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03/26/2006

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Sylvain Galineau

To this day, a large and vocal number of people in France refuse to understand that 'protecting jobs' only preserves those that already exist, at great cost to everyone else. If it is hard and expensive to fire, it is hard and expensive to hire. The collective attitude to labor markets and the economy is often very much a zero-sum one; witness the 35-hour week, rooted in the concept of a fixed quantity of work. Sure, most people will admit that was a mistake in private. But try and change it and today's demonstrations will seem like wet firecrackers.

The high cost of employment also explains another French phenomenon : the inflation of credentials required to apply for many jobs. Since giving people a try is potentially so risky and expensive, employers require a form of insurance. Diplomas from prestigious schools and universities are essentially used for this purpose. With painful consequences : many graduates end up doing work that is far below their abilities; those less qualified but able to do these tasks fall back on other jobs, displacing others to other occupations etc.

In the end, an increasinly larger army of demanding graduates competes for the 'safe' but diminishing number of jobs that are still being created while the less academically endowed make do with the rest. As for those with no academic baggage...

Which makes it rather ironic to hear students complain of the discrimination and 'two-speed' job market this legislation would create. It's been around for more than 20 years. Thanks to work 'protection' legislation, temp work is a national industry.

In the meantime, thousands of french students in the UK, Ireland and elsewhere happily compete for the very kind of jobs and contracts their colleagues back home demonstrate against.

Pat L

I found Wes' comments on discrimination interesting. Media coverage of the riots in the U.S. doesn't seem to have placed much emphasis on the fact that the proposed labor law discriminates against young people. Self interest is a powerful motivating factor for the student rioters, but I think that it was a combination of self interest and indignation over the age issue that really pushed the students to carry things to such an extreme. The government may have hoped that the age cap would limit the political fallout from the law, but as Judge Posner points out older tenured workers were rational enough to see that this was likely to be a first step toward full liberalization of the labor market. They probably also calculated that the best chance of stopping the law was to take to the streets with the students immediately. So the government gained nothing tactically through its divide and conquer policy but lost the moral high ground.

Half Sigma

Protection from being fired is obviously seen as a benefit by the vast majority of French otherwise the law wouldn't be there in the first place.

So French young are rightfully angry that a benefit is being taken away from them that applies to everyone else. After all, if the law is so bad why isn't everyone's protection being eliminated?

Nick, Paris

A key point to note is that for very many French people "social questions" and "economics' are two incommensurate paradigms. So it is considered normal to propose a social model without saying how it will work or be financed. One can be 100% against all reforms of employment law, with no obligation to propose alternatives or to explain how it should work economically. My key problem with the current socialist party is that they make no economic statements whatsoever, and I would dearly love to understand how their social model will fit into a worldwide free-economy. I have had many discussions with friends ranging from middle-of-the-road socialists, through union organisers to extreme-left revolutionaries, none of whom understand why I keep wanting to bring economics into a discussion of "justice", "rights", "liberty", "freedom" etc. For the more extreme amongst them, everything comes down to "la lutte" (the struggle) against "them" (the government, the evil capitalist, the police, the fascists, the anti-drink/drive lobby, the speed radar on the roads...).


As for rioting, perhaps it should be consider it as the "continuation of protest by other means" :). A friend who was a militant Trotskyist in her youth said she used to go to a protest most Saturdays, the way other teenagers went to the cinema or hung around in the park. Many people consider that protesting is a normal reaction to anything and everything. Worse, they consider it a valid, meaningful ACTION - as though protesting one's disagreement were a positive act and actually doing something. Rioting is a natural extension of constant protesting in a culture where violent protest has become the norm.

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