According to the Los Angeles Times, suicide is growing at a significant rate among French workers. Many outside the country would be puzzled, since the French social welfare system is so heavily tilted toward workers. For instance, the French employment system features a short workweek, early retirement, job-protection laws that make it almost impossible to get fired, seven weeks of holidays and vacation time a year, and even paid lunches. An American worker – even UAW members – would be impressed. But in spite of all the cushy benefits,
25 people have committed suicide over the last 2 years in a single company. Other companies are reporting rising suicides, and clinics are now opening up across the country to deal with “stress related” problems in the workplace.
It’s a great example of allowing your life to be directed from the outside instead of the inside. Governments and companies can create safety nets and provide great benefits, but they can’t instill a sense of purpose or drive to excel. That’s why capitalism works. For all its faults and its criticism since the Wall Street disasters, the possibility of determining your own destiny is what drives innovation, and innovation allows people to determine their own future. Read the pages of “Fast Company” magazine and you’ll be inspired by stories of forward looking individuals and companies, using original thinking to solve problems in the social sector, business, education, and medicine.
I’m afraid in a well-intentioned effort to provide for their country’s employees, France has unwittingly taken away their incentives to excel. Innovation involves risk, and risk always holds the possibility of failure. But without the possibility of growth, financial success, social change, and achievement, there is little to look forward to in France, or anywhere else.