Wednesday, August 22, 2012

August in Paris: has everyone left?

A VIP friend of mine, Monsieur Banal, rang me up

Mr Banal:  Bonjour, Pierre.  Sorry to interrupt you with a phone call in August, but I can't reach any other foreign executives in France.  Where have all the others gone?

Me:  Monsieur Banal, they have moved to Switzerland, or Belgium, or the UK, to escape your plans to tax them at 91%.  

Mr Banal:  No, it's 75% tax, plus social charges.  Together taxes are over 90%.  That's true.  But only for the rich. 

Me:  But, Monsieur Banal, your tax rates are double those of London or Switzerland.  Mitt Romney pays 13% tax!  Even for people who love France, like me, how can we ever save for retirement if there's nothing left after taxes?

Mr Banal:  You don't need to save for retirement, since we have a generous French pension system, and you can now retire with a full pension at 60, thanks to me, the lowest retirement age in Europe.   

Me:  Monsieur Banal, do you remember when George W Bush said:  "French doesn't even have a word for entrepreneur'.  Ok, it was a very funny line.   Entrepreneurs building new businesses around the world use stock options as a way to incentivize their workforce to create new companies.  So, why would you pursue a policy to make stock options illegal?

Mr Banal:  In the public sector, we don't get stock options, so we see no reason why you should either.  We believe in fairness. 

Me:  Entrepreneurs often complain about suffocating regulation and bureaucracy.  Will things get better here?

Mr Banal:  I have never worked one day in my life in the private sector, but I learned how to regulate the excesses of capitalism at the Ecole Nationale d'Administration. 

Me:  France has well-educated, productive workers, doesn't it?

Mr Banal:  Indeed.  In France, we have a happy workforce.  Our employees get more vacation than almost anywhere in the world (by law, a minimum of 5 weeks per year), and they work fewer hours than almost anywhere in the world (by law, 35 hours per week).  This makes them very happy.  It is true that they sometimes strike, but only when they are not happy.    

Me:  What if my business fails?  

Mr Banal:  My Ministre du Redressement Productif (I cannot translate this into the English) will castigate you in the media, but it's only populist politics.  Don't pay any attention to him.  I don't really hate the rich, I just say that to set the tone.  

Me:  Why would so many French entrepreneurs expatriate to London or Silicon Valley to build their businesses?

Mr Banal:  Indeed, this is completely unacceptable.  We have a tradition of engineering excellence, and my government will help select those French technologies and businesses that deserve to succeed in the future.  

Me:  Let's have lunch in September.  

Mr Banal:  Sorry, I've been invited to lunch in Berlin.  I don't like the food there, but at least they pick up the check.  Will you still be in France when I get back?  

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