bail-outs. Despite all intellectual rationalisation about the need for systemic stability and the greater good, in the pit of my stomach there is a feeling that incompetence and greed are being rewarded. Worse still are the fears that these actions will send the wrong message to, and somehow stifle the entrepreneurial spirit , with its inbuilt risk-reward proposition, of our next generation.

  60. Frankly, I'm a little puzzled by your column...
    First, it's a bit unnerving to see that French people will always be used like a scarecrow.
    Second, I remember a ridiculous ( though effective) campaign of denigration against candidate Kerry, which campaign had been denounced by...

    quotation :

    Published: SATURDAY, APRIL 3, 2004
    By Roger Cohen
    PARIS: It is not going to be a pretty American election. Already the Bush administration has embarked on a campaign to portray John Kerry as a flip-flopping, tax-raising, European-educated wimp. The presumptive Democratic candidate has responded by describing the president as a job-destroying, budget-busting, alliance-breaking unilateralist.

    But perhaps the surest indication that the looming political season will be ugly has come from repeated Republican suggestions that Kerry "looks French."

    So, here is my point : are we, french people, the bogeymen in whatever political debate ? if we are, OK, why not... Robespierre and guillotine and welfare state and escargots à l'ail, OK. But why undermine President Obama with such atrocious comparisons ?

  61. The comparison with french former president Mitterrand is flawed. When Mitterrand decided to nationalize it was by pure ideology. I don't think ideology is the motivation behind president Obama's stimulus plan.

  62. Any government that robs the bulk of it's citizens, even future ones, to hand over huge sums of money (read, bailouts) to unethical, criminal masters of wrong behavior (read, AIG, Citigroup, ...); that government is itself the largest part of the problem.

  63. I like you Roger, but here you may need some education. I would love to keep America America but alas that is no longer possible. America now has excessive wealth and excessive poverty and the gap is widening. Someone has to control the selfish, unpatriotic, insensitive ultra rich. We have to move away from the pure American model because of the greedy and unashamed. By most standards, the French, as a whole and on average, are living better than we Americans. I want more Americans to live better than few Americans to live worse.

  64. There are plenty of past examples of beneficial state involvement in the American economy, particularly with regard to military expenditures but also the New Deal initiatives of the 1930s. So why should Mr. Cohen be afraid of further government initiatives? He derides the French experience but if you compare France and Britain it is hard to find much to merit in the Anglo-Saxon approach. The French manufacturing sector - whether it's cars, trains, electronics or aerospace - is in far better shape than the British equivalent. The same can be said about infrastructure. Overall generalizations about state involvement in the economy are not really very helpful. In any country, outcomes depend on organizational expertise, whether in governments or corporations. Germany has a high degree of government intervention in its economy and yet it has created average wealth for its citizens that far exceeds America's. Free enterprise is a wonderful ideal but it is obvious that when groups of large corporations monopolize an economy their organizations face the same challenges as government bureaucracies. General Motors, coddled and supported as it has been by US governments for the past few decades, looks more severely like a basket-case institution than the French civil service ever has.

  65. Mr. Cohan is right. There is much to be worried about in how Obama has handled the economy. A huge expansion of government and government spending to be followed by a further contraction of our industrial and private sector economy, a huge increase in debt, higher taxes and stag inflation is on the way. Obama sells these policies as a means to stimulate the economy when in fact his underlying goal is to redistribute the wealth and to turn our capitalist economy into a socialist state like France.

  66. Roger, you're generally good for a good column, but this one stands out.

    You capture the essence of both the challenges facing the new administration (actually all of us), and the temptations to avoid.

    America has been the world's creative machine in politics, economics, industry, and society for more than a century. To see the glass half-empty, we leave a trail of abandoned railways, inner cities, and - now - suburban developments-in-nowhere.

    We're uniquely diverse and tolerant bigots and racists, in that we let every brand and flavor of religion and prosletyzation bash and burn the evil and less worthy among us.

    So, while we continue - if not revel - in our latest round of destruction and demagoguery, we should be mindful of midgames (I guess nothing in America is ever an endgame). To wit:

    > An aftermath of the Great Depression was Social Security. With minor adjustments to age eligibility and COLA, it can remain solvent for as long as we can see. It is time to do something enduring about universal health care, along the same line.

    > While we're finally coming to grips with our legacy of racism borne out of slavery, we're still bashing gays. To me, it’s this simple. If folks are born a certain way - and it doesn't harm children or other vulnerable/non-consenting individuals - let it be tolerated.

    > The notion of a utility - as in local power companies and a national phone company - worked very well for decades. Short or nationalization, there is utilitization.

    To net, (lower-case) social security, tolerance, and stability can have value that does transcend the latest wave of innovation. Imagine where we'd be now if Dubya had succeeded in privatizing any part of Social Security.

  67. " Bash the rich"? The rich seemed to me ( and I happen to be considered one of them) to still be the wards of the state finding benefit and camouflage in almost every policy. And when policies are proposed to make a more equitable society the privileged whine like the spoiled brats they are. Should we judge a nation by how well the rich are doing or by the general welfare of the populace?

  68. France has a different social value in comparison to USA. France is a country which does not show off the money power which , of course is not the case with USA.State run French companies have always done well and continue to do so . Mitterand example is out of context . Abraham Linclon is the first US President to bring Protectionism by way of tariff on import. William Mckinley's maxim against free trade helped USA to recover during his first term as President .

  69. This is all a bit abstract isn't it like most of the conservative anti Obama stuff. No society is perfect but I can only say having lived and worked in the UK, US, Germany and France....I'd say the country with the best balance of lifestyle and efficiency was without question France. And I also have news for all those Americans who rail against big govt in Europe and we don't want it here....well the most bureaucratic country of the four was without question....the US.

  70. Dear Mr Cohen,

    I totally disagree with you! I do not think it would be good for the United States (for me America means the entire continent and not just the US) to com closer to France in terms of welfare state. Actually the North American country should even go beyond France and try to follow the example of the Nordic countries.

    Gosta Esping-Andersen who has studied different models of welfare state and written The Three Models of the Welfare State has convincingly argued for the fairness of the Nordic and continental (European) types of welfare state vis à vis the Anglo-Saxon one. Not only him, but also the Nobel laureate and US citizen Paul Krugman, in his book The Conscience of a Liberal, has strongly shown, with arguments and data, that the US is the only rich country in the world that does not have an universal public health system and how unfair this is to the North American society as a whole.

    Sometimes it is necessary to go beyond the values and prejudices of our own societies to see how unfair some of them are. It is just a question of humility and good sense.

    Best regards,

  71. Even worse, picture a stagnant economy and lack of social mobility WITHOUT aesthetic and gastronomic pleasures.

  72. Cohen, you're at it again. Sprinkling a few historical references that bear no relation to current realities, neither in France or the US ... while basing ludicrous analogies on specious reasons.

    The average American would be very lucky indeed to live as well as the average modern Frenchman or Swede or Dane.

    Stop with the foreigner-bashing, you're merely tiresome & too deceitful.

  73. Having lived in "socialistic" European countries, I find this column essentially worthless, and typical of the kind of commentary often found in US presses. More and more, as we attempt to save unregulated crony capitalism from destroying our economy, we are hearing the dread words, "France," and "nanny-state." This is just ignorant. We should be so fortunate to live in a country where its health care system is regarded as the best in the world. France has given to the world a rich contribution both in the arts and in government. We might learn something from their example if we can get away from the "Wild West" mentality that believes success only comes from having winners and losers. Now that there are more losers in our broken economy, this idea is on the losing side of the debate on what kind of society do we want to create. It is long overdue.

  74. "The Republicans under Bush destroyed the American economy and what America stood for in the world."

    I could swear that before Bush, I heard Barney Frank and Chris Dodd advocating the relaxation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac lending standards to allow all Americans, regardless of those pesky income verifications, to own a home. Kind of like "universal home coverage" for those millions of Americans who could not otherwise afford a home. Must of got that wrong. But I also thought I remembered Joe Biden voting with Delaware banking interests to make it harder for Americans to declare bankruptcy over their credit card debt, while allowing the banks to continue to offer pre-approved credit limits to any American who owned a post office address. I thought those guys were Democrats, but who am I to stand in the way of Mr. Cohen's sweeping statements.

  75. Well, first of all, we'd need a guillotine, not a new set of tax rates, to get the revenge that many feel appropriate.

    Obama's new tax rates are not revenge, but a rational correction to the bungles of the past 8 years. Remember that taxes are the government's income, and that consideration gov't spending and gov't debts must be part of the conversation about tax rates.

    If we don't tax people with income, whom do we tax, the homeless???

  76. It's a shame that, after a decade in France, Mr Cohen has not gone any further than the usual, tired clichés about France he repeats in this piece.

    Indeed there is much more than the proverbial (and somewhat overstated) "savoir-vivre" to France. Most importantly, there is also a "contrat social" that explains why the vast majority of the French are endlessly fighting for the defense of their public services, public social security, and social rights -- against the destructive wave of anglo-saxon capitalism. It's a pity Mr Cohen has not been able to understand this in ten years...

  77. "The Congress shall have power to . . . to coin money, regulate the value thereof." United States Constitution, Art. 1, Sec. 8

    It is not a matter of imitating any foreign system but of separating powers according to the Founders' intention. Let the banks remain private, but return the money power to the American government, and not keep it in the essentially bankers-owned Federal Reserve. Lincoln had Greenbacks; we are left with the legacy of Greenspan.

  78. I see America churning up people and spitting them out like garbage, while the wealthy pay less taxes than anyone and fleece those beneath them on the financial ladder.

    Having lived and worked in the US and in Europe, I say give me France any day, where even though things are tough, you never feel like you've been churned up and spit out like garbage.

  79. @Richard #25,

    Read unemployment figures in this week's economist p.101:

    United States: 7.6% (jan)
    France: 8.1% (dec)

    Quite frankly, there is no reason to pride ourselves on these, especially given the often more precarious nature of jobs in America.

  80. Mr. Cohen is a hero of mine and deserves a nobel peace prize, BUT on the economic mess I don't think he digged deeply enough in his analyis. When Mr. Cohen says "the disaster that unfettered markets have delivered", he is overlooking the fact that the Federal Reserve is the number one culprit in our current situation. The Fed is responsible for the years of artificially low interest rates which is the primary cause of the housing bubble.

  81. Give us a break! After decades of sending the "middle class" jobs abroad or to your south and robbing it for the sake of the rich, a reversal is not class war, unless the Reagan /Thatcher war was (which is how it seemed in Britain at the time). In fact, America needs to learn a lot of things from other countries. Just to begin try Canadian banking, French health care and a German size (relatively speaking) military. You have statism already--look at the size of your military budget? Do you think that is a private enterprise endeavour? If the Republicans had just been willing to pay taxes to support the enormous state they have and want, much of this disaster would have been impossible.

  82. I read your article and thought you had written a fine, balanced article. The press has done such a good job at selling polemics that an article like this cannot be seen for what it is - a logical portrayal of our situation. The American public has been conditioned to see in only black and white. When something is written in "grey", you get the vitriolic comments found above. Keep writing in "grey" Mr Cohen, this country badly needs to start seeing in more "grey" tones.

  83. Why is it always "either/or", "black or white" - why can't we take what has been tried and is working for other countries and incorporate it into our policies? Our govenment, after all, was based on the Magna Carta and it has worked pretty well.

    "Companies are born, rise, fall and die". Capitalism would let that happen without government interference or rescue. At this point, there are apparently too many companies that are considered "too big to fail", and it makes me wonder why and how they became that big and that important. GM, to me, is one that has not seemed to get the message - along with the UAW concerned in its future.

    There has to be some point at which we stop bailing out companies, even financial institutions like AIG, that are considered too big to fail.

  84. Why are nationalism, socialism, and France such bad words? Is capitalism sacred? We should consider what works best, not what sounds best. If the "nanny state" dampens innovation, how to explain the example of automakers who fail to modernize? Personally, I would welcome a nanny state if it meant universal health care and access to quality child care for every working mother.

  85. I don't know much about France. I do know they have a better healthcare system. I do know that if workers in this country lack countervailing power against corporations they could endup slaves.

    Like the plantation system in the south years ago represented the culture there, we have the corporation representing the culture of today. Both have control over labor and neither represent any kind of democracy.

    It is true that certain section of society are motived to be creative and likely more than any other country. But I also noted that the inner city people motivation seems to be antisocial and no different than France or any other country.

    I guess one takes the good with the bad and has to judge which in balance things favor. I would not worry that United States people will stop being creative.

  86. France!? You're joking.

    Canadians know better. We see what Obama is doing and we see something of ourselves.

  87. The idea that France has an overly generous social safety net is exaggerated. Germany or Holland not to mention the Scandinavian countries are far more generous, at least as regards unemployment aid. When I came to France the RMI (basic unemployment assistance) didn't even exist and unemployment was as big a problem as today.

    What France does have is an incestuous relationship between the State and the largest companies. But I'm not sure the US is very different in that regard, though on your side of the Atlantic the incest is practised more through lobbying firms and crony contracting than through the French system of government interference in CEO appointments.

  88. Mr. Cohen says he would like to be told, in plain language, how allowing the collapse of A.I.G. would pose a systemic risk. I would like Mr. Cohen to explain how he thinks the oil and gas industry is in danger of having its head lopped off by President Obama's proposed policies.

    This is the industry, that in July 2005, was given major exemptions from the Federal Clean Water, Safe Drinking Water, Clean Air, and Right to Know Acts (as well as others). These outrageous exemptions are still given to these extractive industries, and as a result, the people of Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana (and other states), have suffered from the tremendous drilling for methane in densities that turn our pristine landscapes into Mars scapes.

    Close to home, the Marcellus Shale area is ramping up to the potential I just described above. This includes the Delaware River Basin, and the specific NYC watershed, sources of drinking water for more than 17 million Americans.

    This obscene and dangerous scenario was made possible by the advances in technology within the industry, which allows these tight shale plays to be exploited. More importantly, it is enabled by the exemptions that Congress and the Bush Administration gave to this industry in 2005.

    As long as the Oil and Gas Industry has these exemptions, and as long as governing bodies such as the Delaware River Basin Commission allow drilling in our watershed areas (maturely forested, relatively heavily populated), the industry's heads are firmly in place.

    The fact that the industry is allowed to hydraulically fracture the shale using toxic and carcinogenic chemicals, and that the extraction process produces approximately five million gallons of toxic industrial waste per well per frac, would be better described by a visual metaphor such as: "The Oil & Gas Industry has been fitted with a custom made neck brace".

  89. It seems like all the NYT columnists are repeating the matra that "de-regulation" is the cause of our current economic mess.

    The current economic state we are in is not the result of "unfettered or unregulated markets" but of specific government tax and trade policies that encouraged consumption, outsourcing and cheap imports. Fair tax policies such as a Value Added Tax (VAT) appropriatley applied to imports and domestic goods could have prevented the massive loss of productive capacity and encouraged savings and investment over consumption. The mortgage interest deduction could have been applied only for first time home owners to discourage house flipping and mortgage refinancing.

    The markets are working the way they are supposed to. China just went through a (mainly government financed) massive build up in productive capacity, so of course there is an over supply of capacity leading to a world wide down turn. The US is going through economic turmoil that will no doubt result in a down turn in the standard of living. What do you expect when the US savings rate has bordered on zero for decades and we have gone into debt to finance non-productive items such as large screen TVs, McMansions and SUVs?

    The Obama plan may or may not "Frenchify" the US but its net result is to only encourages more debt (this time in the public sector). It does not address any of the root causes of the US decline. The US economy has been taking on water for years, and Obama wants to re-arrange the deck chairs.

  90. Slightly schizophrenic piece; is it left is it right, too hot too cold, too much too little? The left says that bush destroyed the economoy. The right says the dem's housing policies did. c'est la vie.

  91. Mr. Cohen,

    Having lived in France, you must have had the occasion to bump into one or two entrepreneurs. I had that opportunity, and the horror stories of government micromanagement, uncaring bureaucrats that have no comprehension of how to meet a payroll, and the unbearable labor laws that crush most small businesses was the common refrain I heard. One businesswoman I met was returning to the US because she just could not bear the weight of the omnipresent government.

    I fear that the path we are taking is the path that France and other heavily regulated economies have taken. The thing that makes America so attractive to entrepreneurs from around the world, the thing that draws the best and the brightest to these shores, was opportunity. I see opportunity brought to its knees and made to recant by those who cannot stand the freedom to make unlimited wealth by hard work, sacrifice and brains. I truly am afraid for our country for the fist time.

  92. Tantalizing, titivating, and not total rubbish, not quite. Roger, you might have written this with another perspective, such as that of an ancient Roman. But that would be just as jejune. Obama is quintessentially American. And he is that because he wanted to be. In turn came from knowing that his African American ancestors were denied that privilege. And indeed he had seen life elsewhere, and it wasn’t so good. Even so, while growing up in America, he saw the closed doors, if not always against him, against many African Americans.

    America through the ages has produced millions like Obama, intelligent, educated, and pragmatic. He wants his daughters to have a good life. He wants their friends to have a good life. He sees no barricades in his politics and doesn’t want any in his family’s future. But he knows that they can't have a good life if they have the poor and crippled begging at their doors.

    And you do get a better class of comments here, Roger, even if some of them seem to be based on RNC talking points and written as class projects for credit.

  93. 'Capital' needs to understand that this time out we are not fooling around,...We need a strong and large and growing middle class,...Your, 'American Dream, cast as...'possiblity' is a lie, a pie in the sky trap for all Americans,...We don't need to win the lottery of life here or the American Dream,...We need conscientious policies that will regulate 'the market', put in place a level playing field and a culture of well-being instead of wealth making,...If Wall St. bails on Obama well, we will not tolerate such intransigence,...This time we will create America as it was intended, with justcie and liberty for all,...Not some ponzi scheme of existence,...We need a sober, and smart redrawing of the lines that create well-being,...green, lean and no to greed and luxury,...We want well-being not dreamy fantasies of 'making it',...we are so over 'making it',...WE CAN TOOL THIS ECONOMY TOO A VIBRANT BUT REGULATED CAPITALISM,...THAT DOES NOT PREY ON PEOPLE,...!!!

  94. Dear Mr Cohen,

    you wrote:
    "We are told that the collapse of A.I.G. would pose a “systemic risk,” ... could explain why in plain language."

    I'd recommend reading more of your own newspaper as it has been explained there: AIG, among other major worldwide holdings, underwrites US$19 TRILLION in US Insurance policies alone.

    If AIG goes bankrupt, who can/will pick up the tab on about 100% plus of the est. 2008 US GDP?

    I hope that clarifies the matter.

  95. "After the excesses of Reagan-inspired deregulation and the disaster that unfettered markets have delivered, the pendulum had to swing."

    Roger, I appreciate that the idea that a liberal would learn from history is as laughable as an infant learning calculus. However, after the above quote, I couldn't resist posting.

    On January 2, 1937, near the end of FDR’s first term, the Dow closed at 186.

    During the next 8 years, when the full weight of the New Deal was being felt by the economy, the Dow lost nearly 20% of it’s value.

    On January 2, 1945, the Dow closed at 154

    In 1953, Dwight Eisenhower is inaugurated.

    The Dow closed at 279 on January 2, 1953.

    In 16 years, between 1937 and 1953, the Dow grew 50%

    In 1961, after only 8 years of the Eisenhower administration, the Dow grew 250%.

    The Dow closes at 676 on 1/2/61.

    1962 – 1982. LBJ’s Great Society is created and in it’s full bloom.

    On January 2, 1961, the Dow closes at 676.

    On January 2, 1980, the Dow closes at 785.

    The Dow grew 15% TOTAL in the 19 years between the inauguration of JFK and the year Ronald Reagan was elected.

    The Reagan Revolution begins.

    On January 2, 1980, the Dow closes at 785.

    On January 3, 2000, the Dow closes at 10,921.

    From 1980 to 2000, The Dow grew 1,400%.

    I wonder how much affluence that created. I wonder how much consumption this created. I wonder how many jobs were created. I wonder how many hundreds of millions of Indians and Chinese were yanked out brutish poverty in order to supply us with our "stuff"?

    Mr. Obama has succeeded in creating a lost decade or 2 just as Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Johnson before him. Hard left liberalism, as seen all over history and all over the world today, inhibits economic growth more than any other factor.

  96. Roger is relating his anecdotal experience about possibilities in France versus the US. And that's a good story. But as the NY Times showed graphically here intergenerational income and social mobility in the US is well below that in France. Objectively then, the possibility for an individual to advance beyond his or her parents' status is inferior in the US. There is a distinct correlation between income inequality and social mobility. Inequality in the US is the most extreme of any industrialized country. This is what Obama et al. are trying to change. If Zroger doesn't like that he can always go back to France. Most people in the US don't have that option.

  97. Mr Cohen, I also lived many years in Paris, and I have the most wonderful memories! I had three preschool children and they all could go to a beautiful, spotless preschool taught by college educated teachers. This was 30 years ago! I had full health coverage, paid by the government. What I learned from my French friends at the time is that they loved their 4 week holidays -- they knew they paid high taxes, but felt it was worth it for the standard of life they lived. They also did not own (or at least own by credit) a lot of stuff! They had a few wonderful shoes, a few drop dead outfits and would buy a small, but wonderful desert for the weekends. Their cars were small because gas was expensive, and their apartments were small because many people lived there and rents were also expensive.(Why do Americans need bathrooms the size of a living room?) I admired the French and learned something different from them. Another memory: I looked one day for an American turkey for thanksgiving and noticed they had NO American poultry available anywhere! I talked to the owner of the store and he said that American poultry was banned because of all the chemicals that we used to raise them. They were unfit for the French! This was 30 years ago! Their chickens were ranch fed -- like the more expensive organic ones we can find here in America--they were much smaller, but full of flavor! That is just one example. We, as Americans have made many sacrifices for this so called capitalistic system. We buy more than we need...we dispose of everything after limited use...and now, because we crave cheap stuff --we are being poisoned by China goods! Now is the time to re-evaluate how we live. Re-evaluate what we value. I am talking about the basics: safe products, clean water, healthy food, excellent schools for preschool-college, affordable healthcare, etc. The basics. Our ambitions to aspire for greatness will only be aided by demanding what the French have valued for many years! Remember, we modeled our early freedoms on the French revolution!

  98. To all our French responders still living in the France of 5 years ago I would simply say that it is easy to create art, good food, a dismissive sense of the rest of the world, and a shockingly unproductive and self-protective nanny state when you have been rescued from certain military defeat and occupation twice in one century and have since rested under the umbrella U.S. might and protection.

    France has changed and is changing still. They realize they can no longer relax behind the protective wall of NATO while not participating and have learned that the Russian bear they thought they could oh-so-easily manage as an unskilled partner to play against the Americans has really sharp teeth and bites back. Her beautiful cities are torn with race riots, fear, and a rising crime rate. Just two years ago her roads were rated near the worst in Europe. France is a wonderful place but needs to recognize that the old forces that allowed them to play both socialist and libertarian are rent asunder and that they, the French people, must now join the rest of us in dealing with the modern world.

  99. This piece of opinion is baffling

    What is so "French" about having decent roads punctual trains, universal health care and a minimal social safety net?

    I love America, but the situation left by Bush (and Clinton) is one of unlimited possibility for a few well-heeled and one of unlimited risks for everybody else.

    My inlaws, typical US middle class, are living an hell of restrictions due to medical conditions of their daugther and to the lack of safety net: They are forced to toil for a bankrupt companies because they have no global health coverage to insure them and their daughter. It is impossible for them to leave their state for similar reasons.

    In the Land of the Free, they live like indentured serfs.

    I really hope for them that Obama brings the USA back in the fold of Civilization and decency.

    And it has nothing to do with France

    François

  100. I couldn't agree more with Mr. Cohen when he says that the only thing that could get him to leave France and its many civilized pleasures was...possibility. I lived in France for four years in the 1990s, and though daily life was undeniably sweet, the long range view seemed limited indeed. I was in my twenties, and I had peers who were in entry level jobs that they hoped to be able to keep until retirement. That wasn't a perspective I could accept, American that I am. But of course there is a price to pay for so much possibility: the health care situation in this country is a sham compared with the easy and excellent care I had access to in France. Is it possible to have decent health care for all AND retain American possibility? Here's hoping...

  101. Isn't it ironic that the US, which calls itself a "Christian" nation, or a political party in our nation, which seeks to attract a base of self-identifying Christians, would compare so poorly to apostate France. Consider how the French establish laws which make sure that the widows are fed, that small children are taken care of, that all young people who use their energy and brains in school will be able to go to college, and finally, that anyone who has the misfortune to encounter health difficulties will be able to seek healing for the body which God gave to them. This is unfortunately not true in "Christian" America.

    The French don't believe it is in the best interests of their country to waste anyone's health, brains, youth or old age. And if the government needs to step in to equalize and maximize everyone's quality of life, so be it. Because, in France, the people are the state. And the state is stronger if the people are stronger. Helping each other is in the best interest of the state and all people.

    Rush Limbaugh, in his address to the Conservative Political Action Committee, stated: "I hope Obama fails." He received a lot of applause from his audience. His attitude reflects the unfortunate mind-set of too many Americans, namely, "I got mine, you go get your own on your own. No government is going to tell me to share." I much prefer the French way of life where people value each other enough to vote laws which hold up the weaker, less-fortunate members of society. The whole nation is the stronger for it.

    If we move in the direction of mutual support for each other under Obama's leadership, will we not become a nation of stronger values, ones we live rather than speak?

  102. When the going gets tough, the tough start bashing the French. Boy, this feels good, like 2003!

  103. Nice column Roger, which is a rarity in my book. However, you still fall into the black or white trap by saying the Republicans ruined the economy. In fact, it was and continues to be the politicians who do the damage - regardless of party affiliation. Driven by huge unhealthy egos and a lust for power, too many of our elected officials do what is right for themselves rather than the country. When this country has a viable third party we may see change we can believe in. I'm not holding my breathe on that one though.

  104. God forbid we should become more like France - healthcare for all, 6 weeks paid vacation, free childcare, etc..and better we should retain our possibilities - endless foreign wars paid for with borrowed Chinese money, an immense prison population, a collapsing economy, stagnating wages for the past 35 years for just about everyone while the top 1 percent (and 0.1 percent) have taken home just about all the weatlh created in the past 35 years, exploding healthcare costs and high numbers of uninsured causing 1 out of every 2 bankruptcies, a government owned lock stock and barrel by corporate interests and lobbyists (Can you say Chuck Schumer and the banking industry?)- a government (D's and R's alike) that did nothing while our wonderful wall street and banking geniuses securitized and collateralized just about anything they could get their hands on while our new Treasury Secretary fiddled at the NY Fed and in the process gutted our collective future. But I'll breathe a sigh of relief knowing we won't be turning into anything like France. Afterall, what would I do with myself if I suddenly had that guaranteed 6 week vacation?

  105. OMG! Something from Cohen that makes sense! Perhaps the exotica of Iran got him to lose his perspective in his last few columns and the return to America is helping to clear his vision now (at least on domestic economic policy).
    As for "The Republicans under Bush destroyed the American economy", Bush got into trouble domestically because he wanted to pose as a Democrat - compassionate conservatism and all that(the Rove effect, no doubt).
    On foreign and security policy: Right policy, lousy execution.

  106. Very disappointing. During the fifties and sixties the top tax rate in the US was about 90%. Were we French then? You know, I guess that DOES explain the old photo of my West Virginia coal miner Grandpa eating a baguette and playing the accordion...

  107. Obama Talleyrand ?
    How untrue for either.

    May be, perhaps Obama Lafayette.

  108. Mon Dieu! Enough of the France-bashing from the right and now from the left!!! There are scores of nations with governance worse than France after which we could model our behavior and policies, n'est-ce pas?

    This article plays into the whole stupid conservative bogeyman argument that Obama and the liberals want to "europeanize" or socialize the U.S. It's a red herring and specifically in the case of socialized medicine (i.e. universal healthcare), it is a ploy to protect their wealth, not our health.

  109. The writer ignores his own conclusion: France works, the "possibility"-based US system does not. Does the fact that it worked up until last year make this irrelevant? "I ran over the cat, but until today, I had not run over the cat."

  110. Another France.Sounds good to me.Tour of California.Universal health care.Great food.Sign me up

  111. Mr. Cohen,

    I respect your writing and ideas quite a bit. That being said, I have to disagree with your opinion espoused in this article. For one, I think you overstate the negatives of France. To begin with, if the US truthfully measured the unemployment rate within it's own borders the way the rest of the world did, you would find that there was not much differentiation between our performance and the rest of the world. More importantly, in my opinion, it's not a matter of America becoming like France or vice-versa. Instead, what one should look at are the positives of each and try to learn from them and implement them in their respective countries and societies. There are many key social indicators that France and the rest of Europe have a much better track record in comparison to the US, including health care, poverty rates, income inequality. One could make the argument that taking care of your most vulnerable people should be a government and society's first priority. Here it is near the last. That being said, America's strong record of innovation, risk-taking, creation and as you put it possibility, should not be discounted either. It's about balance. And, I would argue that Obama, by bringing tax rates to levels that are still lower than they were under Reagan, or ending tilted subsidies towards businesses, all while still shoveling billions at banks because he does not think it is "in our culture" is hardly even balancing out what has been wrought over the past 30 years, much less making us look like France. I just hope when he's done, we can look like the America that existed before it was hijacked by supply side economic theories which began the entire class warfare elements in the US in the first place. With articles such as yours which demonstrate how far US mainstream thought has shifted to the right, to the point that someone like Obama who would look like a moderate 30 years ago now brings worries of potentially taking us on a road to socialism and killing American spirit, that hope is fleeting.


  112. There is another word for "possibility"... its greed. And the manifesto of every great spiritual tradition might hint at what that does for you... Opportunity is a tonic for "boredom" in the U.S. as citizens are never made to face the stark fact that life itself is somewhat mundane. There is a peace to be made with that- and a joy- and a desire and responsibility to not allow 25% of your population to live in poverty- but it will never be found so long as we are institutionally distracted.

  113. Amen.

  114. Roger,

    Pls. spare us the mantra “ brits know-it-all” attitude. This is coming from an Englishman who grows up in the seventies when England was literally insolvent and had be rescued by the house of Saud. I remember PM Harold Wilson literally begging the Saudis to bailout the Bank of England. For you to forget your own near history and shame the French-who never asked for a bailout from anyone-is absurd. With social and progressive policies in place since the fifties, France is still one the major economic super powers of the world. The world can never get enough of their food, wine, clothes, culture, cars (they export more cars than GM& Ford combined). What did we export to the world in the past 8 years? WARS.

  115. Some of the comments below discuss class warfare. I do not understand that. Was it class warfare when the tax rates where changed to favor the wealthiest people? Was it class warfare when the wealth distribution in the US became so heavily weighted toward the top 3%?

    The US has a long history, like most developed countries, in using its tax rates to "redistribute" wealth. Our first income tax collected in peace time was in 1893 and only the top 10% of wage earners paid this tax. In fact, the intellectual father of the market based economy, Adam Smith, strongly believed in the concept that the wealthiest had an obligation to pay to support the running of a government.

  116. Mr Cohen writes so glowingly of "possibility" and "boundless horizons" amidst the "unrelenting battlefield of American ambition" that one might be led to believe he is the son of a humble coal miner who rose from the mail-room to his present perch on the op-ed page of the New York Times. Instead, one learns that he is a graduate of Balliol College, Oxford and the Westminster School. Ah, yes. America. Land of Opportunity. Mr Cohen should know.

  117. That will be the day! The day the American people can live like the French one! The day when, as it happens in France, a President does not have to invoque to his God in a multireligious country to show that he believes in Him and please religious prejudices The day when, like in France, all American children and American old people enjoy something much better than Medicare! The day when, as in France, criminals are punished without being electrocuted! The day when, as in France, people do not feel so insecure as to consider they their right to carry weapons a fundamental one! The day when, as in France, the American people do not have to enlist to crazy wars just because their President so want's it! Please BE more like the French! Please have a second, French style, revolution,..only without guillotine, or guns, or letal injections or electric chairs. This time you do not need to kill anyone!

  118. I think the author worries too much. The US will find its own way into the future and there is no likelyhood that it will copy France. Unless being screwed up is the American way most of the items listed by Mr Cohen are things that need fixing, so unless fixing things that are obviously not working is somehow French, the new US government is simply trying to fix what is wrong.

    The author talks of US freedom and opportunity but it is an also ran when the ability to do better than your parents is measured. I think Americans have been sold more sizzle than steak. As many have stated US unemployment does not count everyone that other national systems do. Compared to my country for instance unemployment is counted at an earlier age and we do not have the huge numbers of people held in prison.

    We all feel more comfortable in our own home country, so its not surprising that the author feels that way when he returns home. In a short story by Spider Robinson he descibes that feeling of tension that eases off when crossing the border back home. Every Canadian I know feels the same even though most think the US is a great place to visit. Oddly enough Robinson was born an American. Perhaps it is because Canadians are a conservative people and find the right wing ideology of the US unsettling. Doesn't paying premiums to teachers to get them to teach well sound a bit odd. In some cases they are even paying off elementry students. The US has an old fashion feel to it when you go there reminisent of 50 years ago.

    Regarding the car companies, American car companies did build what Americans wanted. Their competitors in other countries built cars for their home market which typically had highly taxed gas. While much can be criticized about the American car companies the primary reason for their failure was the failure of the American government to regulate gas milage. Similarly with the banking system, The bankers are supposed to be greedy, that is the capitalist way. Perhaps overststed, the failure was the belief in government that its only interest was to enable the markets. I'm not sure the US will find its way out the mess that has been created immediately but it is a great country and eventially it find its own way to solve its problem. It will be acheived faster if it can loosen the shackles of right wing ideology and bring rationality to solving its problems.

  119. This is ethnocentrism at its silliest. I suppose Cohen would rather this nation become a banana republic than just possibly think other nations have some merits in the way their government serves the nation--some merits we might want to consider.

  120. great health care, affordable education, 5 weeks vacation, long life, growing demography, high productivity, great public transportation, advanced technology... etc... What's wrong with the French model???... What's wrong with us???

  121. Unfortunately, if America does not become more like France, I'm afraid we're going to become more like Mexico.

  122. You really ought to read the Karen Tumulty article about her brother in this week's Time. There are other possibilities in your America that might not be obvious to an upper middle class immigrant with NYT's benefit policy. The possibility --nay even probability for 1/4 of the population, that you will work hard all your life and be bankrupted by health care.

    And that is just one of the charming possibilities that hang over many of us.

  123. I'm sure that the 1% of the US population that "owns" the country would agree with you. The other 99% might actually prefer the French model.

  124. Roger, your defense of America's love of unregulated "opportunity," in contrast to more socially cohesive norms cherished by other civilized nations, has been an honest statement of a shared national ideal. It has also rightly drawn some rebuttals from your international readers. Here is another:-

    "Americans, at least in their imaginations, have always lived at the new frontier"

    Exactly - the Wild West is one of the most enduring images by which the USA portrays itself to the wider world. Everyone packs a six gun, and is his/her own lawyer. The most violent and litigious society in the developed world.

    The Wild West was of course a lie. The land was already occupied, by "savages" to be shot down without pity, or herded into reservations. Oh sorry, the present topic isn't Israel, but this does explain a few things about your spoilt child ...

    The western frontier was also in ecological balance before the settlers came along.

    You can have your illusion of unbounded opportunities, but why have you been so keen on sharing it with the rest of us? Why do you spend so much of your resources on a military machine designed to impose your "freedom" (read chaos) on other societies? Why are you so resistant to joining the rest of the world in establishing a system of international law unless it is simply an extension of US legal privileges?

    Your national addiction to "opportunity" is actually your national disease, and the world is scrambling to inoculate itself once again.

    France is one of several developed nations that present enduring and admirable models for the world to emulate: a truly Great Society, unlike the USA, which lost its best opportunity for greatness some time back.

    It is catch-up time, America!

  125. Take US unemployment, add incarcerated people, add people working in the privatized prison industry and then have a bad surprise...