There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch (French Edition)

The French have decided to make leisure time mandatory:

Just in case you weren’t jealous enough of the French already, what with their effortless style, lovely accents and collective will to calorie control, they have now just made it illegal to work after 6pm.

Well, sort of. Après noticing that the ability of bosses to invade their employees’ home lives via smartphone at any heure of the day or night was enabling real work hours to extend further and further beyond the 35-hour week the country famously introduced in 1999, workers’ unions have been fighting back. Now employers’ federations and unions have signed a new, legally binding labour agreement that will require staff to switch off their phones after 6pm.

Under the deal, which affects a million employees in the technology and consultancy sectors (including the French arms of Google, Facebook, Deloitte and PwC), employees will also have to resist the temptation to look at work-related material on their computers or smartphones – or any other kind of malevolent intrusion into the time they have been nationally mandated to spend on whatever the French call la dolce vita. And companies must ensure that their employees come under no pressure to do so. Thus the spirit of the law – and of France – as well as the letter shall be observed.

Let’s run down the consequences of this deal:

  • The French get more free time from work.
  • More free time means that less work gets done.
  • Less work done means less productivity.
  • Less productivity means less profits for employers.
  • Less profits means less of an ability for particular businesses to expand their operations and hire more workers, not to mention less of an ability to pay existing workers more money.
  • Less ability to hire more workers and pay existing workers more money means that wages will remain stagnant and the employment market will not expand.
  • When a business downturn hits, employers will have less of a financial cushion with which to withstand the downturn, which will make declines in wages and layoffs far more likely.

Does the deal look good now? I mean, don’t get me wrong; I enjoy my leisure time from work as much as anyone else, but agreements like this one only serve to sow the seeds of economic destruction for the countries in which they are implemented.

Of course, it is nice that we have these things called “free markets” (well, relatively free, anyway) here in the United States. Thanks to the presence of these (relatively) free markets, I and other workers can decide whether we want to make certain tradeoffs between making more money and having more leisure time. And employers can compete amongst themselves to get the best workers available by doing their damnedest to offer both a healthy amount of leisure time and a healthy salary to their workers, just as workers compete to get hired by showing that they have the most attractive skill sets, and would be the best hires for employers seeking to increase their head counts. Sounds like a deal to me.

Do Americans work more than the French? Yes. Are Americans likely to get as much leisure time as the French have? Certainly not in the immediate future, and possibly never. But as you can see, the GDP of France hardly compares with that of the United States. And while we are not close top full employment, I’ll take a 6.7% unemployment rate over a 10.4% unemployment rate any day. Increased productivity has its benefits; among other things, it makes it easier to put food on the table and a roof over one’s head.