Sunday, March 23, 2014

The French Malaise

It's news that the story appears in a long and detailed article in the  New York Times.

One does not expect the Times to be offering a cautionary tale about what happens to a country when it is taken over by statists who believe in tax and regulate.  Especially at a time when the American administration seems hell bent on emulating French policy.

As I and many others have reported, France’s best and brightest, its most talented young people and most successful businesspeople are fleeing the nation, seeking more opportunity, lower taxes and less red tape, often across the Channel.

The Times reports:

This month, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Paris, which represents 800,000 businesses, published a report saying that French executives were more worried than ever that “unemployment and moroseness are pushing young people to leave” the country, bleeding France of energetic workers. As the Pew Research Center put it last year, “no European country is becoming more dispirited and disillusioned faster than France.”

It isn’t difficult to understand. One young Frenchman decided to start a business in France. Here is what happened:

A one-month wait for a license turned into three months, then six. They tried simplifying the corporate structure but were stymied by regulatory hurdles. Hiring was delayed, partly because of social taxes that companies pay on salaries. In France, the share of nonwage costs for employers to fund unemployment benefits, education, health care and pensions is more than 33 percent. In Britain, it is around 20 percent.

Executive recruiter Diane Segalen moved her business to London:

“In Britain, you read about all the deals going on here,” Ms. Segalen said. “In the French papers, you read about taxes, more taxes, economic problems and the state’s involvement in everything.”

It’s not really new, but now, under the new Socialism of President Francois Hollande, the exodus is accelerating:

France has been losing talented citizens to other countries for decades, but the current exodus of entrepreneurs and young people is happening at a moment when France can ill afford it. The nation has had low-to-stagnant economic growth for the last five years and a generally climbing unemployment rate — now about 11 percent — and analysts warn that it risks sliding into economic sclerosis.

Some wealthy businesspeople have also been packing their bags. While entrepreneurs fret about the difficulties of getting a business off the ground, those who have succeeded in doing so say that society stigmatizes financial success. The election of President François Hollande, a member of the Socialist Party who once declared, “I don’t like the rich,” did little to contradict that impression.

For this among other reasons France has been suffering its own malaise. Gloom has descended on the nation.

In many ways it’s not surprising. Saturated with psychoanalytic thinking and leading the world in the per capita consumption of psychotropic medication, French culture, with its generous safety net, has wrung the risk out of life. It has replaced competitive striving with endless psychodrama. The reason, according to the Times, is that the French are incapable of dealing with failure.

Of course, you cannot launch a start-up if you fear failure:

From 80 to 90 percent of all start-ups fail, “but that’s O.K.,” said Eze Vidra, the head of Google for Entrepreneurs Europe and of Campus London, a free work space in the city’s booming technology hub. In Britain and the United States, “it’s not considered bad if you have failed,” Mr. Vidra said. “You learn from failure in order to maximize success.”

That is the kind of thinking that drew Mr. Santacruz to London. “Things are different in France,” he said. “There is a fear of failure. If you fail, it’s like the ultimate shame. In London, there’s this can-do attitude, and a sense that anything’s possible. If you make an error, you can get up again.”

Let’s be especially clear about a point that is very often misunderstood. Great Britain has what Ruth Benedict and many others have called a shame culture.

That means that it gives people the tools to deal with shame, constructively and effectively. France has what is called a guilt culture. Its citizens lack the tools to deal with shame; they can only suffer it… at times, like martyrs.

What are those tools? How about: a stiff upper lip and a culture that runs according to rules of good behavior, propriety, decorum and respectability. Such a culture shows you how to maintain your membership in the culture while you take the time to recover your lost stature.

It also believes in objective reality, in facts, and in empirical evidence. Thus, it allows people to feel more grounded and connected. It's better to have an objective reference than to have to dramatize everything.

On the other hand, a guilt culture will tell you to turn your failure into a grand drama. It will trap you in a fictional world where you have not just failed, but where your failure is a meaningful reflection about your unconscious motives. At that point, you have not just failed; you are a failure.


Anonymous said...

"What are those tools? How about: a stiff upper life and a culture that runs according to rules of good behavior, propriety, decorum and respectability."

Stiff upper lip?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you... correction made.

Mark said...

This is a bad for France, but great for London. I grew up in '60s London, but this is the most dynamic time in London's modern history thanks to feisty young adults from France, Poland, USA, all over Eastern Europe, Spain, Brazil, you name it. The women are better looking than their lumpenproletariat British equivalents. Good times.

Leo G said...

Sh but now England is storming ahead of France with "tolerance"

Sam L. said...

"One does not expect the Times to be offering a cautionary tale about what happens to a country when it is taken over by statists who believe in tax and regulate. Especially at a time when the American administration seems hell bent on emulating French policy."

The NYT is so blind when looking into a mirror, and this is what they want for the U.S.

Anonymous said...

Sam L

You are exactly right. If we followed the NYT's policy prescriptions the US economy and polity would look like France's in under a decade. They are disastrously ignorant people who somehow think they are more intelligent, cultured and moral than the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Sam L.:

You mean like what happens when Massachusetts people move to New Hampshire?