The State at Work, Volume 1
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The State at Work, Volume 1

Public Sector Employment in Ten Western Countries

Edited by Hans-Ulrich Derlien and B. Guy Peters

Representing the most extensive research on public employment, this volume explores the radical changes that have taken place in the configuration of national public services due to a general expansion of public employment that was followed by stagnation and decreases. Part-time employment and the involvement of women also increased as a component of the public sector and were linked to the most important growth areas such as the educational, health care and personal social services sectors. The two volumes that make up this study shed important insight on these changes.
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Chapter 9: The French Paradox: A Huge but Fragmented Public Service

Luc Rouban


Luc Rouban The weight and growth of public employment in France have always been highly debated questions. Controversies have been raised since the time of the monarchy as well as during the first years of the Republic and have appeared sporadically since then on the question of whether the state apparatus is too heavy. During the Revolution years, Saint-Just, in a famous speech, argued that major problems of the new government could be resolved if it could get rid of an army of ‘twenty thousand bureaucratic idiots’ (Rouban 1998a). Later, the development of liberal ideas between 1880 and 1900 gave way to systematic criticisms denouncing the ‘invasion of civil servants’. In fact, the question of government employment has been always related more broadly to the social structures and the role of the state. The economic dimension of the problem has been connected not only with efficiency or management questions but also with the fact that the state, as a major job provider, could be the best friend of the new middle class. Since the 1970s, all opinion polls show clearly two major findings: the first one is that French opinion does not consider that there are too many civil servants; the other one is that up to 75 per cent of the interviewed persons would encourage their children to become civil servants (Rouban 1998b). No controversy occurred about the level of government employment during the welfare state golden years, that is between 1950 and 1975. A more systematic debate,...

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