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Article deconstruction (vol. 4): French farce

by Jerome a Paris Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 07:42:28 AM EST

Today, the Guardian/Observer has an article which pretty much sums up the common wisdom on France and the student protests against the CPE, the new work contract for the under-26 with a 2-year trial period. Let's tear it apart.

Today, French protest seems more like farce (Observer)

Teargas, running battles with the police and an overnight occupation of the Sorbonne. French students last week reminded us once again that nobody does protest with the élan of the French.

Ah, élan. Nice but quaint, and hopelessly out of date. Nothing like suggesting to start with the French are stuck in the past. And of course, focus the first impression not on the substance of the protests, but on the few inevitable bits of violence that took place. Yes, tear gas really was the main thing yesterday (not).

See also in the comments below my deconstruction of the article in TIME magazine covering the demonstrations. It's amazing how the same inane concepts come through over and over again.


It's a tradition, but the curious paradox of these riots is that they are mounted to preserve the status quo.

French students claim they are fighting for every under-26-year-old in France; for equality and solidarity; for an idea of the left, France and Europe. Put like that, it is intoxicating stuff. They are resisting a measure which the government and the international consensus say will tackle France's No 1 social problem: that more than one in five French young people is out of work.

This is actually an unexpectedly honest summary of what's at stake: the left, France and Europe versus what is *claimed to be* the "international consensus". Of course, in this paragraph, (published in what is supposed to be a leftwing paper), it is made absolutely clear - but, as usual, with no backing arguments whatsoever) that the "international consensus" is right and that the claims on the other side to be fighting for the left, for France and for Europe are bogus ("intoxicating", i.e. a dangerous illusion)

And this is supported by the usual bogus argument about high unemployment numbers, which makes what is a FALSE claim about the proportion of youth unemployed being above 20%. The unemployment rate, i.e. the number of unemployed compared to the active population, is indeed above 20%, but that does not mean that 20% of the youth are unemployed: the actual figure is below 8%, pretty much the same as in the UK (as flagged by what is presumably an acceptable source, the Financial Times).

Let's note also the sentence about "preserving the status quo". That's part of the whole discourse of "reform" which has been captured by the freemarket ideologues, who are trying anyone who opposes them as conservative and reactionary for opposing the inevitable march of history. Again, this is an ideological fight, with on the one side the ideas that have brought to the West the unprecedented prosperity of the 20th century, and on the other, those that want to capture that wealth for a few.

This is not an international consensus, or, if it is, only amongst the selfish rich and the unthinking, who, by sheer repetition, give it a claim to reality. It's up to us to remind everybody that the opposite opinion is just as legitimate and has proven much more effective at generating prosperity for ALL.

The proposition is that to help the young into employment, they have to be easier to sack.

This is indeed a "proposition". It is not borne out by facts, and they don't even bother to try to "prove" it. It's part of the international consensus, probably...

If you want employers to hire young people whose skills and aptitude to do the job are an unknown quantity, says the centre-right government of Prime Minister Dominique Villepin, then it has to be made easier for employers to fire them if they prove incompetent. It proposes that the country's under-26s should, for two years after employment, be sackable with no compensation and no reasons given. As a result, it predicts, youth unemployment would fall by more than 20 per cent.

You can already fire someone for being incompetent. That's really the most annoying kind of comments. Those that say "I never expected to have a job for life when I started out", or "I need to be able to fire people if I have a reason to". You CAN, already. The point is that with the new law, you can fire young people EVEN IF you don't have a reason. Because the person is not "respectful" enough. Or, after 2 years minus one week, because it's cheaper to get another precarious worker who won't dare complain than giving full rights to the existing one. When the job is menial or requires few qualifications, competence is never going to be enough if you can get cheaper or more compliant elsewhere.

As to claims that unemployment would go down, the French employers' association has made them each time they asked for a softening of labor laws, they've had their way and unemployment only went down in the period when labor laws were toughened under the Socialist government led by Jospin.

The students do not believe him. The planned Contrat Première Embauche (contract of first employment) has become totemic of everything France hates. It treats workers unequally. It drives a coach and horses through the principle of solidarity. It creates systemic insecurity. It is the kind of policy embraced by the European Commission in Brussels and 'les Anglo-Saxons'. It is anti-French.

Again talk about moving the goal posts. The French (students) are unreasonable and hysterical. They see evil plots everywhere. And as the international consensus knows that there is no such thing as "les Anglo-Saxons", a semi-racist French invention. (And by the way, I have not seen a single reference to the EU Commission or to "les Anglo-Saxons" in the demonstrations or even the commentariat. This is just another casual slander.)

In a different context, it might work as the government predicts and be politically acceptable, but in today's context, it is condemned to fail. Withdrawing rights from people when unemployment is already high is close to impossible. It can only be done when times are good, demand is rising and unemployment is falling, but the trouble is that nobody has any clear idea how to get there.

Note: demand is rising and unemployment is falling, currently... But is he contradicting himself right now? This reasonable law won't work? Yes, France's situation is THAT desperate, it's too far down the deep hole it's dug itself into...

I have thought for some time that the French should create a British approach to mortgage borrowing and house prices to fuel some rise in demand, but that, too, is seen as far too Anglo-Saxon, liberal and individualistic.

Okay, we have it officially: bubbles are Anglo-Saxon, liberal and individualistic.

But France is bubbly enough, isn't it?

(Note, I have commented that graph separately in this thread - this is meant as an ironic argument)

And actually, the current government *has* decided to put in place a mechanism to make house equity withdrawals possible in France, so Mr Hutton should check his facts before making such snide remarks. We are doing all the same idiocies, only a bit later. Hopefully our hangover won't be as bad...

We are witnessing a cultural tragedy unfold. The French carry a Utopian ideal in their collective heads about what it means to be French. They are self-appointed defenders of Europe's real republican virtues of liberty, equality and fraternity. Their rightful place is as Europe's leaders, and the state, embodying an idea of France, is the nation's master puppeteer.

None of this works in 2006. The state, as all others in Europe, is circumscribed by global market forces. France is only one of 25 EU member states and the way liberty, equality and fraternity have been delivered since the 1950s has to be recast.

Yep, forget about equality and fraternity. That's so 1950ish... Now you have "global forces". Not ideology, nothing imposed by hard right policies led by governments. No. Unchallengeable, undeniable "global forces" (those that say that oil is plentiful, transport should not be taxed, and capital should not be prevented from moving around from one place to another without being taxed, and that anything the State does is bad) - that just happen to cut the French model (that of the "puppeteer", another nice casual slander, both for the French and for the other countries that have gone along wiht the EU) down to size. That last, convenient bit doesn't sound like a "tragedy", does it?

French students find themselves in the same ambiguous position as their country. Their only solution to the challenge of modernity is to defend the status quo to the last, even if it is evident it is malfunctioning.

It's "evident" because it's repeated that it's evident. Still no substantiation. Any look at hard data always somehow shows that there is nothing "evident" there.

French national policy is the same. On Friday, L'Oréal bought Body Shop, following a well- beaten path of the French buying British companies. On the same day, the French government passed legislation making it almost impossible for British or other foreign companies to do the same in France.

Note that, according to theory, liberalism is good for you even if it not reciprocated. At least the Economist has the consistency to say that it's better for the UK to be open to all comers even if they don't allow the reverse, because it helps improve the UK's competitiveness. So why should Mr Hutton want the French to open up their companies to be bought by UK ones? Does nationality matter now? I thought this was all about "global forces"?

But, more importantly, this is yet another lie.The French law has partly aligned its rules to those in the US and the UK on things like poison-pills. It also says that the State will review any foreign purchase in 11 sectors, 10 of which are linked directly to the armaments industry (the 11th, for some reason, is casinos). How that is described as a law preventing take-overs of French companies is, again, a demonstration of the lethal combination of ideological arrogance and uninformed conformism that is at the core of the "global forces".

Remember this graph provided by afew in a recent diary (Protectionalism..?)?

Villepin has also established 10 strategic sectors that are to be no-go areas for European buyers and forced Gaz de France to merge with another French company to save it from Italian takeover.

Why "also"? It's the exact same law. As to "forcing" GDF to merge with Suez, this is again a lie, or an ignorant assertion. The two companies have been wanting to merge for at least two years, and everybody agrees that the merger makes sense industrially. The ONLY obstacle was the fact that GDF was until recently fully State-owned, and since its IPO last year, the law still required its capital to be 70% State-owned. So the government was the obstacle! What's true is that the expecatation of an ENEL bid an Suez gave a pretext to the government to rush through a law allowing the State to go lower in the capital of GDF, and thus making the merger possible. Unions are complaining about a de fact privatization. The global forces at work again, Mr Hutton should be happy!

All of this is in flagrant breach of basic EU law. The government is behaving inter-governmentally just as the students are, aggressively trying to preserve an indefensible status quo to maintain a utopian idea of France.

What a crock of shit. Nothing illegal was done! And everybody knows it, as we see with their contorsions about the "spirit of the law" supposedly being breached. The next sentence is then used to somehow taint the demonstrations with the same whiff of illegality. Yes. Demonstrators. In the streets! How dare they?!

Again, the unsubtantiated assertions that the status quo is "indefensible" and the ideas defended by ther students and the French government "utopian". Repeat it enough and it becomes conventional wisdom but it does not make it any more true.

But it is undermining the very fabric of the EU. Next week, European heads of state meet to advance the so-called Lisbon agenda, by which Europe committed itself to becoming the most dynamic, competitive, knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010. It is an empty farce, made more farcical still by the evident implosion of the EU's political will.

Who's talking about undermining the very fabric of the EU? How do you define that "fabric"? Oh, the Lisbon agenda... of course.

British Eurosceptics will delight, but a stagnant, angry, drifting Europe is not in Britain's interests. France and the French have lost the plot. This is not just a crisis for them, but for us. If France goes absent, the EU will lose its drive and purpose. And that is exactly what is happening.

Yeah, right, let's take the high ground. I'm still kicking the corpse, but "it's bad for us." Please. That must have felt good writing, right? "France and the French have lost the plot... the EU will lose its drive and purpose". Hahaha.

Display:
I am so, so glad you noticed this article. I was minded to give it some deconstruction when I read it, but when I tried writing an email to the author I was too annoyed to make a good job of it. So once again, thankyou. (Now, I'll read what you have to say...)
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 07:59:57 AM EST
Feel free to send a link to ET to the guy... Is the article discussed on the Guardian blogs?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 08:10:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, not directly as comments on published columns are not currently enabled. There may be some discussion elsewhere, but I haven't seen it.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 08:26:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
to want to steal from ever-increasing corporate profits by insisting on old-fashioned notions of limited working hours, reasonable pay, and a contract of mututal consideration between employers and employees.

Why is this in the Observer? If it were in the Telegraph or FT I could almost have forgiven it. But when did the Observer turn into yet another cheerleader for the locusts?

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 08:09:45 AM EST
I don't like it when generic journalists make assertions of the type: "is indefensible". In fact I already don't like it when sociologists, psychologists or economists say what's right and what's wrong. Hell recently we saw in the affaire Outreau how the word of one "specialist" was enough to cause havoc in a lot of people's lives. I don't like specialists. Every specialist needs to be challenged. Every journalist needs to report brute news, nothing more.

So nice deconstruction Jérôme and let's keep 'em coming!

by Alex in Toulouse on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 08:21:19 AM EST
I've just seen the TIME article on the topic, and it's just as biased and ignorant.


Advance and Retreat

A show of spring fury against France's government is really about fear of change

"Ah, to breathe the fine air of France!" as he spoke in mock-heroic tones last week, Sayed Diakite, 19, a student from the southern suburbs of Paris, was smiling gleefully, and weeping at the same time.

Like hundreds of other young people boxed in by riot police between the Bon Marché department store and the Hotel Lutetia in the heart of the Left Bank, his eyes were running in reaction to pungent tear gas and smoke from a burning newspaper kiosk. Amid the uproar, Diakite and his fellow students felt a budding sense of empowerment. Up to half a million young people had gone, some riotously, to the streets throughout France on Thursday. Then, joined by union members and sympathizers, as many as 1.5 million joined marches on Saturday, some of which ended in violent clashes with riot police. Would this show of force bring a government that seems ever more out of touch to its knees?

Again the intro about the irrelevant violent bits. (Note that on French TV, the riots were covered, but AFTER all the reports on the demonstrations and the negotiations. They were shown, because they do take place, but it's not what this is all about. I think this is the right way to talk about it)


(...)

France is in another bout of revolt against its government, conducted with the kind of theatrical brio that seems more the antithesis of dialogue than its prelude. Union leaders are threatening a general strike later this week. Many of France's universities have been in an uproar for a month. The Sorbonne, the iconic epicenter of the idealistic May 1968 student uprising that nearly brought down an earlier government, has been closed for the past two weeks. At issue this time, though, are not the heady concerns of '68: the Vietnam War, or the ideas of socialism and free love.

"Theatrical brio". That sounds a lot like "élan". All these clichés seem to have been nicely absorbed by all journalists.


The 2006 rallying point is a new law, backed by Villepin, to reduce France's chronic and debilitating youth unemployment, which has rarely fallen below 20% since 1983 and currently stands at 22% -- and at more than 40% in the poorer neighbor-hoods that exploded in bitter rioting last fall. His plan: a "first employment contract" that allows employers to fire workers under the age of 26 within two years of their hiring, without cause and with no obligation to shell out France's hefty severance payments. Making it easier to get rid of unsatisfactory workers, the government believes, will help employers overcome their reluctance to hire young people in the first place. The law's critics say it will promote tenuous jobs and make it even harder for young people to find steady employment.

The usual mistakes as everywhere with some variations:

  • the unemployment rate is not misused, but neither is it explained, and will be understood by all as "20% of youth are unemployed"
  • a new one: "France's hefty severance payments". Where does that come from? Any numbers? How are they heftier than anywhere else? I thought the problems was that you could not fire people?
  • getting rid of "unsatisfactory" workers - that's actually a smartly ambiguous way to describe things. It's true, in the sense that this is presumably what the law is meant to allow, but it suggests that the laws will finally allow to get rid of incompetent workers (and that indeed comes further down the article)


The law has hit a raw nerve in a society deeply attached to the idea that a job is forever. A poll last week found that more than two-thirds of the population -- and more than 80% of the young people the law aims to help -- want the government to rescind the law's terms. For some, opposition justified violence. At the Sorbonne, a minority of protesters hurled anything they could tear loose -- umbrella stanchions, metal barricades, café chairs -- at the shields of riot police, who replied with water cannon and tear gas. "The bourgeoisie to the gulag!" read a wall scrawl.

Most of last week's demonstrators deplored the violence -- but not the passion that underlaid it. Marchers derided throwaway "Kleenex jobs" for the young as the first chink in the armor protecting France's tradition of jobs-for-life. "This law is a sign of social regression," said Gilles Debin, a white-collar union official who joined the Saturday protest in Paris. "It leaves the workers with no recourse, and we'll oppose it and anything like it until it's withdrawn." Even many with sinecures in the public sector saw the law as the start of an invasive ultra-liberalism that would one day threaten their livelihoods.

"deeply attached to the idea that a job is forever". Where is THAT meme coming from? That's never been the case or, if it has, it hasn't been for at least 30 years. This is just one of these casual slanders that pile up and up and up...

"Marchers derided throwaway "Kleenex jobs" for the young as the first chink in the armor protecting France's". The FIRST CHINK? How dare they write that kind of crap? For the past 20 years the political discourse about the code du travail has been a one way street about the need for more flexibility, less taxes on wages, less protection... The reality has been somewhat different under left wing and right wing governments, but the overall direction has been clear: to give companies cheaper and more compliant labor.


The young -- those most in need of a leg up -- heaped scorn on a law intended to help them. Serbian-born Zeljko Stojanovic, 19, joined the march with fellow high school students of foreign origin from the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis. "They want to close off immigration and doom young people to the lousy jobs nobody else will take," said Stojanovic, who wants to be an auto mechanic. "We're the ones who'll suffer if the bosses can just fire people without cause." Privileged university students saw matters no differently. Said Florian Louis, 22, a history student at the prestigious L'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales: "Maybe you can talk about labor flexibility in England or America, where there are lots of jobs. But not here. France wants no part in a race to the bottom." Neither young man seemed to understand how labor flexibility created those jobs in Britain or the U.S., underscoring the failure of the government to make a persuasive case for its policies.

Again an argument not based on facts.


The student rebels of 2006 had little of the revolutionary optimism or willingness to escape conformity for a precarious existence that infused their brash predecessors at the Sorbonne in '68. "Today's demonstrators are in a very real manner reactionaries," says Dominique Moïsi, deputy director of the French Institute on International Relations, "rejecting any prospect of more risk." Fear of losing jobs in a country that is poor at creating new ones may be the cause of the moment.

It is not poor at creating new ones, dammit! Stop repeating lies mindlessly. Go get the facts. You have a column in the FT, you owe it to your readers.


But French ambivalence about a changing world is nothing new. In the 1950s, French novelist Pierre Daninos suggested it was part of the national psyche to battle gallantly -- if often fruitlessly -- against invasion, as national treasures such as Joan of Arc once did. By that measure, the French in the streets last week were fighting to hold back the inexorable challenge of international competition. "It's pure negativism, and that's typical of today's France," says Ezra Suleiman, professor of European studies at Princeton. "No one is suggesting what should be done instead to increase employment. It seems like the only solidarity France can find these days is solidarity in negative action."

"gallantly and fruitlessly"; "the inexorable challenge of international competition". The same meme again - that of a country lost in an earlier century and doomed.

As to the "only solidarity". Stop talking about thing you know little about.


(...)

But dumping an unpopular policy would leave the larger problem unanswered: How to modernize France? Jobs will not spring magically into being if the hated employment law is abandoned. Eventually, structural reforms will be needed to transform France's prospects -- and that will need fresher, more politically astute leadership than the country has now.

Howto modernize France? How to create jobs? Look around, it's happening!


André Glucksmann, one of the new philosophers who emerged in 1968, thinks that the great majority of French voters -- the ones who didn't march last weekend -- know that things have to change. "Every generation we have a war, a revolt or a revolution," he says. "That's how we recycle our élite." Rising to the top of preliminary polls for the presidency are politicians who propose new ways of doing business: Sarkozy, who talks of a "rupture from the policies of the last 30 years," and Socialist Ségolène Royal, who has scandalized her party leadership by praising Tony Blair's pragmatic market policies. They'll hear none of that at the Sorbonne these days. But for all the fury last week, even France can't resist the winds of change forever.

Royal said that Blair was to be praised for actually spending more money on education and healthcare. How on earth did that ever got transformed into "praising his pragmatic market policies"? Because nothing Blair does can ever be described as "socialist"? The implicit tone here, as always, is that she praised the "market" bit, not the "pragmatic" (i.e. lefty) bit of the policies.

Wankers.

As to "France can't resist the winds of change forever", we'll see. Not if I have my say!

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 08:35:34 AM EST
with no obligation to shell out France's hefty severance payments.

I just noticed that one. The facts are quite different.

The Time article tells us an employer, under the current system without the new CPE contract, has severance pay obligations within the first two years, (and it adds emphatic language : "shell out", "hefty").

In fact, there are no severance payments in France during the first two years of employment with a standard no-time-limit contract. (CDI). Severance payment obligations kick in precisely after two years.

In other words, the CPE offers no change from a normal job contract on the point of severance pay. An employer could hire a young worker with a standard CDI contract, and still have no severance obligations over two years.

So, Time Magazine? Competence or incompetence? Information or disinformation? Journalism or mindlessly repeated talking points?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 01:54:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Jerome, I have to say honestly that I don't know anything about the French labor market and I don't know much about economics or labor policy in general, but I'm reading your "deconstruction" articles and trying to keep up with them, and frankly there appears to be something missing in your argument.

First, every single article I see in the English-language media agrees that France has a serious problem with underutilization of her youth. OECD reports, FT articles, Economist editorials, Guardian writeups--all start with the understanding that the French unemployment rate, particularly among minority youth, is out of line with the rest of Europe.

I see your extracts from charts and tables "proving" that this is not the case, but they don't move me. It's way too easy to fall into the "lying with statistics" swamp by extracting numbers one at a time and analyzing them point by point. There must be some source that examines an issue like employment, deeply and thoroughly and with minimal bias, and arrives at a summary that can be used as a starting point. In the technical areas I'm familiar with there are a thousand different ways that you can read the numbers, but in the end a non-expert simply must trust the judgement of one who has spent a lifetime studying the topic. I would simply like to see you quote some experts on French employment who agree with your argument.

Now I can understand that there is undoubtably bias (partly because they're in English and partly because mainstream economic writing tends be capitalistic) in my news sources, but when you start saying things like "the supposedly leftwing Guardian" then your argument starts to appear somewhat Quixotic. The Guardian IS a leftwing newspaper, and when one accuses it of not being left wing enough, one is positioning oneself on the extreme left--or out in left field. Obviously the Economist is going to have an unacceptable editorial slant, but your claim that there is NOT an "international consensus" on this issue is not supported by any more citations than the Guardian's statement that there is. If there's not an international consensus on the French unemployment situation, then where are the citations of MSM articles to support the claim?

From what I can see on this side of the pond, the current student demonstrations, coming on the heels of recent riots by underprivileged NON-students, appear to be more like this: French university students, realizing that there is a system set up over many years to protect their professional jobs when they get out, are concerned that this system is under risk of being dismantled. They want things to be like they were for their parents: Get a university education and then be safe for life.

This does not appear to be a shining moment for the socialist movement. There is a broad concensus that there is a problem, with minority demonstrations and economists' statistics to support that belief. The problem is largely on the backs of poor youth, who should be the core of the socialist movement. Instead, it appears that the "socialist" elite youth are pushing hard to maintain a system that protects them while doing nothing for the poor.

I'm not trying to be an obnoxious American here; this is an internal French issue and not something that either America or the UN or anybody else is going to be able to do anything about. But it sure does appear that these protests are all based on a desire to continue a system where an educated elite makes all sorts of noises about how they are on the left, singing La Marseillaise and supporting the students on the barricades, while uncounted unemployed minority youths continue to be stuck without options.

by asdf on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 09:13:04 AM EST
Here are some quotes from various papers around the world. I'm not seeing any that support the idea that France's youth unemployment rate is not a problem, and I'm seeing plenty that suggest that the underlying motiviation of the students is self-interest in maintaining a system that protects them...

The student turmoil does not bear any resemblance to the `68 incidents, since it does not have any utopist undertones. They are worried about their future prospects. The problem is in France itself. France is in a terrible situation. The leftists, which protest the government today with students, and syndicates, also did not bring any solutions to these problems.
http://www.zaman.com/?bl=international&alt=&trh=20060319&hn=31062

Youth joblessness stands at 23 per cent in France, and at 50 per cent among impoverished young people. The lack of work was blamed in part for the riots that shook France's depressed suburbs during the fall.
http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&a mp;cid=1142722231908&call_pageid=970599119419

Villepin looked set to stand firm, believing the law could significantly reduce unemployment, the top social issue, before presidential elections in 2007. Unemployment is the top political issue in France, where the national average is 9.6 percent and youth joblessness is double that. The rate rises to 40-50 percent in some of the poor suburbs hit by several weeks of youth rioting last autumn.
http://www.boston.com/news/world/europe/articles/2006/03/19/french_government_set_to_stand_firm_desp ite_protests/

In many of the country's most deprived areas the rate is as high as 40-50 percent.
http://www.wsws.org/articles/2006/mar2006/fran-m17.shtml

It will do nothing to reduce the 23 percent youth unemployment rate, or the average of 8 to 11 years it takes to get permanent employment.
http://www.wsws.org/articles/2006/feb2006/fran-f06.shtml

Hicham, another student from the university, also spoke with the WSWS. "The CPE will soon affect me, as I will soon be exposed as a job seeker. With the CPE, the boss can fire you at any moment without giving a reason.
http://www.wsws.org/articles/2006/mar2006/fran-m18.shtml

by asdf on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 09:59:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The numbers on unemployment are clear enough, and I am not going to write them up again.

But how many of these papers and sources have people on the ground, and how many rely on the main sources of English language news on France: UK-based papers or press agencies, or UK or US journalists based in Paris, which, as we've been pointing out, all write the same false drivel?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 10:07:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]

First, every single article I see in the English-language media agrees that France has a serious problem with underutilization of her youth. OECD reports, FT articles, Economist editorials, Guardian writeups--all start with the understanding that the French unemployment rate, particularly among minority youth, is out of line with the rest of Europe.

Well, as I have tried to explain, the "unemployment rate" is high, but the number of youth unemployed is not that different to that in other countries, at 7-8%.

The difference is in the employment rate - those that have a job. As the graph above show, a high number of French youth are still studying. Are they doing this because they cannot find work, or because there is more of a focus on education, or it takes a long time in France, or because there is a difference in methodology (i.e. students that work part time are not counted in France but counted elsewhere), I am not sure.

But it's not immediately obvious that having young people studying rather than working is necessarily a bad thing.

If there's problem of underutilisation, it's actually that of the seniors... France has over-used the system of early retirement in the 80s (to help the restructuration of old industries like steel), and their employment rate has dropped significantly. But that's another issue.


I see your extracts from charts and tables "proving" that this is not the case, but they don't move me. It's way too easy to fall into the "lying with statistics" swamp by extracting numbers one at a time and analyzing them point by point. There must be some source that examines an issue like employment, deeply and thoroughly and with minimal bias, and arrives at a summary that can be used as a starting point. In the technical areas I'm familiar with there are a thousand different ways that you can read the numbers, but in the end a non-expert simply must trust the judgement of one who has spent a lifetime studying the topic. I would simply like to see you quote some experts on French employment who agree with your argument.

I take some exception with that, as I specifically provide the whole set of data: how many youth there are, how many are employed, unemployed. It's the "other side" that's always focusing on one signle number without ever looking at the bigger picture - and worse, they are (ignorantly or wilfully) distorting that number in a highly contentious way. Saying that the unemployment rate is 22% is transformed into 22% of French youth are unemployed, which triples the size of the problem and makes finding radical solutions to solve that problem appear a lot more indispensable.

If you started saying everywhere that France has 7.8% of its youth unemployed, vs 7.4% in the UK, it would take out a lot of the urgency, don't you think?


Now I can understand that there is undoubtably bias (partly because they're in English and partly because mainstream economic writing tends be capitalistic) in my news sources, but when you start saying things like "the supposedly leftwing Guardian" then your argument starts to appear somewhat Quixotic. The Guardian IS a leftwing newspaper, and when one accuses it of not being left wing enough, one is positioning oneself on the extreme left--or out in left field. Obviously the Economist is going to have an unacceptable editorial slant, but your claim that there is NOT an "international consensus" on this issue is not supported by any more citations than the Guardian's statement that there is. If there's not an international consensus on the French unemployment situation, then where are the citations of MSM articles to support the claim?

Well, does it look like what's written in that article remotely sounds like anything from the left wing? That's just a sign of how far the "center" has moved rightwards in the past 25 years, just like in the USA.

As to the issue of the "international consensus", I agree that it exists, but I argue that it is not based on facts. You read us regularly, we've provided enough hard numbers that show that some of the things that are part of this "international consensus" (like 'France is unable to create jobs', or 'energy prices are lower in deregulated markets') are simply false - and I am using sources form the Economist or the Financial Times or the OECD or other similarly respectable places all the time.

I am saying that this "international consensus" is based on the permanent repetition of talking points with little regard for facts. That should sound familiar to you in the USA...


From what I can see on this side of the pond, the current student demonstrations, coming on the heels of recent riots by underprivileged NON-students, appear to be more like this: French university students, realizing that there is a system set up over many years to protect their professional jobs when they get out, are concerned that this system is under risk of being dismantled. They want things to be like they were for their parents: Get a university education and then be safe for life.

This does not appear to be a shining moment for the socialist movement. There is a broad concensus that there is a problem, with minority demonstrations and economists' statistics to support that belief. The problem is largely on the backs of poor youth, who should be the core of the socialist movement. Instead, it appears that the "socialist" elite youth are pushing hard to maintain a system that protects them while doing nothing for the poor.

Two things here: that law does not make people in the system less protected - it only makes the under-26  less protected. Then they can get into the system as well. The other is that the youth form the suburbs are overwhelmingly against this new contract because they know they will be its first victims: thye will be even more easily discriminated against than before, as employers will not even have to have cause to get rid of them.


I'm not trying to be an obnoxious American here; this is an internal French issue and not something that either America or the UN or anybody else is going to be able to do anything about. But it sure does appear that these protests are all based on a desire to continue a system where an educated elite makes all sorts of noises about how they are on the left, singing La Marseillaise and supporting the students on the barricades, while uncounted unemployed minority youths continue to be stuck without options.

No, I thank you for your questions, which can only reflect the kind of information you have. The first victimes of the new law will be the minority youths, not the elite - and both know it well, and it's actually one of the welcome things in this movement that the two are getting closer.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 10:05:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My feeback:

The anglo-saxon press is full of rubbish when they write about France. Not a suprise.  (They're also, and surprisingly, full of rubbish when they weite about Hollywood.) Mind you, I find the French press full of rubbish when they write about the US. IMHO.

That's why we need people like Jerome to write articles in both. :-)

When I see graphs and tables, my eyes glaze over; I don't have a clue about the stuff you write about. But I like the fact that the French are protesting.  I'll take activism, even if ill-based, over passive acceptance (as is the case in the US) any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

In the end, I can't help thinking that all this is pretty moot. Other, greater forces such as peak oil and the $9.8 billion the US is spending EVERY MONTH on Iraq will be much greater devils than the ones we're presently worrying about.

There was a general strike in France in early May 1938. Somehow what happened next wasn't much affected by it.

by Lupin on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 10:24:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
so is it your position that there is no employment problem; that the french employment market is robut and ought to be left alone?  you seem to take issue with any suggestion that the current model is not working well?

also, are there any french employers on the site? what does that group think?

by tomcunn (tomcunn@execpc.com) on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 11:10:31 AM EST
No, my position is NOT that there is no unemployment problem, but that there may be other solutions than those focusing on reducing workers' rights and improving corporations' ability to fire them.

My position is that a big part of the problem in France is a deep mood of pessimism and the impression by all that the country has no future and that it will have to unravel all that used to make it work and make it great - and that creates a lot of anxiety, as well as a sense of resignation - and also pain and anger that the damn Brits seems to have won.

Thus, what is needed is first and foremost to fight that prevailing view that all is wrong in the country and that it cannot hold its own in the world. It does not mean that all is perfect, but it means that solutions can be found without ditching everything done so far, and that we can still be proud of our country and its model.

Moreover, it means that the model can be defended for real, and not just, like our politicians do now, through a fighting rhetoric and then policies that more or stealthily do the opposite. People resent both the need for reform and the fact that they are done behind their back, without a real explanation.

The socialists' policies in 1997, meant to boost morale by focusing on government backed jobs for young people in the social sector worked - young people got real jobs that they could be proud of (helping in schools, libraries, parks), they had a non renewable 5 year contract that gave them a decent start in life, and it actually was very useful in said schools, libraries and other similar places. It gave a boost to employment, morale, and growth and did not cost that much (it cost a lot less than all the rebates companies are getting these days to employ people at the bottom of the pay scale) - and the country created a record number of jobs.

So when I say that the socialists' policy should be optimism, I am not joking. It is vital - and it could be enough.


In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 11:30:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
first, a thank you for your responses.

it seems to me, however, that the hopelessness and pessimism you deplore is embodied in the opposition to the CPE. It shows a complete lack of confidence in the French economy for a young person to believe that getting fired in the first two years is tantamount to economic ruin.  Either (1)that is not true, or (2) the french economy really is a basket case.

i understand there are issues beyond employment, like getting a car loan, or getting an aparment, and presume the difficulty in getting either of those is tied to an inability of landlords or car lenders to get their money back.

but that is not an issue, for example, in the U.S. where getting an apartment or a car loan is extremely easy. i gather that is not true in france from the comments about the need for a "contract."  so i think the matter has to be examined systemically.

by tomcunn (tomcunn@execpc.com) on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 10:07:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Jerome, I agree with your points that the neoliberal consensus must be debunked, along with the irrational pessimism about the European social model that the consensus created.

But, going back to the point I tried (and perhaps failed) to make before when I asked "what is the left's policy to deal with unemployment" . . .

It seems to me that the right has a very powerful idea about how to re-generate growth and employment - "let 'the market' take care of it." Deregulate, shrink government, put more risk on workers and individuals to free business to increase profits, and so on. We all know this.

Debunking this idea is important, but in the spirit of "it takes an idea to beat an idea," I think we need something more than debunking to replace "free market" as the reigning solution to all economic problems.

To me, the idea of "social partnership," in which current burdens and future fruits of growth are shared equitably, is the way to go. All the "success stories" of Europe - Scandinavia, Ireland, the Netherlands, France under Jospin - seem to share similar characteristics: some business-friendly reforms and wage restraint, but also increased social protection for workers, whether in the form of tax cuts, wage subsidies, direct public job creation through increased spending, and so forth. Also, the protection and expansion of institutions that give workers voice in how firms are run and how economic policy is made: strong unions, German-style codetermination, participation in incomes policy, etc.

Maybe other people will have other ideas about what our "big idea" should be.

The difference between what de Villepin is doing and the social democratic approach is that the right offers no additional social protection to ease the risks that they plan to put on the shoulders of younger workers - the market is expected to take care of everything. I'm surprised that someone like Will Hutton, who is usually pretty astute, overlooks this key point.

by TGeraghty on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 11:11:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This comment deserves a 5.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 02:05:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course we need to come forward with a positive vision, and ideas like social partnership -- and cohesion, solidarity, community -- are essential.

But don't underestimate what the non-stop flood of media disinformation is doing: it is shaping people's view of the world, and in that way it is shifting the ground. It's impossible to concentrate on propositions without striking back at the flow of propaganda. Even on this thread on a left-of-centre blog, we can see evidence of the ravages the repetition of the same message can wreak: some people apparently think that, the more they read the same thing in the media, the truer it must be.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 02:32:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I agree. But I would just argue that if we are to re-shape people's world-views in a leftward direction, we will need to appeal to that positive vision (whatever we finally decide it is) and repeat it over and over again, just like the right does.
by TGeraghty on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 02:39:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Agreed.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 03:05:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ok, TG, we've sparred on the role of economists and academic economics in society. But, here we come back to the crux. Care to name some significant papers or books that can form the background to an alternative vision?

If you're really fired up, I'd ask that you write a diary with an economically sound alternative vision, but that's a lot to ask and really sounds like I want you to do all the work.

So, point me at a couple of starting points and I'll try applying my layman's touch to it.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 06:39:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have been thinking about a series of "debate" diaries in which we apply the Socratic method to economics to try to figure out exactly what we need to say and why. Just as I was thinking about that, Sven (Triloquist) asked in an open thread why do we have to work? which is exactly  the kind of questions I was thinking about. (I thought about other things like why do we use money?, or why do we pay or demand interest?, and so on).

It's all about taking common economic practice (or conventional wisdom) and asking why, and then why to that, and so on, until we reach a collection of basic, simple assumptions which can be intuitively challenged. Alternatives to these challenged assumptions should also be intuitive, and form the core of the message (or maybe the Lakoffian frame towards which we should try to steer any discussion of economic policy).

Any thoughts?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 06:48:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Please just do it. It's all part of the same sort of issue as discussions of a faireurope thingy.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 06:50:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Expect Economic Maieutics (I) tonight, then.


A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 06:54:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Absolutely. And the faireurope text is a good example of where it might be more productive to apply a method like maieutics.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 07:57:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I fear sometimes we think alike. I've been meaning to start a series of "nitpicker" diaries where I ask some really basic questions about the way we conceive of economic policy.

So, I think it's a great idea!

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 07:10:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What's there to fear?

So, what's going on with the UK meetup? Supposedly we have over 50 UK members.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 07:14:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Um, I'm unemployed and filled with self-loathing at the moment, so I ran out of motivation to make it happen...

I'll write another diary on it (meetup that is, not my psychological issues) tomorrow night and try and push things forward a bit.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 08:18:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe you should try other EU countries, where your study abroad will actually be considered a plus by prospective employers.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 08:21:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But my nationality remains an handicap... ;-)
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 08:33:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You could always outsource yourself to India</snark>

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 09:50:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You know, I've been thinking about this for awhile, and I've been meaning to put together a diary or series of diaries like that, but then the task seems so daunting that I have never actually sat down to write it.

I'll try to put together some sort of discussion diary along these lines.

by TGeraghty on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 06:39:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
it is daunting, very.  maybe it should be a collective effort for that very reason...  many ants can disassemble a cookie.

one of the sinking feelings I have long had about the mercantilist system and its offspring, modern economics, is the disturbing possibility that the whole idea is fundamentally flawed, and that therefore no amount of tinkering with the model (a la Marx) will suffice to "fix it" in the sense of any optimisation of human happiness.  and if human happiness is "not the point" then we may as well go back to building pyramids for Pharaoh...

dissident views which have influenced my thinking over the years include those of "feral economists" like Cobb and Waring, "outdated" economists like Galbraith, snook-cockers like Czech and Keen, and lateral thinkers  and social critics like Illich, Postman, Prieur, Jensen, Abbey, Callenbach, McKibben, Ritzer (Whitman, Thoreau, Vian, Goldman...), paleo/anthro/social historians like Diamond, Ponting, Braudel... plus speculative futurists of various flavours from Delaney through the cyberpunks, and paisano/indigeno movements worldwide.  I think the very breadth of sources needed to anchor a sweeping critique of contemporary assumptions makes a very high threshold for the endeavour, especially since one of the central assumptions of the structure to be critiqued is specialisation and credentialling.


The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 07:04:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A compilation of previously suggested resources can be found here.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 07:05:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now as for references, I literally have a whole bookshelf filled with arguments and evidence debunking the ideas that social protection and the welfare state are bad for growth and employment, sketching out alternative employment policies, and proposing new economic doctrines as alternative to neoliberalism.

Let me just point out just three of my favorites, by a journalist, an economic historian, and a sociologist, respectively:

The Economic Illusion: False Choices Between Prosperity and Social Justice by Robert Kuttner

The economic illusion is the belief that social justice is bad for economic growth. . . . prosperity and social justice can be reconciled . . . they can be mutually reinforcing. . . . often social justice produces positive-sum economic gains. . . . All of these issues are deeply political. . . . The range of equality/efficiency bargains that present themselves and the design of social institutions to carry them out reflect balances of political power. Few if any of the choices are merely technical . . .

Growing Public: Social Spending and Ecoonmic Growth since the 18th Century by Peter Lindert

Lindert argues that, contrary to the intuition of many economists and the ideology of many politicians, social spending has contributed to, rather than inhibited, economic growth.

Postindustrial Possibilities: A Critique of Economic Discourse by Fred Block

. . . Block takes as his point of departure the tired concepts of neo-classical economics which, while still dominant, fall short as tools for comprehending contemporary economic forces. . . . . such as the market, labor, and capital. One of its primary foci is a shift toward improved product quality and greater priority for various non-commodity satisfactions such as leisure, interesting work, economic security and a safe and clean environment. It also promotes a recognition that greater economic efficiency rests not on infusions of capital but on cooperative labor relations and on institutional reform.

There is a "varieties of capitalism" literature in political science and sociology (not so much in economics, unfortunately) that takes seriously differences in institutions across countries. Here are some good introductory references:

You can also look at this older comment for some (mostly-US) sources and people to take a look at. Also here and here and here from our old Creating A New Left Economic Manifesto threads.

Some others I particularly like on aspects of the European social model include:

In terms of a general introduction to alternative ways of looking at economics, in addition to the Block book above:

by TGeraghty on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 08:07:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
At the risk of shameless self-promotion, there are also more references:

Employment Policy

Monetary Policy

OK, this may be boring stuff to many of you, but necessary, I think.
by TGeraghty on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 08:30:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
With the constant propaganda campaign being waged by the Neo-Con/Lib's where the hell are all these people and why aren't they speaking up?

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 08:51:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You mean, beyond writing papers and books?

Some kind of joint political statement, maybe?

Here's something along these lines: Alternative Economic Policy for Europe with a list of signatories here.

by TGeraghty on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 09:08:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Writing books and papers is the first step, certainly.

But the next step is getting the message out.

I suggest you, me, and my shorts move the discussion to your diary

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Tue Mar 21st, 2006 at 01:16:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, and Kuttner, of course, is one of the founders of the center-left magazine The American Prospect that is trying to push the debate to the left in the US.
by TGeraghty on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 10:17:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's another good reference:

Social Protection versus Economic Flexibility: Is There a Trade-Off?

Some of the book's conclusions:


  • Little evidence that labor market flexibility is substantially affected by the presence of publicly-provided social protection programs such as employment protection, health insurance, pension benefits, unemployment benefits and income assistance, or childcare and maternity leave; nor is the speed of labor-market adjustment enhanced by limiting such programs.

  • There is more than one kind of flexibility: countries with extensive social protection systems find other ways to adjust to recessions. For example, compared to the US, Germany relies more heavily on adjusting hours of work rather than employment when faced with an economic downturn.

  • Social protection programs provide substantial benefits to workers. Any analysis of the effects of removing social protections must include the costs to workers of doing so, against any benefits in increased employment that might occur.
by TGeraghty on Tue Mar 21st, 2006 at 03:35:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Whoa!

That'll teach me to ask.

Definitely going to have to be a group effort at the moment, I reckon.

Oh well, time to start reading and thinking...

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Tue Mar 21st, 2006 at 10:23:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have read with great interest all of Jerome's postings on the press coverage of the protests, and I'm very grateful for them.

I have no difficulty at all believing that the english-language press repeats facts with no basis by simply reading each other's articles. (I've long wondered how many of the very few American correspondents based in France do anything more than simply rewrite what they read in LE Monde and Fig, but thats another story).

But all that said, I am having difficulty understanding the distinction between a "youth unemployment rate" of 22% and "8% of youth are unemployed"? I have a phd but not in economics, so I'm not sure if these are terms of art that I'm not understanding or if its a matter of who is counted.

That said, in response to asdf, I don't see anything wrong with students protesting against a government that has done nothing but muck things up for 4 years, and if their understanding of the policy is that it will hurt them, isn't that enough of a reason to consider the policy a failure? Isn't it an essential requirement of social policy that it convince people that the policy itself is not only economically sound (highly doubtful in this case) buit also democratic in conception and execution. Isn't that the reason that the GOP failed to move its social security privatization scheme even though it had near universal support in the mainstream press here?

by desmoulins (gsb6@lycos.com) on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 11:47:42 AM EST
Can I try and explain the point about youth unemployment? It is this: the media repeat (and repeat) that 22% of young French are unemployed. Or they turn that into: one in five. So most people naturally get the picture of one out of five people between 15 and 24 hopelesly looking for a job.

But, between ages 15 and 24, a great many people are at school or in training. The proportion of that population that is in school/university varies from country to country. In France it's fairly high. The pie-chart Jérôme provided above shows that (on the left) practically 60% (59.9% exactly) of age 15-24 French are in school. The active population (meaning those with a job or looking for a job) amounts to 26.7% with a job, 7.8% looking for one. Those 7.8% of the total age group amount to 22% of the active population of that age group.

So 22% is not a wrong figure, it's simply misleading in the context in which it's used by the media and the pundits. 7.8% of all young French between 15 and 24 are unemployed; the comparable statistic for the United Kingdom, for example, is 7.4%. Not much difference. Yet the journalists and commentators go on spouting the same stuff about youth unemployment in France.  

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 12:26:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ok, thanks. "Active population" is what I was missing.
by desmoulins (gsb6@lycos.com) on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 09:09:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Finally, it's not surprising to read the same set of falsehoods, the same spin, in Time Magazine as in most of the international press. Everyone has picked up on "riots", "student revolt", May '68, and hence the essential romanticism of the hapless, hopeless French, who believe they can halt the inevitable, but of course are bound to lose. Meanwhile, what panache! (Oh, btw, I don't think I've seen "panache" anywhere yet: note to newspaper sub-editors, it would make a useful addition to "élan" and "Latin Quarter" and the rest of the tawdry box of tricks so-called journalists are using on this story). And the same supposed truths about France: the "job for life", the unemployment that is so much worse than elsewhere and the incapacity of a sclerotic economy to create jobs... Complete pro-globalisation conventional wisdom on France, as also exemplified by William Pfaff in the IHT.

It's more painful to find the same bunk paraded in The Observer under the byline of Will Hutton. Jérôme, you've had a good go at his opinion piece, and I'm not going to duplicate your work. But I just got down a book of Will Hutton's that I read three or four years ago: The World We Are In, 2002. Opening at random, here are some snippets of what I find:

Britain has an American-style deregulated labour market, weak trade unions, indifferent social protection, and a fierce market for corporate control to keep the management of quoted companies, as the conservatives would argue, on their toes. It has, as a survey in Management Today reported in July 2001, rewarded its chief executives more handsomely than other European countries (...) Meanwhile, ordinary workers' pay was the lowest of the same countries. With these advantages, if the conservatives are right the British economy should be clipping along. Instead, its performance is only modest.

For the zealots -- rather like ancient druids or the cargo cult islanders -- this is proof only that something is wrong with their rituals and they must redouble their efforts; not that their whole belief system may be awry. Others do not acknowledge the reality at all. The Sunday Times Business Section's economic columnist and conservative zealot Irwin Stelzer is a classic of the breed, who rehearses his prejudices as the truth, selectively choosing his facts while omitting others, week after week (...) In Stelzerland a "sclerotic" Europe has lagging productivity generated by a "eurocracy" that delights in setting burdensome regulations that "drive entrepreneurs mad". (...) The notion that putput per man-hour might be higher in the former West Germany and France than the uS is plainly preposterous, as is the idea that, apart from one or two exceptions, the European corporate sector is anything but deadbeat. Yet Stelzer's partisan effusions go unchallenged in a way impossible for anybody who takes the alternative view. Offered a platform in an American-owned newspaper (in addition he writes for the Sun) to propagandise the Washington consensus and the new conservatism with no health warning, he is part of the internationally accepted common sense.

(emphasis mine)

And it goes on like that, I could happily quote pages.

So I don't get it. Mr Hutton, how is it that you have gone from this kind of clear-eyed fighting talk to this morning's Observer column? Don't you know propaganda when you see it any more? How is it that you have become a shill for a failed Blairite vision of Europe?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 12:01:06 PM EST
pro CPE (or equivalent) diaries on ET in a few years time...?

This is unbelievable, and sad.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 12:39:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Heh!

Jérôme, there's a formatting problem with my FDI graph, it's pushing the column way wide. I have two versions on my server, a small and a big. I used the small as an embedded link to the big.

Here's the URL of the small one:

http://i8.photobucket.com/albums/a28/afew/ocdefrancefig3003sm.jpg

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 12:57:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I suggest 'width=600' in the diary IMG tag.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 01:03:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the essential romanticism of the hapless, hopeless French, who believe they can halt the inevitable, but of course are bound to lose.

I am going to refer back to previous thread about Saul's essay in which he comments on precisely this deliberate manufacture of a stance of fatalism and inevitability.  and note that precisely the same stance was manufactured to explain white supremacy in the Age of Exploitation ("yes it is very sad about the decimation of all these brown people you know, but it is just the natural superiority of the White Race working out impersonally in inevitable historical/evolutionary processes beyond anyone's control.")  

the hardline Marxist cadres had their own take on the "inevitability" of their intellectual model and secular strategy, and anyone who dissented was marginalised as "resisting the forces of History".

in other words, the meme of inevitability and vast impersonal processes is the late-model version of the Divine Right of Kings and used for much the same purpose:  to paint any dissident against the agenda of the dominant (or nervously dominant) elite as a dead-ender futilely resisting the Revealed Will of God.  there is no power so useful in the hands of the would-be tyrant as the power of futility and despair in the hearts of the populace...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 07:16:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Guardian/Observer article is stating a philosophical position as fact.  

First they are saying the microeconomic affects of a macroeconomic change is determined.  Oh yeah?  Since when?  Produce proof or retract.

Second, there is the hidden assumption the French population under the age of 26 has a known higher percentage of employment incompetence than those above the age of 26, therefore, on one's 26th birthday one magically acquires a greater degree of employment competency?   Blink  Produce proof or retract.

Third, let's examine the fundamental argument:

Taking p to be "easing restrictions on firing for incompentence" and q to be "increase employment" the Formal structure of the argument is either:

Case I.  p->q  as a Material Implication (If/Then)

Case II.  p <-> q as the Equivalence Implication (If and Only If)

Case I has no material entailment as the structure of the argument can be reformulated as:

~p OR q and substituting we get:

"easing restrictions on firing for incompentence" OR "increase employment" - meaning France may see an increase in employment without easing restrictions as is verified by the Labor History of France as in  Jerome's deconstruction, above:

unemployment only went down in the period when labor laws were toughened under the Socialist government led by Jospin.

Therefore Case I is both Invalid and False.  QED.

Examination of Case II exhibits the same Logical and Factual errors examined in Case I, and so will not be explicated, but also violates the basic argument itself:  should firing of under-26 year olds due to greater employment incompetence raise the employment rate France and since French employers:

...can already fire someone for being incompetent.

Then by the Guardian/Observer's argument in Case II there is no problem with the French unemployment rate and, thus, no change is needed.  QED

So not only is the Guardian/Observer's argument Invalid and False it doesn't even hold itself.  

Simply put: the Guardian/Observer is spewing nonsense.


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 01:27:39 PM EST
I've read the ET quite a few times and it is becoming a reference for me.  Great article.  Now on to comments...

After reading a number of comments here and, in particular, Jerome's words that the socialists should be more optimistic, it dawned on me how right Jerome was.

It is absolutely essential that progressive thought and actions contain an element of utopian desires.  By "utopian," I do not mean dreamy, wishful thinking, but rather cogent and intelligent views that illuminate present injustices through the light of a different and better future.  The right-wing in the U.S., and to a lesser degree in Europe, has sucessfully imposed regimes of economic and political thought that drain power from populations by endowing neo-liberal ecnomics with an inexorable "feel."  "Feel" is important, it is that subliminal framework that allows for articles like the one Jerome is deconstructing to appear logical and normal to most who read it.  It is the feeling of our current culture that allows us to seemingly explain things because they seem so normal and so logical, even if they do not hold up to scrutiny.

We are witnessing a cultural tragedy unfold. The French carry a Utopian ideal in their collective heads about what it means to be French. They are self-appointed defenders of Europe's real republican virtues of liberty, equality and fraternity. Their rightful place is as Europe's leaders, and the state, embodying an idea of France, is the nation's master puppeteer.

None of this works in 2006. The state, as all others in Europe, is circumscribed by global market forces. France is only one of 25 EU member states and the way liberty, equality and fraternity have been delivered since the 1950s has to be recast.


Jerome rightfully mocks this.  It is condescending while it plays perfectly to every Anglo-Saxon audience.  "How silly of those French 'dreamers'! They have a pre-Waterloo attitude.  Don't they know this is a post-Waterloo world?

The fact is that France has been leading the globalization bandwagon in many arenas; it's just that the French public is more wary of its upper classes.  Perhaps the French bourgeoisie should be more wary of their proletariate, still running around with some idealism.

If yesterdays demonstrations happened, workers all over the world should thank the French, not be wary of them.  they are putting into action new vocabularies about morality, politics and economics.  Chirac should listen; so should the world.

by andrethegiant on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 02:47:10 PM EST
Welcome to ET Andy.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 03:07:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hi Andy -- since I think this is your first comment here, welcome!

I think you're right on the money with your point about the handle the international media have got on these events in France : oh those (######) French! (replace ##### by your choice from: dreamy, romantic, outdated, utopian, idealistic... something that means losers).

In fact this is a way of neutralizing the French rejection of any further encroachment of globalisation. You know, it might give people big ideas, like, globalisation is not an inevitable tide that it is futile to oppose.

I went over to look at your blog, andrethe giant, and, apart from a good post on the French events, I saw this:

"Il est cinq heures, Paris s'éveille." (Jaques Dutronc)

A guy who has that on his blog can't be all bad.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 03:11:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks a lot for the welcome and the comments.  When I speak of the importance of "utopianism," I  understand that Americans, Brits and of course lots of French "realists" use left-leaning idealism as was way to brand them as dreamers and thus neutralize them.  Funny how rarely people in the press neglect to point out the utopianism that led to Iraq.  Nor does the press refer to the utopianism of the Cato Institute that wants to privatize every scrap of earth, air, fire and water.  In a word, the Right, and especially the Extreme Right has a very utopian underpinning, but because their utopia is couched in the rhetoric of "ownership," "security" and individual strength.  Anyway, I think you see where I am going.

As far as utopianism is concerned for the Left, what I would say is that many people today, and, specifically,  many of the American Democrats or French Socialists I know are very, very glum about the future and insecure about change.  Many are simply fighting to keep what they have.  The question is not one of creating a perfect society, but rather: do we want the future to be better for children, for the next generation?

Do we? Most people say 'yes,' but they have lost that hope and they have lost the vocabulary and faith in public mechanisms that inspire them even with a minute degree of confidence that their children will be better off than them.

The question then becomes, what has changed that makes current adults assume it will be harder for their children than for them and why do people just accept this? This is a radical change in outlook.  The entire (and problematic) industrial revolution has, in some way, been built on the idea of progress, and, luckily, this was seized upon as much by the Left as by the Right, to different ends and with different successes and failures.  Now this very simple utopianism, that the next generation will do better than the present one, has been lost.  More importantly, because of the Right's control of the media as well as the Left's inability to articulate our (mis)fortunes, it seems that no one is even asking the question anymore.

Anyway, I've gone on forever about this ,but it seems that a certain degree of utopianism--a goal for a better future and a vocabulary and framework for its articulation--are necessary.  That's all I meant.  Maybe I just should have said "hope."

by andrethegiant on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 09:18:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Their entire coverage is here: France, Special Report

They has an editorial which was more or less neutral, but more sympathetic towards the protests: Leader

Today, Stuard Jeffries writes in support: Why are the French so ready to take to the streets? Maybe because, unlike the British, they have something worth fighting for

On an urelated note, and to show that The Guardian/Observer is not exactly doctrinaire left-wing, this appaling hack-job on Vanessa Redgrave led me to fire a pissed-off letter to the editor: She's got issues (what got me was certainly not the criticism of Redgrave's politics but things like this: 'But,' I continue, 'you have to realise that there are selfish people like me who just don't care about the rest of the world.' She is genuinely shocked: 'You're not one of them! Are you one of them? I don't think so.' 'Yes I am,' I insist. 'I don't care what's happening in Kosovo, I really don't. I care a lot about what happens to my family and friends, so I'm not entirely selfish. ... the whole piece ridicules any kind of political consciousnes, rather depressing to see this in The Guardian.)

by miholo (miholoz with the google mail people) on Sun Mar 19th, 2006 at 11:24:19 PM EST
Yes, I read the Lynn Barber interview of Vanessa Redgrave too. I wonder why she says she'd been trying to interview her for years, when she's got so little empathy with her... Unless she was deliberately stirring it up.

Thanks for the reference to the coverage. Obviously, here, we're not so much taking issue with the Observer as with Will Hutton's surprising op-ed.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 02:08:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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