Monday, May 07, 2007

The Sarkozian Buzz

What happens now in France is of crucial importance for all of us who wish to escape from the neo-liberal race to the bottom. Two choices face us, the emulation of the American model, long working hours, pitiful minium wage, zero welfare state, brutal exploitation and denial of citizenship to migrant workers, or the sort of resistance we saw last year in France to the CPE employment law.

Sarko wins--what a bummer.

I suppose everyone has to try sado-conservatism once. An occasional dose might not hurt: a little buzz of entrepreneurship and the adrenalin rush of risk-taking. The problem is addiction. Once the buzz wears off you want more to recapture the thrill and pretty soon there isn't any thrill--just chronic insecurity, endless drudgery and the costs of containing an unproductive, anti-social underclass: the American model.

At that point there's no turning back. Try to cut down and you get the shakes so you shoot up again, increasing the dose, just to avoid the withdrawl symptoms.

It's an expensive habit. A free-enterprise health care system costs more than the National Health and sado-conservative social programs for the lower classes--prisons and the military--are expensive in human as well as monetary terms. Americans however are prepared to pay much more for these programs, which they regard as a necessity, than for education and social safety nets. The lower classes clamor for them: prisons provide service sector jobs for unskilled workers and the military provides opportunities for education and training. Ambitious working class kids sign on for four years and, if they aren't shot dead, get funding for college when their hitch is up. Of course it would be a lot cheaper to provide these benefits without maintaining a massive standing army and going to war regularly to justify its existence. But who's counting? Not addicts, who are notoriously bad at weighing costs, benefits and risks.

No one thinks they'll become addicted when they shoot up. Apart from the underclass, who are socially isolated and don't vote, most Americans believe that they're in the top 10% of the population, the best and brightest, who will get the buzz and not the addiction--the few who will benefit from an inegalitarian, high-risk system rather than the many who will get stuck with the chronic insecurity and grinding drudgery, fighting to keep afloat.

Of course, in a sado-conservative society admitting, even to yourself, that you are in the bottom 90% rather than the talented tenth at the top is taboo. Once the system is established, no one (except socially isolated, politically inert members of the underclass) dares to think that they might benefit from social safety nets and more egalitarian arrangements, so the system perpetuates itself, promoted by the overwhelming majority of Americans who believe that only the Other ("welfare recipients," the poor, minorities, immigrants) will benefit from a welfare state.

Our Founder said: "know thyself." For any individual, the odds are 9 to 1 against his being in the talented tenth so, for any given individual, there is a very high probability he will do better in a more secure, more egalitarian system. Taking Our Founder's wisdom to heart, I think it's highly unlikely that I am a member of the minority (whatever its size) that would do better in an high-risk sado-conservative meritocracy than in a welfare state. I want those social safety nets and leveling programs, that social engineering, state interference and regulation for me--not for some inferior or "disadvantaged" Other.

Watching Sarko's triumphant motorcade through Paris I see that the French are getting that first rush. Lucky for them that they despise us and so are unlikely to emulate the American model or go on to full-blown addiction.

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