France

Incentives Matter: Sad Anecdotes From a Sapped France (UPDATED)

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Looking for Mr. GoodRock. |||

The French "lost generation" story has become a journalistic (and cinematic) genre onto itself, as the population of funny-accented expats swells in more dynamic places like New York, London, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong. This big Newsweek take on the topic, by a Brit named Janine di Giovanni who moved to France with her Gallic husband a decade ago, provides a valuable snapshot of what it looks like on the inside of a country slowly but surely leaking its energy. 

Though it rests on anecdotes from unnamed locals, the piece (for me, anyway) contains the strong ring of familiarity, while also providing a cautionary tale of what might happen if certain American polities decide to go more French. Excerpt:

As a new mother, I was surprised at the many state benefits to be had if you filled out all the forms: Diapers were free; nannies were tax-deductible; free nurseries existed in every neighborhood. State social workers arrived at my door to help me "organize my nursery." My son's school lunch consists of three courses, plus a cheese plate. 

But some of it is pure waste. The French state also paid for all new mothers, including me, to see a physical therapist twice a week to get our stomachs toned again. […]

When I began to look around, I saw people taking wild advantage of the system. I had friends who belonged to trade unions, which allowed them to take entire summers off and collect 55 percent unemployment pay. From the time he was an able-bodied 30-year-old, a cameraman friend worked five months a year and spent the remaining seven months collecting state subsidies from the comfort of his house in the south of France.

Another banker friend spent her three-month paid maternity leave sailing around Guadeloupe – as it is part of France, she continued to receive all the benefits.

Yet another banker friend got fired, then took off nearly three years to find a new job, because the state was paying her so long as she had no job. "Why not? I deserve it," she said when I questioned her. "I paid my benefits into the system." Hers is an attitude widely shared.

It's a pretty comfy system for non-ambitious people who are able to find work. The problem is that the number of those people continues to shrink, while the potentially job-creating ambitious seek a meaningful life elsewhere.

Whole thing here.

UPDATE: A reader living in France mails in a corrective to di Giovanni's story:

Matt, I'm an American living in Paris, a fan of your blog, and no fan at all of Francois Hollande's economic policies … but you really messed up in praising that Newsweek "Fall of France" story. You said that the anecdotes have the "strong ring of familiarity"—well, it seems Janine di Giovanni was counting on her readers reacting that way, because a lot of her story was simply made up. Free diapers, free baby nurseries and state-subsidized gourmet lunches at her kids private school? All utterly false—and I should know, I raised a kid here. A junior cabinet minister sent to Davos last year because nobody else in government speaks English well enough? Actually the Finance Minister was at Davos and gave a talk in English, which he speaks fluently. Milk in Paris costing $4 per half-liter? The real price is about 50 cents—what is she living in some kind of parallel universe? The basic point of her  story, that France is over-taxed and stifles growth and entrepreneurship, is undoubtedly true. But plenty of others have written that story already, and backed it up with real evidence which would not have been hard to find if she had gotten off her duff and done some real reporting.

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  1. America will accept all the Julie Delpys France doesn’t want.

    1. Only so long as they’ve been dried, split, and rendered incapable of propagating.

      1. Sounds like the aftermath of a ‘date’ with Warty.

  2. “But some of it is pure waste. The French state also paid for all new mothers, including me, to see a physical therapist twice a week to get our stomachs toned again.”

    She just identified the only part of it not pure waste.

  3. You know who else gave the French sad anecdotes?

    1. Proust?

    2. Robespierre?

    3. Vercingetorix?

    4. Wellington!

      1. CURSES!

    5. Jerry Lewis?

    6. You know who else gave the French sad anecdotes?

      ?dith Piaf?

    7. Bastiat?

    8. Julius Ceasar, back in the day?

      1. Jean-Paul Belmondo?

  4. Dearest anti-trade, anti-market anti-globalists: this is what your “race to the bottom” really looks like. It’s the tortoise’s race, true, but they’re trudging along as quickly as their stumpy legs can carry them.

  5. Anyone who advocates a reduction in French social benefits probably has stock in Citro?n manufacturing and/or fire extinguishers.

    1. Unless those cars are made outside of France, they won’t be built anytime soon after the fireworks.

  6. Incentives matter if we are taxing soda or tobacco but magically go away if we are taxing income.

    1. The intent of the tax is all that matters. Intent is magic.

    2. Wha? We tax income, and now we have a lower percentage of income-producing people in the country than ever before.

      The intent was to make people dependent on government. Actual intentions and stated intentions don’t have to match.

  7. Liked this quote from the article:

    “There is a grayness that the heavy hand of socialism casts.”

    To the generation who grew up without the great economic laboratory of West and East Germany leaving no doubt which economic system led to prosperity, and which one needed armed guards and minefields to keep its “citizens” from fleeing, the grayness of socialism is difficult to recognize. You see it at the DMV, when you wander from one line to the next, filling out a new form each time. You see it in the inner cities and rural Appalachia, where at noon everyone in the community is outside, drinking a beer and waiting for the mail and their government check. People today need to be reminded that this isn’t how things have to be.

    1. People today need to be reminded that this isn’t how things have to be.

      anyone who attempts to do the reminding is instantly casts as a heartless creature who cares for no one but his own profits. Look at the dustup we’re having over (yet another) extension of unemployment benefits.

      Things start becoming something else when the checks stop. An unchecked benefit eventually becomes an entitlement before metastazising as a lifestyle.

  8. gee, what a stunner. When something is subsidized, the result is more of it.

  9. From the article:

    …politicians like Hollande have to let the people breathe. Creativity and prosperity can only come about when citizens can build, create, and thrive.

    The French voters chose Hollande just like NYC voters chose De Blasio. They chose these guys because they prefer the false comfort and outright lies of progressivism/socialism. They’ll embrace these policies all the way down the spiral as long as individuals they’re still getting their share. Only a crisis will bring about the necessary reflection and reform.

    1. Hollande is one of a long ling of TOP MEN, known as ?narques. France reeks with TOP MEN syndrome.

      1. Not only them. In M?xico, opinion makers joke about our habit of choosing a new tlatoani (an Aztec king) every six years with the hope that the new one will finally fix everything that is wrong with the country.

        (By law, we don’t allow reelection for presidents, senators, legislators, governors, even mayors; it’s one of those odd political relics of our revolution.)

        I once told some of my American friends, in jest, that they chose theirs already, twice. Their nervous laugh informed me of a nerve I struck.

        1. Yeah, in the UK it’s Oxbridge and in the US it’s increasingly Harvard/Yale. The fact that the US is increasingly drawing from this TOP MEN club is not coincidental to its decline.

          1. TOP MEN is a symptom of the Puritanical syndrome that has infected the Northeast for 400 years. Their migration pattern across the continent has been directly west, which is why you see the exact same idiocy in places like Madison Wisconsin, Mpls, Norther California/Oregon. Harvard and Yale, being private universities, are essentially the model of crony capitalism as the infestation in the aforementioned areas are public institutions. Combined, they are the worst of both worlds.

  10. Clearly, it’s more important to make a free-speech martyr out of a professional troll than it is to, you know, work.

  11. From the time he was an able-bodied 30-year-old, a cameraman friend worked five months a year and spent the remaining seven months collecting state subsidies from the comfort of his house in the south of France.

    THIS IS WHAT A CIVILIZED SOCIETY LOOKS LIKE!

  12. “Why not? I deserve it,” she [a banker friend of mine] said when I questioned her. “I paid my benefits into the system.” Hers is an attitude widely shared.

    And that, kids, is how socialism corrupts people’s moral compass.

    1. What ruins my moral compass is being the only chump working while everyone else gets a piece of my check.

    2. “Why not? I deserve it,” she [a banker friend of mine] said when I questioned her. “I paid my benefits into the system.” Hers is an attitude widely shared.

      Is she talking about Social Security?

  13. “I paid my benefits into the system.”

    If that were true* (as in, dollars out = dollars in) why not just take the cash up front and have control and ownership?

    *I think we all know.

    1. Because they’re not allowed to. The only way to get anything back from what you’ve put in is to take the arranged benefit. I don’t begrudge people a bit for it for that reason; if they don’t take the benefit, they’re allowing themselves to be victims.

  14. “What is the problem?”

    Krugnuts

  15. Do I have to be the one to point out that France has been “slowly but surely leaking its energy” for damn near 200 years?

  16. I would like to thank France for being a great example of what not to do. Hopefully the rest of the world will be smart enough to notice.

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