Saturday, March 18, 2006

A Question of Culture – France and the Popular Demonstrations

Before the Republicans and Democrats get in a tizzy, understand that I am apolitical. I do not trust or support either side. I believe that we should eliminate all existing politicians and bring in people that will represent us and not be raping and pillaging our nation.

I am taking on this subject because, while this is happening in Paris, it could easily be Rome or Milan. When I first returned to the US, after 20 years in Europe, I could not believe this was the same country I had lived in the first 18 years of my life. I hope that understanding the real reason for the unrest may help us, here in the US, take on some of the difficulties that we are facing and will face in the future.

During the last 24 hours there has been significant news coverage of the demonstrations going on in Paris. In the usual style of the twenty-four hour news networks they are continuously analyzing the reasons for such unrest. The American journalists, who most likely could not name all of the members of the European Union, express dismay and disbelief over the reaction. “With 28.5% youth unemployment, why would the youth not want a change in the law that would result in higher youth employment?”

Responding to their own question, they offer some explanation about socialism and how these university students obviously do not understand how great this is. While it is true that there are excesses in employment laws, for example it is difficult to fire people even for just cause, the laws do allow more balance between employer and employee.

The high unemployment figure is actually misleading. Different from what happens here in the States, when someone is unemployed they receive unemployment checks, indefinitely, as long as they are on the unemployed roles and diligently participate in the interviews that the unemployment agency procures for them. Thus an individual remains on the roles while in the US we talk about the contracting work force and no longer count as unemployed those who just give up. Additionally the base salary is three times the minimum wage here in the US. This means that companies like Walmart, Target, and other companies that bring their corporate profits by keeping the poor, poor, offer jobs “in the black”. This means that you are paid less or by a self employed contract. While most people “unemployed” actually are working under these contracts they are still listed as unemployed because their compensation is considered insufficient to live on. Think of what would happen to the US unemployment rate if every person who did not make enough money to live on was considered unemployed.

Another reason the “journalists” are in dismay is the talking point, “we have to keep people at low wages because of global competition.” The Europeans have long stopped producing mass labor products and have dislocated jobs to eastern Europe and China, while the companies that remain are high quality, precision products. In Italy this means that FIAT is produced in Poland while Ferrari is still produced in Imola. Since their society has become service oriented they specialize in giving great service and high quality products.

Changing the employment contract will not make France more competitive, it will change the distribution of wealth from the population to the investors and top management of corporations that will use the additional capital generated to buy the competition, reducing the availability of jobs with reasonable compensation. As the population becomes poorer they fall farther and farther into the necessity of superficiality or the Walmart mentality.

The Europeans have been around for a long time. They have been powerful and conquered and fallen into degradation and been conquered. They have seen it all. It is evident in every moment of their day, in the buildings, their history, and their food. The youth understand this. They are fighting for the preservation of their way of life so their children will have as good or better a life than they knew. The enemy is not China, India or Pakistan; it is greed of corporations and the investment community.

Perhaps we could reflect on what is going on and, perhaps, find a better future for our children.




Blogger ChickyBabe said...

Whilst I rarely comment or give an opinion on political or social issues, I wanted to say that I enjoyed reading this post, David.

2:54 PM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Chickybabe - As you most likely have seen I avoid anything political but I feel this cuts to the core of things that are happening in the US. Thank you for the compliment.


3:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greed of corporations?? How about individual greed - where these students "fight for their way of life" without ever having to WORK for it! Who's gonna pay these unemployment checks when all the businesses leave because they can do better elsewhere? Look, distribute wealth all you want, but don't expect those who create it - the businesspeople - to stick around when you take all their wealth away!

There's a fundamental flaw in your argument that most socialists fall into - the idea that wealth is Zero-Sum. As long as you continue to believe that, you will forever be stuck in the failing socialist model.

6:41 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Anonymous - Thank you for stopping by. These students, their parents, and their children pay, have paid, and will pay in the future for the things that they feel are important.

Businesses are not leaving France, the businesses that could leave France already have done so and would have done so no matter what the employment laws were, other fixed costs are higher and higher tax rates.

When you become a service economy, such as the US, the services must be provided locally.

Let me give you an example: McDonald's pays the higher wages in Italy, has no special priveledges, the food costs the same as here in the US and the number of stores is increasing, and McDonald's has no intention of leaving Italy.

It is a "talking point" that higher wages translate to businesses leaving a country. In reality, businesses that must remain in an area, remain, those that can move to cheaper areas move, labor is only a part of the equation.

A home grown example is GM and Toyota.

6:52 AM

Blogger a.c.t said...

I don't really agree with this new policy at all. Surely the fact that it allows employers to sack anyone under 26 without a reason spells trouble and will allow them to take advantage.

3:06 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

There are some serious and unfair parts of the labor laws that must be changed. The laws are requiring the company to take over the costs of governments social role.

This is the real basis of the question. It has nothing to do with age other than starting with the young will then over a long period of time eliminate of some of the excesses over time.

In other words, it is a politicians way of taking on problems that they perceive as difficult while still maintaining their job.

I do not think in this case the politician was able to achieve his goal.


4:09 AM

Blogger Live From Brazil said...

Hi we are brazilian girls and we liked so much the topic.
We also have a blog, if you could visit our blog and write us what do you think about our country.Tell us about European culture, too!

7:35 AM


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