One of the constants of modern European history is that compared to the Germans, the Italians and the Brits, the French have stayed put. Since the French Revolution, the French have mostly stayed home. Emigration has just not been the French way.
That may be changing. London is already full of talented young French people looking for a country that still believes in the future, and there may be lots more emigration ahead. A twenty year old named Clara G, a second year history student at the Sorbonne, recently published an open letter to President François Hollande in the French paper Le Point. In it, she quotes a poll that found that 50 percent of 18-24 year olds and 51 percent of 25-34 year olds would, if they could, like to leave France for another country. Clara explains why she and so many her age want out:
I don’t want to work all my life in order to pay taxes that will, for the most part, only go to service the 1,900 billion euros of debt that your generation was kind enough to leave as your legacy. If these loans had at least been invested in a plan for the future of the country, if I thought I would profit a little from them, I wouldn’t have any problems repaying them. But they only allowed your generation to live above its means, to secure a generous welfare that I won’t be able to enjoy. In order to make your lives, I would say “cushy”, but I’m afraid that the word offends you.
My work and my taxes will also have to pay your pension that you haven’t bothered to fund, as well as all the health care and welfare costs for all these elderly people who will be, in less than twenty years, the majority in the country. Will this leave me enough money to live well and raise my children? A few days ago, I read a study by economist Patrick Artus that sent shivers down my spine: “With the low potential growth and given the aging population,” he writes, “young French have the prospect of undergoing continuous stagnation of their purchasing power during their working lives.” You must admit that it this is not a very gratifying life prospect.
But the most depressing thing is what my life will be like if I stay in France. Once I graduate, with my beautiful useless diplomas, I will without doubt first join the large ranks of unemployed youth before spending several years in internships and the CDD [temporary work contracts]. I am, as I believe the experts say, the “adjustment variable” of a labor market that has deliberately chosen to exclude young people to protect the workers of the CDI [permanent work contracts] already in place. With such insecure and poorly paid jobs, I won’t be able to convince a bank to give me a home loan to buy an apartment in Paris. And if, by some sort of improbable miracle, I go on to earn lots of money, I know in advance that not only would I have to pay taxes, but it would also earn me the reproaches of my fellow countrymen and your personal contempt.
If you have some French, go read the whole thing; it’s a well-written letter that describes exactly the dark places to which shortsighted and greedy Boomers (called 68-ers in France after the narcissistic student “revolutionaries” of 1968) have prepared to condemn their successors. But France’s loss could be our gain. If college educated, ambitious European young people are looking for a place to go, America should open its arms. Without prejudice to any other immigrants (and it takes all kinds to make a country), the more of these kids who come our way, the better.
The trouble is, once Clara and her friends run the numbers on America, they may well decide we are becoming more like Europe every day.
Meanwhile, for a good read on one of the main reasons France has ended up in such an ugly place, take a look at Simon Kuper’s piece over at the FT. The French are finding out what happens when you give a narrow technocratic elite, convinced that it is smarter and more enlightened than everyone else, control over your government and your economy.