NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

French Opt For Equality Over Liberty, Get Neither

April 30, 1996

France has so skewed its economy with rules and regulations that an underclass of the permanently unemployed is emerging.

That country's minimum wage laws give a cautionary example:

  • In France, the minimum wage is $6.25 an hour -- nearly 32 percent higher than the U.S. minimum.
  • It also has a widening wage gap between the best and worst jobs.
  • One-quarter of the French work-force under age 25 is unemployed -- 40 percent for more than a year.

When the government tried to remedy this situation two years ago by proposing a subminimum wage for youngsters to get them off the dole, students rioted and the government backed down.

Experts urge American policy makers to ponder deeply the French predicament before increasing the U.S. minimum wage and throwing the lowest-skilled, lowest-paid out of work -- forbidding them the chance to learn skills and move up.

A Brookings Institution study -- supportive of minimum wage increases -- nevertheless estimated that the proposed increase would kick 65,000 workers out of their jobs.

The U.S. has a ways to go before it becomes another France. But enacting job-destroying legislation of any kind will inevitably generate greater inequality and lead to social upheaval.

Source: Holman W. Jenkins Jr., "With Class Politics, All Roads Lead to France," April 30, 1996.


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