The French worker, reputed to be one of the laziest in the industrial world, is now more productive than his U.S. counterpart, according to the Paris-based Organisation for European Co-operation and Development (OECD). In 1973 the French produced 73% per hour as much as an American. That rose to 99% in 1987, and last year to 108%. The reasons, according to OECD: increasing flexibility of France's labor force and its lowest interest and inflation rates in 50 years. These low rates result from pressure to cut budget deficits in order to take part in last year's debut of the European single currency, the euro.
U.S. and Japanese companies have been swift to react to rising French productivity. Sun Microsystems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., and Toyota Motor Corp. are among private companies that together have created a million French jobs in the last three years. That compares with only 10,000 new jobs between 1990 and 1996.