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It doesn’t take much sympathy to feel for the long-term unemployed, especially those who held down jobs for decades before discovering that — due to changes in the market, financial collapse, or injury — neither they nor their skills have useful employment. I’d even say that one needn’t be a raging leftist to at least consider whether the state should have some role in helping them transition into something new and remunerative, rather than let their skills and work habits atrophy to the point where they’re incapable of ever getting a new job.
It should come as little surprise that in Europe — where more than half of the unemployed haven’t had a job in over a year — consideration often turns into implementation. Sometimes, as this New York Times piece describes, that goes to some very, very weird places:
Sabine de Buyzer, working in the accounting department, leaned into her computer and scanned a row of numbers. Candelia [her employer] was doing well. Its revenue that week was outpacing expenses, even counting taxes and salaries. “We have to be profitable,” Ms. de Buyzer said. “Everyone’s working all out to make sure we succeed.”
This was a sentiment any boss would like to hear, but in this case the entire business is fake. So are Candelia’s customers and suppliers, from the companies ordering the furniture to the trucking operators that make deliveries. Even the bank where Candelia gets its loans is not real.
More than 100 Potemkin companies like Candelia are operating today in France, and there are thousands more across Europe. In Seine-St.-Denis, outside Paris, a pet business called Animal Kingdom sells products like dog food and frogs. ArtLim, a company in Limoges, peddles fine porcelain. Prestige Cosmetique in Orleans deals in perfumes. All these companies’ wares are imaginary.
According to the article, these virtual companies spun out of — and still operate largely as — training centers, with the objective of helping people back into the real workforce. They don’t pay wages, so those using them (if that’s the right phrase), still have to get by on their unemployment benefits.
But before we get back to that, it gets weirder:
Some of the faux companies even hold strikes — a common occurrence in France. Axisco, a virtual payment processing center in Val d’Oise, recently staged a fake protest, with slogans and painted banners, to teach workers’ rights and to train human resources staff members to calm tensions…
Several of the firms slid into virtual bankruptcy when they became [virtually] unprofitable. When that happened, the staff members took steps to shut down the company. They also learned how to open a new one, including applying for loans at a fake bank. The lenders will even reject them if the application isn’t properly filled out.
Now, I’m enough of a nerd to know that a good, immersive simulation can be extremely educational, and it’s worth noting that 60-70% of those who graduate from these virtual firms subsequently find real jobs. Even if we stipulate that we should be highly biased against government — and that the welfare conditions it creates often foster the conditions that allow long-term unemployment — that’s not nothing.
Still, there’s the weirdness. On the one hand, I can see the value in reminding people that — not matter how immersive or realistic — their training is just that, and they shouldn’t confuse it with a real job. But is there really nothing for these people to do that would provide them with training that’s actually productive, even if highly subsidized and unprofitable?Published in