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Are the French Really the Most Productive Workers?

By Ovid @OvidPerl

Eiffel Tower from the Siene

The Seine river in Paris

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 réduction 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 2001 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.

Photo by teamaskins, Image bu Cedric Villain

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