And so it ends, as it always seems to do, with France surrendering.

As you've probably heard, weeks ago, France introduced a new law aimed at either (depending on your point of view):

  • victimizing young workers and leaving them open to arbitrary and capricious firings by malicious employers; or
  • reassuring employers that they can hire inexperienced workers, secure in the knowledge that if for some reason "it doesn't work out," they will have up to two years in which to change their minds.

The law sparked demonstrations in the streets, with millions of people marching, and a few of them even rioting. Guess which of the two views above the marchers espoused?

So today, France caved. President Jacques Chirac "decided to replace Article 8 of the law on equal opportunities with measures in favor of the professional insertion of young people in difficulty." Not sure what "professional insertion" is? Neither am I, exactly (although it sounds rather unsavory). But according to news reports, the upshot is as follows: Workers aged 26 and under will, once hired, still be guaranteed the same lifetime employment that their older comrades have come to depend on.

Great news for the workers, but less so for local companies and foreign investors. They still have to weigh the risks every time they want to hire a worker: what happens if the worker proves lazy, incompetent, dumb as a bollard, or all three? Plus, there's the ever-present question of how to streamline a workforce to meet changing economic conditions.

The government's solution? Bribe 'em. At a cost expected to reach $360 million per year, France will encourage companies to create subsidized jobs for inexperienced young employees.

So instead of taking a step toward free trade in services and economic efficiency, France will wade further into state involvement in the economy. Just as it did when warning Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) to stay away from Carrefour, and Pepsico (NYSE:PEP) from Danone (NYSE:DA). Just as it did when "suggesting" that BP (NYSE:BP) and TotalSA (NYSE:TOT) lower their prices on gasoline. And just like last year, when the same Prime Minister who set up today's fiasco demanded that Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) renounce a wave of layoffs it had scheduled for France.

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

At least in France.

Total SA is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above.