The search for work is never easy. In Europe, however, the Euro Crisis has had a particularly heavy effect on youth. Between 2011 and 2013, Spain’s 18 to 25-year-old unemployment rates hovered around 50 percent,peaking at 56 percent in 2013.
It is no coincidence that Spain’s labor system makes clear legal distinctions between short and long-term contracts. Spain’s housing bubble collapse not only impacted real estate prospectors, but also construction workers. Those construction workers, many of whom were youth and immigrants, were fired without cause or their contracts were not renewed. On the other hand, a whole other sector of Spain’s labor force had permanent contracts which de-incentivized the firing of underperforming employees.
The Ideal of Stable Employment
At church here in the Paris region, I recently met a couple of young men at the end of their high school careers. One was taking the test to graduate out of high school and considering professional school (much more common than in the States). The other had wrapped up a technical high school degree in cookery and recently earned an undetermined-length contract (CDI) with a five-star restaurant in the city.
He was ecstatic to have a full-time job at the age of nineteen, and not a bad one at that. He said he may eventually go on for more education, but for the moment he was hanging on to what he had. Ironically, I felt more concerned for him than his friend.
Such is the pressure to get a job with a CDI—as supposed to a determined-length contract (CDD)—that he was willing to sacrifice the logical continuation of his education for a stable job. This is not to say his decision was not well-informed, it is rather to highlight the systemic incentives that tamp down entrepreneurial decisions around Europe and nourish the human inclination towards stability.
The State and the Right to Work
Where I come from back in the Midwest, “right to work” laws have been passed in recent years. These laws are intended to unleash competition in previously union-only sectors of the labor market.
In other parts of the world, “the right to work” hearkens back to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declared by the UN in 1948. It states, “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”
Sounds wonderful, right? Except it is highly unrealistic in many parts of the world: many governments can simply not afford the necessary social safety net, nor do they have the administrative power to regulate ‘favorable’ conditions of work to meet UN standards (Which equate to Danish norms? Or to Nigerian ones?). And lastly, what is an employee’s ‘free choice’? Aren’t employment decisions made on the basis of his or her qualifications, an employer’s needs, market forces, etc.?
Unsurprisingly, the idea of such a right to work did not come out of altruistic and apolitical conversations in Geneva, but rather the French Socialist movement leading up to the 1848 Revolution.
Is the State Your Home?
As I wrote about two months ago, the French state has been heavily involved in lodging immigrants from West Africa and its other former colonies. But the French state’s involvement in the economy goes far beyond the social welfare state. Some of the world’s largest companies are based in France. Many of these are in part state-owned: the world’s largest airline, utility company, and nuclear-energy company. Many other French multinational corporations were founded by the state or have at some time been nationalized.
In La Défense, the business district just west of Paris looking towards the city. On the far left is the Areva Headquarters, the part state-owned nuclear power company. On the far right is EDF, the national electric company.
A Malian immigrant I’ve been getting to know works for one of these state-owned companies. After a few years living in subsidized housing he earned a CDD from the company. Without even the equivalent of a high school diploma, but with the respect of a supervisor, he had his CDD turned into a CDI… he had it made!
Except that with this stable job, he no longer is investing more than vacation time in his home country. The trajectory of his career has stagnated and ambitions floundered. He has been waiting for years to bring his wife from Mali due to the expense of living in a wealthy part of Paris. Like many other people, French or otherwise, he has fallen prey to the idol of financial stability.
Instead of looking forward to having the same job all one’s life, to have all the cares of life taken care of, Christians have a better hope. It is the truth that their citizenship does not end with the state, but in Heaven (Phil 3:20). Thus they can walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).
This article was originally posted on www.valuesandcapitalism.com