The aim of French schools isn’t to impart the wonder of learning, according to Gumbel, but to learn to endure an achingly competitive system. French children are taught to parrot, not to analyze—to memorize endless passages and vomit them out. The ones who survive get filtered out to lead the government and the private sector. The ones who don’t are ridiculed shamelessly.

Hence, Gumbel argues, there is no French Mark Zuckerberg, or Richard Branson, or Steve Jobs. Sure, there are plenty of brilliant minds in France, such as the phenomenal former finance minister Christine Lagarde, a former competitive synchronized swimmer. But Lagarde’s career was largely honed in America, and her detractors called her L’Americaine. She also left France to take up Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s former post at the International Monetary Fund…

“There is not the spirit of entrepreneurship here,” said one French management consultant who made it through the rigorous French graduate school system, worked in finance in London, and came back to Paris to raise his family. “The state system and its huge amount of administration and paperwork discourages venture capitalism.”