Au Revoir, Welfare State

Debt crises, aging populations and slow economic growth could end Europe's belle vie

Thibault Camus—AP

Protesting cost-cutting measures at Paris' Place de la Bastille.

Some things are quintessentially French: A breakfast of pain au chocolat. Long hours smoking and debating at sidewalk cafs. Immense pride in the nation's fabulous artistic heritage. A distaste for everything American. And a firm belief in the superiority of the welfare state.

Nothing may be more French than the conviction that government can and should provide for the well-being of its citizens. The welfare state--that political-economic concoction of extensive social spending, state protection and regulated capitalism--aids every French man, woman and child from the day of their birth to the time of their death. Family subsidies pay mothers to stay...

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