The Man with Nothing to Lose

France’s president Francois Hollande these days finds himself at a similar crossroads as another French socialist president once upon a time: Francois Mitterand. After nationalizing vast swathes of industry and introducing all sort of policies favored by the Left, Mitterand was eventually forced to do an 180 degree turn to avoid inflation spiraling out of control and in order not to suffer the embarrassment of the French franc falling out of the ERM (European Exchange Rate Mechanism). Mitterand later was forced into cohabitation with a conservative parliamentary majority, and concentrated on foreign policy and defense, leaving economic policy to Jacques Chirac.

Mr. Hollande these days enjoys the relative freedom that comes from being the most despised French president in all of history. The “welfare state incarnate” as Gaspard Koenig once called him, has seen his approval rating plunge to 13% in September. Ironically, if one adds up the approval ratings of Hollande and the reportedly evil Vladimir Putin, one gets 100%. And yet, it is Hollande who is now the relatively more unconstrained of the two, after all, no matter what he does from here on out, things simply cannot get much worse.

A first sign that Hollande realizes that different economic policies are required was his appointment of the centrist Manuel Valls as prime minister about six months ago. The recent “purge”, that saw former economy minister Arnaud Montebourg, minister of culture Aurelie Filipetti and education minister Benoit Hamon replaced by people more in line with Valls’ new course was an even stronger sign. Montebourg specifically was highly influential early in Hollande’s term and as might be expected, pursued policies extremely hostile to business. All three of the ministers that were replaced were considered “Socialist rebels” – i.e., far to the left of Mr. Valls. Montebourg was replaced by his polar opposite, someone on the very right of the Socialist Party,  former investment banker Emmanuel Macron. How did Valls survive the confidence vote the purge necessitated? In spite of the rebellion of the left, French socialist parliamentarians are well aware that a new election would sweep most of them out of the halls of power. It is this fear Hollande and Valls gambled on, and they were proved right.

 

Readers may recall that earlier in Hollande’s term, we often argued that Hollande’s baffling reluctance to embrace reform could be explained by his fear of being overtaken from the left – not only the extreme leftist wing of his own party, but also the La Gauche party led by Jean-Luc Melenchon. However, recent polls in France seem to suggest that Melenchon’s outfit is facing a lot of competition from another radical party, namely the Front National (FN). To be sure, the FN is likely to steal votes from every quarter, but for a small party like Melenchon’s this can conceivably mean total wipe-out. And so it comes that Hollande is now embracing Valls’ reform course, which aims to slash government spending, lower business taxes and introduce some badly needed deregulation.

 

manuel-valls-et-francois-hollande-10975172oxxld_1713Manuel Valls and Francois Hollande, thinking things over …

(Photo credit: AFP)

 

Battling Vested Interests

However, the decision to pursue a different policy and actually implementing it, are two different things altogether. We previously reported on the power of vested interests in France, citing the example of driving schools. However, driving schools are not the only branch of industry or profession in France that vociferously defends it protected turf (protected from competition, that is). For instance, the relatively small French agricultural sector is so well-versed in defending its subsidies, that the EU spends almost 50% of its budget on subsidizing agriculture, with France on the forefront of keeping this absurdity in place. In addition, French unions wield political power that belies their dwindling membership (as we noted here, they even regularly get away with kidnapping and blackmailing managers – kidnapping and blackmail are considered crimes for everybody else, but French unions need not fear any legal repercussions).

Attempts by Valls’ new government to loosen some of the regulations that make it impossible for upstarts to compete with vested interests have just provoked another protest. This time France’s notaries are taking to the streets, who are at present earning a fortune for their services because they operate in a severely restricted market. Reuters reports:

 

“Thousands of French “notaires” held what they said were their first-ever street protests in Paris and Marseille on Wednesday to challenge plans by President Francois Hollande to deregulate their activities.

Anger at Hollande has driven everyone from medics to taxi drivers onto the streets in recent months but few can have expected to see the well-heeled equivalent to Britain’s solicitors or U.S. notaries public on the march.

Notaires typically take home a net 13,000 euros ($17,000) a month and are better known for their gilded offices and iron-clad professional status than for demonstrations.

Surveys show that Hollande, deeply unpopular over his failure to revive the euro zone’s second largest economy, has broad public support for his plan to deregulate their activities and those of 36 other professions in France: pollster Odoxa last week found a full 78 percent of French in favor. But he will nonetheless have to brave fierce resistance from the professions themselves. Wednesday’s demonstrations by thousands of notaires, trainees and sympathizers follow similar protests by bailiffs, court clerks and taxi drivers and shows how opposition is building to a deregulation drive which Hollande’s cash-strapped Socialist government hopes will show Europe it can reform.

“We have the potential to be quite disruptive – so they shouldn’t mess with us too much,” Regis de Lafforest, head of the national notaire union, told Reuters, hinting at strikes that could damage the euro zone’s second largest economy by freezing everything from property to inheritance transactions. “That’s something the government appears to have forgotten.”

On Paris’ Place de la Republique, thousands of notaires and supporters wore T-shirts bearing the slogans “I love my notary” and “Life without notaries will be at your expense”.

[…]

Under current rules, notaries even decide themselves how many can practice at once: this year it is just 9,541. A state finance inspector’s report estimated they have profit margins twice as high on average as those in the corporate sector.

In a speech to parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Valls said the deregulation drive was not intended to undermine the professions but to bolster the economy. “France has taken the right approach on this, which is that it will help consumers,” Anne Houtman, former top representative of the European Commission in France, said in August.

The bill was originally due to be sent to parliament in October but has since been delayed until early next year to refine its content. Already, the professions are fuming.

 

[…] but professional representatives have emerged furious from their consultations with government officials.

If they fight deregulation like licensed taxi drivers fought online for-hire car services like Uber.com – with wildcat strikes until the government agreed to restrict the latter’s ability to pick up customers – Hollande faces an uphill battle.

 

(emphasis added)

It should be pointed out that licensing laws are restricting competition all over Europe, and France isn’t even the country with the largest number of regulated professions (Germany and Austria are taking the top spots). However, the fact that French notaries can e.g. decide how many of them are allowed to practice nation-wide every year is a privilege that to our knowledge exists nowhere else.

 

Notaries and bailiffs hold placards as they demonstrate during their first-ever public protest against a plan to chip away at rules shielding them from competition  in MarseilleFrench notaries are taking to streets, fearing for their privileges.

(Photo via findka.com / Author unknown)

 

As the new economy minister Mr. Macron (it should be mentioned that to his credit, Arnaud Montebourg was also in favor of deregulating the professions) pointed out, the rules governing France’s notaries have been cast in cement since he was one year old.

 

Conclusion:

It remains to be seen whether this “uphill battle” can be successfully fought. The historical record isn’t particularly encouraging on this point, but we will keep an open mind for now. It also remains to be seen whether the government has the stomach to confront the unions, as it inevitably must if it wants to reform France’s sclerotic labor legislation. The country’s 3000 pages long “code du travail” is undoubtedly the single biggest impediment to bringing unemployment down.

 

france-unemployment-rate

French unemployment rate: even in boom times it couldn’t manage to drop below 7%. The country’s antiquated and restrictive labor legislation is the main cause of this high institutional unemployment rate. At a current 10.2%, the situation is quite grave (note that unemployment statistics are as a matter of principle beautified everywhere).

 

 
 

Emigrate While You Can... Learn More

 
 

 
 

Dear Readers!

You may have noticed that our so-called “semiannual” funding drive, which started sometime in the summer if memory serves, has seamlessly segued into the winter. In fact, the year is almost over! We assure you this is not merely evidence of our chutzpa; rather, it is indicative of the fact that ad income still needs to be supplemented in order to support upkeep of the site. Naturally, the traditional benefits that can be spontaneously triggered by donations to this site remain operative regardless of the season - ranging from a boost to general well-being/happiness (inter alia featuring improved sleep & appetite), children including you in their songs, up to the likely allotment of privileges in the afterlife, etc., etc., but the Christmas season is probably an especially propitious time to cross our palms with silver. A special thank you to all readers who have already chipped in, your generosity is greatly appreciated. Regardless of that, we are honored by everybody's readership and hope we have managed to add a little value to your life.

   

Bitcoin address: 1DRkVzUmkGaz9xAP81us86zzxh5VMEhNke

   
 

2 Responses to “Reform in France: Mission Impossible?”

  • woodsbp:

    “French unemployment rate: even in boom times it couldn’t manage to drop below 7%. The country’s antiquated and restrictive labor legislation is the main cause of this high institutional unemployment rate.”

    Pater, you sure about your conclusion here? France is a ‘developed’ economy and has (or had) a well developed manufacturing and production sector. That sector has come under relentless pressure from similar sectors in low or very low cost, Asian economies – investment capital (or leveraged debt!), the waged-labour positions and “land-sites” are all “barged” overseas, leaving the labour factors behind – where they are both un-employed and (mostly) un-employable. The French gov – or any gov in any developed economy is almost powerless to reverse or undo this liberalization. They could, but it would not be pretty.

    The US has attempted QE to get its economy ‘back-on-track’. You really have to excavate the relevant stats. Its been an heroic and brilliantly successful failure for them. Japan ditto. The UK ditto. And now the EZ is going to give it a shot. That’s insanity by any definition.

    This is, allegedly, a ‘liberal site’. You profess to believe in prudent behaviour with one’s currency. Good! You complain about and critique ‘big gov’. Careful! But, you also seem somewhat silent about the massive fiscal benefits and transfers of taxpayer dollars/euros/whatever to large corporations. These are colossal. They easily equal, and may even be greater than welfare transfers.

    “I hope it is not a case of transfers to individual folk BAD, transfers to corporations GOOD!”

    Someone recently mused about giving individuals, rather than financial corporations, ‘cash’ payments. They opined that much of this ‘cash’ would trickle down (like the wheat grains falling out of the horse’s arse!) into the general economy (for the sparrows). In principle, at least, this proposal seems somewhat less looney than giving the financial sector the money to gamble with (no wheat at all for the sparrows!).

    Again, I recommend Monica Prasad’s: ‘ The Politics of Free Markets’. She explains why France (and Germany – no trashing of Germany then?) are less amenable to the imposition of unfettered liberalisations. Whereas Ireland, the UK and the US have experienced (and will experience more of) this societal damage.

    Folk with low incomes get hungry. They then ask for ‘bread’. When no ‘bread’ arrives, but are offered ‘stone’, they will pick real stones off the ground and chuck them about. The moral: “Stone in air more eloquent than stone on ground.”

    Take care what you, and other libertarians, may wish for Pater. Big Brother in place of Big Gov!

    Brian.

  • Mark Humphrey:

    There may be another profession within the USA that has the power to regulate its numbers: medical doctors. Ronald Hamoway, once professor at the University of Alberta, wrote a great essay on the subject about 35 years ago, published in the Journal of Libertarian Studies.

    After the Civil War, American medical practitioners espousing a particular medical approach successfully lobbied state legislatures for licensing restrictions. They were granted power, through the vehicle of the American Medical Association, to supply accreditation to the schools that only the AMA could select and approve. By restricting the accredited schools, the AMA severely restricted the supply of MDs graduated from medical school, thereby guaranteeing every MD–regardless of knowledge, honest or competency–a princely income. By controlling the accreditation of medical schools, the AMA also controlled curriculum, so that today, conventional MD’s practice all together a fair amount of quackery.

    The big reason that MDs and other medical personnel are able to rake off high rates of compensation is licensing restrictions. However, the entire American medical complex is built around a cost-plus model of remuneration: hospitals, doctors and nurses, and medical technicians and staff. More than fifty cents of every dollar spent in medical care is tax funded. Since the United States is still a comparatively prosperous place, the cost-plus rake off is highly remunerative.

    My guess is French notaries would be jealous.

Your comment:

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Most read in the last 20 days:

  • US Financial Markets – Alarm Bells are Ringing
      A Shift in Expectations When discussing the outlook for so-called “risk assets”, i.e., mainly stocks and corporate bonds (particularly low-grade bonds) and their counterparts on the “safe haven” end of the spectrum (such as gold and government bonds with strong ratings), one has to consider different time frames and the indicators applicable to these time frames. Since Donald Trump's election victory, there have been sizable moves in stocks, gold and treasury bonds, as the election...
  • Modi’s Great Leap Forward
      India’s Currency Ban – Part VIII India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, announced on 8th November 2016 that Rs 500 (~$7.50) and Rs 1,000 (~$15) banknotes would no longer be legal tender. Linked are Part-I, Part-II, Part-III, Part-IV, Part-V, Part-VI and Part-VII, which provide updates on the demonetization saga and how Modi is acting as a catalyst to hasten the rapid degradation of India and what remains of its institutions.   India’s Pride and Joy   Indians are...
  • Global Recession and Other Visions for 2017
      Conjuring Up Visions Today’s a day for considering new hopes, new dreams, and new hallucinations.  The New Year is here, after all.  Now is the time to turn over a new leaf and start afresh. Naturally, 2017 will be the year you get exactly what’s coming to you. Both good and bad.  But what else will happen?   Image of a recently discarded vision... Image by Michael Del Mundo   Here we begin by closing our eyes and slowing our breath.  We let our mind...
  • The Great El Monte Public Pension Swindle
      Nowhere City California There are places in Southern California where, although the sun always shines, they haven’t seen a ray of light for over 50-years.  There’s a no man’s land of urban blight along Interstate 10, from East Los Angeles through the San Gabriel Valley, where cities you’ve never heard of and would never go to, are jumbled together like shipping containers on Terminal Island.  El Monte, California, is one of those places.   Advice dispensed on Interstate...
  • A Trade Deal Trump Cannot Improve
      Worst in Class BALTIMORE – People can believe whatever they want. But sooner or later, real life intervenes. We just like to see the looks on their faces when it does. By that measure, 2017 may be our best year ever. Rarely have so many people believed so many impossible things.   Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said: "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for...
  • Pope Francis Now International Monetary Guru
      Neo-Marxist Pope Francis Argues for Global Central Bank As the new year dawns, it seems the current occupant of St. Peter’s Chair will take on a new function which is outside the purview of the office that the Divine Founder of his institution had clearly mandated.   Neo-Papist transmogrification. We highly recommend the economic thought of one of Francis' storied predecessors, John Paul II, which we have written about on previous occasions. In “A Tale of Two Popes” and...
  • Where’s the Outrage?
      Blind to Crony Socialism Whenever a failed CEO is fired with a cushy payoff, the outrage is swift and voluminous.  The liberal press usually misrepresents this as a hypocritical “jobs for the boys” program within the capitalist class.  In reality, the payoffs are almost always contractual obligations, often for deferred compensation, that the companies vigorously try to avoid.  Believe me.  I’ve been on both sides of this kind of dispute (except, of course, for the “failed”...
  • Trump’s Trade Catastrophe?
      “Trade Cheaters” It is worse than “voodoo economics,” says former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. It is the “economic equivalent of creationism.” Wait a minute -  Larry Summers is wrong about almost everything. Could he be right about this?   Larry Summers, the man who is usually wrong about almost everything. As we have always argued, the economy is much safer when he sleeps, so his tendency to fall asleep on all sorts of occasions should definitely be welcomed....
  • Trump’s Plan to Close the Trade Deficit with China
      Rags to Riches Jack Ma is an amiable fellow.  Back in 1994, while visiting the United States he decided to give that newfangled internet thing a whirl.  At a moment of peak inspiration, he executed his first search engine request by typing in the word beer.   Jack Ma, founder and CEO of Alibaba, China's largest e-commerce firm. Once he was a school teacher, but it turned out that he had enormous entrepreneurial talent and that the world of wheelers, dealers, movers and...
  • Side Notes, January 14 - Red Flags Over Goldman Sachs
      Red Flags Over Goldman Sachs Just to prove that I am an even-handed insulter, here is a rant about my former employer, Goldman Sachs. The scandal at 1MDB, the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund from which it appears that billions were stolen by politicians all the way up to the Prime Minister, continues to unfold.   The main players in the 1MDB scandal. Irony alert: apparently money siphoned off from 1MDB was used to inter alia finance Martin Scorcese's movie “The Wolf of...
  • Money Creation and the Boom-Bust Cycle
      A Difference of Opinions In his various writings, Murray Rothbard argued that in a free market economy that operates on a gold standard, the creation of credit that is not fully backed up by gold (fractional-reserve banking) sets in motion the menace of the boom-bust cycle. In his The Case for 100 Percent Gold Dollar Rothbard wrote:   I therefore advocate as the soundest monetary system and the only one fully compatible with the free market and with the absence of force or fraud...
  • Silver’s Got Fundamentals - Precious Metals Supply-Demand Report
      Supply-Demand Fundamentals Improve Noticeably Last week was another short week, due to the New Year holiday. We look forward to getting back to our regularly scheduled market action.   Photo via thedailycoin.org   The prices of both metals moved up again this week. Something very noticeable is occurring in the supply and demand fundamentals. We will give an update on that, but first, here’s the graph of the metals’ prices.   Prices of gold and silver...

Austrian Theory and Investment

Support Acting Man

Own physical gold and silver outside a bank

Archive

j9TJzzN

350x200

Realtime Charts

 

Gold in USD:

[Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]

 


 

Gold in EUR:

[Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]

 


 

Silver in USD:

[Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]

 


 

Platinum in USD:

[Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]

 


 

USD - Index:

[Most Recent USD from www.kitco.com]

 

THE GOLD CARTEL: Government Intervention on Gold, the Mega Bubble in Paper and What This Means for Your Future

 
Buy Silver Now!
 
Buy Gold Now!
 

Oilprice.com