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Are the French lazy?


The pension reform in France opens the debate on the place that work occupies in our lives. And resurrects an old pamphlet, 'The right to laziness', by Paul Lafargue

The answer to the question that titles this letter is quick and simple: no.

Or no more and no less than the Americans, the Chinese or the Spanish.

But it is a current question in France since the environmentalist deputy Sandrine Rousseau claimed the right to be lazy a few months ago.

Rousseau cited a classic of the genre: 'The right to be lazy', a pamphlet published in 1880 by Paul Lafargue, pioneer of socialism and son-in-law of Karl Marx.

Lafargue dreamed of the day when we would work “a maximum of three hours a day” and when “work would be nothing more than a pleasant condiment for laziness”.

The book has returned to the present day due to the pension reform.

French President Emmanuel Macron has imposed by decree that the French retire at 64, instead of 62 as now.

The French refuse and protest in the biggest demonstrations seen in decades.

The discussion between the supporters of the reform (the government and a part of the moderate right) and the detractors (the rest of the political spectrum and the unions) prior to Macron's decision was highly technical.

But it can be summed up as whether the French must work harder to be able to pay for the public pension system.

Or if, on the contrary, it is not necessary to force them to extend their working life (an extension that, in the case of some trades, can be harmful to health and unfair),

Here we fully enter Lafargue.

It is worth quoting the entire opening of

The Right to Laziness


“A strange madness possesses the working classes of the nations in which capitalist civilization reigns.

This madness causes individual and social misery that, for two centuries, has tortured sad humanity.

This madness is the love of work, the dying passion for work carried to the exhaustion of the vital forces of the individual and of his offspring.

Instead of reacting against such a mental aberration, the priests, the economists, the moralists have sacro-sanctified work”.

The nineteenth-century philosopher attacked a fundamental value not only of this civilization and of capitalism, but also of the labor movement.

But there is another reading.

Because what the pamphlet is about is not so much the abolition of work, but the place it occupies in our lives.

Perhaps what Lafargue did, and what those who oppose the reform are doing, is outlining a reinvention of work: its duration, its conditions, its quality.

It is a very French debate.

We could go back to the 40-hour week and the generalization of paid holidays with the Popular Front in 1936. Or the 35-hour week in the year 2000 with the socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin.

It was disconcerting, at the Paris demonstration on Tuesday, to see students barely out of their teens bellowing against the obligation to work two more years when they are 62. It is easy to indulge in condescension when seeing a country mobilized almost en bloc in against a measure that neighboring countries adopted years ago.

These French... Lazy?

Let's go back to the classics.

What Lafargue lamented was the opposite: the addiction of his compatriots to work.

His model, or the object of his jokes, was a country that, in his judgment, had not yet tamed his instinct for idleness: Spain.

The pamphleteer declared: "For the Spaniard, in whom the primitive animal has not atrophied, work is the worst of slavery."

The lazy is always another.

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Source: elparis

All business articles on 2023-03-18

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