Ed West

France – worker’s paradise or Steynian Dystopia?

France – worker’s paradise or Steynian Dystopia?
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Un autre jour glorieux dans la lutte contre réalité économique.

France’s major employers’ federation and two unions have signed an agreement whereby employees not subject to the country’s 35-hour labour restrictions will not be asked to read emails or answer phone calls outside of work hours.

Part of me rather admires this attitude, being rather fond of the culture of idling that has been replaced by the ghastly ‘hardworking families’ cult of the hyperactive elite. Lots of people only work as hard as they do because of exorbitant housing costs, and there’s no doubt that digital overload is not good for the mind.

But France is already strangled by a bureaucracy that is driving its most talented across the English Channel.

Liam Mullone made the point in a devastating article a couple of weeks back writing that:

‘You cannot lead even the most unambitious life in France without sitting an exam for it. There’s not much incentive to do anything for yourself, either: even if you remain insufficiently prosperous to stay clear of the 75 per cent tax rate, every self-starter who sells their business after ten years owes the state 60 per cent capital gains tax on any profit. Quebec has launched a programme to lure 50,000 French entrepreneurs to its shores, which is a bit like deciding to save 50,000 black rhinos.’

On top of this, France already has generous welfare and pensions provisions; well, generous is not the word. French women spend, on average, 27 years in retirement – yes, 27 years. That’s not a reward for a lifetime’s work, that’s a Steynian Dystopia.

The issue is not so much the principle of long hours, as productivity does not correlate to working hours; rather it is the idea that what should be convention or negotiated within a company needs to be set in stone by authorities, further restricting the economic freedom the country so desperately needs.

Unlike Mr Mullone, I am still teaching my children French, because whatever its declining practical use, it’s a beautiful language that will open them up to a whole new culture and to the country’s great legacy of literature. (Okay, okay, I admit it. The real reason is that I’m a snob, and deep down you just can’t be a proper posho unless you can speak French.)

Much as I love French culture, and long for my next visit, that’s sort of what the place is becoming – a place to visit.

Written byEd West

Ed West is the author of The Diversity Illusion, 1215 and All That and is writing a series of books on medieval history

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