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March 21, 2006

Froggy News

There are a couple of interesting editorials today about the French demonstrations opposing the introduction of a new youth employment law that would make it easier for employers to fire (and therefore encourage them to hire) people under the age of 26.

The LAT's editors beat the already dead horse by arguing the economic case for liberalizing France's sclerotic labor laws. You've gotta love their headline, though: Liberté, egalité, stupidité.

IT'S SPRING, AND THE FRENCH are rioting again. This time, it's students and labor unions protesting a minor reform of the country's employment laws that was imposed to help solve the problems that spurred last fall's riots. If the protesters get what they want and the law is rescinded, the result will be continued high youth unemployment — which will doubtless spur more riots. And that, Simba, is the Circle of Life in French politics.

The WSJ's editors take a different tack, while of course endorsing this first step at labor market reform. (Non-subscriber link here.) They argue that the larger issue in France is the lack of a truly participatory democracy which allows fundamental policy questions to be calmly debated rather than be the target of violent demonstrations:

The right to assemble is a pillar of free society. But in France it's the only pillar its citizens seem to take seriously. So much so that any public debate of import gets conducted in the streets rather than through the ballot box or institutions of a purportedly mature democracy.

. . . Reasonable people could have had a spirited debate about this [new employment] policy. So why didn't they before the jobs contract became the law of the land? Parliaments and elections exist so complicated issues can be digested and decisions calmly taken. France went from little discussion to protests in central Paris, blockades at the Sorbonne and a rampage through a McDonald's restaurant. That's "civic discourse"?

The masses on the streets reply that this is the only way to fight a sclerotic political system, and the claim isn't without merit. MPs and the president face voters only every five years. The National Assembly is notoriously unresponsive to voter concerns, though the chicken-and-egg problem is that citizens don't bother even to try to sway their representatives. The jobs bill was pushed through using a special procedure that allowed for little debate or amendment.

If I were truly cynical, I would observe that people usually get the governments they deserve. For France's sake, I hope not.

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March 21, 2006 at 10:07 AM | Permalink

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