Thursday, August 18, 2005

Get To Choose: France or The USA

One eye-catching recent topic in one of the local blogs was about which of the two countries above would typically have citizenry which is more informed and more attuned to the needs of both its own and those of the entire world.

Granted that the author of the blog and its more committed readers and commentators tend to be generally and typically anti-US, expounding typically on issues where the US could be portrayed in a bad light, especially with regard to the current government, the various views advanced still deserve some notice and rebuttal.

If memory serves me right, many aspects relating to each country were mentioned and compared, with France given complimentary nods in most if not all. It has be said though that the disparaging views expressed were essentially personal views culled from personal experiences, which thus would simply be anecdotal data. Though a referenced quote to a noted writer/columnist was made. The quoted person was Paul Krugman, writer of books on economics and noted liberal columnist of the NYT. It should be noted that Mr. Krugman is inveterately anti-Bush and has gone to great lengths to discredit his administration and most anything relating to the present US economy and its established institutions.

Funny, but Mr. Krugman was not this critical of the US when he served under a different past administration. He has been called to task about many of his current political and economic editorials and which in my humble opinion, he has not been able to satisfactorily rebut. Fellow economist Donald Luskin is one blogger who is on a crusade to expose Mr. Krugman's many gloom and doom predictions.

Now, back to the comparison about the US and France.

Various aspects touched upon where in the realms of economics, politics, culture, social and personal values, and even altruism. But many facets of these aspects are quite hard to quantify, much less dissect and comparatively analyze, especially to the layman's curious mind. And it might be difficult also to exercise impartiality, making an assessment that will not be colored by one's preconceived notions and personal experiences. Worse, who would be the qualified jurors who could sit in judgment to decide on the comparison? In this milieu, one man's judgment will have to be as good as another.

Considering this dilemma, it might serve us better simply to cite and relate easily observable and quantifiable data, and allow the readers to make their own assessment.

So here goes. But a qualification first. The US is a country of almost 300 million, composed of a very diverse set of minorities, while France is a country of about 60 million, which also has its own set of diverse minorities, mostly émigrés from its old colonies. The only familiar figure on minorities I have for France is the 5% which is its current Moslem population. But the US is definitely much more expansive and colorful. Close to 70% would still be white Caucasian (mostly European), 10% African-Americans, 5% all Asians, and the rest Hispanic, give and take a few percentages.

On the population aspects then, immigrants should be considered the most discriminating and serious judges on which country would be better for them and their offspring. Can France hold a candle to the US on the countless numbers of citizens of the world wanting to step on American soil? If we want to discount this clear lop-sidedness in favor of the US, we would have to impliedly dismiss all these peoples as unqualified to determine what is best for them. If it is any help, 2/3 of the total inward remittances of Filipino OFWs to the home country come from the US against 1/3 coming from everywhere else. Thus, it might not be too much of a stretch to extrapolate that the numbers even for the Filipinos favor the US.

With regard to the cultural aspects of the issue, it could be easy to see that France could hold an advantage, being a much older and established culture. The US could only point to its humble beginnings in the 1770's. Thus, one of France's main industries is tourism, citizens of the world visiting the many revered shrines of its rich histories past - churches, buildings, historic places, etc. But would age and old structures be reliable determinants for the superiority of one's culture? Or how does one reliably quantify which family and social values merit better approval over another? Both are avowed Christian countries, anyway, though some of France's political institutions adhere to some socialist practices like its universal medical care.

With regard to the educational aspects, especially those pertaining to the educational systems and the orientation and thrust of the studies emphasized, how should one go about trying to measure such subjective aspects? Still, one can point to the thousands of young men from countries of the world eagerly desiring to get an American education, and not just in new-fangled technology courses, or traditional technical courses, or military courses, but including the more traditional courses of the arts and humanities. For aren't the many Jesuit institutions scattered across the continent, usually on the lists of top choices for prospective foreign students coming to the US?

With regard to its economics, the numbers are decidedly in favor of the US. Its economy continues to easily outstrip the performances of most of the members of the European union, France included. But how does one measure the "happiness" or "contentment" indices to determine which country has the edge? Is the length of a typical vacation benefit for workers relevant or integral in determining quality of life? Does having more leisure time necessarily equate to a citizenry that is more balanced, more socially and morally attuned? Remember quality time over number of hours? Remember also that recreation and entertainment are two visibly huge industries in the US.

One would think, however, that one who has more in life, has better chances or opportunities of living a happy and contented life, over one whose main concern may be trying to make both ends meet. Also, altruism, definitely both in theory and practice, is apt to appear in communities with more to give and share. The last tsunami experience clearly bears out the leadership roles played by the affluent countries, most noteworthy being the US with its aid components of money and goods, and vital services provided by an ever alert and well-scattered military.

You be the judge.