Free thoughts on language learning

Discussions on learning Spanish, English and other language issues. Occasionally, we may stray from language learning topics if there is something that catches my interest.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Learn about French Culture - the unemployment crisis

Below is an interesting overview from the Washington Times on the unemplyment problems facing France plus a link to a New York Times article on the same topic. For years France has had a system that provides extremely strong protections and benefits to workers in France. This system makes it very tough for employers to respond to economic conditions by letting workers go or taking new ones on casually. Once a company hires a worker it has made a very long term committment to an increased payroll whether market conditions justify additional workers on payroll or not. Also, if the worker is not performing adequately he or she can not easily be fired. These conditions are said to be a large reason for the 10% rate of unemployment. For youth it is 25%, and for young French immigrants of Arab descent 50%. Clearly this is an unacceptable and dangerous state of affairs for France and yet huge numbers of people are protesting the changes in employment law. Fleshing out the picture is a helpful article is in today's (4/9/06) New York Times French Unrest Reflects Old Faith in Quasi-Socialist Ideals This describes the very real pluses to this system that I was unaware of prior to today.
  • France draws a great deal of foreign investment. In 2003 it outranked the US, Britain, Germany or Japan. This is a big endorsement from the international community. (stats from The Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation.)
  • This same group also ranked France highest in terms of productivity - economic output per hour - among its members for 2004.
  • In 2000 the World Health Organization rated the French health care system the best of any of its members.

I don't have an answer but protecting jobs rights for a job you don't have will not help you and keeping potentially productive workers idle makes even a productive economy less than what it could be. There must be a way to keep those things that work well and are true to the values of France while at the same time allow business to be more efficient and productive. We should all watch and learn from both their successes and failures. I welcome any reasoned comments or opinions.
By Helle Dale
The French pride themselves on their intellectual culture, and as intellectuals sometimes do, they have managed to produce a paradox from which they appear to have no exit. As the French man in the street also has a habit of doing, he has taken to the streets en masse to protest because no one knows how to find a way out. What we have seen on display in recent weeks is the profound disconnect between the French political elite and the French people, who find that they have few other ways of getting the attention of their leaders.

In the past weeks, French students, their parents and numerous others have taken to the streets again to protest what appears to be a reasonable attempt at a solution to the intractable problem of French unemployment. As many as two million people have been on the march through the streets of major French towns on any given day. French unemployment figures hover at 10 percent for the general workforce, up to 25 percent for French youth, and close to 50 percent for young French immigrants of Arab descent.

One very troubling consequence of these facts is the total lack of integration into the workforce of young first and second generation Arab immigrants to French. Their alienation found expression in last fall's violenceinthe French suburbs, in which young immigrants burned thousands of cars, attacked government buildings and caused more mayhem than France has been since the student riots of 1968.

Now, one does not normally expect constructive thinking from French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, the man who as foreign minister presided over the debacle in 2002 when he steered French foreign policy on a direct coalition course with the Bush administration over Iraq. Mr. de Villepin is also an ardent admirer of Napoleon, not exactly a great role model for a democratic statesman.

Yet, Mr. de Villepin has come up with a proposal for modest labor market reform that would at least make a small dent in the labor market reforms that France so desperately needs. It would give younger workers up to the age of 26 less job security, allowing employers to hire and fire them during their first two years without the punitive consequences that otherwise prevent turnover in the French labor force. As a consequence, presumably, more would allow them to get a job in the first place. Meanwhile the French economy is in a state of prolonged stagnation.

For Americans, most of whom are employed at will, this would sound like a good deal. For the French students, however, it sounds like downright treason by their parents' generation, who would not be affected. "You mean, if we don't do what they want, they can fire us?" asked one young female protestors, appalled at the idea that she would actually have to perform and take orders in order to keep a job.

Unfortunately for Mr. de Villepin, his modest proposal may cost him the presidency in the next French presidential election. He is President Chirac's chosen successor, but his personal aristocratic style and his troubles as prime minister will count against him with the French voters. Not only has he presided over two rounds of riots now, but he is also proposing to tinker with the French social contract.

The main beneficiary of Mr. de Villepin's dire straits could be Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy, who is expected to be his strongest rival in the presidential elections. He has not done a whole lot to conceal his glee at the prime minister's plummeting approval ratings, and is cut from an entirely different cloth than the aristocratic Mr. de Villepin. A former businessman, son of immigrants and Jewish as well, Mr. Sarkozy is not of the traditional French elite, yet at the same time he is a very skilled politician. Mr. Sarkozy, however, is keenly aware that economic and social reforms will be needed to boost job creation and would certainly go further than Mr. de Villepin.

What is desperately needed is a change in the French entitlement mentality and in the view that the state, like the kings of old, is the ultimate source of all things good and bad. Without adding the private sector to the equation along with the liberating effects of competition, social mobility, and ethnic integration, it is hard to see how France will ever pull free of the past.


At 9:46 PM, Blogger Peaceful Cottage & cafe Du Mont said...

hi there,
its really nice website. I wonder if you can add your articles on the french culture about wine, languages,etc in your site so that i will be more helpful.

learning french language
nagarkot, nepal


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