An Observation upon returning from France

Monday night, I returned from Paris after two weeks (minus the three days I spent in London for Joe Malchow’s wonderful wedding) in the French capital. During my stay, I thought less about the things that obsess me at home — politics, world affairs, and sports — and more about history and art, as well as how fortunate Joe and his lovely wife Olivia are to have found each other.

However, I did have a few political thoughts about France and consider at least one of them worth sharing.

For 30 plus years, encompassing 10 visits to France, I have had the impression that the French people are considerably more entrepreneurial in spirit than their government allows them to be in practice. But since France is a democracy and the government persists in stifling the entrepreneurial spirit, I reluctantly concluded that I have overrated the prevalence of that spirit.

At the beginning of this visit, I read an article in the International New York Times claiming that widespread youth unemployment and underemployment in France have driven many of the young to strike out on their own by forming small businesses. The Times suggested that this boost to entrepreneurialism is the silver lining in the economic cloud under which France labors.

But given the regulatory environment, what are the prospects for the new enterprises being formed by young French men and women? To find out, I asked a new source — a Power Line reader I met for the first time during this visit — who is very well positioned to know.

He told me that, yes, the phenomenon of French 20 and 30-somethings striking out on their own is real. But because French law poses so many disincentives to actually hiring people, they are literally operating on their own. Thus, their businesses are, and likely will remain, too small to make a difference.

In effect, my source told me, forming a mom-or-pop business represents a way to make a living while remaining in Paris, a city that is not easy to leave. Basically, it’s an alternative to moving abroad (say, to London) — the move that many have made.

Meanwhile, shortly after I arrived in Paris two senior executives of Uber were detained and questioned by the police in Paris. According to the New York Times, French taxi drivers had demonstrated throughout the country to protest the UberPop service, blocking roads, disrupting traffic around major airports and, in some cases, attacking people they thought were working as Uber drivers.

The French Interior Minister condemned the lawless behavior of the protesters. However, again according to the Times, he saved his harshest words for Uber, calling the company “arrogant.”

As the French say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.