Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
I'm generally not such a pessimist, but on the topic of unemployment in France, I am all but hopeless.

Explaining that England only looks pretty because she has a lot of makeup and that France is actually beautiful if you can see through her unemployment warts is not going to cheer up one single long term unemployed person, much less solve his problem.  I have no argument with the notion that perception is key in the field of economics.  However, 20+ years of massive unemployment have created a disaster which is social, human and cultural in scope and which is far beyond what mere perception can fix.  Kids are reaching working age having practically never seen their parents hold a job and with no hope of getting one themselves.  In former industrial regions, some people have been out of a job since the eighties, and have been « pre-retired » since they were barely more than 50.  During the 80s in France we « pre-retired » 50+ year old people who had been laid off and had little chance of getting a new job.  They squeezed by on meager pensions until they reached official retirement age (60 generally) when their full pensions kicked in.  Imagine industrial suburbs where every other house is inhabited by 70+ year old people who have not had jobs in 20 to 25 years: painting the door every now and then, growing a few vegetables if they have minute gardens, soaking in some TV if they don't feel too alienated by the maddeningly stupid shit that's on.  Young educated professionals who lost jobs during the dotcom crash are not finding new jobs.  Employers are able to cherry pick employees on grotesquely elitist criteria: there is nothing unusual about a secretary having a master's degree and being fluent in three languages.  Competent, hard working ex-dotcommers who are not telecommunications engineers can't even get employers to read past the formal education part of their résumés.

So how about a French « Tenessee Valley Authority » type of thing, or « les grands travaux » as they are called here?  With the government gobbling up so much of our ressources, it's hard to imagine where the money would come from but let's make believe anyway.  Construction is chronically understaffed in France so a great surge in immigration would be a prerequisite to any major construction effort.  As immigration increases, and unemployment remains high, Le Pen gets elected.

The English are not so hot?  True enough, but if their economy goes belly up, and all the French expats there come back to be unemployed in France rather than Britain well it's 15% or more unemployment in France.

I've been looking for a silver lining for the past few lines so as not to end on 100% pure doom and gloom but I'm not finding it.  I'm afraid we may have sunk a generation just as surely as we used to when we still had wars.  

I'll concur with Jérôme's last sentence which I think is the key "Let's trust ourselves a little bit more" and let's teach our kids to depend on themselves more and to expect less from the grandiose top to bottom government schemes that have failed us so miserably.  Let's make sure they don't grow up with absurd expectations about what a government can do only to be duped, disappointed, and thrown in the arms of fascist or Trotskyite parties/cults that are thriving in Europe.

by Guillaume on Thu Jun 30th, 2005 at 09:28:31 AM EST
Guillaume, your post is, as the French say, stitched with white thread, meaning you can clearly see its ulterior motives. What you want to make out is that the French economy is irremediably screwed, in particular, according to you, by the failure of grandiose government schemes.

But really, you do go on a lot...

England wears makeup, you say (which is meant to belittle critiques of the supposedly fabulous UK economy) -- but a little further on, you're ready to admit the possibility of the British economy going belly up! (This because you want to make the exaggerated point about French expats working in Britain in such numbers as to lead us to believe French unemployment would be 50% greater without it! In other words, Guillaume, the UK employs one third of the French unemployed?)

You paint a horrifying, Zolaesque picture of industrial suburbs inhabited by the over-seventies who haven't worked in years. Perhaps. But the UK is no better. You tell us it's common to find people with a master's degree and three languages working as secretaries. Really? Is that common? (I'm tempted to ask you why these people haven't buzzed off to England...)

Your points about a major government programme of public works are really specious. First you use the theme to take a dig at government expenditure. With your kind of attitude, it's no use talking about Tennessee Valley anything, you're just not on the same page. Then you make the surprising development that such programmes, meant to create jobs for the French, would in fact necessitate huge immigration (!?) Guillaume, if construction companies are understaffed at the moment (not chronically, the situation was not the same ten years ago, for example), it's because demand, particularly in house-building, is high; employers have difficulty finding enough highly-skilled workers. If immigration solved that problem, they'd be bringing in immigrants. But the truth is that migrant workers in construction are mostly unskilled. The Polish plumber is a myth. Growth in Eastern Europe will keep most skilled workers from those countries in demand at home.

This is not to say that I believe a Tennessee Valley-type programme is the right kind of response to unemployment today. But to build this strawman argument to allow you to reach the conclusion that Le Pen would take power beggars imagination.

So, by all means teach your kids independence. I'm all for it. But don't weep crocodile tears over social problems when all you've got on offer's a fairly rancid form of hatred of government intervention.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Jun 30th, 2005 at 10:26:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I can understand that you might see me as a bit of a libertarian coming down hard on government intervention. As progressives go I'm clearly not of the big government variety. Not so much as a matter of dogma, whatever works floats my boat, but because I've seen so much of the failure of recent half baked measures designed, year after year, to end unemployment.

Be that as it may, my larger point is to highlight the despair that comes from massive long term unemployment.  I'm a big boy and a sportsman and can accept that my rhetoric might annoy some.  Your riposte is loyal and straightforward and I accept is as such except for your last point about my crocodile tears.  You do not know me, my family or close ones but I assure you that my feelings for the unemployed are heartfelt, not merely a prop to make a political statement.


by Guillaume on Thu Jun 30th, 2005 at 10:58:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I take your last point and apologize if I trod on your feelings.

You'll notice that I didn't try to belittle the problem of unemployment. I think it's huge. I'm sure we'd both agree that social problems in France like those of the "cités", or housing projects in US parlance, are mostly due to the utter lack of prospects of an entire generation. My point would be that the UK and US have little better on show. The free market tends to increase social distension and imbalance.

As for government intervention, I don't think a lot of it in France over the years has been all that inspired. That doesn't mean, imho, that we should throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Btw, you don't know me either. I'm neither well-employed nor well-off. I'm not waiting for the government to help me. However, I think a lot of people who need help have the right to expect it.


by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Jun 30th, 2005 at 11:28:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So the fight is already over and I didn't even get a chance to use bad faith arguments ?!?  How unfrench Monsieur (ou Madame ou Mademoiselle)  :-)

Your apology is graciously accepted and, yes, I am a bit of a big mouth "raleur".  My reference to "pre-retireds" did come across as Zolaesque.  The people I have in mind are miners around Longwy, some of whom I know, and they clearly are not miserable because they have been rightly protected after the collapse of their industry.  What strikes me though, is the lost potential represented by the shelving of these people and the pervasive notion that if the government can do nothing, then nothing can be done.  To this you say "so start a company and employ them smartass" and I reply "touché".

I basically agree with you, there is no anglo-american miracle solution, and government intervention is not all bathwater, but, to stay with Mao quotes, a mouth is also two arms.  If we want to be able to continue feeding the needy mouths, then we may need to fight a little damn harder as individuals.

Bon courage in the job market, it's a tough racket.

by Guillaume on Thu Jun 30th, 2005 at 12:22:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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