Sarkozy, overtime, and science

In France, if you work longer than 35 hrs. a week you get paid overtime, and your employer pays the government a tax. The idea is that employers have economic incentives to hire more people rather than pay good workers to work longer hourse. Scottie’s Mom expounds upon this idea:

I think it’s a good idea for those who prefer to work more than 35 hours per week that they won’t have to pay a higher tax rate on overtime. Already middle-managers and top managers work “beaucoup de plus”, don’t get paid extra for it, and it seems that the workers at the bottom of the pile get all of the social benefits…35 hour work-weeks, overtime pay, etc., etc. What’s really strange, even those who own their own masonry, electric, plumbing enterprises have adopted the 35-hour work week for themselves; many times they are the sole employee with the exception that they sometimes hire part-time people.

Interesting how tax policy can shift cultural attitudes.

Sarkozy wants to reduce or eliminate the overtime tax. One of my French colleagues, who is working in America as a neuroscientist, voted for Segolene both times and thinks Sarkozy will be a disaster. He specifically cited the reduction or elimination of the overtime tax as a big mistake. I find the overtime tax quite shocking and would love to see it repealed.

The way that EU countries and America fund science is also very different. In France, large institutes receive a lot of money and everyone else gets very little. It reminds me of the Charity Hospital system in New Orleans. From Science magazine:

But the candidates’ opinions diverged on how to address the malaise in French research and the long-running problems at the country’s universities. Science and higher education don’t mix well in France, because most research takes place at mammoth government institutions such as the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) rather than at the universities. A highly centralized administration system means universities are relatively powerless to set their own agendas; they also suffer from the fact that the smartest young minds typically attend the so-called grands ├ęcoles, which train France’s professional and political elite but carry out little research.

Sarkozy has also suggested turning the big research bodies such as CNRS into U.S.-style granting agencies that would reward proposals rather than employ scientists–a controversial shift in a country where science usually means a government job for life. To carry out those promises, Sarkozy’s UMP will have to retain its majority in the National Assembly during elections next month; polls suggest it will.

America’s granting agencies, mainly bodies of the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, reward grant proposals in a psuedocompetitive processes between professors/MDs applying from universities throughout the nation. There is a long list of European scientists who flock to America in part because of better pay, but in large part because of the un-meritocratic exclusion they faced because the few “Herr Professors” get almost all the funding. I don’t know if the Sark can change that for France, but for many of my European colleagues the changes come too late, they are doomed to do research in the land of the free. Yee-haw! USA!USA!