I've blasted the French a few times here in this blog. While I love visiting France, I feel that its cultural aversion to free market competition has led the country toward ruin. In April '06, for example, the country caved to protesters after trying to weaken laws that make it almost impossible for companies to fire workers. But now France seems to be making positive steps, as last week the government-imposed 35-hour work-week was finally scrapped.
France's President, Nicolas Sarkozy, was elected on a platform to modernize France's economy. He has been unafraid to attack sacred cows and cut government bureaucracy. The 35-hour work week has been one of his most visible targets. It was introduced 10 years ago in an effort to solve 13% unemployment by spreading hours over more people. Economists show that while unemployment did drop to 9%, it came at the cost of $17 billion a year in government aid, and drove the country to under-perform versus most other developed nations in terms of growth.
Some complain that the 35-hour week helps retain a unique cultural difference in France. The country takes pride in its zeal for enjoyment of life. According to a BusinessWeek article from way back in 2003, "The French work fewer hours than just about anyone in the developed world, and 24% less on average than workers in the U.S."
But the French have come to realize that they need a little more balance in their work-life. In order to retain their culture and lifestyle, they must have a growing economy. And a growing economy is one that is competitive with the rest of the world. Touche.