Thu Mar 15th, 2007 at 11:34:37 AM EST
Statistics can mislead as easily as they can enlighten
French workers are indeed more productive than their American counterparts, but what about all those unemployed French?
My response to them:
In the article "Statistics can mislead as easily as they can enlighten", D. J. Boudreaux asks: "French workers are indeed more productive than their American counterparts, but what about all those unemployed French?"
If I was merely interested in stating the obvious, I could simply ask back: "and what about those 1.5% of working age Americans who are in prison?"
But Mr. Boudreaux is an economist, he's interested in statistics, and he might find this one interesting: "For the fourth quarter of 2004, according to OECD, (source Employment Outlook 2005 ISBN 92-64-01045-9), normalized unemployment for men aged 25 to 54 was 4.6% in the USA and 7.4% in France. At the same time and for the same population the employment rate (number of workers divided by population) was 86.3% in the USA and 86.7% in France."
(From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unemployement, quoting http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/36/30/35024561.pdf)
Unemployment rates are easily distorted. Generous unemployment benefits mean that French citizens will religiously register their status every month with the relevant agencies; while the lack thereof means that it's a waste of time to do so for someone in the United States.
There are also countless deliberate schemes in different countries: some choose for instance to classify long-term unemployed people as disabled, thereby artificially removing them from the count; others count anyone over 50 and unemployed as retired.
Beyond the hard numbers, some realities are worth keeping in mind: even if losing your job is still an unpleasant experience in France, you won't have to worry about losing your health insurance. You won't be thrown in jail for life because you blew your "third strike" on petty theft to feed your family. Your car won't be "repo'd"; on the other hand, you don't have the "freedom" to easily rack up insane amounts of credit to buy an utterly useless SUV.
Those are two different models for a modern society at work. One where the government is not trusted and does not do much indeed to protect its citizen. And another where the government is expected to provide for its constituents, and is strongly reminded of its duties when it fails to do so.
I suspect the American model is losing credibility, which is probably why its supporters have to make such stuff up to dissuade the American people out of asking more of their government.