French businesses, entrepreneurs living the dream -- but not in France

Quoth the New York Times, after first introducing the story of one Guillaume Santacruz, a 29-year-old entrepreneur who moved to London to work with start-ups after “his attempt to start a business in Marseille foundered under a pile of government regulations and a seemingly endless parade of taxes”:

France has been losing talented citizens to other countries for decades, but the current exodus of entrepreneurs and young people is happening at a moment when France can ill afford it. The nation has had low-to-stagnant economic growth for the last five years and a generally climbing unemployment rate — now about 11 percent — and analysts warn that it risks sliding into economic sclerosis.

Some wealthy businesspeople have also been packing their bags. While entrepreneurs fret about the difficulties of getting a business off the ground, those who have succeeded in doing so say that society stigmatizes financial success. …

Hand-wringing articles in French newspapers — including a three-page spread in Le Monde, have examined the implications of “les exilés.” This month, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Paris, which represents 800,000 businesses, published a report saying that French executives were more worried than ever that “unemployment and moroseness are pushing young people to leave” the country, bleeding France of energetic workers. As the Pew Research Center put it last year, “no European country is becoming more dispirited and disillusioned faster than France.” …

Today, around 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, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Thousands are heading to Hong Kong, Mexico City, New York, Shanghai and other cities. About 50,000 French nationals live in Silicon Valley alone.

The election of self-professed Socialists like Francois Hollande didn’t exactly help with the growing national stigma against the self-made wealthy, nor did one of his biggest policy proposals to impose a 75 percent super-tax on millionaires deter people from fleeing the country for greener, more competitive pastures — and the semi-surrender he made in announcing some new ideas for tax cuts and labor-law streamlining weren’t enough to convince them that France is truly turning a corner. The government wants to have its cake and eat it, too, in trying to both introduce “significant proposals to make France more alluring for entrepreneurs and business” while simultaneously “seeking to preserve the nation’s model of social protection,” as the NYT puts it, which sounds like a great way to achieve exactly nothing but stagnation in either direction — and in the meantime, France is still one of the heaviest economic anchors in Europe:

Surveys of thousands of companies by the financial information firm Markit show private businesses enjoyed their fastest growth rate in over two and a half years last month.

It was though a mixed picture as manufacturing growth slowed, while the service industry expanded quicker than had been initially calculated from the first reading of the February data.

And there was big geographic variation. The gulf between expansion in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, and the decline in No. 2 France has only been wider once in the 16-year history of the surveys.

Germany’s composite purchasing manager’s index compiled from the surveys – which includes services and manufacturing – soared to a 33-month high.

By contrast France’s fell further below the line between expansion and contraction where it has languished for most of the past two years.