- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
When French Industrial Renewal Minister Arnaud Montebourg wrote to Maurice Taylor, asking him to invest in a failing Goodyear tire plant in Northern France, the Titan Tire CEO could have just said, "no." But that’s not really his style:
"I have visited that factory a couple of times. The French workforce gets paid high wages but only works three hours," Taylor said in the letter, dated February 8 and obtained by French business daily Les Echos.
"They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three. I told this to the French union workers to their faces. They told me that’s the French way!"[…]
"Titan is going to buy a Chinese tyre company or an Indian one, pay less than one euro per hour wage and ship all the tyres France needs. You can keep the so-called workers."
Taylor followed up in an interview with the AFP:
"I just came back from Australia and I met there young Frenchmen and women and young Spanish men and women who have moved there because they can get jobs down there and they’re excited to build something," he said.
"That’s why in France pretty soon everybody will be sitting down in cafes sipping a glass of wine but they won’t be making any money."
After it was obtained by the media, the letter provoked outrage in France and Montenbourg responded with an angry letter promising to "inspect your tyre imports with a redoubled zeal."
Obviously Taylor, a one-time longshot candidate for the GOP nomination for president and author of Kill All the Lawyers and Other Ways to Fix the Government, was being hyperbolic. But is there any truth to the critique?
Kind of. French workers work the fourth fewest hours per year in the OECD, according to the organization’s statistics. Only the Norwegians, Germans and Dutch work less. On the other hand, if working long hours was all it took to drive the economy, Greece — and no. 4 in the OECD — would be an industrial dynamo.
On the OECD’s labor productivity rankings, France comes in a respectable 7th after Norway, Luxembourg, Ireland, the U.S., Netherlands, and Belgium. So it seems they are getting something done in between those bottles of bourdeaux. Australia comes in 13th.