The French: lazy or efficient

Well, the presidential election is almost over and it’s time to reassess the general picture of the French economy. In particular, I find it very odd that Sarkozy’s win over Royal will help get France out of some economic doldrums caused by French working practices, because actually they are doing really well.

Comparisons with the UK are good because we are so similar in size. We have a similar sized population, and GDPs that are similar enough for us to swap 6th and 7th the basis of measurement error and exchange rates. This is why the CIA world factbook has the French and British GDP (PPP) per capita being really close.

The thing is, France achieves this with high unemployment and a 35 hour week. Given that fewer people are earning money the average earnings must be higher, and they are doing this with an hour or so less a day. To me this sounds like the good life through efficiency, not laziness.

Of course, with so many unemployed the money needs to be redistributed more, and the French worker gets less of his/her own money to spend. But is there work available for them? If people doing 35 hours begin to do 45, this isn’t going to create work for the unemployed.

And we also have to ask whether the jobs are there for the unemployed anyway. Although growth in France is slow, it’s not much slower than the UK that has a more liberal labour market. Maybe the future for the West is constant high unemployment: there’s no point us making anything, and there’s a limit to the number of creative jobs we need. That’ll make things interesting!

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