The French Heat Wave and the Eurocrats

Paul Johnson, who shares the impairments in both logic and good taste so common among extreme Francophobes, seems to think (1) that heat waves have something to do with utopianism and dirigisme and (2) that crowing over dead bodies is a respectable activity. [*] Glenn Reynolds links, approvingly.

Here’s Johnson, showing his uncanny ability to see through unremarkable surface facts to the evil cheese-eating that lurks beneath:

One thing history teaches, over and over again, is that there are no shortcuts. Human societies advance the hard way; there is no alternative. Communism promised Utopia on Earth. After three-quarters of a century of unparalleled sufferings, the Soviet Union collapsed in privation and misery, leaving massive Russia with an economy no bigger than tiny Holland’s. We are now watching the spectacle of another experiment in hedonism, the European Union, as it learns the grim facts of life.

The EU is built on a fantasy–that men and women can do less and less work, have longer and longer holidays and retire at an earlier age, while having their income, in real terms, and their standard of living increase. And this miracle is to be brought about by the enlightened bureaucratic regulation of every aspect of life.


France received a shock this summer, when more than 10,000 of its elderly citizens died in distress during a heat wave–some while supposedly under medical care in hospitals. Thanks to the 35-hour workweek and the long August holiday, these institutions were short-staffed. The families of those who died were on holiday, too. [*]

How’s that again? This summer, Europe was hit by an unprecedented heat wave. Temperatures in Paris got to 104. (Aren’t you glad global warming is purely mythical? Think how hot it would have been had global warming been real.) Since air conditioning has not historically been necessary in Paris, very few homes, and not all public places, have it. As a result, many people died. To simple-minded people like me, that seems regrettable but thoroughly unsurprising.

Johnson’s spin on all this suggests either that his thought is more subtle than mine or that he has become detached from reality. On my planet, Frenchpeople were taking August off before anyone ever heard of the EU. And the idea that we can work fewer hours and enjoy higher material standards of living is a “fantasy” only in Johnson’s Puritanical fantasy life: in the real world, it’s called “economic progress” and has been going on since approximately the seventeenth century.

As to the EU, do Johnson, Reynolds, and the rest of what calls itself the “Anglosphere” have some sort of nostalgia for the days when the French and the Germans slaughtered each other about twice a century, with the English helping slaughter whichever side seemed stronger at the moment? That’s a quick summary of European history from the time of Frederick the Great until the time of Jean Monnet.

As a result of the EU, any country in the European region that aspires to prosperity must keep its military paws off its neighbors, and must also aspire to republican government, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.

Really and truly, there are worse things than niggling regulations imposed by Eurocrats. The Battle of the Somme, for example. Or Auschwitz.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

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