French riots: more evidence that socialism is a suicide pact


Showing their mastery of Cartesian logic, French students and labor unions took to the streets to engage in rational dialogue with their government over changes in employment legislation.

Wait, sorry! The French are screaming and burning things to protect their sclerotic society. The main problem with France's economy is that French companies don't want to hire new workers unless they are absolutely forced to do so. That is because French workers are very costly due to the glorious Republic's "social policies," mandating strict limits on work hours and lavish benefits.

Plus, you can't fire French workers, even for gross incompetence. We're not talking about government workers, either — these are private-sector jobs. Every sentient being who has studied this problem agrees that employment laws are the reason that a quarter of young Frenchmen are unemployed. (The generous unemployment benefits play a part, too.)

So the "conservative" government of France has proposed some tiny little free-market reforms to loosen labor markets in France, and a half-million people protest and riot. Inevitably, they have torched a McDonald's. (Is there a French law requiring demonstrators to attack McDonald's? Does Ronald's funny hair make them crazy?)

And what is driving them to the streets?

The law would allow businesses to fire young workers in the first two years on a job without giving a reason, removing them from protections that restrict layoffs of regular employees.

If you're an American employed in the private sector, you're probably thinking, "Why is that remarkable?" Most U.S. workers are "at will" employees, meaning that the employer or the worker have an indefinite arrangement between them. The worker trades his labor for the company's compensation. If either party doesn't like the terms of the arrangement, they can walk away.

The worker has to make sure his labor meets the standards of his employer. But it works both ways, as the employer has to make sure that working conditions are safe and humane, and that its workers are compensated fairly. Otherwise, the workers will walk away in favor of a better employer. There are moral considerations that come into play on both sides. Employers have a responsibility not to cheat their employees, who in turn have a responsibility to work honestly and diligently for their employers.

"Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages," Pope Leo XIII wrote in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum. Leo took on the question of human labor at a time when the balance of power was skewed toward employers. Today, in the U.S. and other free-market economies, the balance has shifted closer to equilibrium, and in many sectors, it favors the workers over employers. The system rewards virtues, particularly diligence, severely punishes sloth, and works to suppress other personal vices, as people who can be fired are generally on their best behavior.

Plainly, the French malcontents understand none of this. They regard employment, not as an opportunity to exchange their time and skills for sustenance, but as a kind of birthright. And why wouldn't they? In the socialist scheme of things, the state makes a bargain with its populace: you give up your economic freedom, and we will provide the benefits of prosperity, without all of the messy uncertainties of life. It is a parody of "give us this day our daily bread," and a parody of Divine Providence. The younger generation is looking at their parents' generation, retiring at age 55 with full pensions, and wonders why they aren't getting a piece of that scam.

You can only maintain a socialist economy if you have a wealthy society and a high proportion of workers to retirees. Yet the primary mechanism of socialism is to transfer wealth from productive citizens to unproductive citizens. That might work for a while longer, if the French were making enough new Frenchmen, but they are not — like every other European population save little Ireland, their population is declining.

Socialism destroys wealth. Socialism weakens families and social networks, including churches. Socialism kills society, and thus it is nothing more than a slow-motion suicide pact.

(P.S. Read Rerum Novarum when you get a chance. It isn't a tough read, and the principles Leo explains are still valid today.)


Hi Eric -- Just wanted to let you know that I've responded to this post at my own blog, if you're interested. I would have made a trackback, but I don't have trackback, so I thought I would leave this in the comments instead.

Jeez, Eric, what are you thinking?!? I mean, if you had a cushy job that you couldn't be fired from, with a sizeable retirement, and all supplied by the government, wouldn't you riot if someone took that away from you? C'mon, be honest!

Do remember that Leo XIII also says in RN that it's morally unacceptable when workers have no choice but "freely" to agree to something below a living wage because there's nothing better available to them.

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This page contains a single entry by Eric Johnson published on March 18, 2006 9:44 PM.

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