The new law was intended to give employers a simpler way of hiring workers under 26 on a trial basis without immediately exposing companies to the cumbersome and costly benefits that make hiring and firing such a daunting enterprise. Opposition to the law reflects the deep-rooted fear among the French of losing their labor and social protection in a globalized world. […] In its initial form, the law allowed employers to fire new employees within two years without cause. In the face of mounting pressure, Mr. Chirac watered it down so that employers could subject new employees to only a yearlong trial period, and then would have to offer a reason for any dismissal. Students and unions, bolstered by support from the opposition Socialists and even some business leaders, had vowed to continue their street protests until the law was rescinded. The Socialists were quick to proclaim victory on Monday. “This is an unquestionable retreat,” Francois Hollande, the leader of the Socialist Party, told reporters. “It is a grand success for the young and an impressive victory for the unity of the unions.” […]
Restrictions on Hours Another tempting policy to increase employment is to limit the number of hours an employee can work. Suppose that a firm needs 1,200 hours of labor time a week. If a typical worker works 40 hours per week, then the firm will need to hire 30 workers. But if the government were to legislate a 30-hour workweek, then the firm would need to hire 40 workers instead. This idea of “spreading work” through restrictions on hours was part of the response in the United States to the Great Depression. During the early 1930s, the US government instituted such restrictions under the heading of the “National Economic Recovery Act.” The idea persists to the present day. In France, the government passed a law limiting hours worked to 35 hours per week (for workers at large firms) starting in the year 2000. In Germany, the government operates a policy called Kurzarbeit, whereby it subsidizes firms who retain workers for shorter hours in times of recession. One problem with such policies is that restrictions on hours reduce the value of a match between a worker and a firm. Consequently, fewer matches will be formed, and more workers will be unemployed. Another problem is that it reduces flexibility in the labor market, which leads to less efficient functioning of the economy. As a concrete example, consider auto manufacturers in the years following the Great Depression in the United States. This industry had substantial variations in hours worked over the model year. During times of high demand for cars (the spring), factories and their workers were working overtime to meet the increased demand. Restrictions on hours meant that overtime working had to be replaced by increased hiring. Firms that wanted to produce more output had to hire and train new workers.