Thursday, November 24, 2011

Au Revoir, Welfare State

Protesting cost-cutting measures at Paris' Place de la Bastille.
Thibault Camus�AP

Some things are quintessentially French: A breakfast of pain au chocolat. Long hours smoking and debating at sidewalk cafs. Immense pride in the nation's fabulous artistic heritage. A distaste for everything American. And a firm belief in the superiority of the welfare state.
Nothing may be more French than the conviction that government can and should provide for the well-being of its citizens. The welfare state--that political-economic concoction of extensive social spending, state protection and regulated capitalism--aids every French man, woman and child from the day of their birth to the time of their death. Family subsidies pay mothers to stay home to care for children or hire a nanny instead. Visits to the doctor are almost always free. So is education. Even at universities, tuition is a mere fraction of what Americans pay. Some students even receive stipends to cover their rent. Workers are protected by strict rules that make layoffs complicated and costly. Unemployment benefits and pensions are generous.

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