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If agreeing to a date with someone meant that you had to marry and spend the rest of your life with that person, how many dates would you go on?
France puts employers in much the same position. Once someone is hired, French employment laws make it virtually impossible for that person to be fired. Naturally, this makes companies quite leery about taking on new employees. It’s a huge risk to hire someone who might prove to be lazy or incompetent down the road. But in France, lifetime employment laws mean that employers are stuck.
This sort of economic thinking is one of the reasons that the French unemployment rate for people under 30 rivals the American unemployment rate during the Great Depression. It is also one of the reasons that the French government quite sensibly tried to reform the law.
The proposed change—intended to make hiring younger workers more palatable—was quite modest: new hires under the age of 26 could be fired within the first two years of employment. This way, companies could make sure there’d be a good fit before being locked in to a lifetime commitment. Companies would be more likely to hire people if there was less of a risk of hiring someone who might not work out.
But in France, the prospect of having to earn your job through sustained good performance was just too much for people to bear. So the country erupted in mass strikes and riots, as it tends to do for various reasons every few months. The leadership of France saw all this turmoil and surrendered yet again, as it tends to do every few years:
French President Jacques Chirac has announced that the new youth employment law that sparked weeks of sometimes violent protests will be scrapped.
He said it would be replaced by other measures to tackle youth unemployment.
Millions of students and union members have taken to the streets over the last month in protest against the law, which made it easier to fire young workers.
The new package of measures includes offering state support for employers hiring young people who face the most difficulties in gaining access to the labour market.
Apparently, the French have figured out that the way to cure the problems of socialism is with more socialism. That hasn’t worked anywhere else on the planet, but I wish the French the best with their noble experiment.