The Wrong Way to Reform

2 January 2019

In his New Year’s vœux to the nation, Emmanuel Macron listed the reforms that would be at the top of his agenda for 2019. In particular:

“Le gouvernement dans les prochains mois devra poursuivre ce travail pour changer en profondeur les règles de l’indemnisation du chômage afin d’inciter davantage à reprendre le travail”.

It turns out that even before the president spoke these words, the government had issued a decree, without prior consultation with the trade unions or others with a particular interest in this reform, that took a much harsher stance than had previously been announced or debated. The crux of the matter is the treatment of the unemployed who fail to show up for the required periodic interview at the unemployment office. Originally, the sanctions for such failure were to be graduated: A month without benefits for the first mistake, two months for the second, etc. But in the final order–not a law but a décret–issued by the government, the unemployed individual is punished by forfeiture of all benefits at the first missed interview.

It is not difficult to imagine any number of reasons why a person might miss an interview. The only appeal process leaves the final decision in the hands of the same person who makes the initial decision to deprive the person of benefits. Such a draconian punishment seems cruel and unusual, and the high-handed manner in which the order was issued, on the eve of its implementation, without prior consultation or debate, is high-handed in the extreme. This cannot be justified as an “incentive” to coax people back to work more quickly. It can only be seen as a measure of administrative terror. This is not the way to reconcile the government with the people, which the president said was necessary if his reform agenda was to succeed. This decree should not stand. The president can demonstrate his sincerity by rescinding it immediately.


Photo Credit: CHAMPARDENNAISAXONAIS, Agence Pôle emploi accessible 13 Avenue Charles de Gaulle 02000 Laon, via FlickrCC BY-ND 2.0


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  • Anonymous says:

    I, too, can imagine any number of reasons why a person might miss an interview. I can also imagine that a system that continually pays out unemployment benefits whether beneficiaries show up for interviews or not is ripe for manipulation. It is hard for me to judge the degree of abuse of the system that exists versus the supposedly malicious intentions of the bureaucrats who administer it without more from you about how the system works.
    Also, you write “in the final order -not a law but a “decret”– issued by the government, the unemployed individual is punished by forfeiture of all benefits at the first missed interview.” The working of this rule is unclear as you describe it.
    Way back when, Bill Clinton signed a “welfare reform” law passed by the U.S. Congress that provided that more money would not be paid out for more children born to the mother receiving welfare, which amount would be capped after four children. Arguably, that “cap” was cruel and unusual, too, but Clinton backed it because there was a sentiment at large in the U.S. that welfare had become a game of cat and mouse between beneficiaries and the bureaucracies, and that several generations of families had built their lives around it.
    Is the French system in no way comparable? Is it not more generous?
    It is hard to penetrate to the heart of the question without more empirical data.

    • Douglas Crockett says:

      The Clintons’ “welfare reform” did a lot more than just cap benefits at four children. It knocked 63% of the recipients of benefits off the rolls. It was supposed to move welfare recipients off benefits and into jobs but the jobs part never got implemented. Clinton backed this because he got him reelected. He went much further in gutting the US welfare system than the Republicans ever dreamed they could achieve on their own.

  • Sammy says:

    I don’t know why you keep defending a president who so clearly doesn’t have it – stable authority, the ability to communicate with normal people, common sense, just an understanding of life.

    All that is required for him is that the ill-washed and restive masses learn some good behaviour and take their caps off while he goes past. What he says in private must be absolutely shocking.

    He doesn’t get it. He won’t. Things will get worse. You know it. I know it. Choose what comes next.

  • Anonymous says:

    Michel Houellebecq –whose “Serotonine” has just appeared– once again seems prescient, as the “gilets jaunes” include many people from rural areas unable to cope with the pressures created by a more competitive globe. This is the eighth weekend of protests, which are becoming increasingly violent. Government offices not just in Paris, but all over France, have become the target of the “casseurs” ”busters”), along with highway toll booths and associated buildings.
    This is not just confined to the areas around Paris: I am 30 minutes from Carcassonne, and an hour from Narbonne, both of which have had their access to the main highways destroyed by rampaging “gilets jaunes” setting toll booths on fire. The office of the daughter of a friend who has worked for one of the toll booth companies for decades was burned down two weeks ago. She is working from home as a result, but the road remains out of commission for the near future, requiring those who use it to sidetrack and pay more in tolls and gas to get where they need to go..
    I found particularly disturbing a video shot near the hotel I usually stay in in Paris, the “Hotel Quai d’Orsay”, a businessman’s hotel cheek-by-jowl with the “Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir” and the statue of Thomas Jefferson by the Seine, a stone’s throw from the Musee d’Orsay. “Gilets jaunes” stormed the “passerelle” and the police trying to keep them from crossing over to the other side of the Seine. One of them was a monster of a man about 6’6″, a professional boxer known as “The Gypsy from Massy”, now known to the public as “Christophe D”. He is seen jumping over a barrier and trying to punch out a policeman doing his best to protect himself with a plastic shield.
    I’m so disgusted with the “gilets jaunes” —which movement encompasses (along with some genuinely disadvantaged working class people) anti-Semites, homophobes, anti-immigrant racists, not to mention mysogynists— I cannot watch the news, as the rampaging is focusing all the country’s attention. it’s not a political movement (although some ambitious folk are trying to create one), it is a national riot. This is the eighth week of weekend destruction, and the numbers are not falling —there were 39,000 last week; this weekend there were 50,000.
    Those French historians and political scientists interested in “history from the bottom” are urging recognition of the legitimate frustrations of the reasonable people associated with the “gilets jaunes”. Thomas Piketty is cited a great deal for his observation that when an economy is stagnant (as France’s is), wealth trickles up. Yet the question remains, “Is part of the reason France’s economy is stagnant that the sclerotic inflexibility of the social contract between the government and the people is actually making things worse —and that demands to reinforce it will only create a new class of losers?
    There is a stubbornness in arguing a tired point that is characteristic of many of the populist figures here on the Left. Unlike the U.S., where Trump exploited the blindness of the powers-that-be to tap into white working class voters who felt abandoned by the Republicans and conservative Democrats, Marine Le Pen and her far-right counterparts play into the idea that France could be as white and heterosexual male-dominated and non-Muslim or Jewish as it once was —Trump only “dog whistles” those sentiments (consciously or unconsciously)t, a reflection of a ‘third rail” about overtly racist and sexist, anti-Semitic and homophobic attitudes in the United States (which I give thanks for).

    Macron may be a technocrat, but he is a liberal both culturally and economically —and France needs that. I was cheered to watch and hear his end-of-the year address, which specifically referred to the anti-Semitic and homophobic elements among the “gilets jaunes”. Sometimes the willingness of the French to argue both sides of a question works against perceiving that argument has to cede to action to make reforms real.

    I’m reminded of one of my favorite jibes in French —which I have framed:

    Translated from the French, it says:

    “One day I’d like to live in theory. Because “in theory”, everything goes well!”

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