French Surrender Again


De Villipin gives up on riot-inducing calls to allow employers to fire under-26-year-olds; 23 percent youth unemployment rates the biggest victor.

Thomas Hazlett diagnosed the French malady of overly statist job markets way back in Reason's May 1998 issue; I mocked the French fear of modernity, economic and otherwise, in in a past life as well.

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  1. Once the young rioters have their new cars torched by the unemployed masses, maybe then they’ll realize the error of their ways.

  2. MP’s right. Really, I only care enough to say they deserve what they get. Well, that and to say these students’ sense of entitlement is fucking obscene.

  3. You mean the “cheese eating surrender monkeys”

  4. I thought that a 26 year old age limit was the wrong way to go, unless you’re doing things incrementally. If you have that limit, firms will hire young people for nontechnical labor and fire them right before they turn 26. You’d get rid of this weird incentive if you didn’t have the age limit on the law.

  5. I?d have to agree with Herrick. The law was fine except for the age-limit part. Why should a 26 year old (or a 56 yr old) get a free pass while the under-26 crowd get the short end of the stick? The law needs to be the same for everyone.

    Having said that, even without the age limit these pricks would have been whining in the streets. I say fuck ?em.

  6. I’m personally going to enjoy watching Paris burn.

  7. I’m personally going to enjoy watching Paris burn.

    What, again? Some things just never get old I guess.

  8. Europe has been like this for years, and I’m a little surprised people are surprised. The American press, much to their credit has actually called this one correctly: These are not like the 1968 riots, the youth fighting to keep the status-quo, they’re fighting to maintain bourgeois values even if the irony is they’re damning themselves to a high chance of unemployment.

    But in general, any attempt to cut a farm subsidy, a worker subsidy… well, subsidies of any kind, anywhere in Europe have always been met with rock throwing.

  9. I heard some ignoramus on BBC World Service the other day. His entire argument was that by making it easier to fire people, you’ll only make things worse. No, instead, they should “force economic growth”. I started shaking violently as I overdosed on economic illiteracy and ignorance.

    How in the hell do you just “force” economic growth? Maybe if workers had a better incentive to do their goddamned job, and do it well (such as, the incentive of not getting fired), maybe workforce productivity would rise, creating economic growth and generating wealth/jobs.

    But I almost gagged when I heard this French jerkass say, in the most uppity, disgusted, entitled accent, “oh, yes, you knaw, it’s ahwreeeble! Toodaey, se workers can get fired for anysing! If sey don’t do sair job, sey get fired! If sey burn down sair office, sey get fired! If sey never come to wohk, and sit home eating truffles all day, sey get fired. It’s just awful!” I exaggerate on a few of those, but, really, it wasn’t far off. He was actually lamenting the idea that workers could get fired for being shitty workers.

  10. And demonstrating their legendary lack of backbone, the French government surrendered to…

    The French!

  11. Stephen, you have to admit – at least that’s streamlined.

  12. The big winner in all of this are the unemployed 26 year olds. Who would hire them if they could hire a 25 year old that they could fire?

  13. Americans have a wierd thing about the French, but let’s give them credit: they stood up against exploitation while we sit around and watch our million dollar CEOs ship our good jobs overseas and turn us all into waiters.

  14. Must…not…feed…the…trolls.


  15. I’m curious. With the Europeans committing such egregious economic errors, and having been committing these egregious errors for some time now… how the heck is it that their standards of living aren’t in the shitter? How have they competed so well with the obviously relatively capitalistic USA on the most important metrics of wealth? Don’t Libertarians have a contradiction here?

    Andy D.

  16. Lemme see here:
    Democracy is the carrot and nukes are the stick.
    How many more years have I got in office to whip this old world into shape?
    I gotta really get crackin’.
    To make an omelet, you got to break a few eggs.

  17. So they can be total f***ups and not get fired? Why don’t they just work for the governmenr?

  18. I echo Andy D’s question.

    Does nuclear energy and thus their lower reliance on oil have anything to do with it?

  19. The French are a tough nut to crack, from a libertarian standpoint. Historically, economic development was directed by the Crown (le **dirigisme** of which Colbert is the most famous example). As this coincided with gloirous times, the French look on it warmly.

    It is true that there was discussion about freedom of trade and enterprise, but those theories managed to get caught in the French Revolution (its first stage had quite a few libertarian features), and the disaster that followed made people wary of untested theories, and quite willing to accept when Napoleon restored order and recalled the old Bourbon civil service….

    You cannot make people reject a system that apparently gave good results in the past.

    With the Germans, it is even worse. The closest thing they have to a “Golden Age” of Germany is the Second Reich, and yearn for its features.

  20. Andy D.

    I would consider 23% youth unemployment and 9.6% overall employment to be indicators of the failures of their policies. Or does one who is not working have a higher standard of living?

  21. Were the days when economic development was guided by the French Crown really so glorious? Don’t the French lose all those wars (e.g.; Austrian Succession, Seven Years War) to the British and their allies? And doesn’t the French Revolution occur mainly because the French economy is a total mess?

    18th century writers who spent time in France and a more “liberal” country, like England or the Netherlands, always thought the French economy was the inferior, and made comments on how there was, for example, no visible middle class in France.

    Of course, Adriana could be correct that the French think of the Bourbon era, and/or the Napoleonic era, as glorious. But they are mistaken; the reality is that the economy was always second rate, and the wars the French started were stupid and often ended in defeat.

  22. If only science could create a reactor that generated power from stench. France would have wealth beyond its dreams.

  23. My $.02 on the mixed economies of Europe:

    1) Because the world is largely secure by historical standards, there is more flexibility in the system. High unemployment is bad but not catastrophic, and marginal changes manage to keep the situation merely bad.

    2) The globalized economy allows pockets of great inefficiency to survive on non internalized benefits. Consider that the US consumer funds some 75% of global pharma research. Whether your drug company’s home office is in Atlanta or Berlin, you are making three quarters of all reinvestable revenue in the US marketplace. With that kind of subsidy, all sorts of universal coverage schemes seem attractive that might not otherwise get off the ground. Similarly, competition in the global marketplace makes more things easier to afford for everyone, even if the home version is relatively inefficiently produced.

    The real question to ask is, what would happen to France if the US were to adopt identical policies?

  24. How have they competed so well with the obviously relatively capitalistic USA on the most important metrics of wealth? Don’t Libertarians have a contradiction here?

    I’m not sure what you mean. The ‘standard of living’ is difficult to define, as is ‘quality of life’. I also think that your assertion of ‘competitiveness’ is just wrong. They’re not competitive. Now, where I do agree with you is how a tiny percentage of the French public supports the larger mass of public employees. Why these people continue to work and produce is, I’ll admit, fascinating and amazing. Bottom line: imagine those people if you took the 500lb weights off their shoulders. The mind shudders at the thought.

    Any country with 20%- 40% [youth]unemployement can’t possibly be considered competitive. I think that the real question to ask is, not how competitive are they, but how long can they sustain their welfare states?

    Some economists have posited that relatively wealthy western countries could ‘decline’ for 50, 60 or more years without any real and obvious effects. That assertion included the United States. The Soviet Union couldn’t sustain its welfare state forever. I think that most of the Western European countries sustain just enough free market acceptance to help string the whole thing along.

    Take for example a private company… say, one that I used to work for, which shall remain nameless. The same issue is apparent with such private corporations: How can a company survive for so many years and not be profitable? I worked for a company that started in 1998, and hasn’t seen a dime of profit yet. The question isn’t, how do they remain competitive, the question is, how long until they tank? And tank, they will.

  25. The shock to France’s and other European systems could come if their populations keeps aging. In a competitive market, an aging populace shouldn’t be a problem as the market will have an incentive to make things more productively (that is, to make enough for the entire population with a smaller working population). However, these European countries are nowhere near a free market and have mad social welfare for the elderly, so a crash a la Argentina may be a coming for Europe.

  26. There is a consistency problem with comparing the US to France and claiming the lack of a gigantic gap means libertarianism has some explaining to do. The problem is this: the US is not libertarian. Not by a long shot. Though we slightly more capitalistic than Europe, after I pay federal income tax, social security tax, medicare, sales tax, state tax, etc., etc., the combined local, state and federal tax burden is between %40 and %50, and I am not wealthy. ‘Victims’ litigate for getting fired constantly, causing complex, inefficient corporate firing policies.

    If the citizens of the US had a combined tax burden of %10 and the total freedom to hire and fire as they saw fit, we would far exceed our current growth. But, even then, free markets are not zero sums: our tremendous economic growth would help all nations whom we traded with, France being one of them.

    Despite terrible policies in the US, our economy continues to grow. Increasingly better technology creates exponential efficiency growth.

    The government grows and feeds on this like a virus, but it only grows at a linear rate. Thus, my standard of living is better than my parent’s at my age.

  27. Actually, France’s youth are right to complain about the law, as it expects them to sacrifice while requiring older workers in secure jobs to do nothing. That’s ultimately why the law is flawed because it pits two social classes against each other; Hayek warned the West quite strenously about such things.


    19th century France was a model of laissez-faire economics and free trade. As to the crown directing the economy, that is something of a joke. How could it direct the economy with such a paltry class of bureaucrats, no true central bank, etc.?

  28. Herrick,

    France’s population isn’t aging; its expected to see a 10% increase in its population by 2050 (one of the few countries in Europe expected to see positive growth).

  29. I’ll repeat my wager from the last “france in going in implode” discussion:

    France will not “collapse” in any sense of the word in the next, say 50 years. That’s my prediction. Any takers?

    France’s private sector is alive and well (anyone heard of Dannon, Airbus, or Carrefour?), though they do indeed have to put up with a lot of shit. The French public loves to hate and ignore the impact of private companies, just as Americans love to hate and ignore the impact of the government (I’m not referring to people that read reason; y’all obviously know what the government does and don’t like it).

    The labor law that got protested away wasn’t, believe it or not, that much of a liberalization. A “trial period” of two (later amended to one) years before a job for life isn’t that different from the current system, where there’s a trial period of up to 6 months (and other short-term contracts available as well). True reform will come later.

  30. Hak,
    Is that growth due to immigration, or immigrants having offspring, or are the French having offspring?

    And it is the latter, how come? Why France and not the rest of Europe?

  31. I don’t remember them fighting this hard when the Germans rolled into Paris. Perhaps I’m mistaken.

  32. Hayklut:

    Who talk about the nineteenth century? The Crown directing the economy has to do with Louis the Fourteenth and his descendants. Remember Le Roi Soleil, the Sun King?

    Laissez-faire was invented as a theory in France, but in opposition to the Crown policy. The “philosophes” kept arguing that the King **should** liberalize the economy. At times Louis the Fifteenth liberalized the grain trade, but the moment there were shortages, he reverted to old Bourbon policy: forbidding exports and selling cheap bread (“le pain du roi”), letting the experiments for better times.

    As for the nineteenth century, what it was, was a time of great political instability. Start with Napoleon, go on to invasion by the Holy Alliance, the Bourbon Restoration, the overthrow of Charles the Tenth in 1830 in favor of Louis Philippe the First, the overthrow of Louis Philippe in 1840, the Second Republic which was quite a chaotic affair, then the Second Empire, then the defeat and the Commune, to end wth the Third Republic.

    The great economic strides in that period were made under Napoleon III, and he liked to tinker with the economy.

    I would not put nineteenth century France as an example of anything, really. A royalist would tell you that France has gone downhill since they got rid of the King.

  33. mitch:

    As to how glorious the Old Regime France was, it is a question for historians to elucidate – though Pierre Chaunu makes a good case that it was close enough to England and had a good chance to surpass it. He mentions that those travelers who talked about the poverty of the French peasant had not looked at Irish peasants for whom such a life would be beyond their dreams.

    The days of the Kings looked glorious in restrsopect after the French Revolution and its aftermaths. The Revolution **was** a calamity for France, and it took the whole nineteenth century to get over it. So it was easy to sentimentalize the Old Regime.

  34. If Americans had half the brains and determination of the French “surrender monkeys” we wouldn’t be at perpetual pointless war right now.

    Who’s the cowards?


  35. kwais,

    Most of it is due to natural births by non-Muslim Frencmen. Why? There are lots of theories, but no one knows exactly why.

    Douglas Fletcher,

    In Franco-Prussian war Paris took months to fall. Why is it that 1940 is the length and breadth of peoples’ knowledge of French history?


    The point is that crown had neither the resources nor the inclination to “direct” the French economy. We’re talking a few thousand bureaucrats here, most of whom came in the form of tax farmers. Hell, the crown couldn’t do away with the city and regional tarriffs much less direct the economy. The French crown was never in anything like the position of the Soviet state or even the U.S. (with its central bank – the Federal Reserve) and thus its an anachronism to argue that they directed the economy of France. As to the grain trade, it was not the French economy.

    As for the nineteenth century, what it was, was a time of great political instability.

    And significant economic growth growing out of the reforms of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic era; namely in the form of the abolishment of local tarriffs, the creation of a single commercial code, the abolishment of archaic forms of land tenure that inhibited the sale and purchase of land by entrepeneurs, the breaking up of unused estates, etc.

    A royalist would tell you that France has gone downhill since they got rid of the King.

    I don’t really care what a royalist would tell me.

  36. One could also argue (and many have) that the US military presence in Europe has allowed a reallocation of resources from defense to goodies for the Euro-brats.

    JMJ, let’s wait another ten years and see how brainy and determined the Frenchies look when the Islamic demography volcano they’re sitting on really erupts.

  37. 1. How is late-18th-century English thought more modern than late-18th-century French thought?

    2. Quality of life is a funny thing. Isn’t France more productive than the US per hour worked? They drive smaller cars, they buy fewer big-screen TVs, and they have several times more vacation per year on average, and a shorter average workday which means more time to spend on family, friends and leisure activities.

    Yeah, I know. It misses the point of the libertarian argument, that the length of the workday should be set by employer and employee, not by the state. The “modernity” canard just bugs me. What does modernity have to do with anything? If modernity were a desirable value in itself, Maoism and Fascism would win that contest over any ideas from the 1780s. And.. well…

  38. “Must…not…feed…the…trolls.”

    wrong! feed them on sweet cheeses and lots of wine until they get heart disease!

    i’m looking at you, jersey mc awesome!

  39. Hayklut:

    It might well be that the nineteenth century was a time of economic growth, but let us not forget that it was recovery from the economic collapse of the French REvolution.. It was bad, really bad. The only way France could survive in the Revolutionary years was by looting the countires they “liberated”. After the “assignat” experiment the economy was in the dumps. They could only go up, and it did.

    Unfortunately the political situation took a while to stabilize, and you know as well as anyone that people are reluctant to invest when they do not know if they are going to have to emigrate at the next upheaval. That was why the Second Empire brought economic growth. No more barricades and threats of being hanged from the lampposts.

    Too many people have a misty-eyed view of the French Revolution, and severe cognitive dissonance. To view the REvolution as beneficent, they have to paint the Ancient Regime as truly noxious. Unfortunately that is not the case.

    As for what royalists say, you shold listen. They can dig up interesting tidbits that would not see the light of day otherwise. And without those tidbits you might reach more than one wrong conclusion.

    As that the grain trade was not the whole economy – well, it was the bedrock of it. For the bulk of the population the grain trade was the one that provided bread, their staple food. All other commodities were optional.

    As for the rest, you’d be surprised as to how many permits you needed to engage in a certain trade.

  40. Hayklut: Your post points to an inherent paradox, that it takes State intervention to liberalize the economy.

    As you said, the French economy was hampered by internal trade barriers and all sorts of tariffs. You acknowldge it, and point that the Crown was unable to abolish them.

    Unless the only Governmetn you think of is the national one, you have to agree that trade and industry were constrained by a host of local governments.

    To the measure that the Crown asserted its authority to do away with the actions of local governments, it gave itself the right to intervene in the economy…

    so, you have a weak state and get nibbled to death by ducks,

    Or you havea a strong State which claims the right to intervene in the economy to protect you against all the petty tyrants out there.

    Another reason for the French to like a strong State which will intervene, they hope, in their favor,against their adversariess…

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