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France pays small business holders to shut up shop and join the dole queue.

November 29, 2012

In The Sunday Telegaph, France’s economy was accused of being stuck in the 70s.  I can confirm, living in France, her being stuck in the past is deeply entrenched in French society’s collective consciousness.

Sorbonne-educated Jean-Louis Borloo, a liberal, is the president of the centre-right Union des Democrates et Indépendants, and one of its radical members.  According to Atlantico, “As the UMP implode, Borloo’s UDI rub their hands (with glee)”.  I heard him interviewed an hour ago on France Inter, as he contemplates an opportunist coalition with the UMP following their being weakened by the scrap between Fillon and Copé.  He was loud and clear on his opinion that the Socialist party are stuck in 18th Century thinking.  You don’t say….!

I’ll say.  Having lived in France for just over 3 years, I was stunned when a well-meaning local employer, at the “Haras National” (National Stud) in my local town gave me some advice.  Seated in her office a stone’s throw away from the 100-year old shrine to the town’s working horse heritage, she advised me to wind up my business and go on the dole.  Excuse me?  “It would make you more interesting to employers”, she continued.  Scarcely able to restrain myself from asking why a “dole layabout” would make an “interesting” employee at any level, I didn’t bother saying that I wasn’t setting my sights on “getting a job”, having set up my own company.  “Please explain”, I said, my eyes wide with incomprehension as she continued this fascinating insight into the workings of a machine that pre-dates the Breton Poster horse. “Naturally”, she said, “government incentives to employ the unemployed mean that, in fact, you stand little chance of being taken on unless you ARE unemployed”.  So France prefers that small business holders shut up shop and join the dole queue, rather than getting off their backsides and generating some wealth.  Or in my case, encouraging and facilitating export.  I politely told her that I preferred spending my time actually working, rather than having circular discussions with fontionnaires.  Her superior smile said it all – but I was truly glad to agree to differ.

So, for Borloo, how to support small businesses?  This morning he commented that what he’s disliked seeing the most over the past 6 months, is the attitudes and practices that guarantee a talent drain for France, the battle for the liberty of those who could generate wealth, the heavy taxation and legislation that weigh them down.  Small companies being treated like large ones.  Man’s instinct to explore, says Borloo, is natural.  But France doesn’t foster enterprise, nor exterior investment, while other countries actively encourage it.

So what about Hollande’s “Competitiveness Pact “?  “Can we get serious for a moment?”, he said, “this crisis isn’t about the credit crunch: this government is leading us softly to recession….  Unemployment rising is the only one of their promises I’d believe.”  He went on to say that France should stop messing around with retrospective tax credits, and just lower the charges on businesses and tackle unemployment rather than paying it lip service.

In a bid to emphasise unity after a swingeing attack on the establishment, suddenly the discussion switches to Scouts – a discussion that turns out to be more than simple light relief.  At their most impressionable age, young boys are schooled into packs.  The most important principle?  The establishment of a clear leader, and the subsequent falling into line by the rest.  How they fear chaos and in-fighting – yet how they foster it in the same breath.

Geert Hofstede’s not wrong when he clinically, and without a solid base in theory, categorised the nations in his 4 dimensions, two of which are pertinent here.  “Power Distance” and fear of the unfamiliar conspire to make the French fearful of and closed to many things, especially the freedom for the ordinary person to flourish.  For all their shouting and demonstrating in the street, the French are actually MORE accepting of authority than many other nations.  This appears to inhibit their appetite to find ways around problems – they seek ways to fit in with the system as it is, instead.  Housewives obey their husbands, children are scared of their teachers – these can be good things in the right context, but are also reminiscent, as has been said before, of Britain in the 70s, and who would want to go back there?  A French person might wind up their business and register at the Job Centre in order to “conform”, but for me this runs counter to the idea that one must start as one means to carry on: from a position of strength.

The French think they’re bad at foreign languages – I don’t agree, what they’re bad at is speaking them out loud, for fear of being judged imperfect.  That’s just another example of how they’re tied up in their obsession with conformity They’d do better to look beyond spelling and grammar, and consider instead their inability to accept “foreign” ideas – such as a Free Market.  Their conservatism, caution and obsession with order and control, are what’s holding them back.

  1. November 30, 2012 1:37 am

    They are in cloud cuckoo land. The governments proposals to reduce the retirement age and introduce a 75% marginal rate of tax shows how out of it their thinking is. This wont hit home to politicians until France is downgraded to below A rating and international investors stop buying their bonds – probably more than a few years away from now but it will happen if they carry on with this insane economic thinking…

  2. November 30, 2012 10:51 am

    France another world, alright. Fundamental to the way they think is the scarcity of resources, which pushes them to take a conservative and defensive stance on everything. They suppress entrepreneurial activity and they tax the wealthy (and even the not so wealthy) as a means not only of “punishing” their success, but of grabbing back into the central coffers as much dosh as they can – as if if they don’t grab it today, it’ll have disappeared tomorrow. Which, as you point out in your comment above, it probably will have, because they’re strangling the life out of the engine of their own economy.

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