Why the French Economy Works Surprisingly Well – SPIEGEL ONLINE

New French President François Hollande performs his patriotic duty.

The journalists’ visit to the Paris-based headquarters of French automaker Renault kicked off in a very French way: with an almost two-hour lunch. It was naturally not a simple affair in the company cafeteria. The meal at the nearby Cap Sequin restaurant boasted three artery-clogging courses, a bottle of white wine and a wonderful view of the Seine River followed by coffee and chocolates. At about half past two, it was finally time to get back to work, though it was somehow difficult to do so.

For decades, France’s economy has violated established laws of economics and not just because of the cholesterol-packed lunches. There’s also the fact that France is the world leader in terms of vacation days, has a nationwide 35-hour work week and allows its citizens to retire at 65, two years earlier than in Germany. On top of that, France has strict regulations regarding employee termination and a swollen public sector. Nearly 57 percent of France’s economic performance flows through state hands. That figure is about 10 percent higher than in Germany and a record level among industrialized nations.

Now France has elected François Hollande, a Socialist president whose most important pledge was “More of the same!” He has called for public-sector jobs financed with a 75 percent tax on top earners, and more time to enjoy retirement. Indeed, while Germany just boosted its retirement age to 67, its western neighbors might soon be able to leave the working world at 60 with a full pension.

Given these facts, it should come as no surprise that France is struggling with a few economic problems: major budget shortfalls, persistently low economic growth and a high youth-unemployment rate. Even more astounding, however, is just how good the French are doing despite their idiosyncratic economic model. Admittedly, per capita economic performance is 8 percent lower in France than Germany, after adjusting for differences in purchasing power. But considering that the French have been the world champions of savoir vivre for decades, while the Germans have been self-denying work horses, that 8 percent difference doesn’t really seem so big.

In other words, a country that according to established economic laws should be playing in the same league as Greece has defied the odds to keep pace with Germany. How did this happen?

Read more at Der Speigel

The West Must Not Appease Bashar al-Assad

No reasonable person, neither American nor Syrian, wishes to see the United States and its allies become deeply involved in the Syrian civil war, but for the western powers to fail to act now is tantamount to appeasement of a butcher of children. No one knows what will happen if we strike Syrian military targets; no one knows what will happen if we do not. That is not an argument. If the past is prologue, then Assad will continue to slaughter the people of Syria without discrimination. That much appears certain.

The confiscation of Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal does not look like a realistic proposal on its face, because the safe transfer of massive quantities of chemical weapons in a war zone would be risky and problematic at best. How will compliance be verified when it was difficult just for UN inspectors to reach a suburb of Damascus?

The French are correct to insist upon stringent preconditions before any negotiated deal with Assad on chemical weapons. The world has tolerated this monster long enough. Every person who detests war should take a hard look at the situation in the Middle East today, and then explain to themselves how a victory for Assad, Iran and Hezbollah reduces the probability of a Middle East war, one into which the United States would be inextricably drawn by its many alliances in the region. To those who believe that opposing military action against Syria is the path of peace, I respectfully ask that they think again of the likely consequences of doing nothing.

There are indeed shades of past conflicts evoked by the images of carnage in Syria. But the deja vu being experienced is not that of Iraq–which was completely different–but of another, similar atrocity that occurred at Guernica, Spain, in 1937, of another moral failure to respond, and of the results of a flawed strategy of trying to appease a monster.

On April 26,1937, bombers and fighters of the German Luftwaffe and the Italian air force attacked the small Basque village of Guernica in northern Spain. It was an outrageous assault on an unarmed civilian population. It was the blatant mass murder of hundreds of civilians, by some accounts over a thousand were killed, men, women and children.

For America in those days, neutrality was the dominant U.S. foreign policy model, enshrined in a series of congressional acts that had been designed to further and further remove the United States from the possibility of involvement in “foreign wars.” The prevailing American sentiment then, as today in regard to atrocities being committed in Syria, was that what had happened in Guernica was not our problem. It simply didn’t involve us.

Four years later, the relevance of Guernica to the security interests of the United States became more than apparent. On December 8, 1941, in the wake of a devastating attack on American naval forces at Pearl Harbor, the United States formerly declared war on imperial Japan. Three days later, war was declared on the United States by those same German and Italian fascist regimes who had bombed Guernica only four years earlier.