In re: Whats going on in France?

If you've been following the news you would have likely heard over the last year several stories on the problems in France. Last year it was the riots and car burning by unemployed minorities and youth, and now in an attempt to relive May 1968, by taking over the Sorbonne in response to the Governments plan for a two year job contract for young workers (i.e. they don't get put onto the job escalator of guarenteed employment for life, until they finish two years of work American style were they could be fired) (see story)
Why are the French so upset? Well for all their supposed hype of globilization and a unified Europe, France is finding that their country is illprepared to compete with the world, as fit into the French prices are the cost of paying wages, healthcare, etc. for a short work-week, workers who are slacking in their jobs but can't be fired, workers who would be better working somewhere else but are too comfortable to change and can stay etc. Basically since they aren't operating on a market system, they are butting against some of the failures that occur from manipulating the market (the biggest one being, you won't hire people in the first place if you can't fire them, too expensive — hence the two year plan)
Yet despite all this when polling youngsters in France, they still want the system, the job security, the six weeks of vacation that their parents (many of them civil servants — the still desired cushy ride through life) This current week's economist outlines some of the problems that have been hitting France, including the jobs I've been mentioning, but also the problem they are having trying to be a world power.
While I don't run around the streets of the US espousing my love of France (at least not that often) I do like a lot of French culture, the relaxed pace of life and the savoring of the simple things (and the food!) and I feel that there needs to be some middle ground between the overworked and stressed American that is overmedicated and finding no time to bowl (see bowling alone)

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2 Responses

  1. I’m not sure we get to decide what kind of pace of life our country will have – as a kind of grand social policy. Young French entrepreneurs are going to be working 80 hour weeks just like American entrepreneurs, and civil servants will clock in and clock out as per their collective agreements. However, the French entrepreneurs are not going to hire their classmates and give them guaranteed jobs for life with two months of vacation. Instead, they’ll relocate or set up a sattelite in another country with more liberal employment laws. The French students right now are actually protesting to get 12 months of vacation per year, because that is the reality they will be facing.

    We are in a global marketplace for labor right now.

    Anyone can choose to slow-track it in society: own fewer possessions, work fewer hours, live in less central locations… The option is always there. These people want all of the benefits that fast-trackers get, with all of the benefits that slow-trackers get too.

    Who wouldn’t?

  2. I agree with a lot of what you said, but for the sake of argument I thought I’d through out an argument to the 80 hour work week that we have developed and the French kids are shunning (I haven’t really thought this through much, so bear with me)

    As you argued that you could work less and live at a slower pace, spend more time with your family, etc. However, I would argue (with the disclaimer above) that by living within a society it is harder to see this as pressures of our culture through advertising and peer pressure lead us to our culture of consumption, our culture of living in the suburbs and the constant quest for more money. People may not realize that they want to spend more time with their family and that they will be healthier working less and getting outdoors more unless they are ‘proscribed’ a 6 week vacation to spend with their kids.

    Of course, (and back to reality) you are competing with the hard working folks who have decided to foresake such a lifestyle (how many South Asian factory workers get ANY vacation). Similarly administering such a ‘slow track’ system will likely prove impossible as you edge towards soviet style economics. Yet I still admire the quest for a general culture of savoring the slower pace, even in we can’t create a policy of such as you so wisely wrote.–>

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