Sunday, March 23, 2014

Entrepreneurs, Again

The Times refers to a theme that is becoming as tired as the baguette and the béret whenever France comes up: the supposed exodus of youth, of entrepreneurs in search of the deregulated paradise in which anyone with an idea becomes rich as Croesus in a trice.

Undoubtedly there is something behind all this verbiage, but what, exactly? The article is not wholly devoid of statistics:
... 1.6 million of France’s 63 million citizens live outside the country. That is not a huge share, but it is up 60 percent from 2000 ...
But what exactly do these numbers tell us? Other advanced economies also have many emissaries abroad. How many of these are actually young entrepreneurs seeking refuge from an oppressive welfare state, and how many are rather cadres of large French firms thriving in the regulated French economy and doing business abroad. After all, Axa is the world's largest insurance company; French banking sends many employees overseas; Airbus employs thousands of people throughout the world; etc. etc.

Yet the standard trope in these "French bashing lite" stories is, France is losing the cream of its jeunesse to the irresistible belle dame sans merci of the "Anglo-Saxon free market economies." Yet we are also told that "80 to 90 percent of all startups fail," and young M. Santacruz, around whom this article is built, seems destined for imminent failure himself, despite his dreams of emulating his successful friend with the mansion in the Luberon.

If France has real problems with fostering entrepreneurial culture, which I do not doubt, a more serious analysis is needed to pinpoint their nature. Otherwise, one might stack endless anecdotes about the likes of M. Santacruz against endless anecdotes about domestic entrepreneurial successes like M. Néel's (of Free--on which no small amount of journalistic ink has also been spilled). We still won't learn much about the strengths and weaknesses of the French political economy or its rivals.


Kirk said...

This is just one person's story, but I left France about a year ago and moved to the UK. As a freelancer, I'm doing the same work as I was in France, with roughly the same gross sales. My tax liability here is perhaps 1/5 of that in France, and I don't have tons of declarations and forms to fill out.

Since I can work from anywhere, it's a no-brainer.


Anonymous said...

If I understand you well, your critique of the NYT article is over the form but not the content. The journalist makes mention (I do believe) of the CCI Paris study "Expatriation, quelle réalité"
Surely, one should indulge a journalist as he or she develops a narrative based on facts, engaging the reader to understand the issues through the lives of the persons interviewed. The CCI Paris is highly informative but it is very dry and staid (as it should be, its just a study). The NYT article uses more lively colors and anecdotes to get across a point which, though hardly new, is nevertheless timely and "fit for print".

Unknown said...

Anonymous, no, you're wrong, I'm critical of the content as much as the form. The CCI study shows, for example, that only 18% of French abroad see themselves as entrepreneurs. 50% work for firms. I object to the framing of the story as "young French free overregulated society for less regulated Anglo-Saxon economies." Indeed, a large number of expats go to Eurozone countries or Switzerland, not to the US or UK, although these are, to be sure, also destinations of choice. My point is that the reasons for increased emigration are more complex than the Times story suggests, and its framing is based on cliché, not data.

Cincinna said...

The story in the Times, is not only wrong about the kinds of young people leaving France, but also the reason, and their destination. The reasons, as Art says, are much more complex, and individual, but there is indeed a trend.
Just anecdotal, but my godson, who is French from Paris, an engineer, graduate of top engineering schools in France and Brazil, has emigrated to Brazil because of the greater opportunity for challenging, better paying work, as well as the dynamism and open opportunity and quality of life in a vital, growing economy. He is engaged to marry a lovely Brazilian girl he met at school.
So many young French with diplomas, choose to do graduate work abroad, and then remain, because of wider opportunity, not only in Anglo-Saxon countries, but all over the world.

Passerby said...

Agreed. I also think it's wrong to claim that most young people leave because it's too hard to create a business at home.

From my experience in Switzerland, actually very few of the French working here (like me) are entrepreneurs. Most are employed, and came for the more dynamic job market and better wages. There is also a fair share of executives who rose through the ranks of their companies and ended-up in HQ position here.