Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Helpful Reminder from the French

My friends the French are in the news again. According to CNN (“Massive protests at French job law”; 3/28/06), “hundreds of thousands of protestors packed the streets of French cities and stalled the transportation system Tuesday, protesting a controversial labor law that would allow employers to more easily hire and fire young workers.”

The whole thing is quite ironic and not a little surreal – people protesting a proposed law designed to help more of them get jobs. You see, in France the unemployment rate among young people is 23%. One of the reasons it is so high is because companies are reluctant to hire young people because it is so difficult to fire workers. As the CNN story puts it, “Under current French law, merit in the workplace has little sway. Workers cannot be easily or inexpensively fired.” And the younger and less experienced a worker is, the more “risk” he/she brings to the employer who is hiring.

So the proposed law would give employers the “right” to hire and fire workers under age 26 without navigating a thicket of regulations. The government essentially is saying to companies, “If you will take a chance on a young person, we will not penalize you for doing so by making it extremely difficult to fire that person if he/she does not perform to expectations.” But union and student leaders say this law will create a generation of “throwaway workers who will have to churn through jobs until they are older than 26” (the implication being that at age 26 they will find a cushy job that is all but “guaranteed” employment).

As Dennis Prager puts it (“Socialism Makes People Worse,”, 3/21/06), “what these massive demonstrations reveal is the narcissism, laziness and irresponsibility inculcated by socialist societies. Socialism teaches its citizens that they have a plethora of rights and few corresponding obligations – except to be taxed.”

Here is why I, a preacher, am writing about a subject that is not religious or even, directly, spiritual (and rest assured that I am not arguing Jesus was a capitalist). I am writing about rights and obligations. All of us face the temptation to inflate our sense of entitlement (rights) and deflate our sense of responsibilities (obligations). Church members do it. Husbands and wives do it. Employees do it. Children do it (In fact, it is the essence of childishness; 2-yr olds don’t think about responsibilities, only about wants). It is also terribly unproductive and even pernicious; it feeds on and multiplies itself. Soon you have regressed into a kind of infantilism.

In his inaugural address John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” One might apply that principle not just to country but to spouse, church, employer, and friends. Doing so makes you proactive. It makes you responsible. It keeps you from having a victim mentality. It is also, in my opinion, consistent with Christian generosity and self-giving.

So I want to thank the French youth for this dramatic reminder for all of us to commit to continually growing up.


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