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post #1 of 47 (permalink) Old March 30th, 2006, 02:03 Thread Starter
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French socialism crumbling faster than a Parisian's antiperspirant.

Pardon the pun.

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Paris Burning, Once Again

By Claire Berlinski
Sunday, March 26, 2006; B02



PARIS

Last Saturday morning, needing help to move several heavy cartons of books from my apartment in central Paris to a storage room, I hired two movers and a van from the want ads. Students were in the streets protesting the Contrat de Premier Embauche (CPE) -- a law proposed to combat unemployment by giving employers more flexibility to fire young employees -- and the barricades and traffic diversions made our four-block drive into a half-hour ordeal. As we turned down one obstructed street after another, the movers -- both Arab immigrants -- became more and more incensed."They're idiots," said the driver, gesturing toward the ecstatic protesters. "Puppets for the socialists and the communists." He pantomimed pulling the strings of a marionette.

"It's us they hurt," added the second man. By this he meant immigrants and their children, particularly the residents of France's suburban ghettos, where unemployment runs as high as 50 percent. And, of course, he was right, as everyone with even a rudimentary grasp of economics appreciates: If employers are unable to fire workers, they will be less likely to hire them. It is now almost impossible to fire an employee in France, a circumstance that disproportionately penalizes groups seen by employers as risky: minorities, inexperienced workers and those without elite educations, like the outraged man sitting beside me.

This is the second time in four months that France has been seized with violent protests. And in an important sense, these are counter-riots, since the goals of the privileged students conflict with those of the suburban rioters who took to the streets last November. The message of the suburban rioters: Things must change. The message of the students: Things must stay the same. In other words: Screw the immigrants.

The issue at stake is not, of course, the CPE, which in addition to being unknown in its effects would apply only to a two-year trial period, after which employees would still, effectively, be guaranteed jobs for life. The issue is fear of a real overhaul of France's economically stifling labor laws. While some of the suburban hoodlums have joined in these protests -- after all, a riot is a riot -- it is clear that unless this overhaul proceeds, the immigrants are doomed. If so, last year's violence will seem a lark compared with what is coming.

Curiously, however, no French politician will say this openly. They will not even say these obvious words: France is a representative democracy; if you don't like what your elected leaders are doing, you can vote against them. Some more words you will never hear in France: Students who continue to disrupt civil and academic life will be expelled. Strikers will be fired. We are calling in the troops.

Instead, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is nightly seen on television, earnestly proposing one compromise after the other, even as his supporters scuttle for cover. The powerful barons of the labor unions, on the other hand -- the puppet masters of that golden flock of imbeciles now on the streets -- can scarcely be bothered to give interviews. Compromise? Only when the law is repealed. By then, of course, compromise would be unnecessary. Instead of negotiations, they call for a general strike.

That's because France is still in the grip of precisely the political mentality that has prevailed here since the Middle Ages. As the protesters themselves cheerfully declare: It's the street that rules. Today's mobs, like their predecessors, are notable for their poor grasp of economic principles and their hostility to the free market. Only wardrobe distinguishes these demonstrations from those that led to the invasion of the national convention in 1795, when first the mob protested that commodity prices were too high; when the government responded with price controls, it protested with equal vigor that goods had disappeared and black market prices had risen. Similarly, the students on the streets today espouse economic views entirely unpolluted by reality. If the CPE is enacted, said one young woman, "You'll get a job knowing that you've got to do every single thing they ask you to do because otherwise you may get sacked."

Imagine that.

As a legacy of this long tradition, the choice in France now is between popular legislation -- that is, useless legislation -- and the street. Thus the paradox at the heart of the protests: Those who want power exploit the mobs to maneuver themselves into position, but having gained power cannot use it to achieve anything worthwhile, lest the same tactics be used against them. The fear of the mob has created a cadre of politicians in France who are unable to speak the truth and thereby prepare French citizens for the inevitable. No one in France -- not one single politician, nor anyone in the media -- is willing to say it: France's labor laws are an absurdity, and if they are not reformed at once, France will go under. "What do they think?" said my driver, who was not, he told me, a mover by trade but an unemployed radio journalist forced to moonlight. "Do they think that jobs just fall from the sky?"

Apparently, they think just that.

In this regard, France, like every European country, remains blackmailed by its history. French rulers, seemingly unable to appeal to the legitimacy they possess as elected leaders, instead behave as popular kings, or as leaders of some faction -- like a king's ministers. They cannot seem to forget what happens when a king loses his popularity. There are thus two choices for the French ruling elite, as they see it: toady or go under.

When Margaret Thatcher took power in 1979, an urgent question hung in the air: In Britain, who rules? It was a question to which Britain's powerful unions had a ready answer: We do. Men such as Arthur Scargill, the head of the miner's union, were convinced that although they would never lead Britain, it was within their power to run it and to run it for their benefit through labor laws that anyone beyond the union halls could see would destroy the nation as a competitive economic power. Thatcher so thoroughly crushed both Scargill and his union that neither recovered. For a brief moment, power politics stood revealed. The unions had made a bid for power. They lost.

The same question is now being raised in France: Who rules? This is the second time in 11 years that a popularly elected government here faces dismissal not from the voters, but from the streets. If this does not represent a direct challenge to the government's power, it is hard to know what would. Should the government fall, the question will have been answered.

And the answer will be the mob. As usual.

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Claire Berlinski is the author of "Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's, Too" (Crown Forum).

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post #2 of 47 (permalink) Old March 30th, 2006, 02:05 Thread Starter
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Here's another gem:

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For the French, Joie de Vivre Fades Into Fear
Recent Riots Magnify Malaise Gripping Nation

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, March 25, 2006; A01



PARIS, March 24 -- Outside the Grand Palais museum, people stood in line for hours in biting cold this winter to see the city's most popular art exhibit -- Mélancolie , a collection of paintings and sculptures evoking depression, sadness and despair.

"It doesn't surprise me that this exhibition is such a success," said Claire Mione, a 20-year-old Web site editor who joined the rush to the show in its closing days. "Melancholy is an overwhelming feeling in our society right now."

Many French agree. In art galleries, on bestseller lists, in corporate boardrooms and on the streets, the country's outlook has become so morose that President Jacques Chirac has urged citizens to stop the "self-flagellation."

By almost every measure this society holds dear -- political, economic, wine exports, art auctions -- France is losing its global dynamism. The recent demonstrations by angry young people across the country are just the latest symptom of angst and fear in the national psyche.

"France is divorced from the modern world of the 21st century," said Nicolas Baverez, author of a top-selling book, "New World, Old France." It describes a country so fearful of letting go of outmoded traditions -- including a hugely expensive cradle-to-grave welfare system -- that it is being shut out of the global marketplace. "We're at a very dangerous turning point," he said.

Ipsos, a French polling institute, recently asked 500 people between the ages of 20 and 25 the question: "What does globalization mean to you?"

Forty-eight percent of those surveyed responded, "Fear."

Fear of what?

Just about everything, according to Christophe Lambert, author of another examination of contemporary France, "The Fearful Society." The country, he writes, is paralyzed by "fear of the future, fear of losing, fear of others, fear of taking a risk, fear of solitude, fear of growing old."

High school and college students have thronged the streets of Paris and dozens of other French cities over the last two weeks to protest a new labor law that the government says would add crucial momentum to the economy by giving employers the right to fire workers under the age of 26 without cause during their first two years on the job. Under current job protection laws, the government contends, employers are reluctant to hire at all, out of fear they'll be stuck indefinitely with unsuitable employees.

The demonstrations are "the expression of a true malaise among the youth," said Eva Nielsen, a 22-year-old student at the French National School of Fine Arts who was marching under an elegantly sketched protest banner in Paris.

Masked and hooded youths who vandalized shops and set fire to cars in the heart of Paris after a march Thursday were also striking out against a government they do not trust, many analysts here said. Police say that some may be from the same poor suburban immigrant communities where violence and arson broke out last fall, fueled by frustration over joblessness, discrimination and a sense of government abandonment.

The French economy grew by only 1.4 percent last year; unemployment has edged up in recent years to hover around 10 percent. For young people under 30, the jobless rate is about 23 percent.

College students -- the standard-bearers for change in revolutions past -- have become the strongest advocates of the status quo. They are trying to cling to the social security blankets that have protected their parents' generation but which many economists say are crippling France's integration into a new world economy.

On Friday, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin met in Paris for 90 minutes with French labor leaders to discuss the controversial labor law. After the meeting broke up, he called it an important first step toward reaching consensus on the law and expressed hope there would be more meetings soon.

Bernard Thibault of the CGT union said that "we tried to persuade him, one after another, of the scale of the crisis, and that there was no other possible response but to withdraw it," the Reuters news agency reported.

The continuing deadlock opens the way for an even greater challenge to the government Tuesday, when students and unions say they will paralyze the country with strikes and protests.

The European media carry a steady diet of stories about the erosion of French business and the workforce -- increasing numbers of companies deserting or avoiding France because of inflexible labor laws and high costs, French millionaires moving across the border due to high tax rates, and a brain drain of French youth to neighboring European countries in search of jobs.

France's most sacred patrimony -- its wine industry -- is losing out in foreign markets to cheaper and more innovative wines offered by upstart wine-producing countries. Between 1999 and 2004, the French share of the world export market for wine declined from 25 percent to 19 percent. France's share of international auctions of contemporary art is a third of what it was a decade ago.

Even the world of haute couture is reflecting the gloom. The Paris fashion runways this season featured Muslim-inspired head wraps and hemlines and tunics splattered with simulated blood in what some fashionistas dubbed carnage couture.

"You are questioning all the elements at the root of French identity," said author Baverez.

Many French citizens and political analysts take the blame for the country's malaise to the top -- with Chirac, 74, a lame-duck president who's held the office for 11 years. In one news poll, only 1 percent of those surveyed said they would vote for Chirac if he ran for a third term when his second one ends next year.

"He's a dead duck without a head," Baverez said.

People here also feel increasingly isolated from the European Union. Voters last year defeated a proposed E.U. constitution despite strong lobbying by Chirac. It was a major setback for efforts to further tie together the 25 member states and for the French government's already dwindling influence within the organization. Other E.U. members frequently attack the country for protectionist policies that they say thwart the strengthening of business ties.

Even the French language is under siege. On Friday, Chirac and two cabinet ministers huffed out of a meeting at an E.U. summit in Brussels when the president of a French business association addressed the session in English rather than French.

According to people present, Chirac interrupted Ernest-Antoine Seilliere's presentation and demanded to know "why on earth" he was speaking in English.

"Because," replied Seilliere, "that is the accepted business language of Europe today."

Researchers Corinne Gavard and Marie Valla contributed to this report.

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post #3 of 47 (permalink) Old March 30th, 2006, 02:43
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I wonder what the frenchmen did to you personally, because apparently you somehow love to bash them whenever it occurs to exist any occasion to do so. france IMO is much less "socialist" (as you call it) as germany (or holland, or the scandinavian countries) for instance, yet I never read any anti-german posts off pila`s hands. how come?
having asked that, I don't want to appear as france-advocat or anything close to that.
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post #4 of 47 (permalink) Old March 30th, 2006, 02:55
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Originally Posted by szövkap
I wonder what the frenchmen did to you personally,
Why do you even ask? Remember the semifinals of Euro 2000?

Credit where credit is due though, for example this is hilarious:

Quote:
If the CPE is enacted, said one young woman, "You'll get a job knowing that you've got to do every single thing they ask you to do because otherwise you may get sacked."

Imagine that.
Wow! Getting fired for not doing what your boss tells you...what a concept. Who would've thought up such a devilish plot? :dielaugh:
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post #5 of 47 (permalink) Old March 30th, 2006, 03:08
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[QUOTE=Andrix]
Quote:
Why do you even ask? Remember the semifinals of Euro 2000?
or 1984

Quote:
Credit where credit is due though, for example this is hilarious:

Wow! Getting fired for not doing what your boss tells you...what a concept. Who would've thought up such a devilish plot? :dielaugh:
in germany it's even worse. you get more money for not working (unemployment subsidies, social help or other) than many people get for a hard full-time job. hence, many choose the easy way, why do what the boss tells you to do, you might as well go to the arbeitsamt to pick up your "I-don't-want-to-work-so-why-should-I-when-I-get-as-much-
money-if-not-more-from-the-state-and-the-taxpayers" and go home and
live an easy life with partying and popping up in some talk-shows
here and there to tell the people how cool your life is.
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post #6 of 47 (permalink) Old March 30th, 2006, 05:00
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If employers are unable to fire workers, they will be less likely to hire them. It is now almost impossible to fire an employee in France, a circumstance that disproportionately penalizes groups seen by employers as risky: minorities, inexperienced workers and those without elite educations, like the outraged man sitting beside me.
It is exactly these people that this law will hurt the most. The reason for that is that this sort of people do not do jobs that require a great deal of expertise and are easily replacable. Business will hire them and after two years, when it's time to "permanetise" them and give them a raise instead of the minimum wage, they will throw them out and hire someone fresh - after all it costs nothing. Two years on, when the new guy's time for more rights is here, he will be thrown out and so on and so forth. It'll be brilliant, hiring young, eager workers and firing them just before their two years "trial" period expires to replace them with more cheap workers with no rights.

If France is a socialist country with laws like that, I supposed industrial revolution Britain is the model for capitalism.

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post #7 of 47 (permalink) Old March 30th, 2006, 05:40
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Well, even if that happens AMO, it's better than the current situation, where they have no jobs whatsoever. Clearly the solution is to extend these CPE rules to all employees...then there would be no reason to fire these people after 2 years and cycle in new ones...
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post #8 of 47 (permalink) Old March 30th, 2006, 06:10
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The message of the suburban rioters: Things must change. The message of the students: Things must stay the same. In other words: Screw the immigrants.
What a great moment of journalism. Could we move that to the humour forum though ?
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post #9 of 47 (permalink) Old March 30th, 2006, 16:56
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Pardon the pun.
"cumbling antiperspirant" ? For shame, you're not even trying.

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The same question is now being raised in France: Who rules?
It's being asked in lots of places. While I may not agree with the inclination to protest this particular law, the French tendency to get out in the streets and protest is something America could use a dose of right now. A criminal President is getting away with murder, (some might say literally), because he can count on apathy from most Americans.

Last edited by Tinto; March 30th, 2006 at 17:31.
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post #10 of 47 (permalink) Old March 30th, 2006, 18:05
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Originally Posted by AMOROSO!
It is exactly these people that this law will hurt the most. The reason for that is that this sort of people do not do jobs that require a great deal of expertise and are easily replacable. Business will hire them and after two years, when it's time to "permanetise" them and give them a raise instead of the minimum wage, they will throw them out and hire someone fresh - after all it costs nothing. Two years on, when the new guy's time for more rights is here, he will be thrown out and so on and so forth. It'll be brilliant, hiring young, eager workers and firing them just before their two years "trial" period expires to replace them with more cheap workers with no rights.
How about this idea?

A young person gets a job, does it well and learns the business. After two years, the owner faces the task of calculating the cost of a manditory raise, or the cost of training another worker. In addition, the experience the young person gets on that job leads to better positions at other employers who are willing to hire someone with pre-existing skills instead of spending the time and effort to train an unskilled person.

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post #11 of 47 (permalink) Old March 30th, 2006, 18:54
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I like socialism. It's entertaining.
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post #12 of 47 (permalink) Old March 30th, 2006, 18:55
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I like socialism. It's entertaining.
Yeah, but only when you watch it from outside. Trust me...
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post #13 of 47 (permalink) Old March 30th, 2006, 19:03
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That's what I meant. It's like a soap opera where the drama is so unreal that it captures your attention but at the same time makes you think to yourself, "Holy shit, am I glad that I'm not part of the story!"
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post #14 of 47 (permalink) Old March 30th, 2006, 19:04
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And like a soap opera, it is also painful to watch :notlist:
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post #15 of 47 (permalink) Old March 30th, 2006, 19:28
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Originally Posted by AMOROSO!
Business will hire them and after two years, when it's time to "permanetise" them and give them a raise instead of the minimum wage, they will throw them out and hire someone fresh - after all it costs nothing.
Mandatory raises are another problem. Why not hire someone on a permanent basis right from the beginning and then give them a raise when they've demonstrated that they're worth a higher salary. Then, if the the employer can't or won't give them a raise, the employee always has the option of going someplace where he or she will feel more appreciated. If that employee really is worth more, someone is likely to hire them; if they can't find a higher salary somewhere else, it's a likely indicator that they're not worth a raise. It's not a perfect system, but a whole lot better than predetermining when people will earn more money regardless of their actual skill level.
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post #16 of 47 (permalink) Old March 30th, 2006, 20:07
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If performance is the issue, focus on that.

Employees should have objective and measurable performance goals, and be rated regularly. If the process is clear and the employee has an opportunity to participate, then the reasons for either promotion or dismissals would be documented.
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post #17 of 47 (permalink) Old March 31st, 2006, 03:37
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Humbird
How about this idea?

A young person gets a job, does it well and learns the business. After two years, the owner faces the task of calculating the cost of a manditory raise, or the cost of training another worker. In addition, the experience the young person gets on that job leads to better positions at other employers who are willing to hire someone with pre-existing skills instead of spending the time and effort to train an unskilled person.
Yes, that would perhaps apply for people who do a job that requires expertise. But when someone does a job like pressing a button, or sitting in a till, or driving a van, or stocking selves, or entering numbers in a computer, experience means almost nothing and training costs almost nothing too.

Which is why this law will penalise first and foremost the ones the author of the article Pila posted claims would help.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tim
Mandatory raises are another problem. Why not hire someone on a permanent basis right from the beginning and then give them a raise when they've demonstrated that they're worth a higher salary. Then, if the the employer can't or won't give them a raise, the employee always has the option of going someplace where he or she will feel more appreciated. If that employee really is worth more, someone is likely to hire them; if they can't find a higher salary somewhere else, it's a likely indicator that they're not worth a raise. It's not a perfect system, but a whole lot better than predetermining when people will earn more money regardless of their actual skill level.
It's not a perfect system indeed, and its flaw is that business can simply agree between them on not paying a dime more than the basic wage to certain categories of employees - the replacable ones. I don't know how much the basic wage is in France, but assuming it is like in the rest of the world, it is not enough to cover the basic needs of raising a family. Sure, maybe its ok to begin with but no matter what job you do, earning at 40 what you earned 20 years earlier when you began is clearly not sufficient. That's the point of mandatory raises, a sort of "forced" appreciation of experience on behalf of the employers.

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post #18 of 47 (permalink) Old March 31st, 2006, 04:08
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Yes, that would perhaps apply for people who do a job that requires expertise. But when someone does a job like pressing a button, or sitting in a till, or driving a van, or stocking selves, or entering numbers in a computer, experience means almost nothing and training costs almost nothing too.
People like that are doomed to lose their jobs anyway...it sounds harsh but it's the truth. They will be replaced by machines as soon as it is economically feasible to do so, or their jobs will be outsorced to a country with cheaper labour (if possible). Considering that France is competing with the rest of the EU and the world for cheap labour, they really don't have much choice. Again, it's harsh, but I'm afraid we must look at the bigger picture.

If you live in a Western country, you can't hope to build a career out jobs like that. Instead of forcing mandatory raises and giving exuberant amounts of compensation to fired workers, the French state should invest in education and training and aim to create policies that develop knowledge-based economic activities.

Quote:
That's the point of mandatory raises, a sort of "forced" appreciation of experience on behalf of the employers.
But you've just contradicted yourself - if a job does not require expertise, experience or training what experience is there to "appreciate"? If a button-pusher at 40 does the same job as a button-pusher at 20, and can be replaced by a 20 (or 30 or 35) year old button pusher with no adverse effects, why should he have a higher wage?

Employees sell a service to their employers and are paid for it. If they are providing the exact same service, i.e. training, experience is not a factor, why should they be payed more? Would you pay more for the same telephone service just because you've had the same telecom company servicing you for 20 years?

Either the job requires experience, thus employees are not easily replacable, or it doesn't, so there's no reason to differentiate between "experienced" and "nonexperienced" workers as they are basically the same.
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post #19 of 47 (permalink) Old March 31st, 2006, 06:07
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Originally Posted by AMOROSO!
Yes, that would perhaps apply for people who do a job that requires expertise. But when someone does a job like pressing a button, or sitting in a till, or driving a van, or stocking selves, or entering numbers in a computer, experience means almost nothing and training costs almost nothing too.

Which is why this law will penalise first and foremost the ones the author of the article Pila posted claims would help.



It's not a perfect system indeed, and its flaw is that business can simply agree between them on not paying a dime more than the basic wage to certain categories of employees - the replacable ones. I don't know how much the basic wage is in France, but assuming it is like in the rest of the world, it is not enough to cover the basic needs of raising a family. Sure, maybe its ok to begin with but no matter what job you do, earning at 40 what you earned 20 years earlier when you began is clearly not sufficient. That's the point of mandatory raises, a sort of "forced" appreciation of experience on behalf of the employers.
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post #20 of 47 (permalink) Old March 31st, 2006, 08:12
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To make an omelet you have to crack some eggs..... pardon the lame metaphor.

Amo; you can argue that this law will penalize the weak first of all until you're blue in the face, but even if I agree with that looking only at the negatives colums, it is at the same time the group that stands to receive the biggest advantages from it compared to the base situation, because more than long term security, this segments need the labour market to be inclusive and dynamic.
The French labour market must be de-regulated, because maintaining status quo is maintaining a system that has proven incapable of initiating any growth and worse yet, it has proved incapable of even tagging on to positive conjectures when they've been there. Arguing against de-regulation (in this after all limited form) would be standing up for 'principles' that are showing themselves to be a barrier for exactly the same group of people they're supposedly protecting.

Moreoever - I would understand this criticism much better if the new law was beeing applied on everyone in the work force. The intention is to create flexibility and force MOBILITY on the labour market. When you're young - even if you're laid off after the two year period, it won't be tremendously difficult finding another similar job later on - now with an added experience on your resume - whereas if this law applied for the 'grey' segment, one could easily imagine those bordering on 50 having a very hard time finding new jobs in similar scenarios.

Arguing that the 'weak' segments of the work force, non-academic, non-skilled or immigrants will have a harder time.... that goes without saying no matter the policy. Most of those jobs are just gone from affluent European countries in the shape we knew them, and it's only going to be more pronounced in the future. It's good policy forcing the young people to understand that the way the labour market has been up until now isnn't sustainable, and in the same manner strenghten the awareness that you NEED education and specialized skills today. Sure - some will lose out, but I bet that more will win.

This is one of those areas where a principled social critique is just not enough without proposing real alternatives. What kind of alternative is there?

By the way - the French court approved the constitutionality of the law yesterday. Now Chiraq and Villepen have to show if they will stand firm despite the protests.

APATHY: A word now fallen into disuse due to a lack of concern for it.

The debute said it all: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guo5p...eature=related
Glen is offline  
 

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