News Flash: Wealth Requires Work

“France’s short week isn’t working, critics say.” I’m not sure why it is that Europeans are myopic about the connection between work and wealth, but it seems to be a fact:
“At one time, [Fernand] Lopez worked a full schedule each week. He got standard pay for 39 hours and overtime whenever he could. Now, French law restricts him from working more than 35 hours and bars him from earning overtime. The rules sentence him to a life of deprivation, he said.
“‘I’m 35 years old, and I still live at my mom’s place because I can’t afford to get my own place. Try to live at 1,000 francs [about $180 a week] when you know all the bills are going to pile up,’ Lopez said.
“During 2000, the Socialists then in power enacted a policy designed to decrease France’s characteristically high unemployment by forcing everyone to work fewer hours. The policy limited a worker’s regular hours each week to 35 and capped paid overtime, requiring employers to give time off to workers who exceed the limit.
“Lately, opponents are blaming workweek restrictions for everything from the country’s large public deficit to thousands of heat-related deaths during the summer. Some critics say the short week creates a culture of people so focused on vacation they are unable to concentrate on work.
“‘The future of France is not to be a huge leisure park,’ Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said in a televised interview last month, adding that his country needed to ‘rehabilitate work.’
“The difference between Europe and the United States might come down to incentives. Working longer in Europe doesn’t bring the same economic rewards. ‘In part, the Europeans want to work less because when they do work more they pay very high tax rates, making it less worthwhile,’ [economist Paul] Swaim said.
“In France, the short workweek has been a financial disaster for many unskilled laborers and recent immigrants….While the law cut off hourly workers from earning overtime pay, it allowed educated professionals to continue to earn weeks of extra vacation time each year for no additional work. White-collar workers received two to six weeks’ extra vacation, adding up to as much as nine or 10 weeks a year.
“Sylvain M’Boussa, 30, was recently leaving the ‘Big Sky’ mall in Ivry, a gritty suburb on the outskirts of Paris, with his wife and small children in tow. M’Boussa, who works as a dispatcher for a messenger service, said the short workweek is great for his family life but disastrous for his wallet. ‘I can’t save money. I’m thinking of leaving France’ to seek better opportunities in Canada or elsewhere, he said. ‘There, maybe you wouldn’t get good health care or pension benefits, but at least for those who want to succeed, there are real opportunities. Here, you’re just blocked.'”
Making it illegal to work hard hasn’t had the desired impact on France’s unemployment rate, which hovers close to 10%. Which comes as no surprise to anyone with any understanding of economics. Or human nature.

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