It’s Good to be French

Now I really wish I was French.

Surely you've heard about the French bank trader, Jerome Kerviel, who outwitted his company's safeguards and managed to lose billions of his employer's money. What you may not have heard is this: As of last week, the fellow hadn't been fired yet.

According to The Wall Street Journal, French law forbids Kerviel from being officially fired until a lengthy dismissal process is carried out. His employer needs to initiate the process by calling Kerviel to a formal sit-down meeting to explain why he is being canned. Better yet, Kerviel has the right to be supported by a trade-union official, a lawyer and any other representative he wishes to bring along.

It's not easy to get canned in France. This is because the French believe in cradle-to-grave care by a benevolent government. They believe in government-mandated vacations — no fewer than five weeks — and 22 paid holidays and 35-hour workweeks. (French president Nicolas Sarkozy had to pass a new law to allow workers to log more than 35 hours if they want to.)

They believe in powerful unions and government regulations, too — regulations that make it virtually impossible to fire people — despite what such regulations are doing to their anemic economy.

A few years ago, the French prime minister tried to make it easier for employers to can people. He did so because the unemployment rate is high in France — it hovers around 8 percent. It's even higher for young adults. One in four is unemployed.  They are unemployed because French companies are afraid to hire new employees — for the simple reason that they will be stuck with them for life, regardless of how incompetent they may turn out to be.

So the French prime minister passed a law that allowed employers to part with an employee without providing a reason for dismissal. The new law pertained only to people under 26 and applied during their first two years of employment.

The French weren't very happy about it. They took to the streets in massive numbers, marching, protesting and rioting. The unions called for strikes to shut down the country, which wasn't hard to do. If the French worked as hard at working as they do protesting, their economy would be the envy of the world. In any event, the protesters won. The freedom-to-can-employees law was rescinded. Which brings us back to Kerviel.

According to The Journal, Kerviel's employer sent him a formal letter asking him to appear at a "dismissal rendezvous." But since Kerviel didn't show up, the bank can't begin dismissal proceedings. Technically, he's still an employee.

As of last week, nobody else was canned, either — not one boss or senior executive or anyone else who was responsible for the safeguards that were supposed to keep rogue employees from losing billions of euros.

That's why I wish I were French.

Sure, I know that the absurd number of French labor laws are holding back businesses and choking the French economy. I know that the French economy is growing much slower than other European Union countries', that its debt is rising rapidly and that its generous government benefits have put finances on the verge of collapse.

But sometimes I tire of the American way.

I'm self-employed, you see. Talk of a recession on the horizon has caused me to take on lots of work. I'm working long hours and socking money away just in case the economy crashes.

I know how great it is to live in a country where a person can earn more just by working harder. I know it's because we have fewer government regulations than France that our economy is robust.

I know that if some politicians have their way, our economy could become as sclerotic as France's. Every election cycle, politicians promise us more goodies — more government mandates and programs that will allegedly protect us from the unpleasantries of life.

Such ideas always do more harm than good. Still, you've got to love a country in which it's difficult for an employer to can an employee who lost billions of their dough.

Ah, to be French.

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  • Guest

    They've read volumes on Voltaire hence the concerned, passionate look on their faces. Robespierre is not far off.

  • Guest

    One problem with your thesis: Msr. Kerviel did not LOSE billions–he STOLED billions.  Wherever he is, he's living in the lap of luxury and thumbing his nose at his bosses.  Oh, to be French, indeed.