Sunday, April 29, 2007

The French, they are different from us

Says British journalist Matthew Parris, they don't accept economics:

His name was Alex, he was about 20, and working as a kitchen porter near Tower Bridge. He could not find work in France. ....

He came round for a cup of coffee a few weeks later. At the time Dominique de Villepin, the French Prime Minister, was trying slightly to loosen employment protection laws, making it easier to hire and fire young people under the age of 26. The aim was to make young workers (who find work hard to get in France) more attractive to employers; but Mr de Villepin was encountering such fierce popular opposition, including from the trades unions and from students, that he was destined finally to abandon his plan.

I assumed Alex would support the thinking. He was himself a victim of youth unemployment in France; he had chosen Britain where there is much less job security; and his family were in business: he wanted to start a business himself.

But to my surprise Alex hated de Villepin’s plan. It would allow employers to “exploit” young workers. It was preposterous. Alex said the economic logic had been explained and he understood it. But he simply couldn’t stomach the idea of employers “exploiting” workers through a “loophole” in the law – and nor, he said, could most of his friends of his own age.

Alex is not stupid. He is articulate, economically literate and quick-minded; and he would consider himself a freethinker: in no way doctrinaire. What was blocking his mind had little to do with the intellect. It was more like an emotional failure: a failure to punch his way out of a cultural box. The “protection” of workers by the State was for him a given: an assumed good. Job security was an assumed good. A France like that could still prosper in a competitive world.

No right-thinking Frenchman wanted to be exposed to “exploitation” for employers’ profit.

Alex and his kind are the future of their country. If anybody is ready to accept the free-market shock being proposed by Nicolas Sarkozy, it should be them. Yet de Villepin’s plan was met by a widespread sense of national revulsion. It is hard to believe there has been since then, or could be by some wave of the electoral wand, the deep emotional change required for Mr Sarkozy’s presumed economic revolution to take root.

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