Tom Purcell, 8/30/2006 [Archive]

Labor Day - I Wish I Were French

Labor Day - Why I Wish I Were French

By Tom Purcell

It's Labor Day weekend, and that got me to thinking: I wish I were French.

The French are a wonderful people. Their food is excellent. Their cities are filled with remarkable architecture and an abundance of culture. And, boy, do they have the free time to enjoy it all.

Back in 2000, French politicians, trying to bring the high unemployment rate down, decided to try something bold. Did they cut taxes to spur the economy the way Americans would? Nope. Did they reduce regulations that make it virtually impossible for employers to fire bad workers? Of course not.

They wrote a new law that requires everybody to work less -- no more than 35 hours a week, and certainly no overtime. The strategy didn't work of course -- it has since unraveled and the government is still working it out -- but one thing is clear: The French sure know how to enjoy the good life.

According to CBS News, the French government also mandates that employees receive at least five weeks of paid vacation. On top of that employees enjoy 22 paid holidays. During July and August, as a result, much of the country shuts down.

People kick back and relax. They travel to exotic places. They enjoy lots of stress-free days without a care in the world -- while we Americans are chained to our desks.

There are no laws in America that make vacation time mandatory. The average American enjoys only a few weeks of paid vacation. And when we go away for a break -- IF we go away -- too many of us keep on working anyway. We check e-mail, participate in phone meetings, and keep on top of projects.

That's why I'd like to be French just for a little while.

Sure, I know that the socialist ways of the grand old country are completely unsustainable. Their unemployment rate stands at just under 10 percent. And every time the government tries to take a holiday away or make it easier for an employer to fire a bad employee, a million people riot in the streets.

I know that in a global economy, as trade barriers come down and competition with emerging nations grows fierce, that only the strong will survive. Life and the world have always been competitive. Pretending that competition doesn't exist is no longer an option.

I know, too, that the American economy is booming because our government interferes with employers less and because Americans are willing to work so hard. There are lots of opportunities for any American who is willing to go after them.

In my own case, I've been able to contract my skills to large, profitable companies for a decent rate. I can work long hours when I want to bring in cash or, as I've been doing for a while now, I can cut back to part time, so I can devote more time to personal goals, such as completing a book. I'm as successful as I want to be and if I fail I have nobody to blame but myself.

That's why, just for a while, I wish I were French.

I'd spend July and August basking in the waters of some exotic location, maybe the French Riviera. I'd while away the evenings sipping good wine and swapping stories of vacations past. I'd immerse myself fully in the moment, not giving a care about the next week or month or even the next 20 years.

I'd finally be able to relax fully knowing that if anybody tried to take my vacation away -- if anyone attempted to tinker with any of my government-mandated benefits -- that a million people would pour into the streets in my defense.

Alas, such are the wistful thoughts that kick around the noggin of a self-employed American now that Labor Day weekend is upon us.

Tom Purcell's weekly political humor column runs in newspapers and Web sites across America. Contact him at Distributed by Cagle Cartoons syndicate, call Sales at (805) 969-2829 for reprint info.

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