OFCE website home

A standard contract for France: a potluck approach?

By Jacques Barthélémy and Gilbert Cette

The debate over a single standard contract [contrat unique] generally arises in relation to the duality of the labour market, with on the one hand employees who are highly protected, such as civil servants and permanent employees (“CDI” contracts), and on the other hand workers shifting between periods of unemployment and poorly protected precarious jobs (fixed-term “CDD” and temporary contracts). This contrast reflects gross inequalities, and has important social and economic consequences.

To deal with this dual labour market, proposals are often made for a “single contract” that would reduce the differences in status and rights between precarious and permanent contracts. But the concept of a “single contract” is often poorly defined. If we closely examine the major differences that exist in the content of the various proposals, it even begins to look like a potluck approach! suite…»

Share Button

Should we be worried about the slowdown in China?

By Eric Heyer

China’s growth is slowing. This does not really come as a surprise: the slowdown was announced by the Chinese authorities; it can be seen in the national accounts; and it was predicted in all the medium-term scenarios of the major international organizations. It corresponds to a new phase in China’s economic and social development, towards growth that the authorities want to be more “qualitative, inclusive and innovative”.

However, many analysts and experts believe that the Chinese economy has slowed down more than is reflected in the country’s national accounts. According to a survey conducted in 2015 by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, 75% of investors are convinced that the real growth rate of the Chinese economy was less than 6% in the second quarter of 2015 on an annualized basis. For some, the overestimation of growth is due to an underestimation of inflation, particularly in the service sector. For others, China’s GDP growth rate needs to be correlated with the rate for electricity generation and be in line with freight by road, rail, sea or air. However, all these values have experienced ​​a significant decline since the start of 2014, and the stable relationship between GDP and these elements tends to indicate lower annual growth for the Chinese economy, of around 2% in early 2015 according to Artus, which is more in line with the observed fall in imports. This steeper slowdown would have a violent impact on the global economy, endangering the shoots of recovery in the developed economies. suite…»

Share Button

The potential headache of measuring economies in public expenditure

By Raul Sampognaro

Since 2009, the French budget deficit has been cut by 3.3 GDP points, from 7.2 percent of GDP in 2009 to 3.9 points in 2014, even though the economic situation has been weighing heavily on the public purse. This improvement was due to the implementation of a tighter budget policy. Between 2010 and 2013, most of the consolidation effort came from higher taxes, but since 2014 the effort has largely involved savings in public expenditure. In 2014, public expenditure excluding tax credits[1]  recorded its weakest growth since 1959, the year when INSEE began to publish the national accounts: in value, spending excluding tax credits increased by 0.9%, though only 0.3% in volume terms (deflated by the GDP deflator). suite…»

Share Button

The labour market: is the unemployment rate a good indicator?

By Bruno Ducoudré and Pierre Madec

Considering the euro zone on the one hand and the United States and the United Kingdom on the other, changes in unemployment rates are a reflection of the divergences in growth highlighted in our last fiscal year forecast. While between 2008 and late 2010, trends in unemployment reflected the sharp deterioration in growth and did not differ much between the euro zone, the UK and the USA, differences began to emerge from 2011. In the United Kingdom and the United States, unemployment has been falling since 2011, whereas, after a brief respite, a second phase of rising rates took place in most euro zone countries (Table 1). It was only more recently that the unemployment rate has really begun to fall in Europe (late 2013 in Spain and early 2015 in France and Italy). Overall, for the period 2011-2015 the rate rose overall (+2.7 points) in Spain. In Italy, this deterioration in the labour market even worsened (+4.5 points in this period, against +2.2 points from early 2007 to late 2010). France, though to a lesser extent, was not spared.

An analysis of the unemployment rate does not however convey the full dynamics at work in the labour market (Tables 2 and 3), in particular in terms of underemployment. Thus during the crisis most European countries reduced the effective working time [1] to a greater or lesser degree, through policies on partial unemployment, the reduction of overtime, or the use of working-time accounts, but also through the expansion of part-time work (especially in Italy and Spain), including on an involuntary basis. Conversely, the favourable trend in the US labour market is partly due to a significant decline in the participation rate, which stood in the first quarter of 2015 at 62.8%, 3.3 points lower than eight years ago.





In order to measure the impact of these adjustments (working time and participation rate) on unemployment, it is possible, subject to a number of assumptions [2], to calculate the unemployment rate at constant employment and control for these adjustments. Except for the United States, where the participation rate has fallen sharply since 2007, all the countries studied experienced an increase in their labour force (employed + unemployed) that was greater than in the general population; in many countries this was due to pension reforms. Mechanically, in the absence of job creation, the impact of this demographic trend is to push up the unemployment rate in the countries concerned. For instance, if the participation rate had remained at its 2007 level, the unemployment rate would be lower by 1.6 points in France and 1.1 points in Italy (Table 4). Conversely, without the significant contraction in the US labour force, the unemployment rate would have been more than 3 points higher than what was seen in 2015. Also note that since the crisis Germany has experienced a significant drop in unemployment (-4.2 points) even though its participation rate grew by 2.2 points. Assuming an unchanged participation rate, Germany’s unemployment rate would be 3.1% (Figure 1).

In terms of working time, the lessons seem quite different. It thus appears that if working time had been maintained in all the countries at its pre-crisis level, the unemployment rate would have been more than 3 points higher in Germany and Italy and about 1 point higher in France and Spain, countries in which working time decreased sharply only from 2011. In the US and UK, the situation is very different: working time has changed only very little since the crisis. By controlling for working time, the unemployment rate thus changes along the lines observed in the two countries.

The tendency for working time to fall is a familiar story. Since the late 1990s, all the countries studied have greatly reduced their working hours. In Germany, between 1998 and 2008, the reduction was on average 0.6% per quarter. In France, the transition to the 35-hour week caused a similar reduction over the period. In Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States, the downward shifts in average working hours were respectively -0.3%, -0.4% and -0.3% per quarter. In total, between 1998 and 2008, working time fell by 6% in Germany and France, 4% in Italy, 3% in the United Kingdom and the United States and 2% in Spain, which was de facto the only country that during the crisis intensified the decline in working time that started in the late 1990s.







[1] Working time is understood here as the total number of hours worked by employees and the self-employed (i.e. total employment).

[2] It is assumed that, at constant use, a one-point increase in the participation rate leads to an increase in the unemployment rate. Employment and working time are not considered here in full-time equivalents. Finally, neither the “halo of unemployment” nor any possible “bending effects” are taken into account.


Share Button

The French economy on the road to recovery

by Hervé Péléraux

The publication of the INSEE’s business surveys on October 22 confirms the French economy’s positive situation in the second half of 2015, suggesting that the negative performance in the second quarter of 2015 (0%) will turn out to have been merely “an air pocket” after the strong growth seen in the first quarter (+0.7%). The business climate in industry has exceeded its long-term average for the seventh month in a row, and the service sector has been recovering rapidly since May 2015 and has climbed back to its average, the highest level in four years (Figure 1). The business climate in the construction sector nevertheless is still suffering from the crisis that hit it, but its downward trend halted at the end of 2014; despite monthly hiccups, the sector has begun a slow recovery that could signal the end of its woes in the coming quarters. suite…»

Share Button

The labour market on the road to recovery

By Bruno Ducoudré

A look at the figures just published by France’s PĂ´le Emploi job centre for the month of September 2015 shows that the number of job seekers who were registered and inactive (category A) has declined significantly (-23,800), following an increase in August (+20,000). While this is encouraging news, the decrease has to be compared with the increases seen in categories B and C (+25,600). So while employment has indeed picked up, this has not resulted in the numbers of people exiting unemployment as measured by the job centre, i.e. it has not put a stop to the continuing rise in the number of long-term unemployed (+10.4% in one year). Nevertheless, these trends do support the conclusions drawn from current analysis which indicate that a recovery has indeed begun. suite…»

Share Button

An ever so fragile recovery

By the Department of Analysis and Forecasting, under the direction of Eric Heyer and  Xavier Timbeau

This text summarizes the OFCE’s economic forecast for 2015-2017 for the euro zone and the rest of the world.

The figures for euro zone growth in the first half of 2015 have confirmed the upswing glimpsed at the end of 2014. While the zone’s return to growth might once have been taken to indicate the end of the global economic and financial crisis that struck in 2008, the turbulence hitting the emerging countries, particularly over the summer in China, is a reminder that the crisis ultimately seems to be continuing. China’s economic weight and its role in world trade are now so substantial that, even in the case of a soft landing, the impact on growth in the developed countries would be significant. We nevertheless anticipate that the scenario for a recovery need not be called into question, and that euro zone growth will be broadly supported by favourable factors (lower oil prices and ECB monetary support) and by some weakening of unfavourable factors (easing of fiscal policies). But the fact remains that the situation in the developing world will add new uncertainty to an already fragile recovery. suite…»

Share Button

Investing in the zero carbon economy in order to escape secular stagnation

By Xavier Timbeau

What the downward revisions of various forecasts (IMF, OECD, OFCE) presented in early autumn 2015 tell us about the euro zone is not very comforting. A recovery is underway, but it is both sluggish and fragile (see: “A very fragile recovery“). The unemployment rate in the euro zone is still very high (almost 11% of the labour force in the second quarter), and a sluggish recovery means such a slow fall (0.6 point per year) that it will take more than seven years to return to the 2007 level. Meanwhile, the European Central Bank’s unconventional monetary policy is having difficulty re-anchoring inflation expectations. The announcement of quantitative easing in early 2015 pushed up the 5-year/5-year forward inflation rate [1], but since July 2015 the soufflĂ© has collapsed once again and medium-term expectations are 0.8% per year, below the ECB target (2% per year). Underlying inflation has settled in at a low level (0.9% per year), and there is a high risk that the euro zone will be frozen in a state of low inflation or deflation, strangely resembling what Japan has experienced from the mid-1990s to today. Low inflation is not good news because it is triggered by high unemployment and slowly rising nominal wages. The result is real wages growing more slowly than productivity. Little or no inflation means both real interest rates that remain high, which increases the burden of debt and paralyzes investment, but also an unconventional monetary policy that undermines the ability to measure risks and which gradually loses its credibility for maintaining price stability, i.e. to keep inflation within declared targets. At the Jackson Hole Symposium in August 2014, Mario Draghi announced that, in the face of persistent unemployment, monetary policy cannot do everything. Structural reforms are necessary (what else could a central banker say?). But a demand policy is also needed. Not having one means running the risk of secular stagnation, as was formulated by Hansen in the late 1930s and recently brought up to date by Larry Summers. suite…»

Share Button

Lower taxation on business but higher on households

By Mathieu Plane and Raul Sampognaro

Following the delivery of the Gallois Report in November 2012, the government decided at the beginning of Francois Hollande’s five-year term to give priority to reducing the tax burden on business. But since 2015, the President of the Republic seems to have entered a new phase of his term by pursuing the objective of reducing the tax burden on households. This was seen in the elimination of the lowest income tax bracket and the development of a new allowance mechanism that mitigates tax progressivity at the lower levels of income tax. But more broadly, what can be said about the evolution of the compulsory tax burden on households and businesses in 2015 and 2016, as well as over the longer term? suite…»

Share Button

2015-2017 forecasts for the French economy

By Mathieu Plane, Bruno Ducoudré, Pierre Madec, Hervé Péléraux and Raul Sampognaro

This text summarizes the OFCE’s economic forecast for the French economy for 2015-2017

After a hesitant upturn in the first half of 2015 (with growth rates of 0.7% and 0% respectively in the first and second quarter), the French economy grew slowly in the second half year, with GDP rising by an average of 1.1% for the year as a whole. With a GDP growth rate of 0.3% in the third quarter of 2015 and 0.4% in the fourth quarter, which was equal to the pace of potential growth, the unemployment rate stabilized at 10% at year end. Household consumption (+1.7% in 2015) was boosted by the recovery in purchasing power due in particular to lower oil prices, which will prop up growth in 2015, but the situation of investment by households (-3.6%) and the public administration (-2.6%) will continue to hold back activity. In a context of sluggish growth and moderate fiscal consolidation, the government deficit will continue to fall slowly, to 3.7% of GDP in 2015. suite…»

Share Button