The integrated and the rejected: The deeper causes of the French riots.

The integrated and the rejected. The whole fucking universe is split into two…

– From the movie ”Immortal”

So, it seems I was wrong. I thought this whole debacle would not end until the French minister of interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, resigned. But he has played high political stakes and won before, and he seems to do that this time around as well. He first put more fuel on the fire by calling rioters ”rabble” and telling the police to arrest more, and coming with obviously bogus claims that the riots were centrally organized. But then, he pulled a card from his sleeve: The state of emergency. This has never been used on mainland France before. Not even during the riots of 1968, which took place in central Paris.

Let us ponder that again. France is in a state of emergency. This feels rather bizarre. States of emergency is something usually used by oppressive governments to shut up the opposition. And when you go about your shopping, where is the emergency, you say? It is slightly otherworldly. But it seems to have worked, the riots are cooling down. The Parisian suburbs are reportedly back to normal. The sickly stench of burning rubber that blanketed the nights of Parisian suburbs are gone, no doubt thanks the the drop in car burning. During the riots several hundred cars were torched every night. Yesterday, the number was 76, which according the police is “almost normal”.

So, it might be time to sit down and look at what really happened. And I will start with a whole host of selected statistics to show the situation in France.

  • In France, only 24% of the youth works. Compare to for example Sweden, where the number is 46%.

  • 10% of all who lives in France are born outside France. But only 6.2% of the workforce is born outside of France.

  • The unemployment rate for university graduates is 5%. The unemployment rate for university graduates of north-African origin is 26.5%

  • Around 40% of the unemployment in France is long-term.

The non-working class

Frances unemployment is as you see, big. And it’s long-term, for the most part. People who for years and years go without a job, and live on unemployment. And remember, this numbers only include those who actively look for work. If you, after looking for job for a couple of years, give up, you are no longer counted as being unemployed. The result is obvious. France has become a modern class-society. But instead of the working class struggling against the oppression of the bourgeoisie, we now have a society split along the lines of the workers and the unemployed. France has a large group unemployed youths of mainly non-French origin. They don’t feel French. They feel excluded and alienated from society. If you are a young northAfrican in France, no matter if you were born here or immigrated, you chance of ever getting a job is desperately close to zero.

How come unemployment, and especially longterm unemployment is such a problem in France? Here we come into more statistics.

  • On average, startup companies in the US 1992-97 expanded their staff by 161 percent within two years. During the same time, the much fewer French startups expanded their staff by 13 percent.

  • On a scale from 0 to 100, the difficulty of hiring people in France is rated as 78, which places them as the 10th most difficult country, out of 151 (tying the place with Iran, Iraq, but also Greece). This can be compared to Sweden, with a difficulty index of 28, or Denmark and UK with a difficulty index of 11, or Hong Kong, Switzerland, Australia and US, who together with 24 other countries ties the first place as the country that is most easy to hire people with 0 as the index.

  • The share of low-skilled jobs dropped from 28% to 20% between 1983 and 2000. This is partly because:

  • The minimum wage in France was in 1997 52% of the median wage i France. It has since then risen to 61%.

In short, it is very difficult to hire people in France, at it makes no sense in hiring somebody unless you know for sure that this somebody is going to be able to make you quite a lot of money. French companies will only hire people if they are desperate. This makes for a slow moving market, where the best way to get a job is to already have one. If you don’t have a job, and have no education, you are in big trouble. If you in addition to that are not French, well, then you are completely out of luck, and can look ahead at a long life on handouts from the government.

Add a dose of prejudice

The French work market is highly segregated. Go into a McDonald’s, and you see a French boss, arab or asian people behind the counters and black people making the hamburgers. You might see a security guard as well. He is always black, unless he has a dog, in which case he is French. I assume that black security guards are seen as scarier. In a bank or any other kind of office environment, arabs and blacks are simply missing. They are allowed on the streets, but not in an office.

When I took a night train in southern France a couple of years ago, a group of three pick pockets of French or Arab origin combed the train for sleeping passangers with their wallets in reach. The train personell was alerted and the police boarded the train, quickly arrested three black africans and left. The pick-pockets continued to walk around the train, until they jumped off in Marseille.

What should be done?

People, especially immigrants and their kids, need to get jobs. Now. French politicians will look stern and take a deep gaze into the TV cameras where they say that the work market is the most important problem in France now, which is correct. Then they will continue with that it is important to protect the work market from a diverse set of horrors, from the 150 polish plumbers that work in France, to the evils of the immigrants in the suburbs. And this is a political lie.

The most important thing France can do is to create new jobs. And doing that is not magic. It’s easy. And here is the recipie:

  1. Scrap the 35 hour work week. This is already happening in France, but the process can be sped up. People working less is not good for the economy. The idea of a 35 hour work week is that the unemployed were to fill up the missing 5 hours. Of course, that doesn’t happen. Instead, people work less, less money gets created, and the country actually get poorer. The best would be if we could create a work market with a large flexibility and individual choice, so everybody could work as much or as little as they liked, but that is difficult.

  2. Remove the minimum wage laws. France already have a social security net, and a minimum income rule that gives unemployed the money they need to live. This is all the minimum wage law you need. Nobody is going to take a job if it earns less money than being on the dole.

  3. Remove all the bureaucratic obstacles to hiring people. Hiring somebody should just be a case of signing a paper.

  4. Remove all efforts of “protecting” the work market. The only thing you protect by that is the unemployment.

These are the most important parts. If necessary, I’d like to see more efforts towards minimizing the racism when hiring, but that is a difficult question. These four are easy and effective.


Olaf Gersemann: Cowboy Capitalism, p 198, via Johan Norberg
Jennifer Buckingham, ed. State of the Nation, 2004, p 112, via Johan Norberg