Saturday, August 19, 2006

Jobs in France

Sitting in the Miami airport a week ago waiting on my flight, I saw CNN on the tv. I couldn't hear the sound of the panelists discussing something or another; I could only see the images. Try this some time and see what kind of message you take from the images without the overlaid discussion. The images in this case ran roughly like this: first, a shot of the Statue of Liberty, then another patriotic shot that tied Lady Liberty to the 9-11 bombings. Next, there was an image of Jacques Chirac. A following sequence of juxtaposed images showed the Eiffel Tower (we're in France), last fall's riots in the Paris suburbs, Al Gore (?!), a Nazi symbol, and chaos in Iraq.

Now, it depends, of course, on how these images are strung together by a verbal narrative. But somehow I doubt the narrative said that Al Gore and the French were attempting to defend our freedoms by opposing the war in Iraq.

France, in the US media, is equated with socioeconomic ennui, anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, anti-Islam, arrogance, a bloated social system and sluggish economy, and general intransigence. Move farther to the right in the media, and you find the most offensive of stereotypes (unwashed and smelly, cowardly, "Sacre Bleu!"-saying, "cheese-eating surrender monkeys"). I had an email exchange with former Reagan speechwriter, John Podhoretz, over a month ago in which I questioned unsupported statements he made about supposed French anti-Semitism and compared anti-Semitic attacks in France to those in the US. There are more in the US by a factor of nearly 8. The population of the US is greater than France's by roughly a factor of 4.5, which means more attacks per capita. But we don't call the US anti-Semitic for the most part. Podhoretz responded by calling me a "preposterous fool," "Foucault" (to which, at this point in the heated exchange, I unfortunately responded by calling him "Beavis"), and told me to go back to my "environmental bullshit." He didn't respond to the questions I raised, but immediately went for the ad hominem. I take this as par for the course, even from a Reagan speechwriter, when it comes to France. Helmette, who is French, and I have put up with the nastiness since 9-11 - some of it coming from my own family, and even living in liberal Washington, DC. Like Podhoretz's response, this nastiness doesn't seek to respond to criticism but simply to disparage.

Somehow it has become acceptable in the mainstream to say the very worst vituperative things about France, things that would be considered racist, ethnicist, or otherwise bigoted if applied to anyone else. For some reason, it is normal to disparage France in this way, and this is embedded within the mainstream media as well. I mostly see it as a product of the general political climate of critics of the Bush administration being cowed and threatened.

At any rate, lookee here. New job news from France.
The French economy, the third-largest in Europe, is suddenly creating jobs at its fastest pace in five years and starting to enjoy the mild upturn that may be starting to take root across the region.
Europe, and in particular those countries that use the euro, has been plagued by paltry growth rates in recent years, during a time when the global economy has been expanding at its fastest pace since the early 1970s.
But the last week or so has brought a raft of good news. France, until recently missing from the broader picture of improvement, last week registered a sharp gain in economic growth in the second quarter of as much as 1.2 percent, its strongest in almost six years.
At the same time, the French unemployment rate has fallen to 9 percent, its lowest level in four years and down sharply from the five-year high of 10.2 percent in May 2005.
And this too:
If members of ethnic minorities have long been present on French construction sites and factory floors, they are still a rare sight in management positions and higher-profile jobs that routinely bring them into contact with customers. But now something is happening in the whitest of white-collar sectors: the largest banks and insurers in France appear to be spearheading efforts in the country to diversify their work forces by tapping into a growing pool of educated second-generation immigrants.
Outreach programs in the French financial sector have quietly multiplied in recent years, but three weeks of rioting in immigrant suburbs last autumn abruptly propelled them into the spotlight, giving them a heightened significance.

No comments: