Sunday, January 20, 2008

Travailler Plus Pour... Quoi ?

When French President Nicolas Sarkozy began bandying about his slogan, "Travailler plus pour gagner plus," which means work more to earn more, something about the whole thing just didn't sound right to me. It sounded almost like Newspeak from Orwell's 1984.

Ostensibly, Sarkozy wants people to be able to earn more income. His proposal is to modify the thirty-five hour work week restriction. Instead of getting comp time for extra hours worked, people could get paid for it. According to Sarkozy, working longer is the best way for people to earn more money. It's good for you, it's good for the republic. Work more! Earn more!

The president noted that his plan would be good for employers, too (it's no secret that Sarko is a pro-business capitalist). If existing employees can work longer hours, companies don't have to hire more people to do the same amount of work (and pay their social security taxes and unemployment taxes, etc.). Under the government's proposal, employers would be exempted from paying the "charges" on work beyond 35 hours and employees wouldn't be taxed on that extra income.

But the proposal is not as simple as it sounds. It amounts to a de facto tax cut in a nation facing a serious deficit problem. The labor unions are worried about the future of the 35 hour work week. Cashing in accrued comp time could represent a serious financial liability for employers. There are many questions that still need answering. It will be interesting to watch the debate continue.

All that aside, there's something about this "work more to earn more" slogan that rubs me the wrong way. I couldn't actually put my finger on it until I read PZ Myers' recent post on his blog, Pharyngula. It pretty much gets to how I feel about this. I'll quote part of it here (follow the link to read it in it's original form).

Somebody has to explain the logic... to me. [Minnesota Congresswoman] Michele Bachmann recently said:

I am so proud to be from the state of Minnesota. We're the workingest state in the country, and the reason why we are, we have more people that are working longer hours, we have people that are working two jobs.

Once upon a time, we had this thing called the 40 hour work week — the idea was that it was good for the middle class to be able to get a living wage from a reasonable amount of effort. Now we've got Republicans handing out corporate welfare and getting excited because the working class has to labor for longer hours in order to make ends meet.

...I remember a few rough years when my father had to work two jobs, a day job reading water meters for the city and then doing custodial work in the evenings. It wasn't because this was a fantastic opportunity to achieve prosperity — it was because he was desperate to pay the rent and keep food on the table. When people are having to work harder, it's not a sign that the middle class is thriving (emphasis added).

I do note that Professor Myers talks about people having to work more hours rather than choosing to do so. But once working longer is made to be voluntary, how much time do you think it would take for those who choose not to work longer hours to be viewed as uncooperative, non-team players? And we know what happens to them...

I suppose that greed has been a primary motivator of us humans throughout our history. Once in a while we try to get a handle on it. We never do. We're not good at sharing. We don't play well with others.

I'm not a communist. I believe that smart and hard-working people deserve the rewards of their labors. But too many smart and hard-working people are not rewarded. They're just barely getting by. And the unlucky are punished with poverty. Wealth is not the best measure of value.

Work more to earn more. The more you spend, the more you save. Trust, but verify.

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

Don't worry; be happy.



  1. Even though you get right to the point, you sound a little pessimistic.
    The Minnesota example is exactly what's going to happen to France, if unchecked. I've noticed over the years that the French adopt with enthusiasm the worst America has to offer. Since they have now an Americanized president, à la Bush, corporations, multinational or not, are going to suck the people dry. And the Church is going to make a mess about everything else. Watch out!

  2. Yes, Walt, I so agree with you! It has all started, unfortunately...
    THis morning's news said that for the first time, the polls were going against the president... Down to 47% of good opinions, for the first time. :)

  3. The whole idea is strange. If people want to work more they should be allowed to. But wasn't the 35 hour work week supposed to free up some hours here and there and allow employers to hire an extra person or two and thereby reduce the high unemployment rate? So what has happened, employers complain that because of the high social charges and costs and risks associated with taking new employees on staff they didn't hire extra employees. So does the 35 hour work week work or not? So far I love living in France, but if I might complain just a wee bit, I might say, the French seem to love to reinvent the wheel. Instead of doing what many other countries do, even when it works, they dream up their own way with some very French particulars, that don't necessarily work or even work better, just possibly for the sake of stamping it French. Everything here seems to have an extra complication or seven involved. Some for good reasons and some for no reason.

  4. One of your best posts ever!

  5. chm, I know what you mean!

    claude, yes, it's interesting how the similarities to GWB keep growing...

    owen, I think you're right, the 35 hour week was supposed to create new jobs. I don't think it was all that successful, though.

    jayne, thanks! Good luck with the kitchen - I've been through it and it's worth it!!


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