At the Sorbonne

French riot police stormed the Sorbonne on the weekend, ousting students who had barricaded themselves in the first occupation since the events of 1968.  I am in Paris (did you guess?) and the police presence at the Sorbonne is impressive, but student protests continue in the streets. 

     The students are protesting a new labor law which would make it easier to fire workers under the age of 26.  Of course, this would also make it easier to hire young workers who currently have an unemployment rate of 23 percent.  You cannot have it both ways; raise the cost of firing and you raise the cost of hiring.  In my opinion, the Sorbonne students need a little less Foucault and a little more Bastiat. 

Or perhaps the students know more economics than I credit them with.  Under the current law it is costly to fire anyone but the effect on hiring is not symmetric.  The workers least likely to be hired are those who are perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a risk.  The fear of hiring effect falls not on the privileged students at the Sorbonne (trust me today’s protesters were tres chic), but on young French North Africans whose unemployment rate exceeds 30 percent. 

Thus, paradoxical as it may seem, today’s protests by the Sorbonne elite are a cause of the riots of late last year. 


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