Monday, June 25, 2012

Are the French really most productive workers?

Eiffel Tower from the Siene
The Seine river in Paris
Photo by teamaskins
Did you know I have a 35 hour work week? I have a two-hour lunch break written into my contract? I get five weeks vacation? And that's not counting about 11 public holidays per year, plus an extra day off every month for something called r├ęduction du temps de travail. Under French law, it's very, very hard to fire me and if I leave my job and my company doesn't want me to work for a competitor, they have to pay me 25% of my salary for two years!

So the French work less hours than any other country in the world and have more labor protection than most industrialized nations, but you know what?

One of my neighbors was quite proud of the fact that data indicates that the French have the most productive workers in the world. Of course, we know that historically France has been one of the strongest economic powers in the world, but who would have thought that treating workers like human beings would be worthwhile?

From this Business Insider article:
Think about it. Nationmaster ranks France as #18 in terms of GDP per capita, at $36,500 per person, yet France works much less than most developed nations. They achieve their high standard of living while working 16% less hours than the average world citizen, and almost 25% than their Asian peers as per UBS. Plus, if you visit France you'll also realize that their actual standard of living is probably much higher than GDP numbers would indicate.
Actually, the article points out that Americans are the most productive workers in the world, but the French edge them out when you consider output relative to hours worked (by about 50 cents an hour). Unfortunately, that was from a 2009 article and the Nationmaster data has not been updated, so I had to do some digging. According to the International Monetary Fund, US GDP per capita for 2010 is $48,386.69. For France it's $44,008.18. Combining this with OECD data on number of hours worked per worker, we see that France clocks in at 1,554 hours per year and the US is at 1,778 hours per year (2009 and 2010 numbers respectively, but these numbers tend to be somewhat stable). That leaves French workers producing $28.32/hour and US workers producing $27.21 per hour. Of course, we'd need better data to really nail it down, but with these numbers Americans would still have to work about 70 hours less a year to beat French productivity and that seems pretty damned unlikely (factoring in unemployment rates would also be interesting). It's entirely possible that US productivity is falling even faster than French (with all the caveats of ad hoc analysis). I haven't grabbed the rest of the country data right now, but it would make for some interesting reading.

Yes, we're struggling right now (as is most of the world), but somehow many Americans seem to think that's it's a terrible socialist quagmire over here, with people struggling under the burden of high taxes (remember, it's a democracy and the French voted for this) and slovenly businesses which can't get anything done, but nothing is further from the truth. Still, France is routinely considered the best place in the world to live.

I find it interesting that so many Americans seem to have no idea that things can be different. I can't even imagine how Libertarians would explain this away.


  1. This writer is a bit long-winded, but near the end of the post he has interesting things to say about why people hang onto cherished delusions so tenaciously.

    1. Wow. You're not kidding about the long-winded bit :)

      Still, I'd be interested to know if his thoughts about self-delusion are speculation or have any real backing.

      I particularly liked his comment what’s emerging here is a New Age equivalent to the Tea Party. I'm going to have to steal that line :)

  2. I'd like to point out that my work-year is 2080 hours, which is full time. I get 80 hours off in vacation, and probably about another 40 hours off in holidays. That's somewhere around 1,900 hours. 1,778 hours seems incongruous/inaccurate. Are they counting part-time workers? The difference, I think, could be large if that off-time is taken into consideration. 5 weeks of vacation, common in Europe, is a great driver of this.

    Most of the people I know in America work much more than I do and get less vacation time...

    1. Remember, you have a professional position. The average Wal-Mart associate only gets to work 32 hours a week. Assuming they took no vacation a year, that would be 1,664 hours per year.

      (Note: the 32 hour a week average means many Wal-Mart employees get to be classified as "part-time" workers, allowing Wal-Mart to deny them many benefits. This is not an unusual practice)

  3. I waste a lot of time in political arguments in the USA, and I am continually struck at how the words "liberal" and "socialism" have been so strongly demonized here. 99% of the time it's a reflexive attitude made by people who have no idea what socialism or even liberalism really is. It's exemplified by people who call Obama a socialist, when he's anything but.

    My take, is that socialism - in it's most common forms - must be a real threat to the powers that be, an idea that actually works - although obviously not in the extreme cases its opponents rightfully cite. The figures you cite are evidence for this, at least in France's case.

    Americans love to crow about their supposed "freedom", and yet are completely clueless about how they've been brainwashed and channelled to think only in certain acceptable ways. Much like the subjects behind the former Iron Curtain, not many have traveled elsewhere, and so they have no idea what life is like on the outside.

  4. Right, next uo o the Bakruptcy list after Spain, Italy...France. Then we can add the USnA

  5. What we have to remember is that official statistics provided by the French authorities are pure fiction. It is understood that all nations are guilty of this but the French are the world's biggest official liars. 15 years in business there and I no longer believe a word that comes out of that sociopathic culture. Research EU 'CAP' for proof.

  6. I have lived in France for almost 10 years now and have no idea how this statistic can be true. French made products or services cost more, are of a poorer quality and are rarely if ever guaranteed. On the rare occasion that you find someone willing to stand behind their work it may take months to get a resolution (when the product or service proves faulty. This is only after sending a pile of threatening letters (no one answers the phone, so you have to send letters).
    Investers should avoid France like the plague. I buy as much as possible from the US or other european countries.

  7. I love this this one! Buy as much as possible from the US or other European countries.
    You still piss off because the French refused to invade Irak based on lies
    Or maybe someone who doesn't like French because ( let me know) but sometime when I read this type of comments it makes me wonder, why stupid people have access to a computer.