Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The French - The Kept Woman of the Global Economy

Here are some comments on France from one of my favorite authors, Michael Lewis.

I was wrong, obviously. The English have not merely embraced commercial values but have become so thoroughly imbued with them that London has displaced New York as the world's money hub. A nation of people once embarrassed to complain that their soup was cold is now among the first to demand to speak to the manager.

But that was England, and those were the English. This is France, and these are the French.

In case you missed it, Nicolas Sarkozy, the new French president, has decided that the French need to become more productive. He eliminated the law forbidding work weeks longer than 35 hours, and he's making noises about changing the rule that allows unemployed Frenchmen to turn down job offers that they feel are beneath them and remain on the dole instead.

No French person is likely to be required to work more than 35 hours a week -- that appears to be too much to ask for just yet -- but any French person who wishes to earn more money may, shockingly, work for it.

The thing is, the French don't want to work more.

Inflicting market values upon the British circa 1980 felt a bit cruel, but visiting it upon the French circa 2008 feels almost like an unnatural act, like forcing a cat to fetch.

But the French are different.

For one, they enjoy feeling alone in the world. Their problem isn't an incapacity for selfishness, or for individual initiative.

They want to take all those selfish impulses that might be directed into improving productivity and efficiency and wealth- accumulation and channel it into being ... French.

To the extent that the French enjoy a natural advantage, it is in their inefficiency: They are the world's most efficient producers of structured indolence. They are the kept women of the global economy; their status depends, in part, on their practical uselessness.

An engineer with Total SA named Michel Guyot told Helene Fouquet of Bloomberg News that he may no longer have time to travel to the south of France ``to smell the thyme and listen to the cicadas.'' Apparently, the engineer echoes the concern of a social class and, perhaps, a nation.

....actually, I think that there is some preferential style de vie that lies somewhere in between the focus on leisure with a 35 hour work week and some 6 weeks vacation per year a la Francais and the American emphasis of forgoing leisure for the sake of getting ahead....
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1 comment:

Deja Pseu said...

I can't provide citations at the moment, but I've also read that some European countries with 35 hour work weeks and 5 week vacations actually have higher worker productivity than here in the good ol' US. Don't know if France is included.

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