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Parisians on vacation, but jobs are on their minds

This is the time in Paris when enough Parisians have left that you just might be able to sit at a sidewalk cafe without being choked by the automobile fumes, as we did the other night, having dinner just down the street.

The Parisians have begun to head for the country. While August is the traditional vacation month, the movement now begins after the national day on July 14.

On our last day in Brittany last Wednesday, the beaches were full. Coming back, we were going against heavy traffic. The Atlantic Coast is becoming more "in" than the Mediterranean Cote d'Azur.

Those Parisians who remain are called the Aoutians, the people of August, the Augusters, and you may be sure that there are enough of them to keep the museums and restaurants open and charge you $4 for a cup of coffee if you sit down at one of the tourist trap cafes along, say, the Champs Elysees.

Unless you happen to be caught by a heat wave, this is the best time of the year.

If you are a French bureaucrat _ pardon me, civil servant _ or have a reasonable job, you get six weeks of vacation a year plus 12 national holidays.

You will probably take four weeks in summer and two weeks in winter, skiing if you're well-heeled enough. Almost every

one can arrange a few holidays so that they are extensions of a weekend.

Your kids can go to the university almost free. Your health care and medicine are subsidized. And, if government plans work out, your workweek may soon be reduced from 39 hours a week to 37.

Paradise? Maybe not quite. For all the above, the French are best described as morose, and President Jacques Chirac was not able to talk them out of it before their vacations.

The other side of the privileges is haunting not only France but Europe. It's the globalization of the economy. And in Europe, it boils down to jobs, jobs, jobs.

Chirac won office little more than a year ago, promising to do something about a rate of unemployment approaching 12 percent. It has only gotten a little worse.

Each time Europe's leaders meet, it's at the top of their public agenda as it also was when leaders of the world's seven most industrialized nations met this summer in Lyon.

They talk about reducing the workweek, cutting taxes that discourage employers from employing, loosening credit to encourage new businesses, creating public works projects and so on.

But very little gets done, if only because all the remedies are hard to get started and promise only marginal improvements. Nobody really knows what to do.

After 14 years of mostly Socialist rule in France, the energetic Chirac has come in with a new broom. Something that happened last week was instructive.

One of the things he is sweeping away is national conscription, the citizen army that goes back more than 200 years to the French Revolution and has been one of the bases of the French Republic.

Military service for all men of 18 was a source of national unity. But it also stood in the way of a leaner and meaner all-professional army able to project its power abroad to the extent the United States and Britain could in the Persian Gulf war.

So, by 2002, France will have a professional army of 350,000 instead of a citizen army of 500,000.

Last week the names were announced of the 38 regiments that will be dissolved out of the present 129. For the localities where they are based, it means lost jobs, disaster for some, and for the armaments industries that provide their weapons.

What has this got to do with the globalization of the economy? Only this. How can France, Germany and others compete in the world marketplace when times have changed, peace has broken out and their workers get more pay, more benefits and work fewer hours than say someone 12 years old doing the same work somewhere in the developing world 70 hours a week for 10 cents an hour?

An exaggeration maybe, but jobs do go elsewhere. How can any social gains be protected? In theory, things are supposed to work out when new jobs are created, but that's pie in the sky.

The United States itself hasn't figured out how to encourage job security and prevent the biggest rewards going to the few who can figure out how to fire more people in the name of efficiency and competitiveness in the world marketplace.

All this causes questions about globalization that have yet to be answered and probably must be to avoid the risks of social chaos that weakened the democracies, strengthened the communists and produced the fascists in the Europe of the 1930s.

Meanwhile, envy the Frenchman who has a job.

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