Intifada or Welfare State Fallout?

Rioting in the immigrant-heavy, Muslim-heavy quarters of France continues

The unrest started last Thursday when angry
youths protested the accidental deaths of two teenagers in
Clichy-sous-Bois, who were electrocuted when they jumped a wall
surrounding a high-voltage electrical transformer while fleeing police. The
anger spread across the housing projects that dominate many of Paris'
northern and northeastern suburbs, which are marked by soaring
unemployment, delinquency and a sense of despair.

rioting has grown into a broader challenge for the French state. It has
laid bare discontent simmering in suburbs where immigrants "” many of
them African Muslims "” and their French-born children are trapped by
poverty, unemployment, discrimination, crime and poor education and

There are those who want to call this the beginning of a new European Intifada, a war of Muslims against non-Muslims.  They want to portray these riots in the same context as Islamic terrorism and Al Qaeda. 

Call me slow, but I just haven't seen evidence that the recent violence in Paris has religious overtones.  Maybe it is under-reported, but I haven't seen any targeting of Christians or Jews or Jewish Temples and such that one might expect in intifada-type violence. 

So far, a better explanation seems to be that these neighborhoods have been the victim of of the current form of Euro-socialism.  In this economic model, a whole collection of laws make it very expensive for companies to hire anyone.  If you do hire anyone, you have to pay them a very high salary, give them a fat package of benefits, weeks and weeks of paid vacation, and they only have to work 36 hours a week for you.  And, if the person doesn't do a good job, too bad because it is nearly impossible to fire them.  This may appear to be a great system for those who already have a job, but for the unemployed, the young, and the unskilled, it is a disaster.  Who in their right mind is going to take a chance on a young, unskilled employee who you have to pay a fortune and who you can't fire if they aren't any good.  And in particular, who is ever going to hire a young, unskilled immigrant for a job in France?

The answer is no one, which is possibly another reason for the rioting.  France has an unemployment rate that has hovered around 10% for years, but the unemployment rate for those under 25 years old is a truly shocking 23% and I would bet the unemployment rate for young immigrants may be as high as 40-50%. 

In the US, we have gone through phases of this same type of economic thinking.  A big part of motivation behind the original passage of minimum wage law, including the recently famous Davis-Bacon law, was to protect skilled white laborers against wage competition from blacks and immigrants.  Fortunately, the US has always stopped short of the radically distorting labor market laws they have in Europe, but new efforts in this country to raise minimum wages and generally make it harder for immigrants to enter the labor market should worry all of us, particularly those of us in immigrant heavy states like Arizona.


  1. Mike:

    You mentioned that there have been no reported religious overtones to the rioting in France. Reporting this is almost as unpalatable as relating *who* is rioting.

    However, mentions an attempted synagogue firebombing.

  2. Ceteris Paribus:

    The Welfare State Intifada

    One thing that really surprised me about the ongoing Paris Riots has been the almost total news blackout that surrounds it. Hardly anyone (any news outlet, that is) talks about it, and no one speaks about the possible reasons for the riots.


  3. mike:

    To add, French Jews are suffering well over 2 antisemitic incidents a day. They are advised not to wear yarlmukes in public.

    It's often good to apply an economic lens to current events - it explains a lot. But sometimes, you have to look a little deeper - and recognize evil when it slaps you in the face.

  4. Max Lybbert:

    Now that American media is starting to say, "oh yeah, there are riots in France," it's interesting to see the number of people who believe this is an intifada.

    I'm more inclined to believe this is a backlash against laws meant to "protect" people who don't want protecting.

    However, I'm also interested that only after more than a week of rioting have French Islamic leaders decided to publicly oppose the violence. I'm curious if they consider the riots something of a way to flex their muscle. So that in future negotiations there will always be the air of "don't forget who listens to me, and what they are capable of."

    Perhaps I'm smearing people who don't need to be smeared. Perhaps they felt it made sense to let riots continue for over a week, getting worse each day, before walking into the affected neighborhoods and talking one-on-one with the rioters. I really don't know.

  5. earl:

    A friend grew up in Niger, and hence is a native french speaker. On his way to America he was in France for several weeks. He was repeatedly publicly harassed -- because of his skin color. One (white) man stood in a street and screamed obscenities at him for visiting France! I think that if this were a daily experience for me I'd be kind of pissed too. Compare it to racial tensions in 1960s America.