In French Eyes, 'Anguish,' not 'Fantasy'

In the U.S. media (the Washington Post, for example) it is hard to find opinion makers who have much sympathy for the French students and workers staging a nationwide general strike today in opposition to a new employment law for young people.

The French demonstrators are in denial, says Post columnist Robert Samuelson, suffering from "the illusion that if they march long enough and burn enough cars, they can prevent unwanted change."

They're living in a fantasy land, says columnist Steven Pearlstein. "Rather than supporting the reforms that might generate more jobs and more income," he says the protesters "have bought into the nostalgic fantasy of a France that once was, but can never be again."

In the French media, the discussion is less disdainful, more anguished. The new law enabling employers to fire workers less than 26 years old without cause during the first years of employment has plenty of supporters, especially among the right of center news sites like Le Figaro (in French).

At leftist news sites like the Liberation (in French), observers acknowledge that France needs to reform its social model but cannot figure out how to do so.

But even those commentators who favor the new law (known by its French acronym CPE) are less dismissive of the student strikers and more critical of the government than U.S. counterparts. The BBC's translation of opinion from French commentators found widespread criticism of the government of Dominique Villepin for implementing the law in a high-handed way.

The reason the government is on the defensive is found in the language of the French protests. Words like "precarite" and "transmission" recur all the time. While French supporters of the CPE might not share them, they have a legitimacy unknown to contemporary to Anglo-American political thinking.

"Precarite," best translated as "precariousness," is what the demonstrators fear and what they say the new law installs into public life. They face a bleak job market and see CPE as creating obstacles, not opportunities. Their apprehensions and hopes are well-represented on Lib.com, a blog run by English-speaking students who have spent time in France.

The fear of "precarite" runs deep in French history, note the editors of Le Figaro. The country's culture, they noted, combines Catholic, aristocratic and revolutionary traditions which mistrust money, commerce and private enterprise. As a result, they say the protest movement is most striking for its "extreme conservatism." The demonstrators are rallying in defense of a labor market "characterized by privileges for the two third[s] of the employees well entrenched in their jobs, and insecurity for the rest, most of them young."

The challenge, sociologist Louis Chauvel tells Liberation, is "transmission," passing along the good life enjoyed by the older generation to the young--and French leaders have not offered a credible plan for doing so. He sees the protest movement an expression of "profound anguish" in the absence of "a positive collective national project."

To restore transmission, Chaveul suggests France look to countries like Iceland and Sweden where young people enter the work force much earlier and are regarded as adults at a younger age. But such a change would take a broad social commitment. The government isn't interested, he says, and the demonstrators in the street only speak the language of "no, no, no."

"The calls to leave the dead end we have been in for twenty years are inaudible," he says.

Bernard Bernhus, a business mediator and supporter of the law, told Liberation he also looks to Scandinavian countries that have introduced "flexibility" to their labor markets along with efforts to help new workers and the unemployed. "France isn't unreformable," he says. "You just have to know how to do it." The problem is that there is "no political will."

Today's anti-CPE demonstrations, reports Nouvelle Observateur(in French), have attracted 3 million people nationwide.

By Jefferson Morley |  March 28, 2006; 11:20 AM ET  | Category:  Europe
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This article is a lot more like what one might expect from a real journalist than the ideological venomous trash written by Stephen Pearlstein. One might also add that the present stop-gap Governement, elected in 2002 on false premises to block an extreme-right participation in politics, has run its course. Behind the anger directed at the CPE, the real motivation is a general scorn for Chirac and his clique. The youth of today also want to show that it too can have its May 68 and take to the streets according to French tradition.

Posted by: Drosse | March 28, 2006 12:53 PM

However you look at it, there are two Frances facing off over this issue: those with jobs and job security (with among the most extensive workers rights legislations in the world) as represented by the marchers, and those with little or no future prospects as exemplified by some of the troublemakers or "banlieusards". The whole jobs system clearly needs an overhaul and, as Jeff points out, someone skilfull enough to pull it off. To do nothing in terms of job reforms will only make the social situation in France worse, as the feeling of exclusion in the immigrant suburbs is constantly on the rise. Perhaps those marching need to realize that - at least for once - they are the ones really defending the status quo.

Posted by: Kermit | March 28, 2006 02:20 PM

Blasts at everything French from writers named Samuelson and Pearlstein. Ho Hom. SUCH a surprise.

Posted by: candaroil | March 28, 2006 03:06 PM

Today in England:

"Widespread disruption as 1.5 million local authority workers walk out in a row over pensions."

But don't expect a single line of comments in US media.

Posted by: Christophe | March 28, 2006 03:27 PM

Christophe:

More phobia over those troublesome Anglo-Saxons?

Posted by: | March 28, 2006 03:40 PM

What is wrong with the status quo if it provided secure jobs for the their fathers and grandfathers. Shouldn't these students expect the same job security. If it is not broken don't fix it.
Through "Free Trade", we are seeing the institutionalization of underdevelopment. In developed countries, we are seeing the outsourcing of well paying jobs, along with their industries, to underdeveloped countries for cheap labor, and the in sourcing of immigrants, legal and illegal, again as a source of cheap labor. As a result, we are seeing the decline of the middle and workings classes in those countries. The world is envolved in a counter revolution which will see in every country a two class economic system with a ruling wealthy business/industrial class and a poorly paid working class devoid of any social safety net. What we see is an attempt to reverse the trend toward bringing all countries to a level of developedment that would elevate everyone into the Middle or working classes, and reversing that trend to turn them into poorly paid workers for the wealthy busniess/industrial class.
Development only occurs behind trade barriers. Historically, without trade barriers, underdeveloped countries are buried by the cheaper products of developed countries. Without barriers, they cannot compete or gain their own economic independence by developing their own economic independence with the employment that goes with the process. They remain underdeveloped.
Through "Free Trade", we see the institutionalization of underdevelopment in every country in the world. If you want what your fathers and grandfathers had in economic security, model your economic system on that of your fathers.

Posted by: P. J. Casey | March 28, 2006 03:46 PM

France (& much of old Europe) is locked into paralysis by fear of the future--if they don't wake up, in 25 years the French economy will be one big Disney World for rich Asian tourists, staffed by French waitstaff working at McDonalds wages...

But Americans have NO right to be (hypocritically) smug--when was the last time you heard serious non-demogogical political debate about health & retirement policy, the trade deficit, education,..., need I continue?

Posted by: geoff | March 28, 2006 03:50 PM

Reading american newspapers the problem seems fairly simple: free market economy. It ignores some of the local context. A previous post mentioned the opposition to Chirac, that is one point. Also, unemployment figures may not be as bad as portrayed in the US press. The reason for the high unemployment rate (23% for youth 15-24) is that in that segment the labour force is very small as 2/3 are students (thus not calculated in the labour force). Calculated over the whole 15-24 segment, only 8% of all youth are unemployed, similar to what is found in the UK and better than most of Europe.

Posted by: Phillip | March 28, 2006 03:57 PM

How is any of this news? Let's see headlines when French "workers" AREN'T protesting something. I still have a news clipping of an article about how French transit workers were on strike because, after winning a reduced 35-hour "work" week, they were demanding their salaries be INcreased to make up for the "lost" hourly wages from the shortened week. This stuff is comedy gold.

Posted by: Irresponsible Speculator | March 28, 2006 04:06 PM

The BBC gives over one million council workers on strike in UK on pension reform by Blair's govt; Germany has been seeing some heavy strikes (in a country where there tends to be a dialogue ... not like in France); and Italy ... well ...
I strikes me how, too often, the journalists that are supposed to cover events do not seem to always have a good understanding of the said event ! Picturing the french students as conservatives (in a way they are, but just like any student in a developped rich country) opposed to a reformist govt would be hilarious ... if the subject wasn't a bit too dramatic.
The sad truth is that France does not enjoy an efficient democracy anymore (mind you, people are free enough, it's not regarding individual liberties and freedom that democracy is failing) and the actual "governing class" ("left" or "right" in the same bag) is lacking stamina, courage and will to reform ... but then that is understandable since a real reform would mean kicking themselves out of the game !! A couple year ago, I would have said, thank god there's the EU ! Alas, to no avail, since the same can be said of the actual Commission and it's president ...
The Old World isn't that badly off, though, and there will, like always, be a rebounce ... once we've really hit the ground.

Posted by: Zadig | March 28, 2006 04:14 PM

PJ - in response to what you said, the problem is precisely that France is enduring globalization without adapting in kind. In France we also have outsourcing of our industry, but we are not taking steps to address this (i.e. not adapting to the changing world around us), which demands a flexible job market so as to make the workplace accessible to those who are sufficiently motivated & truly want to work. Why should young people from the suburbs for instance be denied the right to compete for the same jobs as the native french, strictly becase we feel the "need" to defend an outmoded social model ? The leftist in anyone should be outraged by this, aren't you ?

Of course France does not yearn to become exactly like the U.S. or Britain, but do not deny us the right to be successful either.

Posted by: Kermit | March 28, 2006 04:15 PM

The people from the suburbs are French, and like the students have no jobs or security. They cannot compete with a person with little or no income in a developing country. To "compete", as Villepin said today, their wages will have to be as low as those in a developing country. Hence, underdevelopment!

Posted by: P. J. Casey | March 28, 2006 04:52 PM

The reforms to the CPE contract are needed to reduce unemployment among the youth, there's no question about that. The problem is twofold; a. the youth who so bitterly protested Chirac's administration's policy vis-a-vis youth employment not long ago aren't willing to make any sacrifices to better their situation. and b. DeVillipin is a horrible communicator; instead of trying to open dialogue and address the nation about the legislation, he insisted on strong-arming it through the bureaucracy- giving him the upper hand in his party's bid for the president but ultimately making him look incompetent to the greater voting constituency.
The 'student union activists,' however are the greater obstacle to creating a more liberal, free market in France. Their position is nothing more than an excuse to skip school, loot, and harass hard-working law enforcement officers. I can almost gaurantee none of the students protesting are business majors and the better half who are probably delve in the subjects of philosphy, or 'leisure studies.'

Posted by: Stephen | March 28, 2006 05:02 PM

Please explain to me how free trade "institutionalizes underdevelopment" in underdeveloped countries while at the same time "outsources" well paying jobs and industry to those very same countries. I do not understand the logic behind that sentiment.

Posted by: Chris | March 28, 2006 05:06 PM

geoff posts: "France (& much of old Europe) is locked into paralysis by fear of the future--if they don't wake up, in 25 years the French economy will be one big Disney World for rich Asian tourists, staffed by French waitstaff working at McDonalds wages..."

You forgot to mention that in 25 years France will be an Islamic state. Population growth among the unemployed and underemployed Muslims in France is much higher than among the Christians. It will still probably look like France but will increasingly act like another Lebanon. Poetic justice for such an anti-Semitic, anti-US, holier-than-thou people.

Posted by: Terry | March 28, 2006 05:16 PM

We see in France, as well as this country (the U.S.) a growing sentiment against the whole free-trade, globalist, neo-liberal agenda, which crosses the political spectrum. We saw some of it manifested in the Dubai port debacle. Voices like Pat Buchanan to Lou Dobbs, to Ralph Nader, raise the question- just because it looks good on paper (free-trade) what is the net result?

Posted by: Steve | March 28, 2006 05:22 PM

I studied in France in 1993-94; there were similar student demonstrations then against a proposal to allow employers to pay young workers 80 percent of what they otherwise would have to, in another effort to boost employment for young workers. The issue is not new, and the attitude has changed little in 12 years. French youth would rather have no loaf than half a loaf. Why? Extraordinarily generous government benefits allow them to remain students well into their 20s, and then to live a life of leisure with little economic hardship for years after that. In my year of study there, I did not meet a single Frenchman (or Frenchwoman) under the age of 30 who was employed in anything other than the sort of part-time work that American high-schoolers regularly do.

French culture is anti-entrepreneurial, and the social system is not set up at all to reward risk-takers. Few new jobs are created, and for those that are, there is no incentive to work hard and get ahead due to staggeringly regressive tax rates.

I'm sure there is a lot of anguish over this in France. It's very troubling when the gravy train finally runs out of gas.

Posted by: Brian | March 28, 2006 05:27 PM

Terry - perhaps France will indeed be more ethnically mixed in 25 years, with more muslims than today. However if you've been following the news, it appears the U.S. is experiencing and might experience the same thing with its latino population. An eye for an eye, right ?

Posted by: Kermit da frog | March 28, 2006 05:46 PM

I have a bachelor's in French (along with a more "practical" degree in journalism) and read Le Monde and Le Figaro daily via Internet.

It's pure American francophobia to say all French people are lazy, which is what a lot of these comments amount to. Anyone who knows anything about how hard it is to graduate from French high school, for example, knows the French aren't lazy. Hour per hour, French workers actually more productive than we are. Of course, there are some golden comedy moments, but that's not so representative of all French people.

France is terrified of the future. Since before the time of Louis XIV, and especially after the Revolution, the French have been perfectly convinced that the French way of doing everything is the best way of doing everything. (This should sound familiar to Americans; let's not be the pot calling the kettle black.) A foolish idea, at bottom, but the French had a lot of good evidence on their side: a rich country with a refined culture and a sense that the state is the instrument of solidarity, a sort of secularized version of Christian values.

Twentieth-century America and twenty-first-century postmodern globalization, which are culturally and economically opposite to that history, have had a profound psychological impact on French people. "What if the best way of doing everything won't work anymore?" "Holy crap!"

Having studied in France and been there a couple times, as well as reading the comments of readers of Le Monde's blogs every day, I can say that there's also a cohort of French people more willing to engage the future fearlessly—mainly young, entrepreneurial ones. Lots of them go abroad. In Le Figaro this year there was a story about a London neighborhood called Little Paris, full of French people, French stores, French restaurants—all speaking French in the center of le modèle anglais. The French sources quoted in the article all said that in London's Little Paris, it was easier to get a job, create a business or do something creative than in actual Paris.

In the context of the CPE protests, this should be a grave warning for the French people. If they're not careful, the brain drain and their inflexibility in the face of globalization will be fatal to their status as a rich country able to affect world events. Picture France as an upscale version of Branson, Missouri (my hometown): a tourist paradise for a niche culture market, populated largely by low-paid service workers toiling in restaurants and tourist attractions, a place of very high seasonal unemployment run by a few power brokers who live in the lap of luxury... mocked by the media at every turn.

Posted by: Gregory Holman | March 28, 2006 06:20 PM

P.J.,

Outsourcing is not necessary a bad thing in the long run. It is beneficial to both the developed and underdeveloped countries. Workers in developed countries do not really compete with workers in underdeveloped countries. They work in different types of jobs. More advanced economies ship off their less efficient jobs that can be done more cheaply elsewhere while their workers make the switch to more sophisticated jobs. For example, the manufacturing part of many U.S. & European companies go to China while their home labor force work in design and knowledge-based jobs. Although this process creates insecurity for the individual whose job is being exported, it does provide long term security for the larger society by forcing his children to innovate and find a better job.

Posted by: Ander | March 28, 2006 06:30 PM

I must say, this couldn't happen to a nicer country or people.

Posted by: J Bourbon | March 28, 2006 06:46 PM

Kermit,

I fail to see the correlation. The American latino polulation is much more integated into American society. I think the fact that over half a million people in LA alone protested against a proposed imigration legislation PEACEFULLY and coherently is testament to that. A far cry from the violent protests that errupted over proposed legislation in France back in November and today. In 25 years the latino polulation will vie for the largest ethnic polulation in the U.S. and will be a dominant political force. I don't see France, or Europe for that matter, allowing their respective muslim polupations the same opportunity.

Posted by: Chris | March 28, 2006 07:03 PM

Another thing about the latino population is that they have not tried to behead anyone or blow anything up lately. They also don't kill their daughters for not being "virginal" enough. And their children and grandchildren speak English and are about as well integrated into this country as anyone else. The US also has latino mayors, governors and congressmen. Name one Muslim politician in France.

Posted by: J Bourbon | March 28, 2006 07:10 PM

JB - What are you talking about. On the one hand you make racist comments about and ethnic group and then you chastize another country for supposedely doing the same thing.

Posted by: Chris | March 28, 2006 07:24 PM

The problem as I see it is that the discussion of the French system in the US media revolves around a false opposition: US Capitalism vs. Eurosocialism. The French want a safety net and why shouldn't they have it? The key is making the labor market more flexible. Let employers fire so that they are more willing to hire. This can be done without throwing valuable social programs (national health, for one) out of the window. The problem is pseudo-Marxist AND no-tax, free-market ideologues.

Posted by: guez | March 28, 2006 07:33 PM

I, I'm a French guy and I am very interested by your comments. We see things differently in France. We want to defend, against the CPE, security and quality of work. We want a situation, a life stable, a long work, not as the USA or England, where you don't care to have precarites works. It's just a different vision of life.To Accept a liberal society or not. Lot of French don't accept that!
Good bye !

Posted by: thibalu | March 28, 2006 08:05 PM

"If it is not broken don't fix it."

But it is broken. The French unemployment rate has been hovering near 10% for several years. It is half that in the US and UK. If high unemployment is what the French want, keep the rigid labor laws!

Posted by: RC | March 28, 2006 08:37 PM

No wonder France has problems with attitudes like this:

If the CPE is enacted, said one young woman, "You'll get a job knowing that you've got to do every single thing they ask you to do because otherwise you may get sacked."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/24/AR2006032402401.html

Apparently the speaker thinks a job is just a welfare check.

Posted by: RC | March 28, 2006 08:39 PM

Posted by: shoreman | March 28, 2006 08:40 PM

Think we can fly through their
airspace yet ? Couldn't happen to a better bunch of fools . If they only had the Latino work ethic they wouldn't have to worry so much about guaranteed employment , nobody fires hardworking productive employees , just guys looking for a free ride . Sorry to those of you who will call this " inflammatory " , it's the truth , and if that's inflammatory , so be it . Give me a hungry Latino immigrant trying to make it as opposed to a budding socialist any day.

Posted by: shoreman | March 28, 2006 08:45 PM

Thibalu doesn't seem to want "precarite" jobs, by which I assume he means unsecure jobs. No problem. He can just keep the present situation in frogland where the young have NO jobs, and thus have no worries at all about being fired.

Posted by: J Bourbon | March 28, 2006 09:13 PM

Incidentally, laws making it impossible to fire people are by no means unique to France. Mexico has the same situation, where even if an employee is caught STEALING it can cost thousands (of dollars, not pesos) to fire him and keep him fired. By some strange coincidence, lots of Mexicans can't find jobs at home, so they come here to find them.

Posted by: J Bourbon | March 28, 2006 09:15 PM

I'm not French and I'm not American. I'm not an economist either. But I have crossed the US on a motorcycle 3 times over few months and lived in France, and I've never seen the abject poverty and living conditions in France that I've seen in the US. And for those who see no racial problems, I have been in areas where everyone was surprized a white would venture into (wonder why?). Those criticizing France should look in their own backyard before making the US the paradise that it is not. I wonder how many people here who criticize France have been there. I don't want to say the french are right on labor laws but I'm just stating what I saw was a fact, the US is the Emperor with no clothes.

Posted by: John | March 29, 2006 12:48 AM

French workers are more productive per hour on average than American workers because the less productive French workers are unemployed...

As an American, I don't want to criticize France, but I hope the French realize that their high unemployment (especially among the non-white) and low economic growth is due to strict labor regulations (this is the finding of most economists). If the French are OK with having high unemployment, low economic growth, and their current labor regulations, that is fine, let's not lie and try to blame the problems of France on something else.

BTW, the Germans have very low youth unemployment - they have apprenticeships that pay less than the standard union-agreed wage. I don't think the French would go for that though. Unfortunately, the power of the unions in German push their overall unemployment rate up to that of France.

Posted by: Econguy | March 29, 2006 01:19 AM

You Americans who scorn those of us who live in countries with modern social policies amaze me. This from 'family-values' U.S.A. which provides only six weeks to a couple of months' maternity leave for working mothers, has its people work round-the-clock with close to zero vacation (unlike our five-plus weeks here). John's comments are apt. It is America's 'model' that is not working. Get with the program, Americans! Provide some decent working conditions for your citizens. If the French, Germans, Canadians and Scandinavians are capable of providing decent living standards for their people, why can't you?

Posted by: Joseph | March 29, 2006 02:41 AM

Chris - The riots which happened in November were not due to the passing of any laws, as you state. In fact they were an accident waiting to happen sparked by an incident of alleged police brutality. Sound familiar (L.A. in 1991 for instance) ?

Also if the latinos are so well integrated and such a boon to America in general, then why are politicians in washington working to deny them access to America's shores ? Please don't answer terrorism, because that invalidates your point J.

Posted by: Kermy | March 29, 2006 05:54 AM

Joseph, who wants to copy a "social model" with such low growth and high unemployment?

Posted by: jomama | March 29, 2006 09:12 AM

Kermy,

Who's denying latinos access to America's shores? The legislation being proposed would grant illegal imigrants in the US citizenship. Oddly enough, the rest of the legislation is modled after Europe's guest worker programs.

Posted by: Chris | March 29, 2006 09:55 AM

Oh, and by the way, the new flow of immigrants to the US is at an all time highest rate. Must be because of the failed Us model. Right Joseph?

Posted by: Chris | March 29, 2006 09:59 AM

J. Bourbon:

"Name one Muslim politician in France"

Easy:

Azouz BEGAG, Minister in the current governement.

but i understand nobody knows him here, the last time he tried to came in the U.S he has been denied access and put back in a plane by some custom agent.

I understand that the hundreds of muslim mayors or aids participating in the local political life never show up in the Post headlines, but it does not mean muslims are not participating in the political life.

They do it, and in the right place: away from the toxic "political elite" atmosphere, where people can see and meet them everyday.

Posted by: Chris Jr | March 29, 2006 11:19 AM

Judging by so many comments posted here and on other threads, thank God there are countries like France, Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Canada, etc. to help people convince themselves America is a great country!

Fascinating also to notice how adamant, so many people seem to be, that there can only be social progress by moving backwards.

Posted by: Robert Rose | March 29, 2006 11:57 AM

If the French model actually worked, I think we would gleefully copy it. However, 24% youth unemployment, 9.4% overall unemployment, and 50%+ tax rates does not sound like working.

As "Joseph" mentions, lots of maternity leave and 5 weeks of vacation a year are nice. But they are absolutely worthless if you are unemployed. And if you are lucky enough to have a job, the government is taking half your inccome in tax, so who can afford to go on vacation anyway?

Posted by: J Bourbon | March 29, 2006 12:28 PM

I think some of the French protesters and foreign commenters misunderstand how things work on the employment front in the U.S. Sure, most people can be fired at will, just as they can resign at will. But few employers fire someone for no reason - it's too hard (and expensive) to find and hire decent employees.

also, while there's no law mandating a certain amount of vacation to US employees, most employers offer 2 weeks to newly hired entry level folks (in addition to holidays), and by the time people are in their 30s that's generally upped to 3 weeks or more. not just for the rich either - my sister makes about 50k and gets 4 weeks. It's not as lavish as the French approach, but it's not Bleak House either.

Posted by: EC | March 29, 2006 01:30 PM

EC comments that "few employers fire someone for no reason - it's too hard (and expensive) to find and hire decent employees", true enough but the reason a lot of times has nothing to do with the employee per se, it's cost cutting, lost contracts, reorganization. And the hiring/training expenses are apparently within the realm of bearability because they do it constantly

Posted by: Stick, BT/DT | March 29, 2006 02:36 PM

Stick - absolutely, layoffs typically have nothing to do with individual employee performance. But a law barring layoffs, or making them extremely burdensome, is more likely to retard hiring than foil layoffs. As the French have learned.

Posted by: EC | March 29, 2006 05:12 PM

Mr. Morley,

I usually don’t take a back seat to criticizing the French. It is almost a reflex reaction to me and fun. However I think Mr. Samuleson and Mr. Pearlstein could spend more productive time enlightening Americans on how we can begin to work out of our own economic troubles. After all the French are largely satisfied with the structure of their economy as it has provided a fine standard of living for most of their citizens. That is why neither the left or right can do much to change things. As a mater of fact comparing her performance and her neighbors she has kept up with them if not surpassed them in some ways.

French per capita income is almost identical to Germany and Britain. Britain has half the unemployment rate 5.1 % than France which has a 10% rate but Britain has about 3 times the poverty rate at 17% to France‘s 6%. Germany has an 11.5 % unemployment rate which is worse than the French rate of 10%. Britain and France have twice the economic growth rate of Germany. The source for these statistics is the CIA World Factbook. It would appear that France is doing no worse or better on average than her EU partners and comparing as favorably as any of her partners in Europe. For the record we in the US have an unemployment rate near 5%, a growth rate near 3% and a poverty rate of 13% and climbing.

However we have even more intractable structural problems looming for us than the French. We have grown accustomed to being the worlds largest deadbeats with intractable federal deficits and stratospheric balance of payments problems. So I am curious to hear from Mr. Samuelson and Pearlstein what excuses will we give for our economy’s future lack of performance when the euro replaces the dollar as the reserve currency and the exchange rate settles @ 1.70 dollars per euro. Do you think our people will be resentful when their purchasing power goes in the tank.

Posted by: Red Ruffian | March 29, 2006 05:49 PM

In 1968, many French marchers were protesting "boredom", of all things. Over the past three decades, little has changed and the French populace has protested ever "injustice" imaginable, real and perceived. The recent strikes are simply more of the same. "To the barricades" is part of the genetic makeup of Francophones at this point. The irony is that, with every work stoppage, France's productivity falls further and, a decline in its cherished "quality of life" (what the marchers are trying to prop up) will feel the brunt.

Posted by: SH | March 29, 2006 05:59 PM

I've been living and working in France for 14 years now - acquiring a French wife and family in the process. The real problem in France stems, in my opinion, from the fact that the profits from the boom years of the 1980s were spread more equitably than in the US. Employees, shareholders, and bosses all saw their situation improve. Since the mid-1990s - roughly since Chirac has been president - economic growth stalled, and the contracts that workers were able to negotiate in the 1980s cost more than the economy can easily bear. What has happend is that France has fragmented into a two-tier society: those who have long-term, well-protected work contracts (CDI's), and those who do not. Most young people entering the workforce - and some not-so-young people who've been there for a while - can't get a CDI. They have to accept an endless string of short-term work contracts (CDDs), to which the government has added two new variants, the most recent of which, the CPE, has gotten the kids into the streets. The practical, bread-and-butter issue here, which goes underreported outside France, is that if you are living from CPE to CDD, it's much harder to get credit for things like vehicle and home purchases. France has unwittingly re-invented the class system, with the twist that it pits an older generation against a younger one.

In their hearts, just about everyone in France knows that the labor contract system needs to be fixed. But in my opinion, it will take a left-wing government to do it. A socialist government just might have the credibility to persuade the unions and associations that some sacrifice on the part of the lucky generation is necessary to avoid completely screwing their children, and re-establish a consistent set of rules that apply across the whole labor force. Chirac's right-wing governments have been, one after the other, stunningly incompetent, and their approach to labor law "reform" is widely percieved as an attemt to dismantle all protection for workers, starting with those least able to defend themselves.

Posted by: Paralogos | March 30, 2006 10:12 AM


So many people in America believe their own propaganda. That is what comes from avoiding the rest of the world. Many countries have a much better lifestyle than the US. They live safer and far more comfortable lives. Check the Quality of Life index, which Canada won for many years as the country with the best quality of life in the world. I think it is Sweden now. The US quality of life is nothing to be proud of and has been going downhill for years.

Posted by: SpeakoutforDemocracy | March 31, 2006 09:25 AM

SpeakOut, this is a discussion of French protests, not the US. Your obsessions are showing.

Posted by: EC | March 31, 2006 09:52 AM

Getting fired "without cause" is a drag, no matter how old you are.

There might be an exception, though. How would the pundits respond to being fired without cause? I suppose their investments and additional economic opportunities would color their responses.

Posted by: billofright | April 10, 2006 01:08 PM

This is cool, you have to try it. I guessed 36355, and this game guessed it! See it here - http://www.funbrain.com/guess/

Posted by: Allison Trump | May 9, 2006 03:35 AM

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