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Economist makes some strong claims about France

by marco Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 10:07:10 AM EST

I expect someone on EuroTrib will rip this article apart in short order with a proper diary, but I need to jot down some claims the Economist makes that I need to verify:

... according to one astonishing poll, three-quarters of young French people today would like to become civil servants, and mostly because that would mean "a job for life".

Precisely which poll are they referring to?  Does this jibe with most French people's intuitions?

In another startling poll, however, whereas 71% of Americans, 66% of the British and 65% of Germans agreed that the free market was the best system available, the number in France was just 36%.

Another poll to track down (though this one only "startling", not quite "astonishing" apparently.)

The French seem to be uniquely hostile to the capitalist system that has made them the world's fifth richest country and generated so many first-rate French companies.

Whether the ambiguity is intentional or just due to laziness, I think this sentence is beneath the Economist in its muddling of the issue.  Clearly French capitalism is a different beast from Anglo-Saxon capitalism.  My understanding is that it is the French brand of capitalism "that has made them the world's fifth richest country and generated so many first-rate French companies."  So of course their hostility is not towards the capitalism that has made them "rich", but rather towards a form of capitalism that has not yet existed in their country, i.e. Economist-style capitalism (again, as I understand things.)

This failure [of the political class to tell it straight] has bred a political culture of reform by stealth, in which change is carried out with one hand and blamed on outside forces--usually globalisation, the European Union or America--while soothing words about protecting the French way are issued on the other.

This actually corresponds to my own impression of France.  I wonder if French people would agree with this assessment.

... public debt has jumped from 55% of GDP to 66%

Is this true?  If so, why?  Increased healthcare costs?  Pension pay-outs to the baby-boomers?  Tax-cuts?  Not increased military spending, I assume?

[Chirac's] chief preoccupation seems to be to avoid shaking the conservative French consensus, and even that unambitious objective has been missed.

It is often claimed by the most cynical among the left that U.S. politicians are in fact primarily beholden not to the people, but to big corporations, that Big Business pulls the strings of the democratic puppet-show.  This above sentence makes me wonder: who are top French politicians "really" beholden to?  Who are the puppet-masters, the eminences grises and vested interest groups, working behind the scenes in French government, as they are claimed to in the U.S.?  What is the clout of big business in France?  Is the clout of labor unions mainly in their ability to cause crippling strikes, or do they influence individual politicians directly?  Who do French political parties have to keep happy to stay in power?  I imagine that it depends a lot on the party in question (while in the U.S., hardcore cynics claim that both the Democrats and the Republicans are in the pocket of corporations -- except of course, Prince Charming aka Barak Obama.)

Ségolène Royal... was roundly derided for confessing faint admiration for Britain's Tony Blair.

Hmmm... did not know that about Royal. Was the scandal that she expressed favorable interest in Blair, the person himself, or in his Anglo-Saxon policies? Or was it that she was selling out her Socialist Party? All of the above?

But even Mr Sarkozy has proved a hard-core national protectionist when it comes to special pleading by French industry.

Is this true?  If so, is he more so than other French politicians?  (This may answer my question in the previous paragraph, at least regarding Sarkozy.)  Is this truly "protectionism", or merely what the Economist claims to be protectionism?

The worry is that the more that France struggles to define a role for itself in the world, the more it will in turn be tempted to fasten on its social model as its raison d'être, and so cling to a discredited creed.

The last two paragraphs are particularly brutal.  But amidst the critical onslaught, there is one point which I have been wondering myself:  How much of France's discomforts in reforming itself are due, on the one hand, to the difficulty of finding a solution that not only works but is sufficiently acceptable to most parts of the populace?  And on the other hand, how much of the reform crisis is due to a "not invented here" syndome, that is, a refusal to consider potential workable solutions that happen to be developed in societies outside France because they were developed outside of France?  Or, slightly differently, a refusal to consider potential solutions that -- if adopted -- would mean no longer being able to claim a unique French model?  (For comparison to another "national syndrome", I would suggest that many -- though certainly not all -- Americans have a "must protect U.S. national sovereignty/national security/national interest at all cost" syndrome, which in my opinion too often translates into irrational hostility to the UN, to the International Court of Justice, to the Kyoto Protocol, etc.)


Display:
Thanks, brunoken.  I've wanted to know the answers to some of these questions, myself.

I don't live in France, nor do I have access to much news from France, beyond the obvious cases of student protests and immigrant car-burning, but I keep hearing that the French people lack anything resembling optimism and confidence about their country and status in the world.  I've read articles in the past that stated the French people lack self-esteem.  And yet, despite that (if it is true), I never see any politician proposing serious reforms.

Perhaps the French government could stop worrying about a Frenchman speaking English -- yes, Jacques, even if his remark about English being "the language of business" was insulting to you; frankly, I wouldn't care, even if I were French-speaking -- and start focusing on policies to make life better for French citizens.  If it sees a problem, work on measures to solve the problem.  It's amazing to me -- and it's not at all a France-only issue -- to see how politicians can sit around like a bunch of morons, talking all God-damned day about "problems" and "reforms" and "(blah...blah...blah...)," yet never get anything done.

Now for a bit of ranting about the press:

Why is France always the focus?  Why not Germany?  The unemployment rate is almost two percentage points higher in Germany than in France, but the business press keeps talking about a massive German recovery.

I'm so tired of picking up the paper every morning and finding another story about problems in France -- whether it's the "petit bourgeois" students (quote from an official in the NYT), or the crazy immigrants, or the union strikes that screw with public services, or whatever.  Enough.  I want to read news from France, but is this really the best news coverage we can produce -- the same stories, over and over again?  Write about wine and cheese, for Christ's sake, or about how American women all want to sleep with French men because of their sexy accents and great suits.  Something cheerful!

God Almighty, you'd think the country was on the verge of collapse, reading what the English-speaking press has to say.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 11:53:14 AM EST
This, in particular...
The worry is that the more that France struggles to define a role for itself in the world, the more it will in turn be tempted to fasten on its social model as its raison d'être, and so cling to a discredited creed.
WTF? France has been around the top of European politics continually since Charlemagne, and the Economist wants to make us believe that France's problem is that it's desperately looking for a role in the world?

F* off!

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 Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 11:57:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
a discredited creed

Those words, in themselves, are revealing. They situate the question in the field of belief and ideology. Who has decided that the "creed" is "discredited" (meaning, no one believes in it any more)?

And what is the creed that the writer is implying everyone believes in now? What makes them believe in the new creed? The non-stop repetition of the mantra by high priests like the Economist?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 02:13:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Germany is so last year. Move with the times.

Seriously. Last year they were pulling the same sort of shit with Germany, using the official 13.5% unemployment rate and comparing it to the US rate and wittering on about inflexible labour markets.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:03:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course, now Merkel is in power and Merkel sounds sort of like 'Merika so everything is great.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:04:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was thinking the same thing.  The business press was clearly pushing for Merkel, and -- shockingly -- Germany, after her election, became everybody's favorite country of the Continent, again.  I suppose it's an improvement on the "Old Europe" line (you know, baby steps).

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:11:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know if it's an improvement, but it's very noticeable.

The English-language media and the business/economy pundits have simply stopped bashing Germany. The "new" meme is France, proudly but foolishly attempting to oppose the forward march of the inevitable.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 02:04:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've read articles in the past that stated the French people lack self-esteem.  And yet, despite that (if it is true), I never see any politician proposing serious reforms.
Drew, the main difference between (mainland) European education and (US) American education is that the European educational system (and ethos) seems designed to beat you down until you become sheepish, while in the US every little "achievement" is celebrated. I've been on the wrong end of both systems: having my head chopped off for sticking out from the crowd in Spain, and having to praise mediocrity (and failing) as a teaching assistant in California.

You should read Jerome's thread on the Grandes Ecoles [especially the discussion of the admissions and prep-school process in the comments] with this in mind.

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 Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:10:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the tip on Jerome's article (searching for it now).  You're certainly right about the American system's obsession with celebrating mediocrity.

Jen (my fiancee) had to do it when she taught as a volunteer last year, but that situation was a bit different: These were kids who weren't taken seriously by the teachers.  They had no self-esteem, whatsoever, and she had to spend months building them back up with assignments to give them confidence.  Over half the kids couldn't read when she began working with them.  One teacher looked at her and said, "See that group of students in the corner?  I guarantee you they'll all drop out."  She was stunned by that comment and wanted to slap the taste out of the teacher's mouth for taking that attitude.

I assume you've seen the stories on American teachers no longer being allowed to use red-ink pens in some districts when grading papers, because red ink "sends the wrong message" and "makes the students feel bad."  What a crock.  If a parent said that to one of my econ. professors, that parent would've been thrown out of the professor's office to the sound of laughter from the entire faculty.  Perhaps it's different in California.  People are weird out there.  I've yet to meet a native Californian without getting the feeling that aliens must exist.  Maybe that's why there are so many Scientologists in Hollywood.

Why parents are so obsessed with treating their children like four-year-olds until they finally leave high school is beyond me.  I'm all for the idea of nurturing kids, and for praising them when they actually achieve something.  But I also believe kids need to be told the truth when they've screwed up, and that there needs to be a sense of responsibility for one's future implanted early on.  My parents didn't reward my for Cs in school.  (I had friends whose parents did, though.)  They grounded me for weeks at a time.  And they told me, "Hey, do you want to dig ditches or flip burgers for a living?  Keep screwing off in school.  Nobody's going to do the work for you."

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:30:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My parents didn't reward me for A+'s in school, which was kind of a drag when others were rewarded for not failing.

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 Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:33:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, have a four for your A+'s.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:42:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Drew, your Econ professor has tenure. Assistant professors and graduate students live in terror of student evaluations.

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 Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:34:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, no, the grad students were always the hardliners at FSU.  The tenured professors, who had "seen it all," were the easy-going ones.  But we were a fairly mature group, and we gave high marks to professors and assistants/grads based on how well they actually taught the material -- not on whether we liked them as people.  But you're right about the fear of evaluations.  Schools shouldn't place so much emphasis on those.  My classmates in political science were mainly spoiled brats who chose it as their major only because they couldn't decide on anything else, and, if I had taught those classes as a grad student, I, too, would've lived in fear of evaluations.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:41:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]


In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:12:32 PM EST
My main reaction was "oh, that's not too bad". Compared to what you read in other papers, it was a lot better and somewhat more accurate.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:13:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here we go


"THE French constitute the most brilliant and the most dangerous nation in Europe and the best qualified in turn to become an object of admiration, hatred, pity or terror but never indifference." Thus did a young Alexis de Tocqueville describe his motherland in the early 19th century. His words still carry a haunting truth. Over the past few years, as other western democracies have shuffled quietly along, France has by turns stunned, exasperated and bemused.

They can't get over us. That's why they talk about us all the time!
But more seriously, the last line tells it all: others have gone along, i.e. with the relentless march of liberalisation, but France is resisting, or is at least making noises.


This week's massive one-day protest, drawing 1m-3m people on to the streets, was no exception (see article). This particular stand-off, between the centre-right government of Dominique de Villepin and those protesting against his effort to inject a tiny bit of liberalism into France's rigid labour market, may be defused. The Constitutional Council was due to rule on the legality of the new law on March 30th. But the underlying difficulty will remain: the apparent incapacity of the French to adapt to a changing world.

That's the most annoying bit. That pretense that it's a first, tiny bit of liberalism in an otherwise unflexible labor market. I hope we have put this myth to rest, but that does color the whole thing.


Yet the striking feature of the latest protest movement is that this time the rebellious forces are on the side of conservatism. Unlike the rioting youths in the banlieues, the objective of the students and public-sector trade unions is to prevent change, and to keep France the way it is.

Liberalisation (by the right) is radical. Resistance, by the left, is thus "conservative". It's an interesting reversal. It's true to some extent, but we have to remember what is being conserved or toppled - the old social-democratic order built after WWII that created prosperity for the middle classes and stifled the very rich.


The delusion is that preserving France as it is, in some sort of formaldehyde solution, means preserving jobs for life. Students, as well as unqualified suburban youngsters, do not today face a choice between the new, less protected work contract and a lifelong perch in the bureaucracy. They, by and large, face a choice between already unprotected short-term work and no work at all.

So how is the new law helping? Young workers can already be hired under unprotected contracts? What's the need for an even weaker contract?


And the reason for this, which is also the reason for France's intractable mass unemployment of nearly 10%, is simple: those permanent life-time jobs are so protected, and hence so difficult to get rid of, that many employers are not creating them any more.

It would be nice if they wrote "are not creating enough of them", instead of this silly, and false "not creating them"... but I suppose that's part of journalistic license, right?

There is of course that kernel of truth in that there is that insider/outsider gap in the country. But it's hard to see how widening the gap will help.


This delusion is accompanied by an equally pernicious myth: that France has more to fear from globalisation, widely held responsible for imposing the sort of insecurity enshrined in the new job contract, than it does to gain. It is true that the forces of global capitalism are not always benign, but nobody has yet found a better way of creating and spreading prosperity.

Social democracy?


In another startling poll, however, whereas 71% of Americans, 66% of the British and 65% of Germans agreed that the free market was the best system available, the number in France was just 36%. The French seem to be uniquely hostile to the capitalist system that has made them the world's fifth richest country and generated so many first-rate French companies.

Because a rich country and rich companies do not a rich populace make! How hard is that ot understand?


A common feature unites France's underclass rioters and the rebellious students, as well as the election of the far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen into the run-off of the 2002 presidential election. This is the failure of the French political class over the past 20 years to tell it straight: to explain to the electorate what is at stake, why France needs to adapt, and why change need not bring only discomfort. This failure has bred a political culture of reform by stealth, in which change is carried out with one hand and blamed on outside forces--usually globalisation, the European Union or America--while soothing words about protecting the French way are issued on the other. After a while, the credibility gap tears such a system apart. The French voted for Mr Le Pen in part because they were fed up with the stale mainstream political class. The banlieues exploded because unemployed minorities were fed up hearing that they did not belong. The students and trade unions are in revolt because they do not trust the government to protect them.

That part is mostly true. Reform by stealth. A stale political class. And Le Pen as a way to shake that system. All correct.


Part of the blame for this lies squarely with President Jacques Chirac. He has presided for nearly 11 years, during which mass unemployment has never budged below 8%, France's wealth per person has been overtaken by both Britain's and Ireland's, and public debt has jumped from 55% of GDP to 66%. The liberal instincts he once betrayed as a reformist prime minister in the mid-1980s have long since evaporated. His support for the prime minister's new jobs contract has been tepid at best. His chief preoccupation seems to be to avoid shaking the conservative French consensus, and even that unambitious objective has been missed. It is a measure of how wasted his presidency has been that one of his own ministers, Nicolas Sarkozy, and a 2007 presidential hopeful, can today make speeches that deplore "two decades of immobility" and call for a "rupture" with the status quo.

Again, this is mostly correct. Chirac has done little in his 11 years. The only decent things were done by the socialist government during the long 1997-2002 cohabitation.

Two small corrections.

  • GDP per capita is not wealth, it is the first derivative of wealth, i.e. the creation of wealth (with all the provisos relative to the use of that instrument to measure wealth "creation"). So Britan and Ireland are adding more wealth each year to their existing pile, but that says nothing about that pile.

  • going from 55% to 66% in 10 years could be described as "nudging up" if you were charitable (which is of course not the intent). It's an increase, but it's not that worrying, and I'd be curious to see numbers for others.


But the president is not to blame alone. Nobody on the French left dares to challenge the prevailing paleo-socialist wisdom, and Ségolène Royal, the most popular of the would-be presidential candidates, was roundly derided for confessing faint admiration for Britain's Tony Blair.

Because he spends more than is acknowledged on healthcare and education!!! - NOT for his liberal policies.


 On the right, Mr de Villepin at least had the courage to try to counter the logic of job protection, but elsewhere has scarcely demonstrated an embrace of open markets. Perhaps the closest France has to a new-generation leader prepared to try to reconcile French public opinion with globalisation is Mr Sarkozy. This week he declared that France could no longer "maintain the illusory barrage of a so-called model that each day shows itself to no longer work, nor protect anything or anybody". But even Mr Sarkozy has proved a hard-core national protectionist when it comes to special pleading by French industry. All the while, he and Mr de Villepin's obsessive rivalry over the succession continues to sap France's ability to get policy right.

This fascination by everybody for Sarkozy is really strange, a bit like that for Blair. He seems to be talking straighter thna the others, but he really is shallower than most (like Blair) and likely dangerous. He has a nasty authoritarian streak, as told lovingly by Le Canard Encahiné on a regular basis. At least the Economist has seen enough to tell that economically speaking, he is just as keen as others in France to keep some form of centralised control over the economy.


(...)

The choice belongs to France. A bold effort at renewal that could unleash the best in the French? Or a stubborn defence of the existing order that will keep France a middling world power in economic decline? The latter would inspire neither admiration, nor terror, nor hatred, nor indifference, just pity.

You wish, dear Economist. We'll see which country resists better to the Big Bubble Bursting of the naughties.

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:41:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is true that the forces of global capitalism are not always benign, but nobody has yet found a better way of creating and spreading prosperity.
How long has global capitalism been around, and what has the effect of the Washington consensus been on the developing world?

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 Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:46:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Zarkozy is really dangerous: he's an Aznarite. He was a keynote speaker at the recent PP convention.

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 Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:50:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am simultaneously reading this and assorted documents on labour protection law.

It's all bollocks. Where are the jobs for life? What are they talking about? Taking Ireland as an example? Ireland has almost the same protections as France on dismissal and on redundancies, according to the bloody OECD:

Conditions under which individual dismissal are fair:

France

Fair: Dismissal for real and serious cause: for personal characteristics such as non-performance or lack
of competence, or for economic reasons. In case of dismissal for economic reason, the employer must
take account of certain criteria (such as social characteristics, family responsibilities, professional
qualification). During one year after dismissal the employee is given a priority when rehiring.

Ireland

Ireland Fair: Dismissals for lack of ability, competence or qualifications, or redundancy.  

But France scores a 2 for horror and Ireland scores a 0 for being good. I can't tell the difference. And it appears the Irish definitions ignore all case law, because they list only "Dismissals reflecting discrimination on grounds of race, religion, age, gender, etc., including
when these factors bias selection during redundancies. Exercise or proposed exercise of rights under
Carer's Leave or minimum wage legislation. "

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:52:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The scoring difference is because in France you're required to attempt retraining or reassignment while in Ireland you're not. That's the difference. Of course, if you fire someone in Ireland for lack of competence  without offering them training they can sue your ass, but you're not required to by law.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:58:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The retraining/reassignment obligations only concern "economic" lay-offs, not firings for personal reasons like incompetence etc.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 02:26:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
WOuldn't that defeat the purpose of economic layoffs? Supposedly those happen because you can't support the employee in the first place.

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 Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 02:33:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that if you're restructuring, for instance, you can't just fire Jacques and hire Marie for a different job: you have to offer retraining or transfer to Jacques first. If you're just downsizing you're fine, I think.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 02:36:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But you're the employment lawyer.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 02:36:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is such a mess.

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 Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 02:37:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But you're the employment lawyer.
I shall lay my vengeance upon thee now.

According to the General Regime of Social Security, workers (and their employers) are exempt from Social Security contributions if the worker is older than 65 and has paid contributions for at least 35 years.

And here's the meat that I was alluding to in a different diary:

Article 165. Incompatibilities.

1. The enjoyment of a retirement pension in its contributive mode, shall be incompatible with the pensioner's work, with the exceptions and in the terms  determined by law or regulation.

Added by the law 35/2002, of 12 July. That notwithstanding, people coming into retirement whall be able to make compatible the reception of a pension with a part-time job in the terms established by regulations. During this situation, the received pention will be reduced in inverse proportion to the reduction applicable to the working time of the pensioner in relation to that of a comparable full-time worker.

2. The discharge of a job placement in the public sector delimited by paragraph 2 of section 1 of article 1 of Law 53/1984, of 26 December, on Incompatibilities of the Personnel in the Service of the Public Administration, is incompatible with the reception of a retirement pension, in its contributive mode.

The reception of the mentioned pension shall be suspended for the time during which the said job is discharged, without increases [in the pension's value] being affected.

3. Reception of a retirement pension, in its contributive mode, shall also be incompatible with the discharging of [duties as one of the] Administration Officials referred to in article 1 of Law 25/1983, of 26 december, of Incompatibilities of Administration Officials (This law was repealed and replaced by Law 12/1995, of 11 May, of Incompatibilidades of Members of the Government and Administration Officials.)

Yikes, that was a convoluted mess to make sense of [let alone translate]. Any questions?

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 Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 03:10:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, downsizing is the same.

These requirements were brought in to soften the blow of mass lay-offs (which may just as well be decided on for cynical reasons as for authentic ones to do with loss of markets, downturns, etc). They are more stringent for big companies and big lay-offs (so-called "social plans" have to be implemented). Requirements are lower for small businesses and small numbers laid off.

Still, employers tend to want to avoid economic firings because of the extra cost involved. Jérôme said something about this in another thread, don't remember which there have been so many on this employment stuff (remember when it was the CAP they were banging on about and how France could not continue to refuse to see the light and yada yada, at least it was a different subject, sigh...), to the effect that "personal" dismissals were becoming more frequent than "economic" ones for this reason. Employers seek a deal with the employees they want or have to get rid of, give-and-take.

There were no doubt some good intentions behind the "economic" requirements, but they turned out to have some perverse effects.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 03:14:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
of Jerome cracking his knuckles before setting off... Or tying this red band around his forehead. A lone man, with a mission.

Sorry, I got myself a cold and the mucus is clogging up my brainpaths. I'll attempt a more serious reply a next time.

by Nomad on Sat Apr 1st, 2006 at 05:51:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You've got to be kidding me.

At least the cartoon with the German eagle in a BMW driving past the French rooster with the broken down 2CV was funny [can you link to that diary again?].

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 Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:16:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's the capitalism poll they cite:

They do admit:

In March, the Paris bourse soared to its highest level since 2001. Latest financial results show record profits for the country's top 40 companies in 2005, up 50% on 2004. Last year, French companies were the world's third-biggest source of global cross-border takeovers. From banking to telecoms, cosmetics to glassmaking, corporate France is in expansionist mood, gleefully striding into new markets, trampling over competitors and exploiting the globalised economy.

and

France is less unionised than America, and very few days are lost to strikes.

The article goes on to distinguish between the grandes ecoles whose graduates walk into highly protected jobs, and the majority of students who get short-term contracts - or chomage.  It is the latter group that is protesting, because the CPE does nothing to grant them access to the upper-tier grande ecole positions.

by tyronen on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:17:46 PM EST
You know, in Spain we don't have Grandes Ecoles, so everyone gets shitty contracts, or paro.

Well, we do have lower-quality, expensive private universities where those who can't get into the real universities but have a wealthy daddy can go, and then get a cushy job through the "job pools" that these universities set up for their graduates.

I am being slightly unfair to the Catholic universities, which are actually quite good quality, but expensive, elitist and ideologically rancid.

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 Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:27:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I wonder if the question even means the same thing in the different languages?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:27:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"The best system on which to base the future of the world", no less.

If someone asked me that question I would just gape at them in astonishment.

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 Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:28:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I meant the word for "capitalism", but your point stands as well.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:37:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They say "the free-enterprise system and the free-market economy", not "capitalism".

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 Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:38:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm losing my mind. Still not exactly well defined, is it?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:39:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm trying to read one of the OECD reports from last year on employment protection and it appears that a key difference between Ireland and France is that France restricts the applicability of temporary fixed-term contracts.

The indices are, of course, chosen to make their point ...

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 12:36:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"restricts the applicability"?

A fixed-term contract in France can't go beyond six months, and you can't line up more than three of them in a row (ie 3x6 = 18 months). If you want to keep the same employee on after that, you have to offer an indefinite contract.

Is that what you meant?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 01:56:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Restricted to "objective situations" (replacement, seasonal
work, temporary increases in company activity). The maximum
duration of 18 month in principle but can vary from 9 to
24 months. A new contract on the same post can only start
after a waiting period amounting to one third of initial contract.  
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 02:29:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As discussed in the Grandes Ecoles thread, these Ecoles only train about 3% of a generation, so that's hardly the category that monopolises all the protected jobs. Most of them work in the private sector; they do get undefined duration full time contracts, but they are not protected by law from layoffs more than other wage earners.

Actually, those with the lowest unemployment rate, and the highest employment rate, are those with a "Bac+2", i.e. a short university degree(usually, technical/commercial) - they are doing even better than those with post-graduate diplomas.

Le monde had very detailed graphs about unemployment numbers linked to diplomas, but I cannot find them now.

I have found this, but not the post on ET where I translated it...



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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 02:42:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, Tyronen for answering my question about that poll.  I should have suspected it might be behind a subscription wall within The Economist.

And your second point --

The article goes on to distinguish between the grandes ecoles whose graduates walk into highly protected jobs, and the majority of students who get short-term contracts - or chomage.  It is the latter group that is protesting, because the CPE does nothing to grant them access to the upper-tier grande ecole positions.

-- answers much of the question I posed in a comment in the Grandes Ecoles thread.

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire
by marco on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 05:33:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's the origin of the poll carried out by GlobeScan and the Program on International Policy Attitudes of the University of Maryland, Jan 2006.

Here's a chart of other results from this poll:

What people understand by "free markets" being "the future of the world" is perhaps not what the Economist trumpets...

Quote from the director of the political analysis side of the study:

Steven Kull, director of PIPA, comments: "In one sense we are indeed facing what has been called `the end of history,' in that there is now an extraordinary level of consensus about the best economic system. But this is not the victory of one side of the dialectic. While there is overwhelming support for free markets, there is also near-unanimous rejection of unbridled capitalism, with people around the world overwhelmingly favoring greater government regulation of large companies and more protection of workers and consumers."

The Economist forgot that bit :-)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Apr 1st, 2006 at 01:12:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Brad Stetser has a blog post on France today. His main theme is that the critique of France is wrong. But he also argues that there are some similarities to the more worrying parts of the US economy's growth sources, albeit in a milder from - namely overvalued housing and deficit spending.

France: The most "Anglo-Saxon" of the big 3 continental economies

The post as a whole illustrates the shift in thinking by left leaning economists since the beginning of the decade. As it has become clear that neoliberal reforms don't produce wage growth, they've become much more sceptical - think also Brad deLong in the blogosphere, or Paul Krugman in the press as examples of this phenomenon. These were all people enamored of the 'Washington Consensus' back in the nineties, now they're not.

by MarekNYC on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 03:31:24 PM EST
... according to one astonishing poll, three-quarters of young French people today would like to become civil servants, and mostly because that would mean "a job for life".

I've often heard this said, without seeing the poll. The only one I can find that gives this "three-quarters" number is an IPSOS poll from 2004.

I think it's fair to note that the poll was carried out for a local government periodical and reflected its interests. Also the wording of the question:

Les trois-quarts des jeunes de 15 à 30 ans interrogés par Ipsos (75%) déclarent en effet "qu'ils aimeraient travailler dans la fonction publique s'ils en avaient l'opportunité" contre 24% qui se montrent plutôt hostiles à cette idée.

Three-quarters of young people from 15 to 30 years of age questioned by ISOS (75%) said "that they would like to work in the civil service if they had the opportunity", against 24% who showed hostility to this idea.

I think the poll was meant to test the image of the civil service among young people, more than their actual job-seeking intentions.

However... I wouldn't be at all surprised if other polls confirmed a wish, even vague, for a civil service job among many young people. I think it has always been like that in France. One thing to put in the mix is that we are talking here about jobs in the civil service per se (service of the State), but also of teaching jobs (teachers are civil servants in France), hospital jobs, local government jobs... In other words, a larger field than if we were talking about Britain, at least (to mention a country I know a bit about).

The main motivation (though there are others) for this wish is, of course, job security. It's fairly common in France to hear parents tell their kids to get a job in the public sector so they'll be sure where they're going. It's not a feeling I have empathy for, but I don't see what's wrong with it. Since when does everyone have to pretend to be a yuppie? Since when does market capitalism actually give a good and secure living to anyone but a minority? Since when was it proved that if we don't all flog ourselves to death to be mobile, flexible, retrainable, eventually outsourceable, we are doomed by inevitable economic logic?

But maybe I'm enouncing a "discredited creed"...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 03:43:45 PM EST
Wow, very interesting article.  Interesting that a French poll sort of backs up the poll cited in the Economist, though point taken about the aims of the poll and those who sponsored it.  Also have not been able to read through the entire IPSOS article, but could not find anything to back up The Economist's claim that students wanting to become civil servants did so "mostly because that would mean 'a job for life'".

It's fairly common in France to hear parents tell their kids to get a job in the public sector so they'll be sure where they're going.

Good point.  Jerome pointed out in the Grandes Ecole thread that that traditionally, the state got the pick of the litter of French elite students:

In the old system, the State used to grab most of the students from the top schools (it still gets the énarques and all the corpsards from polytechnique, which all are civil servants and owe the State 10 years of work as payment for their studies - you get paid while studying, and you get first class teachers). A portion of the polytechniciens, and all the graduate from other schools have always gone to the private sector, but now, increasingly, the énarques and corpsards go there as well, sometimes before the end of their 10 years (you can do it if you pay the State back). Some of that has been linked to the privatisations of the past 20 years, which transferred a number of the top jobs to the private sector (but it was still the same people that got them, using the same criteria...), and some to the lure of better paid jobs in finance, for younger people. In a word, the State used to get all the best minds of the country, not an increasing number go to the private sector.

So aside from the benefit of assured job security, it's natural that French parents would want their kids to get jobs with the state, as that is what the "best of the best" usually went to.  In the U.S., it is not as clear-cut where the "best of the best" are geared to right out of school -- but maybe medicine, law, elite business schools, and so that is where it is common for American parents tell their kids to go for.

Interestingly, also in the Grandes Ecoles thread, lacordaire says that in France:

And as I always explain to foreigners: if you exclude vocation and family tradition which at age 18 are rare, doctors and lawyer in France are 2nd tier students. In my baccalaureat class ( "C section", scientific major but we had the best students in french literature too), the first 1/4 without exception went for a "classe préparatoire" for an engineering school. Then, a "classe préparatoire" for business school. The others, who were not accepted, has to take medicine, law, economy at the university.


Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire
by marco on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 05:56:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As for your last question, about the cause of France's discomforts, the first question is whether France's discomforts are really any worse than Germany's or Ireland's, or America's.

And if they are, perhaps it is because France, an international leader since--as mentioned above--Charlemagne, has not yet figured out her position in the 21st century world.

America sees herself (rightly or wrongly) as the single super-power. Britain has seen a 50 year long collapse of her Empire. Germany has been crushed twice in one century. The Islamists have a mission to protect, defend, and expand Islam. Etc.

But France has on the one hand maintained her independence and leadership position throughout the 20th century, but on the other hand looks forward to an expanded Europe where she represents only about 14% of the expanded Europe by both population and area--not a "controlling" majority of the EU and certainly not a majority of the even more radically enlarged EU that is (or was) on the horizon. The original European arrangement between Germany and France has receded into the distance as the size of the EU has grown.

Also, France's culture is indeed special, but with the Euro, the McDonald's restaurants, the American movies, the German beer, the Japanese cars, the English football "tourists," etc., it becomes difficult to maintain that culture. Does France feel under pressure from all sides to conform to a homogenized European culture?

Maybe this helps explain why the language issue is so important to France, and why it is so important to maintain the special* French economic model: They are symbols of power that must not be allowed to leak away.

* I don't buy into the idea that the French model is so special, in case that's not obvious...

by asdf on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 10:53:56 PM EST


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