So Andrew Sullivan and Paul Wells are on the same page. This is distressing, as agreeing with Andrew Sullivan should generally be regarded as a sign to abandon ship.* Both Andrew and Paul accept the economists' argument that the easier it is to fire somebody, the more likely they are to hire someone. I'm sure this is true in a sense, but how true is it?
The law in question is the contrat premier embauche, or CPE. Broadly speaking, the law makes it easier for an employer to fire a worker for 2 years, provided the worker in question is younger than 26. Specifically, it reverses the burden of proof - the worker has to prove they were unjustly terminated, rather than have the employer prove the termination was just. Effectively, it make a two-year probationary period for employees.
And for Mr. Wells, this is just fine. In fact, it doesn't go far enough. This shows only that it's been a while since Mr. Wells had to flip a burger. (From the OTHER side of the till, Paul.) Fact is, the French law is basically a giant wet kiss to the low-end service industry.
A limited probation period is certainly reasonable - in Ontario, I believe it's still three months. It might be different in other sectors. But what possible rationale is there for a 2-year probation period? I can see 3 months, even 6. On the outside, for certain jobs, it might even take a generous employer a year to decide whether or not an employee is going to work out or not - but only if the employer is generous or stupid, or both.
The only excuse for a 2-year probation period is to give management enough time to build a competent labour force without any kind of long-term commitment. The reason to keep a probation period short is simple - management should, after a reasonable period, have to justify why they're firing a trained and competent employee.
Ah, you say, why should management fire perfectly good employees? To which I say: You tell me, it happens all the time. People who write about the economy, especially when we're talking about young workers, should actually talk to some young workers and find out what their work is actually like before they tell us how spoiled we all are.
*Despite his recent sanity, Andrew Sullivan should always - always - be remembered for calling the "decadent coasts" (including, presumably, the victims of 9/11) traitors for not voting for Bush.