Since SARS, Japanese Protect One Another by Wearing Masks

(p. A4) PARIS — Until a few weeks ago, Asian tourists were the only mask-wearers in Paris, eliciting puzzlement or suspicion from French locals, or even hostility as the coronavirus began sweeping across Europe.

. . .

This taboo is falling fast, not only in France but across Western countries, after mounting cries from experts who say the practice is effective in curbing the coronavirus pandemic.

The shift for Western nations is profound and has had to overcome not merely the logistical challenges of securing enough masks, which are significant enough, but also a deep cultural resistance and even stigma associated with mask-wearing, which some Western leaders described flatly as “alien.”

Seemingly, it won’t be for much longer. After discouraging people from wearing face masks, France, like the United States, has begun urging its citizens to wear basic or homemade ones outside. And some parts of Europe are moving faster than the United States by requiring masks instead of simply recommending their use.

. . .

. . . masks were . . . alien to Asia until it was struck by the SARS pandemic in 2003.

In Japan, after people got used to masks, they continued to wear them against seasonal allergies or to protect one another from germs. Unlike in other Asian nations, where many wear masks against air pollution, mask-wearing became widespread despite the absence of immediate threats.

Mask-wearing has become such a part of daily life that it now plays a role in maintaining an overall feeling of being “reassured” in Japanese society, said Yukiko Iida, an expert on masks at the Environmental Control Center, an environmental consulting company based in Tokyo.

“When you put on a mask, you’re not inconveniencing others when you cough,” Ms. Iida said. “You’re showing others that you’re abiding by social etiquette, and so people feel reassured.”

. . .

Daniel Illouz, a pharmacist in eastern Paris, said that he had been skeptical of the government’s repeated message that widespread mask-wearing was not helpful in fighting the epidemic.

“I don’t see why in all the Asian countries, where they have masks, it would work, but it wouldn’t work for us,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Norimitsu Onishi and Constant Méheut. “Wearing Masks, Common in Asia, Rises in the West.” The New York Times (Friday, April 10, 2020): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 9, 2020, and has the title “Mask-Wearing Is a Very New Fashion in Paris (and a Lot of Other Places).”)

“Working-Class Louis-François Cartier” Succeeded Through “Industry, Shrewdness, and Sheer Luck”

(p. 21) While Cartier is now a fixture in every major city, a synonym for international panache, its origins were modest. The author’s great-great-great-grandfather, , founded his eponymous company in 1847. Through a combination of industry, shrewdness, and sheer luck, he managed to transform his small shop into a fashionable destination: no small task in an era of civil unrest and regime change.

Thriving in the fickle fine jewelry market required finesse, and Brickell highlights the complementary skills different members of the close-knit Cartier clan brought to their ever-shifting business: innovative design, meticulous craftsmanship, an early appreciation for the power of public relations, and a keen eye for spotting counterfeit stones. Early on, Cartier also, crucially, developed a reputation as an honest and reliable dealer when droves of aristocrats were hocking their jewels following the Franco-Prussian War.

For the full review, see:

Sadie Stein. “Family Jewelers.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, December 22, 2019): 21.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. [sic] 26, 2019, and has the title “Can’t Afford a Shopping Spree at Cartier? This Book Is the Next Best Thing.”)

The book under review, is:

Brickell, Francesca Cartier. The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewelry Empire. New York: Ballantine Books, 2019.

French Jobs Rise as Labor Regulations Fall

(p. A1) PARIS — One after another, the speakers in Parliament have denounced President Emmanuel Macron and his revolutionary plans, calling them “cynicism” and a “flagrant crime.” Outside, hundreds of protesters shout their fury. Other demonstrators, invoking a long French tradition, have called for his head.

. . .

(p. A6) Mr. Macron has upset the French, and he is deeply unpopular for it. So it has become the defining paradox of his rule that he remains much despised, even as his changes begin to bear fruit.

The intractable unemployment rate, slayer of his predecessors, appears finally to be bending to a French president’s touch, recently reaching its lowest rate in 12 years at 8.1 percent.

Working-age employment rates are up, worker-training programs are showing big gains, quality long-term job contracts are outpacing precarious, short-term ones.

All of those are advances plausibly attributed to Mr. Macron’s landmark loosening of the rigid French labor market.

For the full story, see:

Adam Nossiter. “As the French Call for His Head, Macron Is Reshaping the Nation.” The New York Times (Wednesday, February 26, 2020): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 25, 2020, and has the same title “As Emmanuel Macron’s Impact Grows, So Does French Disdain.”)

French Labor Law Reduces Firm Innovation

I heard an intriguing paper at the January 2020 AEA meetings in San Diego. It shows that a French labor market regulation discourages firm innovation. The abstract of the working paper version of the paper appears below.

We study the impact of labor regulation on innovation. We exploit the threshold in labor market regulations in France which means that when a firm reaches 50 employees, costs increase substantially. We show theoretically and empirically that the prospect of these regulatory costs discourages firms just below the threshold from innovating (as measured by patent counts). This relationship emerges when looking nonparametrically at patent density around the regulatory threshold and also in a parametric exercise where we examine the heterogeneous response of firms to exogenous market size shocks (from export market growth). On average, firms innovate more when they experience a positive market size shock, but this relationship significantly weakens when a firm is just below the regulatory threshold. Using information on citations we also show suggestive evidence (consistent with our model) that regulation deters radical innovation much less than incremental innovation. This suggests that with size-dependent regulation, companies innovate less, but if they do try to innovate, they “swing for the fence.”

The source of the abstract quoted above, is:

Aghion, Philippe, Antonin Bergeaud, and John Van Reenen. “The Impact of Regulation on Innovation.” 2019.

French Regulations Require Only Doctors Can Identify the Dead

(p. A4) DOUAI, France — Her mother’s death had been expected. Terminally ill with breast cancer, she lay in a medical bed in her living room, visited daily by a nurse.

But when Sandra Lambryczak’s 80-year-old mother died earlier this year, in the predawn hours of a Saturday morning, the daughter suddenly discovered a growing problem in France’s medical system: By law, the body couldn’t be moved until the death was certified by a medical doctor, but a shortage of personnel can sometimes force families to keep their deceased loved ones at home for hours or even days.

. . .

Doctors have resisted pressure from some politicians to delegate the authority to certify deaths to other health care officials. They argue that it is a serious medical procedure and that a mistake in noting the cause of death could have legal consequences.

“There are doctors, if they don’t know the patient well, say to themselves that they don’t want trouble later on,” said Dr. Olivier Bouchy, the vice president of the French Medical Council in the department of Meuse. “Signing a death certificate is not harmless.”

As with many things in France, tradition is perhaps also an obstacle to changing the doctor’s role in certifying deaths. The death certificate process, Dr. Bouchy said, harked back to an earlier time.

. . .

In France, the state’s role in regulating people’s daily lives — including in matters of health — remains strong. So the lack of a doctor, especially at the emotionally vulnerable moment when a family member dies, can feel like a deep betrayal.

“We felt abandoned by the state,” said Frédéric Deleplanque, who had to wait more than two days for a doctor to certify the death of his father-in-law, Jean-Luc Bajeux, a retired autoworker. “We were nothing.”

For the full story, see:

Norimitsu Onishi. “An Agonizing Delay After a Death at Home.” The New York Times (Tuesday, December 17, 2019): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 16, 2019, and has the title “In France, Dying at Home Can Mean a Long Wait for a Doctor.”)

E.U. Consumers Benefit from Telecommunications Deregulation

(p. A23) When Thomas Philippon moved to Boston from his native France 20 years ago, he was a graduate student on a budget, and he was happy to discover how cheap American telephone use was. In those days of dial-up internet connections, going online involved long local phone calls that could cost more than $10 apiece in France. In the United States, they were virtually free.

. . .

Today, his parents pay about 90 euros (or $100) a month in the Paris suburbs for a combination of broadband access, cable television and two mobile phones. A similar package in the United States usually costs more than twice as much.

. . .

The irony is that Europe is implementing market-based ideas — like telecommunications deregulation and low-cost airlines — that Americans helped pioneer. “E.U. consumers are better off than American consumers today,” Philippon writes, “because the E.U. has adopted the U.S. playbook, which the U.S. itself has abandoned.”

For the full commentary, see:

Leonhardt, David. “Big Business Is Overcharging You.” The New York Times (Monday, November 11, 2019): A23.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 10, 2019, and has the title “Big Business Is Overcharging You $5,000 a Year.”)

Philippon’s views on competition are elaborated in his book:

Philippon, Thomas. The Great Reversal: How America Gave up on Free Markets. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2019.

“Bureaucratic Madness Is Choking Growth”

(p. A21) Jean Tirole, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2014, says that the study of economics is “simultaneously demanding and accessible.”

. . .

“Economics for the Common Good” offers an ambitious yet accessible summary of his ideas on the proper role of economists and the value of their ideas in informing government, business and social life.

. . .

One of the best chapters in the book deals with the issue of employment law in France. Successive governments have tried to micromanage the agreements between companies and employees to ensure fair treatment and low unemployment. But France’s unemployment rate has remained high, entrepreneurship has been stifled, and companies have become loath to hire people because of the prohibitive costs of firing them. Even if an employee proves useless, it’s nearly impossible to sack him.

On the employee’s side, even if you want to resign, it is more lucrative to wait to be fired, since you get both severance pay and unemployment insurance. To resolve the stand-off between workers who want to quit and companies that want to cut staff, employers and employees now collude through a legal formula called “termination by mutual consent.” The employee resigns and receives unemployment benefits as if he has been dismissed, and the company is spared the legal ramifications and costs of dismissal. In Mr. Tirole’s view, such bureaucratic madness is choking growth.

. . .

Mr. Tirole has a patient, explanatory style. But when riled, he lashes out. The French education system, he writes, purports to be non-selective but favors the affluent and well-educated. It “is a vast insider-trading crime.”

For the full review, see:

Philip Delves Broughton. “BOOKSHELF; What Good Is An Economist?” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, December 19, 2017): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 18, 2017, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; Review: What Good Is an Economist?; A French Nobel laureate and public intellectual discusses the proper role of the dismal science in government, business and the life of the mind.”)

The book under review is:

Epstein, David. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. New York: Riverhead Books, 2019.