The French job funk

Posted: Mar 30, 2006 12:05 AM

What American despairs that the French are having problems with their youth? Who among us laments that the snooty French, who look down their long noses at all things American (except when they need us to liberate them from their enemies and their own unwillingness to defend themselves), are paying the price for years of socialism? Surely, they are delighting in our pro-illegal immigration demonstrations, so let us gloat over their current difficulties, as payback just for their being French.

The massive demonstrations throughout France have further undermined the weakened government of President Jacques Chirac. The government is trying to enforce the First Job Contract law (CPE), which allows employers to end job contracts for people under the age of 26 at any time during a two-year trial period, without prior warning and without having to give them an explanation.

French unemployment is 9.6 percent. For young people it is 20 percent. Chirac's government believes that by scrapping the old job-security contract (for French youth who are able to find a job), the youth employment picture will improve because the focus will shift from the job itself to the quality of the worker. A recent opinion poll indicates that nearly two-thirds of the French people oppose the CPE. That is probably due to the ideological grip socialism has on many French citizens and French culture.

The demonstrations, some of which turned violent and required riot police to put down, followed last year's riots by Muslim immigrants who damaged the French psyche and caused businesses and politicians to worry about a decline in tourism and further harm to the economy.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has offered to meet with union leaders to discuss the new law, but so far the leaders have refused. Villepin, who is expected to run for president in next year's election, offered to modify the measure, but his conciliatory effort was rejected. There have been calls for Villepin's resignation, which is not the image one wants on TV before an election campaign for higher office.

Villepin is watching his back because his expected and main presidential rival, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), are urging Villepin not to make haste to enforce the law, but to allow for the possibility of further negotiations.

France's flirtation with and eventual embrace of socialism goes back more than a century. The late President Francois Mitterand effectively implemented socialism as national policy in 1981 when he issued his "110 Propositions," which included a program to nationalize many industries. Seven of France's largest 20 conglomerate industrial companies were nationalized, as were 36 banks and two finance companies. Mitterand's misguided plan was designed to ensure that the government would have sources of capital for the nationalized sectors.

The French state accounts for about one-fourth of the industrial output of France. Among those employment enterprises with 2,000 or more employees, one-half are in state enterprises.

In typical socialist fashion, Mitterand tried to reverse a stagnant economy with collectivist tactics instead of using capitalist tools. As would be proved in other socialist states, a heavy government hand stifles initiative, restricts capital creation and leads the worker for the state or state-subsidized enterprise into a false sense of job security. It also makes it more difficult for one to achieve independence and success, as part of an upwardly mobile career in a position that produces products and services consumers truly want and need. In a socialist society the reverse always occurs, resulting in despair, high unemployment, mutually shared poverty and riots in the streets to protest the broken promises of the state.

Reuters quoted one French political analyst as predicting the government would eventually be forced to give in to the pressure, especially in view of the new opinion poll indicating widespread opposition to the CPE.

Of course the French will surrender. They always do, don't they? But surrender won't solve the problem. Capitalism - with its associated free market - will.