The Suicide of French Youth, and Thoughts on Immigration Reform

Today there were massive demonstrations throughout France against the government’s proposed legislation, which would make it possible to fire a young worker without cause (i.e., lay him off) within the first two years of his employment. The idea, of course, is to increase job opportunities for young people by reducing the extraordinary disincentives to hiring implicit in the current system.

This shouldn’t be too hard to grasp–unemployment in France is twice that in the U.S., while economic growth is only half as fast–but the students seem determined to resist any change in the current system. The sign below says, “We shall never surrender”–quoting Churchill, I guess–but it really should say, “We shall never get a job.”

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One wonders, by the way, why that sign is in English. Unions have now joined forces with the students, so France’s transportation has largely shut down. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the government give in.

The students seem to find romance in taking to the streets, but, as many observers have noted, it’s a bit odd to be demonstrating in favor of a sclerotic status quo:

Protesters in Paris said they wanted to defend the status quo.

“We are here for our children. We are very worried about what will happen to them,” said Philippe Decrulle, an Air France flight attendant. “My son is 23, and he has no job. That is normal in France.”

Left unexplained is why the students, and others, are so anxious to defend a status quo in which it is “normal” to have no job.

The students may see themselves as street fighting men, but the French news service, Agence France Presse, reminds us that there are others in France whose unemployment rates are even higher, and who are more used to street violence:

Previous marches have degenerated into running battles between police and rioters. On Thursday gangs of youths from Paris’s high-immigration suburbs smashed windows, set fire to cars and mugged demonstrating students.

It’s hard to see much hope for France, and I can’t help contrasting French youths, demonstrating in favor of permanently high unemployment, with the young people from many nations who come to the United States in search of opportunity.

Which brings us to the topic of the hour: immigration. We’ve written a little on the subject, but not enough. After bubbling under the surface for years, it appears that immigration is moving to center stage. That’s long overdue.

My own views are conflicted. At one level, I think Sonny Bono said it all. I think it was during his first campaign for Congress when a reporter asked his position on illegal immigration. Bono responded with puzzlement. “My position? What do you mean, my position? It’s illegal!” It seems obvious that the policy we have pursued for a long time of not making any serious effort to enforce our immigration laws has been a disaster on many fronts. I’d support doing just about anything it might take to enforce our current laws, unless and until those laws are changed, whether that means a fence, a “virtual fence,” or whatever.

The remaining issues are not so clear, however: what do we do about the 11 million or so illegal aliens who are already here, and what impact would shutting off the flow of labor from Mexico have on our economy? President Bush’s guest worker proposal is, of course, intended to address those problems. I’m not sure whether the administration’s proposal is the right one, in part because I’ve become convinced that the flow of illegal immigrants has depressed wages for unskilled labor.

We’ll have much more to say on the issue over the coming weeks; in the meantime, Blog of the Week Big Lizards has some thoughtful comments that are, perhaps surprisingly, favorable toward the McCain-Kennedy proposal that has just cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee:

So I’m bucking the trend here: I think this bill is a reasonable beginning; but it needs work. It’s a little too immigration-friendly, but to call it “blanket amnesty” is both ludicrous and counterproductive. Better to amend the worst parts and expand the best, and actually get something workable.

The alternative is a complete Republican collapse, which will make it more likely that the next Congress will include Majority Leader Reid and Squeaker of the House Pelosi, and Judiciary Committees chaired by Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)… and just wait and see what the heck kind of a bill you get out of that lineup.

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