“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.

“Macron Is Concerned with the End of the World; We Are Concerned with the End of the Month”

(p. A6) “Bosses prefer taking on temporary workers,” says Virginie Bonnin, 40, who works in local auto parts plants. “We are disposable.”

A single mother of three girls, Ms. Bonnin earns €1,900 a month. She learns on Thursday nights what her hours will be for the coming week. When her jobs end, she is sustained by unemployment benefits of about €1,400 a month.

“I’m not the worst off,” she says. “But it’s tricky.  In those times, I will not eat meat so that the kids can eat meat.” Her last summer vacation, a sacred French institution, was two years ago.

Ms. Bonnin was provoked into joining the Yellow Vests by the same measure that mobilized much of the country, a tax on gasoline that was to take effect in January.

Mr. Macron promoted it as a means of adapting to climate change. Outside major cities, where people rely on cars to get nearly everywhere, it supplied proof that the president was indifferent to the working class.  “Macron is concerned with the end of the world,” one Yellow Vest slogan put it.  “We are concerned with the end of the month.”

That accusation endured even after Mr. Macron suspended the gas tax in the face of Yellow Vest furor.

For the full story, see:

(Note:  the online version of the story has the date April 15, 2019, and has the title “Inequality Fuels Rage of ‘Yellow Vests’ in Equality-Obsessed France.”)

Civil-Rights Leaders Argue That Green Policies Saddle the Poor “with Higher Living Costs”

(p. A19) French President Emmanuel Macron stirred popular rage by trying to raise the gasoline tax by about 25 cents a gallon. He argued that higher taxes would reduce fuel use and hence emissions of CO2, helping France meet the lower emissions goals to which it is pledged as a signatory to the United Nations’ Paris Agreement to fight climate change.
Mr. Macron has learned the hard way that voters don’t see climate change as a threat demanding personal sacrifices. The rebellion is global. Green measures that caused energy prices to soar damaged Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany’s 2017 election. Green energy plans were repudiated by voters in Australia and helped cause a political upheaval in the Canadian province of Ontario.
Voters in Washington state and Arizona rejected November ballot measures aimed at reducing CO2 emissions. The Journal’s William McGurn reported last week that 200 prominent civil-rights leaders have filed suit against the California Air Resources Board. Green policies, they argue, are saddling the poor with higher living costs.

For the full commentary, see:
George Melloan. “The Yellow Jackets Are Right About Green Policies; They have distinguished company in questioning the science behind climate-change dogma.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 17, 2018): A19.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 16, 2018.)

Outsiders in France Defend McDonald’s

(p. A4) MARSEILLE, France — The nearly 20-year-old images have entered French folklore: peasants, farmers and ex-hippies dismantling a rural McDonald’s, panel by panel, in what became a symbol of France’s resistance to American fast food.
Today that aging newsreel is being played in sharp reverse. A group of workers and their union leaders in Marseille are fighting tooth-and-nail to save a McDonald’s from closing in a working-class, largely immigrant neighborhood. A so-called “Festival of Dignity” protest was recently organized by the McDonald’s employees in an effort to save their roughly 70 jobs.
Even though McDonald’s was once seen as a cultural menace to a glorious French tradition, the workers say this particular McDonald’s, in its quarter-century of existence, has played a vital role as a social integrator in one of France’s most troubled districts — providing employment and shielding local youth from pervasive drug-dealing, getting them out of jail and helping them stay out.
“Look, we’re not thugs here,” said Kamel Guemari, the restaurant’s assistant manager, who was hired at age 16 and is now 37. “We’re working. And we’re setting an example for the others. We’re playing a social role.”

For the full story, see:
Adam Nossiter. “MARSEILLE DISPATCH; French Workers Fight to Save a Beloved McDonald’s.” The New York Times (Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018): A4.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 5, 2018, and has the title “MARSEILLE DISPATCH; Yes, There Is a French McDonald’s That Is Beloved (by Its Staff).”)

Emmanuel Macron Invokes the Spirit of Joseph Schumpeter

(p. A7) PARIS–Speaking at the annual gathering of the business and political elite in Davos earlier this year, French President Emmanuel Macron invoked the spirit of one of his favorite early-20th-century thinkers, Joseph Schumpeter.
The economist is the father of “creative destruction,” the theory that innovation sustains growth by destroying old business models. The embrace of such thinking has made Mr. Macron, an investment banker turned head-of-state, a darling of the globalist set. But this time, Mr. Macron warned that disruption was descending into a battle for the survival of the fittest.
“Schumpeter is very soon going to look like Darwin. And living in a completely Darwinian world is not good,” Mr. Macron said.
France’s president is on a mission to save globalism from itself and, lately, that has become a lonely road.

For the full story, see:
Stacy Meichtry and William Horobin. “Macron Walks a Line on Globalism.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 21, 2018): A7.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 20, 2018, and has the title “Macron’s Lonely Road: Saving Globalism From Itself.” In the last couple of sentences quoted, the wording follows the online version rather than the slightly different print version.)

Clues to How Macron Achieves Major Free Market Reforms in France

(p. A9) PARIS — The plush red velvet seats of France’s National Assembly are filled with lawmakers who owe just about everything to President Emmanuel Macron.
Three-quarters of the 577 members are brand new, swept into power in the wake of his election last year. More than 60 percent are in his camp. Nearly one-third have never held public office, and 38 were under the age of 31 when they entered office.
. . .
On Thursday [March 22, 2018], tens of thousands of railway workers, teachers and air traffic controllers went on strike across France to protest salary freezes for civil servants and Mr. Macron’s pledge to cut 120,000 public-sector jobs and introduce merit-based pay and use more private contractors.
. . .
The assembly has become a showcase of Mr. Macron’s forceful powers of persuasion and the ways he wants to reshape and update all of France.
“There’s been a complete cultural shock,” said Jean-Paul Delevoye, a senior official in Mr. Macron’s government who helped pick his candidates for Parliament.
“We’ve completely overturned the sociology of the assembly,” he added.
Diet Coke replaced wine as the most popular item at the assembly’s bar. Wine sales had plummeted, stunning the barmen, though they are creeping back up under the influence of long days. Mr. Macron’s acolytes sit through them, unlike their predecessors.
Before the rule for a deputy was, arrive Tuesday morning and go home Wednesday evening. Now, many say, Mr. Macron’s deputies come for the whole week.
So assiduous are they that “now, it’s hard to find a spot at the restaurant, that’s what strikes me,” said Brigitte Bourguignon, another ex-Socialist who joined Mr. Macron.
Among the youthful deputies, common positions are worked out in advance on applications like Telegram, befuddling the old-timers. There is little patience for them in any case.
. . .
Parliament was barely to be seen last year when Mr. Macron forced through changes to France’s rigid labor code to allow companies more flexibility in negotiating directly with workers, and to limit payouts after layoffs.
Instead, the president proceeded by special decree, using a rarely used procedure that allowed the National Assembly merely to vote thumbs up or down on the labor reforms — it voted up — but without the power to change or even discuss them.
Then, Mr. Macron rammed through the lifting of a tax on wealth, insisting that it was necessary to free capital for investment. Many economists agreed. But apart from a few opposition whimpers there was hardly any debate.
In coming weeks he proposes to take on the railway workers — the bête noir of many a French government — again by special decree. Mr. Macron wants to end the hiring-for-life, early retirement and enhanced medical insurance that have contributed to a whopping deficit. But he doesn’t necessarily want Parliament debating it.
. . .
For his dedicated supporters in Parliament, subordination is not an issue. Asked whether he had been in disagreement with the government, Mr. Potterie replied: “Ah, no. No. At the margins maybe. But for the moment, no.”
In the National Assembly, “it’s true that we don’t challenge the government,” he added. “It’s because we were elected to carry out their program.”
That sense of purpose runs deep.
“It’s not true that we are simply puppets,” insisted Ms. Bourguignon, the former Socialist. “We’ve got a government that reforms, and we’ve got to follow the government.”

For the full story, see:
ADAM NOSSITER. “Macron Fills the Role Of French Strongman.” The New York Times (Friday, March 23, 2018): A9.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 22, 2018, and has the title “Emmanuel Macron Becomes France’s Answer to Strongman Populism.” The online version says that the article appeared on p. A13 of the New York edition. It appeared on p. A9 of my National edition.)

Macron Gives France Hope That “Tomorrow Can Be Better Than Today”

(p. A27) PARIS — When people used to ask me what I missed about America, I would say, “The optimism.” I grew up in the land of hope, then moved to one whose catchphrases are “It’s not possible” and “Hell is other people.” I walked around Paris feeling conspicuously chipper.
But lately I’ve had a kind of emotional whiplash. France is starting to seem like an upbeat, can-do country, while Americans are less sure that everything will be O.K.
. . .
The French haven’t become magically cheerful, but there’s a creeping sense that hope isn’t idiotic, and life can actually improve. As is common with a new president, there was a jump in optimism after Emmanuel Macron was elected last year. But this time, optimism has remained strong, and in January it hit an eight-year high.
It helps that France’s economy is finally growing more and that Mr. Macron has made good on promises ranging from overhauling the labor laws to shrinking class sizes at kindergartens in disadvantaged areas.
. . .
“The France of the optimists has won, and is dragging the other part of France toward its own side,” said Claudia Senik, an economist who heads the Well-Being Observatory, an academic think tank here.
The French are even taking an intellectual interest in this alien idea. There are optimism clubs, conferences and school programs, scholars of positivity and books like “50+1 Good Reasons to Choose Optimism.” In September Mr. Macron was a patron of the Global Positive Forum, a study group of “positive initiatives” in business and government. (“Tomorrow can be better than today,” the forum’s website insists.)

For the full commentary, see:
Druckerman, Pamela. “The New French Optimism.” The New York Times (Friday, March 23, 2018): A27.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 22, 2018, and has the title “Are the French the New Optimists?”)

The More Governments Tax, the Less Workers Work

(p. A17) European countries trail the U.S. in working hard and controlling taxes, and their economies have lagged in comparison. France has a tax-to-GDP ratio of about 44%, and in Italy it’s 43%. The French and Italians work almost 30% fewer hours per person than Americans. Notably, the French economy has flatlined since 2010 while Italy’s has contracted.
These patterns are not a coincidence: High taxes discourage work and capital formation. Data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development suggests that a 1% increase in a nation’s tax rate is associated with a 1.4% decrease in hours worked per person in the working-age population. U.S. data dating to the 1970s also shows that higher taxes cause workers to limit their hours, reducing economic output.

For the full commentary, see:
Winkler, Rolfe and Justin Lahart. “Government Spending Discourages Work; The French and Italians pay higher taxes and put in 30% fewer hours per person than Americans.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018): A17.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 26, 2018.)

Firms Invest in France as Rules “Make It Easier to Hire and Fire”

(p. B1) PARIS — The announcements came in a steady drumbeat. Around 1,300 job cuts at France’s biggest automaker. At least 2,500 at France’s largest supermarket chain. Over 200 sought at a major clothing retailer. And thousands more are on the way.
Just weeks after France’s labor overhaul went into effect, companies are readily taking advantage of new rules that make it easier to hire and fire.
. . .
Perceptions of France, long derided as a difficult place to do business for its onerous labor rules, are changing.
Growth has recently picked up after being stagnant for nearly five years. And there are signs that the changes, a major piece of the president’s economic program, are drawing the interest of investors.
Amazon will open a new distribution center south of Paris this year, creating over 1,000 jobs. Facebook and Google announced Monday they would invest in artificial intelligence development in France. Also Monday, Toyota announced it would invest 300 million euros, or $367 million, to increase capacity at a plant in northern (p. B3) France, creating up to 700 jobs through 2020.
“The complex labor laws have historically been the No. 1 obstacle to the competitiveness and attractiveness of France,” said Olivier Marchal, the chairman of Bain & Company France, a business consulting firm. The changes, together with other business-friendly measures such as a gradual reduction in the corporate tax, have “drastically changed investor perceptions,” he said.

For the full story, see:
LIZ ALDERMAN. “Newfound Freedom … to Fire.” The New York Times (Weds., January 24, 2018): B1 & B3.
(Note: ellipsis in article title, in original; ellipsis between quoted paragraphs, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 23, 2018, and has the title “French Companies Have Newfound Freedom … to Fire.”)

“The Transforming Power of the Individual Will”

(p. A10) “These deep transformations have started and will continue with the same force, the same rhythm, the same intensity in 2018,” the French president told his compatriots in his New Year’s Eve greetings a few days before.
Mr. Macron was hinting at the real disruptions he has brought about in French political life — in employment and fiscal policy so far, with other big jolts promised soon. Remarkably in so hidebound a country he is getting away with it.
. . .
Mr. Macron imbibed from his mentor, the late philosopher Paul Ricoeur, a belief in the transforming power of the individual will. As proof, the young president can point to his own quick rise to the top, a stunning success that undergirds many of his pronouncements.
Similarly, the changes he has pushed through so far — like his lightening of the mammoth French labor code, with barely a whimper from the opposition — only buttress the narrative of individual determination, which he now hopes to infuse in his fellow citizens.
It is an unusual position for a French politician, who for generations have emphasized the protective power of the state — and the proof of any success will come only with a significant drop in the stubborn 10-percent jobless rate, elusive so far. But already surveys show higher levels of confidence among business executives than have been seen in many years.

For the full story, see:
ADAM NOSSITER. “French President Opens Year With Scolding for Journalists.” The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 6, 2018): A10.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 5, 2018, and has the title “Macron Opens Year Pulling No Punches With Journalists, or Anyone.”)

Is a Michelin Star the Best Metric of Good Food?

(p. A4) MONTCEAU-LES-MINES, France — It is like giving up your Nobel, rejecting your Oscar, pushing back on your Pulitzer: Jérôme Brochot, a renowned and refined chef, decided to turn in his Michelin star.
He is renouncing the uniquely French distinction that separates his restaurant from thousands of others, the lifetime dream of hundreds. But Mr. Brochot’s decision was not a rash one, born of arrogance, ingratitude or spite. Rather, it was for a prosaic, but still important, reason: he could no longer afford it.
. . .
Even in a region famed for its culinary traditions, this declining old mining town deep in lower Burgundy could not sustain a one-star Michelin restaurant. Mr. Brochot, a youthful-looking 46, had gambled on high-end cuisine in a working-class town and lost.
. . .
Already Mr. Brochot’s strategy appears to be working. He has cut his prices and is offering a more down-to-earth cuisine of stews, including the classic blanquette de veau, and serving cod instead of the more expensive sea bass.
It had depressed him deeply, he said, to have to throw away costly bass and turbot, like gold even in France’s street markets, at the end of every sitting because his customers couldn’t afford it. “There was a lot of waste,” he said.
“Since we changed the formula, we’ve gotten a lot more people,” Mr. Brochot said. Above all, the effect has been psychological. “In the heads of people, a one-star, it’s the price,” he said.
On a recent Friday afternoon, most of the tables had diners, including Didier Mathus, the longtime former mayor, a Socialist.
. . .
“Maybe the star scared people,” Mr. Mathus said. “I understand. He’s saying, ‘Don’t be scared to come here.’ Here, it’s simple people, with modest incomes.”

For the full story, see:
ADAM NOSSITER. “Rejected Honor Reflects Hardships of ‘the Other France’.” The New York Times (Thurs., December 28, 2017): A4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 27, 2017, and has the title “Chef Gives Up a Star, Reflecting Hardship of ‘the Other France’.”)