Saturday, June 6, 2009

Is the U.S. the New France?

You may remember that the business press in the U.S. crowed over the unemployment levels seen in Western Europe during the 1980s and 1990s, typically higher than in the United States and Britain, and the fact usually held up as an object lesson in the rightness of the "Anglo-American" way of doing business-with its skimpier welfare state and comparative lack of worker protections.

However, little has been said about this as of late—just as unemployment rates in the U.S. approach the double-digit unemployment levels stereotyped as part of the European model, for which it was so often scorned (a condition which some experts are admitting may last for years), journalists and commentators have avoided drawing comparisons.

As it happens, the data on Harmonized Unemployment Rates issued by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) last month showed the U.S. in April (with an 8.9 percent rate) to have been only slightly better off than the Euro area as a whole (9.2 percent), in the same boat as France (8.9 percent), and worse off than Germany (7.7)-as well as traditionally worker-friendly Sweden (8.5), Denmark (5.5) and the Netherlands (3).

Laurent Belsie of the Christian Science Monitor acknowledges the fact in a timely and sobering article pointedly asking if the U.S. "is the new France?"

Like all the rest of the neoliberal pieties taken for granted in the 1990s (as with the economic policies that led to the branding of Ireland the "Celtic tiger"), the piety about "labor market flexibility" being the key to high employment rates may be getting some reconsideration.

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