From a traditional neoliberal viewpoint, France is doing almost everything wrong economically. They've got high taxes, lots of regulation, and a generous welfare state. Heck, they even have state-owned enterprises. Clearly, it must be a wasteland of unemployment and idleness.
But here's a fun chart from the new Economic Report of the President that says otherwise:
French men of prime working age — i.e., between the ages of 25 and 54 — are much more likely than American men to be in the labor force. And the gap is growing.
What's true is that if you look at older French men, they're less likely to work thanks to more generous retirement policies. And if you look at younger French men, they're also less likely to work thanks to more generous student aid policies. America is great at getting kids in college to also work on the side, and it's good at making sure older people can't retire. But in terms of getting men in their prime working years into the labor force? We're not as good as Canada or the United Kingdom and we're way worse than Germany or France.
The White House's economists don't have any particularly sharp theories as to why this is other than a somewhat hazy notion that European countries have better institutions for connecting people to work.
So how about women?
Here you also see France and Germany doing great. But here the explanation seems clearer — American public policy provides less in the way of support for new moms than you see in many European countries.
But both charts offer the same conclusion — lurking behind the generosity to students and older people France is a bit of an economic dynamo that actually does a better job of getting people who should be working out there and working.