Were the French students right after all?

David R. Howell and John Schmitt suggest [PDF] that they were.

The widely held view, repeatedly parroted in the U.S. media, that French economic performance is poor and that French employment performance is catastrophic, flies in the face of the evidence. And the conventional wisdom that the French students are wholly misguided in their desire to maintain stronger employment protections than prevail in the United States is mistaken and offers a striking example of the ability of free market ideology to trump the facts.

With substantially higher hourly productivity, the French economy has produced almost as much employment growth as the U.S. since President Bush came into office (3.1 vs 3.5 percent growth between 2000 and 2005).12 The two countries have almost identical shares of young people in unemployment — the high youth unemployment rates so often cited in the media give a distorted view of the situation in France because so few French youth enrolled in school are employed. And perhaps most importantly, the shares of French and U.S. youth not employed and not enrolled in school – by far the most important measure of social dysfunction – are nearly identical.

At the same time, the French have far higher shares of the young adult (20-24) population enrolled in school, which on balance must be a good thing. And as American students will be the first to appreciate, French students do not enter the labor market with crushing debt burdens (school tuition in France is negligible compared to the U.S.).

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