Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 4, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE FRENCH PROTESTS....Are French students living in a dreamworld? Refusing to acknowledge economic reality in a globalized world? Insisting on a right not to be fired that's been unrealistic for at least the past couple of decades?

So far, coverage in the American media hasn't told us much except that French students like to protest, but anyone who's seen Les Misrables recognizes that as a cultural tradition that goes back a very long way indeed. The question is: are they being out of touch with reality when they protest for the right to lifetime employment once they're hired? Or is the inability to fire people one of the drivers behind high French youth unemployment rates?

My personal view is that I'm not very enthusiastic about either France's "nobody ever gets fired" laws or America's "you can get fired for being a cat lover instead of a dog lover" laws. (In most U.S. states, you can be fired without cause at any time. The only restriction is that you can't be fired because of your race, gender, religion, or for a few other specifically defined reasons.) But my feelings are based mostly on moral and cultural grounds. What about the economic arguments?

Do strict employment laws drive up unemployment? The basic claim is pretty simple: if it's hard to fire people, you're going to think very hard before you take a flyer and hire someone essentially for life. Conversely, if hiring someone weren't a 40-year commitment, maybe French companies would be more willing to take a chance on hiring more people, especially young people.

Now, my personal experience suggests otherwise. My old company hired Europeans pretty much the same way we hired Americans: every year we budgeted for the number of positions we thought was justified by sales projections, and the responsible managers then hired people. We filled jobs in Europe as fast as we did in America. In other words, French (or Belgian or German) laws didn't have much effect on our hiring, which was driven mostly by other more basic concerns.

But guess what? It turns out that this experience is true generally. Brad Plumer rounds up a bunch of evidence that suggests (a) plenty of countries with strict employment laws also have low unemployment rates, (b) there's not much of a correlation between labor laws and unemployment rates, and (c) when you compare apples to apples, France's unemployment rate isn't as high as it looks anyway.

For mostly libertarian reasons, I still think employers should have the right to decide who they want to employ and should be able to fire people without going through too wildly onerous a process. And it could be that France would benefit from more flexibility in that regard. But that said, the economic arguments don't seem to hold much water. Labor laws probably don't have much impact on unemployment to begin with, and France's overall economy is in pretty good shape anyway. So let 'em protest.

Kevin Drum 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (142)

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Comments

The age restriction is the thing I don't like. Under 26, the law applies, over 26 it doesn't? Where does that come from. And it's got to be a hard sell to say that the way to solve unemployment in a particular group is to make it easier to make members of that group unemployed.

Posted by: sal on April 4, 2006 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

If you don't like the French system or the American system, what would you like to see? What would be a good compromise?

Posted by: Doctor Gonzo on April 4, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

It's absurd for a government to prohibit businesses from firing employees. If the government wants to protect jobs, it should take it upon itself to provide jobs for the unemployed.

Posted by: JS on April 4, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

I wouold like to see health benefits and retirement benefits disentangled from current employment as much as possible if we are to have a "flexible" workforce going from job to job. Also, decent unemployemnt benefits. I do not like wrecking a persons life because sales are down 10% this quarter and a few people have to be "let go".

Posted by: patrick on April 4, 2006 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Two things:
1) what Sal said. If the law is good, have it apply to everyone. It's up to 26 year olds? These are not wild eyed college students running around.
2) Two years on a probationary period, meaning you can get fired without cause. As Kevin states, I dont think you can even do that in all of the US! I can understand 1-2 months, even 6 months, but 2 years? You must know if someone is going to work out or not before then...

Posted by: xerixes on April 4, 2006 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Damn teenage frogs.

They ought to give them some pharm psychodrugs to calm them down.

American teenagers are best:

Totally pacified.
Totally commercialized.
Totally adulterated.


Posted by: Jesus the Capitalist on April 4, 2006 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

As this table shows, Brad Plumer is wrong because the GDP per person in France is consistently lower than the US so France's strict firing laws causes their country to have lower growth than the US.

Posted by: Al on April 4, 2006 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

So you think it's okay to create what is effectively a class of young slaves who are utterly at the mercy of their employers? Firstly it means wages will go down to the minimum, because why create a payscale if you can just fire a two year employee and get a fresh one?

It's just not right. But once again, Kevin, it doesn't affect you in OC so it's probably okay?

Posted by: reef the dog on April 4, 2006 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

If a middle manager wants to fire 10 people on Dec. 1st so that he meets year-end budgets and qualifies for his Xmas bonus, why should anyone gripe? We all had a reasonably equal chance to become that middle manager.

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on April 4, 2006 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

I think a big(ger) part of what's driving the French students is that they're fighting against the notion that employees (human beings, after all) need be treated as disposable commodities.

If they're looking around them (and particularly at America), what they're seeing is that employment has become a one-way street. Employers demand absolute fealty, unswerving devotion, unstinting loyalty, and ever-increasing sacrifice from their employees. In return for that, employers owe the employees nothing beyond today's paycheck.

That sound like a recipe for happines to anyone here?

Posted by: Derelict on April 4, 2006 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

The French are unhappy with their CPE law because it discriminates against the young. These anti-capitalist socialist misfits actually believe that they should have equal rights comparted with their elders. Cheeky!

I think we have our own anti-age discrimination laws here, although it targeted to the old instead of the young. I think we should repeal them.

Posted by: Darwin on April 4, 2006 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

These pathetic people are demanding the right to government goodies.

This is what the welfare state does to a country.

Posted by: Frequency Kenneth on April 4, 2006 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Frequency!

Posted by: Stefan on April 4, 2006 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

The American media seldom reports the story accurately. The meme of "Europe gives people jobs for life" is too deeply entrenched. It is also false.

French employers already have the right to fire employees - they just have to show cause. The CPE would allow firing *without* showing cause.

Furthermore, it openly discriminates on the basis of age. A law like that probably would be found unconstitutional in the US.

Posted by: tyronen on April 4, 2006 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

(In most U.S. states, you can be fired without cause at any time. The only restriction is that you can't be fired because of your race, gender, religion, or for a few other specifically defined reasons.)

You forgot the other important protection against at will firing--a UNION contract!

Posted by: Martin on April 4, 2006 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

"If a middle manager wants to fire 10 people on Dec. 1st so that he meets year-end budgets and qualifies for his Xmas bonus, why should anyone gripe?"

Won't the upper level manager gripe when nothing gets done in that department because everybody got fired?

Also, I'm glad no one responded to Al-Bot.

Posted by: eckersley on April 4, 2006 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Frequency Kenneth - right. Genius. And of course you're aware that the bigget welfare recipients in the United States BY FAR are corporations? Especially cronies like Exxon, who couldn't make a dime if they didn't have humongous tax loopholes and the weight of the US Army helping them extract oil all over the world. A lot of them pay NO taxes whatsoever. That's sucking at the taxpayer teat, genius.

Posted by: reef the dog on April 4, 2006 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

France's unemployment rate is nearly 10%.

That's what you get when you have a welfare state.

Posted by: Paddy Whack on April 4, 2006 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

Won't the upper level manager gripe when nothing gets done in that department because everybody got fired?

If those 10 were 'everybody', then I suppose - yes.

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on April 4, 2006 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

What about the idea that if you restrict firing like France has done, you can't eliminate the deadwood? I have seen a number of arguments on France's labor laws that posit that French employees simply don't work all that hard, even while they are working, because their employment is viewed as a sinecure.

I've heard enough anecdotal stories to support the idea that this might be real. You can quibble as to the line between indolence and slave labor, but it seems like a legitimate point.

Posted by: wormslyth on April 4, 2006 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

It's possible to analyze this as a class issue, which I think is probably the most useful analysis.

The "obviously good employees" can (usually) get jobs now--with labor protections. Bourgoisie college students are in the obviously good employees class. However, "might be good employees" can't get jobs now. They tend to be working class and often Arab. By enabling people to hire the "might be good" employees, knowing that they can fire them easily if the aren't good employees, you increase the number of "might be good employees" hired; this disadvantages the protestors, who either have jobs already or are in the "will be good employees" category.

Posted by: SamChevre on April 4, 2006 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

France's unemployment rate is nearly 10%.
That's what you get when you have a welfare state.

That's what happens when you only count full employment, as opposed to hiding the underemployed as the US does

Posted by: Martin on April 4, 2006 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

As a follow-up, I'd also add that, as someone who has worked with companies scouting out locations to open up new operations, labor laws can be a huge factor in their decisions. So it may be true that, for firms in France, there may not be a huge impact on hiring practices - but there may be an enormous one on job creation from new or extra-national firms.

Posted by: wormslyth on April 4, 2006 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

A purely emotional response.

Who gives a shit. It's france. I wouldn't go to france to throw up. I could not possibly care less about france. *grumbling* Allies my ass. *continued grumbling*

Posted by: Lurker42 on April 4, 2006 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Don't French workers have a higher productivity level per hour worked than U.S. workers?

Posted by: tripoley on April 4, 2006 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not as familiar with France, but way back in the late 1990s The Nation did some U.S./Euro comparison on what exactly constitutes "apples to apples" focusing on Germany on the Euro side.

1. Working through temp agencies counts as "employed" in the U.S. and "unemployed" in Germany, even if the employment is 40 hours/FTE. As of 1998, Manpower was the single largest employer in both countries, if I remember The Nation correctly. Given that 2 percent of workers in both countries, roughly, there's a 2 percentage point difference right there.

2. With an all-volunteer armed forces, U.S. military count as "employed." With universal military service, Germany doesn't factor military into the employment issue. My guess -- 0.2-0.3 percent employment rate difference.

3. Not officially part of employment calculations, but the War on Drugs here (with none there) is certainly a major difference.
A fairly high percentage of our drug-incarcerated population would surely be unemployed if not imprisoned. Plus, the public (and private) prison guards/staff/wardens, attorneys, judges, police officers, etc. that all feed this maw are significant.

The Nation had nothing on this, but I'm going to guesstimate, based on total U.S. prison population, something in the range of 0.4-0.7 percentage point difference in unemployment.

That leaves, as of 1998 U.S.-Germany, about a 2.6-3.0 percentage point difference in unemployment rates calculated by the two countries. At that time, that eliminated about three-quarters or so of the "apples-to-oranges" comparison that American conservatives were making in unemployment rates.

(I write all of this because Brad, in the post you linked, Kevin, despite the way you had it linked, really didn't delve into this.)

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on April 4, 2006 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

Losing a job can have devastating effects on a person's life. What is wrong with "for just cause" being required in most instances? Do we HAVE to be subject to the whims of various cruel, illogical or vindictive supervisors where we work? Remember Dabney Coleman in the movie "9 to 5"? He was supposed to be a comic caricature of the maniacal boss but his portrayal was not far from what many deal with daily. Recently I read of a woman meeting her boss for an afterwork dinner of some sort and being fired on the spot once a dfairly innocuous yet political in nature bumper sticker was seen on her car. I do think U.S. labor laws allow far more unnecessary or unwarranted terminations than compassionate and ethical treatment of workers would dictate.

Posted by: steve duncan on April 4, 2006 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

I can't help but wonder with several others here if Europe's "high" unemployment rates have more to do with better (and more honest) tracking than anything else. I suspect the actual US unemployment rate is considerably higher than the 5% it officially hovers around, and certainly the underemployment rate (college grads flipping burgers, former white collar managers running Taco Bells) has to be appalling.

Posted by: Susan Paxton on April 4, 2006 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Al,

Using data from official government sources as opposed to a consultant, and more recent data at that, we find that Luxembourg's GDP per capita exceeds that of the US by quite a bit, both in dollar and in PPP terms.
(http://ocde.p4.siteinternet.com/publications/doifiles/012005061T004.xls)

Just thought you should know.

Posted by: cactus on April 4, 2006 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

A lot of them pay NO taxes whatsoever. That's sucking at the taxpayer teat, genius.
And where do you suppose corporations get the money to pay taxes with, genius? Oh that's right, from the goods/services they sell. Taxes are part of the cost of doing business, and costs are passed along to customers. You're paying the taxes of oil companies every time you fill up your car. But it makes you feel better paying their taxes that way, right?

That's what happens when you only count full employment, as opposed to hiding the underemployed as the US does
Sweden reports around 5% unemployment. Internal government figures are closer to 25%.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on April 4, 2006 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

I'm currently interning at a company whose parent company is French. My boss recently told me how they handled it in France when they needed to reduce headcount: they re-organized everyone they wanted to get rid of into one department. Then, a year later, they eliminated the entire department.

It's not as fast or effecient as the American way of at-will firings, but it does provide a data point that a job in France is not a job for life.

Posted by: fiat lux on April 4, 2006 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Vive la France!

French youth have every right to demand that their employers must show cause in order to fire them. And their elders should join them, because if the government succeeds here, they'll push to raise the age every year until no one has any protection whatsoever.

Posted by: Drew on April 4, 2006 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

cactus
About 30% of Luxembourg's workforce doesn't live in Luxembourg. It's easy to look rich when you send the peasants home to their own country every night.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on April 4, 2006 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Two studies that I've seen taking difference in difference comparisons between US regions that implemented minimum wage hikes and those that didn't (New Jersey/Pennsylvania and San Francisco/Bay Area) showed very little impact on employment. Prices went up marginally and consumption was mixed - in some cases rising slightly as workers had more to spend. The most significant result was that turnover was reduced.

As a general rule, the marginal wage rate equals the marginal productivity rate. Maintaining low wages/high unemployment is a good way of deincentivizing investment in productivity-enhancing capital equipment. So all things being equal the question for national decision-makers becomes: "Do we want to live in a high wage/high productivity society, or do we want to live in a low wage/low productivity society." Americans seem surprisingly ready to consider the second option (at least this is the implication of Republican economic policy, which many Americans intuitively support), while peoples in other industrialized nations seem less ready to entertain the second option.

Al-

The relevant statistics are productivity and growth per capita. Americans have more stuff and less leisure than other countries. Per hour productivity is virtually identical across the industrialized world; per capita growth is virtually identical across the industrialized world. The results comport nicely with the implications of the Solow growth model.

Posted by: Saam Barrager on April 4, 2006 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

(In most U.S. states, you can be fired without cause at any time. The only restriction is that you can't be fired because of your race, gender, religion, or for a few other specifically defined reasons.)

I know age(over 40) is another protected class, as well as national origin. A few states also protect sexual orientation, I think Nevada is one.

Other than that, you're right. It's "employment at will" in most states. Employment law is one area where I have some experience.

Posted by: Ringo on April 4, 2006 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Al: "Brad Plumer is wrong because the GDP per person in France is consistently lower than the US so France's strict firing laws causes their country to have lower growth than the US."

Sigh. You know, Al, it's hard not to think of you as a very alert but dopey prairie dog poking his head up out of his hole and barking randomly at the other wildlife. Here's a empiricist tip, Al: a correlation does not necessarily imply causation. In simple words, two things may happen at the same time but not be connected. The more you work with this concept, the more useful you may find it.

The application of this observation to your 'argument' is as follows: France's lower GDP per capita may be related to its labor laws, but it also may not be. You won't know without doing some research. Other aspects of France's and America's economies may help explain the difference in per capita GDP - for instance, America's much larger land area per capita, the fact that France lost two world wars and suffered a brutal occupation, differences in tax systems or education systems, and so on. Your argument is no more compelling than an argument that labor laws account for the fact that French per capita PPP GDP grew by a factor of 4 between 1950 and 2000, while America's grew by only a factor of 3.

So please, Al, if you really need to pop up and bark every time Kevin posts an observation, learn to bark logically. Please. Otherwise you really are just a nuisance.

Posted by: dcbob on April 4, 2006 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Can anyone post a link that shows the French economy on par w/ that of the US? I've looked at GDP growth, unemployment, per capita income and it shows France closer to Nigeria than the US. By the way, check out India, Singapore and China. Their economies appear to be the most robust.

Posted by: Chris on April 4, 2006 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Saam
Prices went up marginally and consumption was mixed - in some cases rising slightly as workers had more to spend
Makes perfect sense, I'm operating from memory here, but I believe I recall around 3.4% of the workers in the US make at or below minimum wage. Like 0.6% make exactly the minimum wage and 2.8% below the minimum wage. Raising the minimum wage would mostly raise the number of people making less than minimum wage.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on April 4, 2006 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Conspiracy Nut:

"About 30% of Luxembourg's workforce doesn't live in Luxembourg. It's easy to look rich when you send the peasants home to their own country every night."

Precisely my point... you have to look at more than one static data point to reach a conclusion as Al was doing.

Posted by: cactus on April 4, 2006 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Don't French workers have a higher productivity level per hour worked than U.S. workers?

Yes, they do. As I recall most workers in the industrialized world have a higher productivity level per hour than Americans -- this is partly due to the fact that while Americans work more hours than everyone else, the sheer number of those hours drives down the average across the board.

Or, in simpler terms, work expands to fill the time alloted to it.

Posted by: Stefan on April 4, 2006 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

cactus
OK, I can go for that; but Sweden, Germany, Italy, and France all fit Al's data point. When do you suppose we have a trend?

Posted by: conspiracy nut on April 4, 2006 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

France's unemployment rate is nearly 10%.

That's what you get when you have a welfare state.

If it's really a welfare state, I don't care as much what the unemployment rate is, because that 10% isn't as badly off as they would be over here.

Posted by: DonBoy on April 4, 2006 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Or, in simpler terms, work expands to fill the time alloted to it.
This also applies to stuff in your garage, too, doesn't it?

Posted by: conspiracy nut on April 4, 2006 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

It's easy to look rich when you send the peasants home to their own country every night.

Cue George W. Bush's "guest worker" / indentured servant program....

Posted by: Stefan on April 4, 2006 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Conspiracy Nut:

"About 30% of Luxembourg's workforce doesn't live in Luxembourg. It's easy to look rich when you send the peasants home to their own country every night."

That doesn't make any sense at all. If you have more jobs than people, that is good, right? Or am I missing something?

I would imagine 30% of NYC's workforce doesn't live there either. I'm not sure what that has to do with anything.

Posted by: DR on April 4, 2006 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

When management says "flexibility," workers correctly hear "tyranny" and "caprice."

Posted by: john sherman on April 4, 2006 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

Some basic facts about the French labor market can be found at:
http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2006/3/28/85714/5270

Always a better place for analysis of European issues than the US press.

Posted by: Frenchdoc on April 4, 2006 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

"French youth have every right to demand that their employers must show cause in order to fire them. And their elders should join them, because if the government succeeds here, they'll push to raise the age every year until no one has any protection whatsoever."

How likely are you to hire someone to mow your lawn if the person end up being a permanent employee whether you have work for him or not?

Posted by: Freedom Fighter on April 4, 2006 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

Conspiracy Nut,

"OK, I can go for that; but Sweden, Germany, Italy, and France all fit Al's data point. When do you suppose we have a trend?

You are stilling looking at only one statistic with GDP per capita. There are many criticisms of GDP, not the least of which that it doesn't include such items as leisure & quality of life. Those may be hard to measure, but OECD figures from the same source I cited earlier show, for instance, that folks in the countries generally live longer and have lower infant mortality than we do out here. Also, comparing per capita anything is comparing averages. The average income in the US may be higher, but if the median income is lower, the average person is actual worse off.

Posted by: cactus on April 4, 2006 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Two notes on the GDP per head debate:

1) The US has had vastly higher GDP per head for two hundred years. The estimates are that US people enjoyed a much higher standard of living than Europe two hundred and one hundred years ago. Particularly since WW II Europe has narrowed that gap.

In other words before we pat ourselves on the back about what a wonderful system we have, we might want to recognize that US has had an abundance of resources from which to work from - for a long time.

2) Although US GDP per head is higher, other measures of the actual standard of living don't show a clear US lead. That's particularly true if you look at the median, rather than the mean, average standard of living. On basic things like health stats the US actually is behind.

So read US reporting carefully - the average statistics are normally spun to make us (the US!!!) look better. Might not be conscious, but it's pretty pervasive.

Posted by: Samuel Knight on April 4, 2006 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

It's hard to reply when so many kneejerks who know nothing about the situation or the country want to post ignorant and/or fatuous comments. But here goes.

In France, in order to get an apartment, or a car, or a loan, or a credit card, or even just a bank account, the consumer of any age must produce their employment contract to prove they have substantial income to provide for the financial engagement. No work contract means none of the things above - which Americans, even American students - take for granted. If you lose your job in the US you lose your health insurance, but you can still get a place to live and can get credit. Not so in France, though you still get health care.

It is onerous for the people, but this is another part of the French social contract that I have not seen mentioned in the US press (or in the fatuous comments).

This requirement greatly benefits the corporations, and has not been relaxed to accommodate the CPE - which also benefits the corporations.

I agree that relaxing employers' ability to terminate workers is important and a necessary change in a modern workplace, but some give and take in the social contract would make the situation more palatable as well as more workable for all.

Unfortunately, the situation is being handled by Villepin - a modern day Marie Antoinette who has no idea what life is like for the middle class or the working class. While he's not the equivalent of the ignoramus GWB "born on third base and thinks he hit a triple", Villepin also is upper class and has been surrounded by privilege for his lifetime and has no concept of what life is like for working people.

He is being supported by Chirac who wants Villepin to replace him as president instead of Sarkozy (classism and racism at play here). Chirac and Villepin have gamed the situation so that Sarkozy the Interior Minister must keep cops in the street and thus reduce his prospects in the upcoming presidential election.

Further, Villepin and Chirac have done nothing to improve the situation for the Arab population, instead again letting Sarkozy take the heat. But that is another post.

Posted by: intl.econo on April 4, 2006 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

In France, in order to get an apartment, or a car, or a loan, or a credit card, or even just a bank account, the consumer of any age must produce their employment contract to prove they have substantial income to provide for the financial engagement. No work contract means none of the things above - which Americans, even American students - take for granted. If you lose your job in the US you lose your health insurance, but you can still get a place to live and can get credit. Not so in France, though you still get health care.

Interesting -- what do you do if have work that doesn't involve an employment contract, such as for example being a freelance writer, a musician in a band, or in general working for yourself or having independent resources such as an inheritance?

Posted by: Stefan on April 4, 2006 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

If you want to see an at-home example of an employment system where no one can be fired except for "cause," look no further than the public schools. That's what tenure is. In the New York public schools, for example, it can cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and take hundreds of hours of management time, to get rid of even a terrible teacher, let alone one who is just marginal. The result is no one is ever terminated. Personally, I think that's a crappy system for lots of reasons, but if that's what you want, you don't have to go to France to find it.

In any event, what is even more important than the ability to fire a particular individual employee without cause is the ability lay off large groups of employees in response to economic conditions. The inability to do that is what really discourages hiring in France and Germany - the extraordinary difficulty that companies have in closing facilities and moving production and people around in response to the market.

By the way, I live in a world where I can be fired at any time with or without cause. I am a lawyer and lawyers can be fired by their clients at any time. This is true for lawyers in private practice, for lawyers in government service and for lawyers who work in-house for companies. I see no problems with this whatsoever.

Posted by: DBL on April 4, 2006 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure what that has to do with anything.
I'm not surprised.

cactus
generally live longer and have lower infant mortality than we do out here
Somebody upthread was carping about consistency in measurement, and I have a feeling infant mortality plays in here. The US, going away, does the most medical research in the world; it beggars belief that our care would be worse. I suspect we attempt care for infants that would not be attempted elsewhere. As for life span, consider life style.

As for GDP comparing averages, head for the south of France sometime and tell me if you think France's income inequality is less than ours. Per capita GDP (PPP) isn't a great measure, but it ain't a bad one either.

But economic growth is where it's at for poor people. In the US poor people own color TVs and drive their own cars. I heard of a visitor to the US that wanted to see "fat poor people". Yes, it's terrible that we have them, and I favor raising their condition; but our economic growth has allowed our poor people to live better than most of the world's poor people. Further, someone (forget who) was running some numbers and proved we have no poor people in the US. The government has spent enough money on programs for the poor to raise every poor person above the poverty line. Throwing money at them doesn't seem to be lessening their numbers, but economic growth has improved their lives greatly.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on April 4, 2006 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Al, of course, doesn't know what he's talking about. Not that France doesn't have a lower GDP per capita, but that fact is irrelevant.

GDP per work hour in France was $54.06 compared to $48.02 for the U.S. in 2005. However, the French worker averaged only 1,439 hours compared to 1,819 for the American worker. The reason France has a lower GDP per capita is primarily the fact that the French take vacations, not that their economy is inefficient.

The French civilian employment-to-population ratio is 41.1% compared to 47.8% in the United States. Therefore, French GDP would be 16.4% higher if civilian employment were as in the U.S., but French GDP would be 26.4% higher if the workers they have already worked as long as did Americans.

Unemployment in France was in fact higher (9.5% compared to 5.1%) but this can be largely attributed to years of high interest rates set by the ECB. The MRO rate has never been lower than 2%, despite inflation only as high as 2.2-2.3%. By way of contrast, the Fed's Federal Funds rate had recently been as low as 1% despite 2.7% inflation. With French inflation actually falling to 1.8% in 2005, the ECB has been raising rates. So of course employment growth has been lackluster.

Posted by: David Rosnick on April 4, 2006 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

I'm all in favor of worker protection, but having worked in Paris at a French company, I can tell you it does go too far.

tyronen says: "French employers already have the right to fire employees - they just have to show cause. The CPE would allow firing *without* showing cause." It's the "just" part of that that I disagree with. It is excruciatingly difficult to terminate someone in France. There is no "just" to it.

There's a French term that I can't remember that specifically refers to taking worthless employees and putting them in an inaccessible office and giving them nothing to do in hopes that they'll quit from boredom. In other words, it's easier for companies to just let people rot in a room and continue to pay them than it is to "just" fire them.

This has all kinds of negative effects in the workplace, with a decent-sized minority of employees who basically slack off. This even goes for people who are working on contract, as many of the American and British ex-pats who were working at the company were. One American woman, who was basically congenitally unhappy, contested it when the company didn't want to renew her initial one-year contract. To avoid dealing with the French labor courts, the company basically settled with her. So let's recap: she was on contract, which basically indicates a trial period (the contracts are routinely extended and converted into a carte de sejour, the French equivalent of a green card). The contract expired and, due to her attitude (she constantly proclaimed how much she disliked her job, France, and the French) and poor work (a friend of mine was constantly having to redo her work in part or whole), the company didn't want to renew. And yet it was easier to GIVE HER MONEY than to deal with the issue through the administrative processes.

As for "discriminating" against young people, well, yes. The point is that young people are the riskiest to hire because in general they have little or no track record of employment and therefore no way to judge how they'll perform. Someone can give a stellar interview and perform horribly in their job.

In general, I like the French system, but in a few areas, specifically the difficulty involved in terminating employees and protection given to workers in inefficient industries, it is a real drag on the overall economy.

Posted by: Rick on April 4, 2006 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

In France, in order to get an apartment, or a car, or a loan, or a credit card, or even just a bank account, the consumer of any age must produce their employment contract
That is interesting. So unless you have your permanent employment you are basically forced to live with your parents or become a ward of the state.

That is depressing.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on April 4, 2006 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, I live in a world where I can be fired at any time with or without cause. I am a lawyer and lawyers can be fired by their clients at any time. This is true for lawyers in private practice, for lawyers in government service and for lawyers who work in-house for companies. I see no problems with this whatsoever.

For someone who claims to be a lawyer you seem to have a shaky grasp of the law. Lawyers in government service are often protected by union and/or civil service regulations, and lawyers who work in-house or at corporations may have employment contracts which have provisions that prevent them from being fired without reason, or provide them certain protections and/or termination benefits if so fired. Lawyers per se have no special status in this regard, any more than any other service profession.

Moreover, you aren't distinguishing between a lawyer who is "fired" by his client -- which isnt' really the same thing as "firing", but more like a client refusing to retain that lawyer's service anymore, since the client is not the lawyer's full-time employer -- and a lawyer being fired by his boss from his job.

Posted by: Stefan on April 4, 2006 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

I thought most people in the U.S. without permanent employment were stuck living with their parents too, unless they have a spouse who works.

And I don't know of many unemployed people who are able to get car loans, mortgages, or even apartments. Usually employment is a major consideration. Credit cards are another issue, since they seem to make it their practice to prey on desperate and/or ignorant people and students with not jobs or income, who then end up as some sort of debt slaves or forced into bankruptcy.

But for the most part, the French just seem to codify what happens in the U.S. anyway.

Posted by: Ringo on April 4, 2006 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with employment at will is that the employer has the power to fire the employee, and the employee has the power to quiet.

Both actions lead to the employee out of a job.

Posted by: MNPundit on April 4, 2006 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

One of the big driving forces in this protests (according to a French economist I know) is that this was done basically unilaterally, without discussion or negotiation with the students or labor unions. Whatever the merits of the change, it's a major, major change, and the French government has gone about it very ham-handedly.

Posted by: tomwashere on April 4, 2006 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Ringo
I've seen plenty of kids with no visible means of support (actually taking odd jobs here, temp jobs there) living on their own (heh, one of them is mine). Bank accounts, student loans, credit cards (as you mentioned).

I see where youth unemployment in France is at unreasonable levels, and I don't think we have that kind of percentage living with their parents.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on April 4, 2006 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Screw the French -- they don't know how to run their country so maybe we should take it over.

Look at these numbers:

Life expectancy:
France - 78.1
US - 76.2

Infant Mortality (deaths per 1000 live births):
France - 4.00
US - 7.00

Teen pregnancy (births per 1000):
France - 9.0
US - 53.0

Current account balance (percent of GDP)
France: 1.60
US - -3.90

See! the French are out to embarrass us by out living us, providing better health care and not going in debt (the French are so smug just because they can add and subtract).

Damn them! On top of all that, they eat better than we do. There is only one solution, nuke the French and continue to be fat, stupid Americans that think we have all the answers! If we can reelect George Bush a third time I'm sure we can attain a level of gross ignorance unseen in human history. Onward we march!

Posted by: Dicksknee on April 4, 2006 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

I have a teaching job protected by a strong union in Canada, so it is impossible to get rid of me arbitrarily or otherwise, but I had a two year probationary period in the seventies when I was hired. It was no big deal. I still am not enlightened about these protests.

Posted by: Bob M on April 4, 2006 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

"The problem with employment at will is that the employer has the power to fire the employee, and the employee has the power to quiet."
(Quit, I assume you meant)

How is that a problem? The employees power to quit has a controlling factor over the employer. Granted this is more true with skilled employees than unskilled but still an employer needs a certain number of employees. If they start quitting then the work isn't going to get done.
That's freedom, not a problem.

Posted by: Lurker42 on April 4, 2006 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Well there's no employment requirement for student loans either, many students live on their own with the money they receive from the loans. Problem is, if they don't get a decent job after college, they're back with their parents.

And I should also say that people without permanent employment can get their own place, although it's usually renting from an individual or slum lord--but most apartments that are owned by some sort of corporate entity require proof of regular employment. At least all the ones where I've ever lived did.

There's also cultural considerations. In many European countries it's more acceptable for adults to live with their parents. Especially in Italy, even men with high paying jobs continue to live with their parents. There's more of a communal attitude, as opposed to "now you're on your own, good luck".
In the U.S. there's more of a stigma, or at least it's nothing to brag about if you're living with your parents after college or high school. But I'm not sure how big the difference really is in numbers compared to France and Europe.

Posted by: Ringo on April 4, 2006 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

The young French are only trying to be idealists; to have a comfortable society with long vacations and jobs guaranteed. Whether this is possible in globalized 2006 is another question, but I can't blame them for trying.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on April 4, 2006 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

tomwashere: "Whatever the merits of the change, it's a major, major change, and the French government has gone about it very ham-handedly."

The government's actually tried to talk with various groups on the "pro-labor" side (I use quotes not to be a dick, but the fact is that neither side in the dispute is anti-labor), but the trade unions and student groups that oppose the current changes have been completely inflexible, both when the legislation was being drawn up and now that the legislation has passed the Assemble Nationale and signed by Chirac.

Posted by: Rick on April 4, 2006 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

rick, reasonable comment, but this "negative effect on the workplace".. how do you explain the higher per hour productivity, then?

Posted by: doesn't matter on April 4, 2006 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

OK, in my magnanimity, I proomise never to fire any Fremch person I hire. If every American made the same promise, then no Frenchperson would ever be fired by an American employer, proving the soundness of French economic policy.

Posted by: Matt on April 4, 2006 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

Conspiracy Nut,

" The US, going away, does the most medical research in the world; it beggars belief that our care would be worse. I suspect we attempt care for infants that would not be attempted elsewhere. As for life span, consider life style."

At least across a few easily measurable dimensions, US healthcare outcomes are at best comparable (http://ocde.p4.siteinternet.com/publications/doifiles/012005061T003.xls) to those of most other wealthy countries, and we spend a heck of a lot more by any measure than any other country on healthcare (http://ocde.p4.siteinternet.com/publications/doifiles/012005061T002.xls).


Posted by: cactus on April 4, 2006 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

The idea that it's "fair" for an employer to be able to fire an employee at will so long as the employee has the freedom to quit at will has always reminded me of the saying (from a French proverb, I believe) that "the rich man and the poor man are equal in that they both have the freedom to sleep under a bridge."

Posted by: Alan on April 4, 2006 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

Fareed's comment while accurate is nevertheless not as laudatory as Kevin appears to endorse. Not many countries in the world, certainly New, are as relatively unpopulated as the US. Neither did they have to resort to massive immigration to offset a small indigenous population - largely killed off by the first new arrivals - to maintain the economy of the country. Which means that there are precious few countries that are comparable to the US in terms of immigration, think perhaps Australia, Canada, and the like.
Yes the US does offer citizenship to the legal immigrant, but how else would this continent have been settled with European whites?

Posted by: NewCenturyProf on April 4, 2006 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

"If you don't like the French system or the American system, what would you like to see? What would be a good compromise?"

How about the old UAW-CIO union contracts that laid out agreed-upon violations and penalties, as well as Guaranteed annual wage terms and limits. Nothing like a contract to keep everybody honest.

Posted by: buddy66 on April 4, 2006 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

If we can reelect George Bush a third time I'm sure we can attain a level of gross ignorance unseen in human history. Onward we march!

Er, shouldn't that be "Backwards we march!"?

Posted by: Stefan on April 4, 2006 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

It may be hard to see from our "at-will" employment vantage point, but the ability to fire workers without cause is about much more than just hiring and firing -- it alters the power balance between employer and employee to the employer's advantage. Don't want to work late on a regular basis? fired. Scrubbing toilets not in your job description? fired. etc. etc.

Posted by: DukeJ on April 4, 2006 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

The idea that it's "fair" for an employer to be able to fire an employee at will so long as the employee has the freedom to quit at will has always reminded me of the saying (from a French proverb, I believe) that "the rich man and the poor man are equal in that they both have the freedom to sleep under a bridge."

It was Anatole France who wrote that "The law, in its majesty, allows both rich and poor to beg for bread and to sleep under bridges."

Posted by: Stefan on April 4, 2006 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

So, it's spring and the kids in Paris are rioting.

So what is new and what difference does it make.

The same with labor market institutions.

They have theirs and we have ours. So what.

but what I can not get is all the people -- like AL --that think the French economic system is so bad and then turn around and advocate that we copy their tax system.

Posted by: spencer on April 4, 2006 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

These pathetic companies are demanding the right to government goodies.

This is what corporate welfare does to a country.

Posted by: Juanita de Talmas on April 4, 2006 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK


I second everything David Resnick said.

Someone asked why French worker productivity is higher than American. The reason is because is you can't fire people, you're going to hire the absolute best people you can find. So in America, people with more marginal skills get jobs, and in France they don't. So the people who do get hired are on average more productive, but we have more people working.

According to the OECD, US labor productivity is still higher than in most big European countries - only France is higher among the big ones, probably because their firing laws are so inflexible. The Nordic countries don't have such rigorous firing laws, just more unemployment benefits than we have. The Netherlands has a lot of flexibility in what kind of labor contract you work on, so they also have more employment than France. France is unusually restrictive, even by European standards.

Someone else mentioned median incomes - the gap between U.S. incomes and European incomes is bigger than most Europeans realize. Europeans spend less on cars (yes, they have more taxes and more expensive gas, but that doesn't explain everything - Manhattan is expensive and it's full of nice cars), they don't eat out as much, you don't see iPods on every teenager, and they don't do as much paid entertainment (movies, video games, DVD rental, cruises) as Americans do. You can say it's all because they would rather sit in cafes and enjoy their long vacations, but that can't explain everything.

Posted by: JimVA on April 4, 2006 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

cactus
US healthcare outcomes are at best comparable
Since this isn't a health care thread I probably ought to give this up, but of course they're comparable. We aren't hoarding medical knowledge here. And of course we pay more with all that research.

One of the things that always interests me, lowering our health care cost will likely mean lowering our level of medical research. The impact of that is not good, not for us or the rest of the world.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on April 4, 2006 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

From fifteen minutes ago:

U.S. health access lags behind
WASHINGTON, April 4 (UPI) -- U.S. patients rate their healthcare among the worst in the industrialized world, despite costs that surpass nearly all those in every other comparable country, a multi-national survey concluded Tuesday.

Americans were more likely than patients in four other developed countries to report poor care coordination, lab test and diagnostic errors, and high costs that stand in the way of obtaining needed care.

The report also shows that low-income Americans have far more difficulty with most areas of their medical care than similar patients in other nations.

"Higher spending doesn't mean we receive more or better care. We simply pay more," said Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, a non-profit group that issued the report.

The report is not the first to expose glaring shortcomings in the U.S health system when compared to other countries.

The United States ranks 33rd in infant mortality and 28th in disease-free life expectancy, according to the World Health Organization. At the same time the United States spent $6,280 per capital on medical care in 2004, more than twice as much as any other industrialized nation.

Posted by: Dicksknee on April 4, 2006 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

Call me a heartless anglo-saxon capitalist, but I think businesses should be able to hire & fire who they want. And I sure as heck don't think the Government has any business telling companies who they can & can't fire.

Posted by: Dustin Ridgeway on April 4, 2006 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

One of the things that always interests me, lowering our health care cost will likely mean lowering our level of medical research. The impact of that is not good, not for us or the rest of the world.

Interesting argument from the right-wing that American citizens should pay more for their health care than any other country in order to subsidize the rest of the world. I'd love to see that in a campaign commercial: "yes, you pay much more, but just think of all the French and Russians and Chinese that are reaping the benefits of your health-care dollars!" I'm sure that really resonates with the American consumer....

Posted by: Stefan on April 4, 2006 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

Always ready to comply . . .

Dustin Ridgeway you are a heartless anglo-saxon capitalist.

Hope you feel better now.

Now for tomorrow, here's hoping you get fired for wearing the wrong tie. I hope you come back here full of praise for the glorious system that allows employers to fire their employees at will.

Posted by: Dicksknee on April 4, 2006 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Someone else mentioned median incomes - the gap between U.S. incomes and European incomes is bigger than most Europeans realize. Europeans spend less on cars (yes, they have more taxes and more expensive gas, but that doesn't explain everything - Manhattan is expensive and it's full of nice cars), they don't eat out as much, you don't see iPods on every teenager, and they don't do as much paid entertainment (movies, video games, DVD rental, cruises) as Americans do. You can say it's all because they would rather sit in cafes and enjoy their long vacations, but that can't explain everything.

Why not? Europeans put a far higher premium on free time and on being able to spend time with their families than Americans do.

Posted by: Stefan on April 4, 2006 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

Frenchmen have long pointy mustaches, Americans do not.
Frenchman make funny sounds when they make the "rrr" sound, Americans do not.
A Frenchman is always the bad guy in Popeye cartoons. Pepe Le Pue was a Frenchman.
And, Democrat liberals have sex with Frenchmen.

Proof positive that everyone should get a government check.

Posted by: Matt on April 4, 2006 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a small (20 employees) business owner and I can make three comments from experience:

1. It takes about three months to tell if someone is good. Sometimes longer if the job is highly complex and so has a steep learning curve.

2. If there was no probationary period, and every hire was permanent we would rely MUCH more on contract workers.

3. The work at our company is highly demanding, requiring technical expertise, creativity, and judgment. Sadly, only about half the people we hire are up to the job. If we had to keep everyone we would probably be out of business by now. We could live with a 3 month probationary period so long as there is an allowance for shrinking revenue.

I think eliminating any probationary period period would have big adverse economic consequences, but going to a 3 month probabtion period would have much smaller negative consequences. If these impacts don't show statistically I imagine that is due to the difficulty of making an unambiguous economic analysis with available data.

On the other hand, at 3 months we are ready to make a permanent committment, provided business remains good. But what about a downturn? Our revenue levels vary by a factor of two from one year to the next. Big companies don't vary this much, but small engineering firms do.

I guess I think the low hanging fruit for US worker rights has got to be health care portability, as in (my preference) single-payer universal coverage.

After that look at 3 month probation with a straightforward process for layoff when revenues shrink.

Posted by: tomtom on April 4, 2006 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

I think businesses should be able to hire and fire whom they want, too.
I just think that employees and ex-employees should be able to set fire to managers and owners as they see fit too.
I sure as heck don't think the Government has any business telling employees who they can and can't set fire to.

And before you even get started, no I am not some kind of anarcho-syndicalist or nihilo-socialist or what have you. I am a pyr- uh, Boy Scout.

Posted by: kenga on April 4, 2006 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

Interesting argument from the right-wing that American citizens should pay more for their health care than any other country in order to subsidize the rest of the world.
Isn't it. Here's another one: that huge trade deficit we have? That is transferring money into other country's economies.

In respect to medical research I, as a wingnut, do not greatly object to that. I want improved medical care, and I'm willing to spend money on it. Now, improved knowledge is a result of this, and I have no qualms about sharing the knowledge. The small part I do object to is subsidizing other country's socialized medicine programs that are not paying their fair share of prescription drug development costs. Capitalists supporting socialists doesn't turn my crank. But, full price could not be forced on them without severe reductions in volume, so the ratio of the price I pay for the goods I receive is probably as good as it's going to get now.

I fully support our trade deficit. It is accomplishing what you socialists want in a manner acceptable to this capitalist.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on April 4, 2006 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

CN>One of the things that always interests me, lowering our health care cost will likely mean lowering our level of medical research...

I don't know about the EU, but Canadian doctors get paid quite a bit more on average than their counterparts south of the border, well in excess of the gdp/capita difference. That plus insurance system inefficiencies may make most of the higher costs.

Unless you can post evidence that there is a very large research gap, I would tend to assume what gap there is exists simply because the USA is such a large block chunk of the developed world, with a common regulatory scheme and language.

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on April 4, 2006 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK
Europeans spend less on cars (yes, they have more taxes and more expensive gas, but that doesn't explain everything - Manhattan is expensive and it's full of nice cars), they don't eat out as much, you don't see iPods on every teenager, and they don't do as much paid entertainment (movies, video games, DVD rental, cruises) as Americans do.

iPod in particular, perhaps, but last I heard, portable electronics -- particularly mobile phones -- were more pervasive in Europe than the US.

They have less cars not only because it is more expensive to operate cars in Europe, but also because it is less expensive than in the US not to have a car, because the entire culture, society, and economy is not structured on the assumption that everyone has a car.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 4, 2006 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

Ack, I meant to write that *American* doctors get paid quite a bit more. (preview, always preview...)

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on April 4, 2006 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK
Since this isn't a health care thread I probably ought to give this up, but of course they're comparable. We aren't hoarding medical knowledge here.

Really? We don't insist on international enforcement of patents in the medical and pharmaceutical fields, and retaliate, or at least threaten to, against regimes that are lax?

Posted by: cmdicely on April 4, 2006 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

The small part I do object to is subsidizing
other country's socialized medicine programs
that are not paying their fair share of
prescription drug development costs.

So when can I get some paracetemol at CVS? What's that? So what if it wasn't developed here, we can import it if ... oh, I see, Johnson & Johnson didn't want the FDA to approve it.
Kinda makes you wonder what else Pfizer and GSK et al (not that Al) have tried to keep out of the US markets - of course that would only approve to stuff that they DIDN'T develop themselves offshore.

Posted by: kenga on April 4, 2006 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

Ack, I meant to write that *American* doctors get paid quite a bit more
I was wondering about that, in fact I was about to break out Google.

As far as evidence of the gap, certainly a large part of it the fact that we're the biggest. And I've looked for medical research expenditures for comparison and came up blank. But the fact remains that we do lots of medical research and everyone benefits from it.

Really? We don't insist on international enforcement of patents in the medical and pharmaceutical fields
Here I am, and I've even been behaving today. And it'll be hard for me to keep that up when you pop off BS like this. I don't suppose it occurred to you that there is a difference between getting some patent fees and withholding the damn information, did it?

Posted by: conspiracy nut on April 4, 2006 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

"The young French are only trying to be idealists; to have a comfortable society with long vacations and jobs guaranteed. Whether this is possible in globalized 2006 is another question, but I can't blame them for trying."

This is of course, the quintesential liberal mantra; something for nothing.

Posted by: Freedom Fighter on April 4, 2006 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

"Why not? Europeans put a far higher premium on free time and on being able to spend time with their families than Americans do."

That's because their income is lower, and thus can only afford more FREE time.

Posted by: Freedom Fighter on April 4, 2006 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

This is the old Divide and Conquer tactic. Viva la France. Keep the protests going!!!!!

No more creepy neoliberal economics for me, thank you

Posted by: la on April 4, 2006 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

kenga,

If it's a serious question--yes, you can get paracetemol here. For some reason, it's called acetominophin in the US--it's the active ingredient in Tylenol.

What you can't get without a prescription is paracetemol and codeine, which we call Tylenol C.

Posted by: SamChevre on April 4, 2006 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

So let me get this straight:

Kevin Drum thinks the French economy is "in pretty good shape anyway" based on some numbers from a DailyKos poster where those numbers indicate the French economy is worse than the American economy.

Fantastic! I look forward to Drum's post on how well the U.S. economy is fantastic.

Posted by: Birkel on April 4, 2006 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

I think a big(ger) part of what's driving the French students is that they're fighting against the notion that employees (human beings, after all) need be treated as disposable commodities.

If they're looking around them (and particularly at America), what they're seeing is that employment has become a one-way street. Employers demand absolute fealty, unswerving devotion, unstinting loyalty, and ever-increasing sacrifice from their employees. In return for that, employers owe the employees nothing beyond today's paycheck.

That sound like a recipe for happines to anyone here? Posted by: Derelict on April 4, 2006 at 1:04 PM

Good point, worth repeating.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on April 4, 2006 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

What is Libertarian about treating other people like commodities?

Firing someone because it is easier than managing them is evidence of poor business practice. You may defend the right of a business to be incompetent, but I'm not sure what good that promotes. When actions affect people, there are ethics involved, not just practicalities.

Business should be accountable for its screwups. It should not be passing the impact on to the defenseless. There should be shame involved with reductions in force, because these reflect inability to manage one's workforce effectively. If you don't approve of corporate bailouts, why expect the workers to take the brunt of corporate mismanagement either?

Posted by: Nancy on April 4, 2006 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

Here's another statistic you can use.


99% of CNut's "statistics" are bullshit he just makes up on the spot.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on April 4, 2006 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

Property rights are imaginary and arbitrary. They've definitely changed over time. A right to a job if hired isn't the craziest kind of property right I can imagine. I'm sure it produces all kinds of unintended consequences since most actions do, but if I had a right to something, I'd sure protest someone taking that from me and getting nothing in return.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on April 4, 2006 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

What is Libertarian about treating other people like commodities?
Have you considered that every corporation is at the mercy of working people? If working people choose not to work there, the corporation goes under. Should we really allow working people to have that kind of power?

Now that you hopefully have some idea of why what you wrote is so crazy. It's called "free choice". If you don't like your job, quit and work somewhere else. You can do that, you know. The companies don't have to hire you, or retain you; and you don't have to work there and you can quit anytime. People work for companies for mutual benefit.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on April 4, 2006 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK
What is Libertarian about treating other people like commodities?

The "treating other people like commodities" part, mostly.

"Libertarian" is not the same as "good".

Posted by: cmdicely on April 4, 2006 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

99% of CNut's "statistics" are bullshit he just makes up on the spot.
Hey, I'm out here with you moonbats, and making shit up is the way it's done.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on April 4, 2006 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

I really don't mind that many here seem to think the French are nuts to want the kind of job security they are fighting for. But the smugness and nationalist fervor of those who insist that only the American way of doing things is correct, whether it is labor law, health care or security, is very scary.

Whether you call it fascism or nationalism, the American disease is absolutism -- and it seems to be a disease that is afflicting both the right and the left in this country.

No wonder, Kevin, we can't discuss solutions to health care: any discuss would have to consider alternatives. And to many Americans there seems to be no alternative to "the American way of doing things". It will kill this country.

Posted by: Dicksknee on April 4, 2006 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

If they start quitting then the work isn't going to get done.

Obviously you haven't worked or for very long. Sorry, but if there's a shortage of workers at a company then the management expects the rest of the employees to pick up the slack. And employers can find nearly identical substitutes through temp agencies far more quickly than any employee can find an equivalent job through a temp agency.

Not to mention that the company is still making money whether or not they have sufficient employees, at least in the short term. An employee will have no income, other than that socialistic unemployement insurance, during the same time.

Sorry, but the two "freedoms" are not equal. The game is heavily weighted toward employers rather than employees.

If employers suffered the exact same consequences that employees suffered, e.g. the company has NO income during the time period that they are searching for a replacement, then you can talk about both being equally free.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on April 4, 2006 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Dr Morpheus, the website you're looking for is right here.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on April 4, 2006 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

OT
Sam - thanks. Google and I have been estranged lately, but I think we'll work it out.

Say, didja ever wonder why the French didn't spend billions of dollars trying to discover substances that could be used to make boner pills?

Must be something in the water.

Posted by: kenga on April 4, 2006 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin's libertarian opinion and some of the first few comments (not enough time to read them all) slide right past a more basic and crucial point: if you have a democracy, the people decide issues like this. It's not some god-given right to be able to have a public business or hire people or fire people. It's not obvious or inevitable that this or that way of organizing these things (eg, libertatian style) is 'the right way,' and we don't even know the possible outcomes of all the different possible ways. The point is, democratic societies have the right to decide how they want to organize their public affairs, including any and all options with regard to "doing business."

The fact the protesting French youth are less blinded by the imaginary imperatives of the market (which is a system of social power) than most Americans, including well-meaning left side of the spectrum people, is definitely something to cheer.

Posted by: nine on April 4, 2006 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

This is of course, the quintesential liberal mantra; something for nothing. Posted by: Freedom Fighter on April 4, 2006 at 4:51 PM

You got that confused, it's the Capitalist mantra. Let somebody else do all the work while I get the money.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on April 4, 2006 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK
The point is, democratic societies have the right to decide how they want to organize their public affairs, including any and all options with regard to "doing business."

Socialist!

Posted by: cmdicely on April 4, 2006 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

Socialist!
Odd you should say that, remember the Vision of a Socialist Economy section you were quoting to me at length the other day? It's saying the same thing.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on April 4, 2006 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

Not "socialist," pro-democracy freethinker.

Posted by: nine on April 4, 2006 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

conspiracy nut: remember the Vision of a Socialist Economy section you were quoting

Dear Comrade Nut,

Let's not be coy. We all know that "socialists" are just Communists that are still in the closet.

Only Anarchy (oops, I meant Libertarianism) will free us from the oppressive yoke of government. Wannabee Capitalists of the world, unite! You have nothing to loose but your chains!

Posted by: alex on April 4, 2006 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK

The Japanese system is similar to the french system but is more flexible.

The point that is missed here, and everywhere is in systems that have large tenured employment, ie. a vested right in ones employment, the management acts with accountability to workers.

And as the Japanese system proves, workers are better proxies for shareholders than boards of directors, who are proxies for executives.

The evidence suggest, companies run with employee primacy are generally better run than the alternative.

Posted by: Bubbles on April 4, 2006 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK

"The French economy is in pretty good shape" - Kevin

Really.

Overall GDP of France at 1.6 trillion which equals a per capita GDP of $27,200. Compare that to a per capita USA GDP of $36,500. And the USA has 5 times more people than France does.

GDP growth for 2003 in France equalled .2%. USA GDP growth just over 3%.

Unemployment in France 9.5%. USA 4.7%.

Is that what liberals consider a "pretty good economy"?

Posted by: Jay on April 4, 2006 at 7:17 PM | PERMALINK

Unemployment in France 9.5%. USA 4.7%.

I love the way the US counts unemployment. Soon, the employment rate will start hitting a negative number.

How about this way at looking at things, direct from the Bush administration's own Department of Labor:

Total percentage of the population that is employed:

Feb 1998 - 63.6%
Feb 1999 - 63.6%
Feb 2000 - 64.2%
Feb 2001 - 64.0%
Feb 2002 - 62.5%
Feb 2003 - 62.1%
Feb 2004 - 61.9%
Feb 2005 - 62.0%
Feb 2006 - 62.3%

Funny how we are reaching such a low umemployment rate when a smaller percentage of the population is working than in, say, 2000.

Yessiree, its easy to have a low unemployment rate -- just don't count the unemployed!

Posted by: Dicksknee on April 4, 2006 at 7:53 PM | PERMALINK
The point that is missed here, and everywhere is in systems that have large tenured employment, ie. a vested right in ones employment, the management acts with accountability to workers.

This is a good point. I personally think structured incentives for democratic worker ownership along something like the Mondragon model would be a better mechanism for this kind of accountability to workers than government-mandated general employee tenure, but employee tenure is certainly better than nothing in that regard.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 4, 2006 at 8:28 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: point made nicely.

Viva Mondragon!

Posted by: nine on April 4, 2006 at 8:40 PM | PERMALINK

anyone got some soy sauce I can borrow?

Posted by: haha on April 4, 2006 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

"The French economy is in pretty good shape"

This is just nonsense. The French economy has been limping along for years. By virtually every major macroeconomic measure, the U.S. economy has been doing much better than the French economy.

As for the claim that "economic arguments" in support of relaxing French employment protections "don't seem to hold much water," there is pretty much a consensus amoung professional economists that excessive employment protection is one of the main reasons for high structural unemployment rates. The OECD's most recent economic outlook report on France expresses the problem clearly:

"Social unrest calls for policies to improve prospects for the excluded. Fundamental labour market reforms, including liberalising regulations that restrict job opportunities for the low-skilled, should be a key component."

The "evidence" Brad Plumer cites for the opposing view is a single dissenting paper from a group with an ideological bias. Some "evidence."

Posted by: GOP on April 4, 2006 at 10:15 PM | PERMALINK

"Other aspects of France's and America's economies may help explain the difference in per capita GDP - for instance, America's much larger land area per capita,"

There is virtually no relationship between population density and GDP per capita amoung the industrialized democracies.

"the fact that France lost two world wars and suffered a brutal occupation,"

There's no evidence for that, either.

"differences in tax systems or education systems, and so on."

I can well believe that France's higher tax rates and poorer educational system account for some of its economic misery.

"Your argument is no more compelling than an argument that labor laws account for the fact that French per capita PPP GDP grew by a factor of 4 between 1950 and 2000, while America's grew by only a factor of 3."

Most Western European economies grew at a faster rate than the U.S. in the two or three decades following the end of WWII because they were rebuilding from the economic devastation caused by that conflict. It's easy to grow fast when you're rebuilding, especially if it's done on someone else's dime (the American taxpayers', via the Marshall Plan).

Posted by: GOP on April 4, 2006 at 10:28 PM | PERMALINK

"The United States ranks 33rd in infant mortality and 28th in disease-free life expectancy, according to the World Health Organization. At the same time the United States spent $6,280 per capital on medical care in 2004, more than twice as much as any other industrialized nation."

Infant mortality rates and average life expectancy are virtually worthless as measures of the overall health of the populations of wealthy democracies, but that doesn't stop lefties trotting them out again and again as if they are meaningful. A few of the reasons why they are not meaningful:

1. Averages are not reliable indicators of the situation of the typical or most-common member of a population. Lefties seem to realize this when the comparison is, say, GDP per capita, but conveniently ignore it when the comparison is, say, infant mortality rate.

2. Infant mortality is defined differently in different countries. In particular, the U.S. counts as infant mortalities many deaths that would be counted as miscarriages or stillbirths in European countries. This inflates the U.S. rate in comparison with the rates in those countries.

3. Infant mortality, life expectancy, and other gross measures of health are affected by many factors other than access to and quality of health care services, notably lifestyle factors like diet and exercise that vary greatly between different countries.

Posted by: GOP on April 4, 2006 at 10:41 PM | PERMALINK

"Now for tomorrow, here's hoping you get fired for wearing the wrong tie. I hope you come back here full of praise for the glorious system that allows employers to fire their employees at will."

I most certainly will be full of praise for a glorious system that doesen't infringe upon me doing anything at will, like pursueing a job, quitting that job, starting a business, hiring who I want to work for me, and firing who I no longer work for me without the government telling me otherwise.

That's freedom.

Posted by: Dustin Ridgeway on April 4, 2006 at 10:44 PM | PERMALINK

Another way at looking at the difference between the two societies is productivity for hour of labor worked.

Under this measure almost all of Europe is more productive than the United States.

Are greater productivity is a function of people holding two service jobs, such as making hotel beds during the day, and cleaning offices at night.

The up shot of all of this is that almost all the first world workers make more than their counterparts in the U.S. because wealth is so concentrated here and all that GNP is being caught by the top .1% of people (CEOS, Executives etc...)

On top of making more, they also have universal health care, which means in the last ten years of their lives, Europeans don't have to hand over their life savings to drug and health care companies. 90% of what you spend on health care in the U.S. will be spent in the last 6 months of your life, depleating your savings as you empty your wallet into the pocket of a health care administrator who adds no value.

Health care, the real death tax, France has nothing in comparison. Then add in better transportation. It makes it hard to make a comparison. Personally, I have been to France, and I would drop everything in a minute to get the deal they have. France is a beautiful country with a near perfect climate. Lucky bastards.

Posted by: Bubbles on April 4, 2006 at 11:30 PM | PERMALINK

It is too bad that American workers don't have the spine to fight for their jobs. Instead, if a company wants to fire you and ship the work overseas, they get a tax break.
The standard time limit on easy firing in California at least, is 90 days. That is 90 days before benefits kick in and before you have any minimal job security. In fact, in most cases, corporations use temp workers and hire from those.
If this country weren't now in the control of business interests, the main argument would be to raise the developing world's standard of living to that of the West, not to lower the standard of living in the West to that of China or Malaysia.

And where do you suppose corporations get the money to pay taxes with, genius conspiracy nut 1:37 PM

The corporate income tax is at historical lows for those companies that haven't as yet re-incorporated in tax havens to avoid taxes all together. If corporations don't pay their fare share, the government runs deficits, and the corporations pay excessive salaries to their executives. Oil companies are reporting record profits and also aren't being taxed sufficiently.

And of course we pay more with all that research... lowering our health care cost will likely mean lowering our level of medical research... conspiracy nut 3:37 PM
Actually, we overpay for that because of the high marketing costs, tv advertising, government bribes, er campaign contributions, etc. Most of the pharmaceuticals are multinational and as many drugs are developed elsewhere as here.
I want improved medical care, and I'm willing to spend money on itconspiracy nut 4:31 PM
According to medical statistics, you are paying more for less, so you aren't receiving what you want.
This is of course, the quintesential liberal mantra; something for nothing.Freedom Fighter 4:51 PM
Nope, it is Republican dogma: lower taxes and higher expenditures and hope someone else pays.
Have you considered that every corporation is at the mercy of working people? conspiracy nut 5:20 PM
No, people are at the mercy of corporations. That is why they find it easier and more profitable to bribe the government for subsidies, to outsource our jobs and to offshore their work. Posted by: Mike on April 5, 2006 at 1:02 AM | PERMALINK

I love how GOP shills decry the stats showing the US lags in healthcare, but can never find any stats that show the US is better. I used these before, but they are still good:

Acute care beds/1000 pop:
US: 2.9 OECD av 4.26: Number of 16 OECD less than this:2

Doctors 1999/1000 pop
US: 2.7 OECD avg: 2.85
Specialists
US: 1.4 OECD avg: 1.56
(Australia & Canada do worse than us)

Prostatectomy/100000
US: 133, OECD: 211

Posted by: McDruid on April 5, 2006 at 1:36 AM | PERMALINK

The average increase in per capita GDP for France over the 20 years to 2001 is 1.55, less than the US's 2.01, but better than Germany or Canada. Not that this is a great measure (Portugal, Spain and Norway, among others, do better still), but it is better than taking a single year (say 2001, when France was +1.36 to the US -0.64)

Posted by: mcdruid on April 5, 2006 at 1:44 AM | PERMALINK

Restrictions on the ability to fire employees are harder on small businesses. A large employer (corporation or government) can more easily reassign employees who prove ineffective in their initial positions. But if you are a butcher, or a bicycle repairman, or a barber, and you need to hire an assistant, it's vital that this person perform. You can't rely on the law of averages, as larger employers do, and plan for a certain percentage of hiring mistakes -- nor do you have a lot of slots to reassign people to. I don't know if the French law applies equally to small employers, but if it does, I think that's wrong.

Posted by: JS on April 5, 2006 at 3:15 AM | PERMALINK

To tom B:
1 year probationary time (or even 2 years, I don't remember) is what you have in France if like you as teacher in canada you go for the only real job for life, public servant. Not like with the CPE, which NOT give you a job for life after the 2 years.

In the private economy, it is 1 to 6 months probe period, depending of the job, the contract and the qualification. Mostly 2-3 months.

To TomTom:
"I guess I think the low hanging fruit for US worker rights has got to be health care portability, as in (my preference) single-payer universal coverage.
After that look at 3 month probation with a straightforward process for layoff when revenues shrink."

exactly what you already have in France. Your layoff is called "licenciement conomique", and doesn't cost so much. the employer has to prove his economic pain, and you can discuss if the bar is set to high, or too difficult or too late to reachfor a small company (big ones just play with accounting and tax shelters), but it is questionable if it does harm or good to have the bar high. Cyclical firing for short term downturn and bonuses for the manager cost a lot to the companys and the society too.

The only real difference may be cultural: few people in France are thrown out during the probationary time, catholic society are not so harsh as protestant one.
But a lot are not hired after a temporary contract, because in that case it is not personal judgement anymore, it is just "c'est la vie", no budget from the CEO and other excuses.

Job for life in France... Attrition of the workforce is exactly the same as in the US.


Posted by: french lurker on April 5, 2006 at 6:25 AM | PERMALINK

France's overall economy is in pretty good shape anyway. So let 'em protest-Kevin
------------

This is a joke comment. Youth unemployment isn't a problem?

Posted by: mca on April 5, 2006 at 7:09 AM | PERMALINK

When you hire a euro under US laws, you can fire them under US laws. I used to work with a german who phoned home on the company phone to the tune of over 500 a week. He was promptly fired. If you don't think there's an incentive bonus for hiring for at-will vs at-court you are a fool.

Posted by: bago on April 5, 2006 at 7:34 AM | PERMALINK

I've gotten fired before for not wearing shoes to my workplace. Do I whine about it? No, I just find someone who is willing to accept my quirks when choosing a contract.

You're not entitled to a job, nor bnefits, nor some sense of self-justification that might come from your god. You start with a one-dimensional escape from oblivion and run with it until you die. Anything else is just gravy.

The only thing you truly own is the sunrise the next morning. Usually.

There's law and then there is reality. Law you can bend. Shotgun pellets not quite so much.

Remember that your existence boils down to the next choice you make, and other people's memories of you.

I think Steve Jobs has a quote about that.

Posted by: bago on April 5, 2006 at 7:48 AM | PERMALINK

Bubbles, you're just wrong about worker productivity - France is higher than the US but most of Europe is about the same or less, despite our far larger low-wage sector. The OECD calculates those statistics, and it's right on their homepage.

If Europeans like spending time with their families so much, why don't they have more kids? If Americans prefer iPods to their families, why do we have more? It's not just immigrants who have kids here.

I'm as liberal as most people who comment here, but I've never understood why most of us think Europe is so great. Eensy little apartments and houses, any personal service like dry cleaning or gardening is expensive, it takes forever to go shopping if stores are even open, movie theaters are cramped and uncomfortable, colleges aren't very good, and I'm sorry, but only the Germans drive decent cars. I think it has some advantages (slower pace of life, more awareness of the environment, they care more about the poor, water with no ice, no one worries about health care) but there are some disadvantages, too, you know.

Posted by: JimVA on April 5, 2006 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

Stefan - The Code of Professional Responsibility makes it quite clear that clients can fire their lawyers at any time (although there may be limitations on their doing so in the middle of a trial if that would cause a problem for the court). I realize, of course, that some lawyers argue that union rights and contract rights should trump the rights of clients (in this case, the government agency or company that has hired them) to fire them, but my view is that the ethical rules come first. Not all courts accept my view, but that's how I see it. You get a license to practice law, and that means you put your clients first. Period, end of discussion.

Posted by: DBL on April 5, 2006 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK


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Posted by: comment on April 7, 2006 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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