Forget Paris: Stymied by Socialist Policies, the French Start to Quit France

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FRED DUFOUR / AFP / Getty Images

Tourists take pictures in the district of Montmartre in Paris on May 20, 2013

Ernest Hemingway once described Paris in spring as a time when “there were no problems except where to be happiest.” Clearly Hemingway did not foresee the springtime of 2013. For many of Paris’ residents right now — in fact, for many French in general — the answer to the question of where to be happiest is: pretty much anywhere but France.

The French, to be sure, are famous for their grumbling, regularly ranking near the bottom of global happiness indexes. Malaise, after all, is French for ill at ease. Yet even given the usual predilection to gloom, this year has been a standout. For months now, there has been a steady rumbling of people packing up and moving out. There are few reliable figures of the numbers of people leaving, in part because many are moving within the E.U., where there are no immigration requirements for Europeans. Yet for those of us living in France, the exodus has been notable. Around New Year, a moving truck rolled up to our building and loaded the worldly possessions of the couple and four children living below us as they headed off to Singapore where better prospects awaited the father of the family. Earlier last week, a woman flopped on to a bench next to me in the schoolyard of the school our children both attend, fatigued from apartment-hunting in London, where she is moving with her family next month — driven out by what she describes as the aggravation of running a small business with 35-hour work weeks and by tax hikes introduced by President François Hollande, who was elected last May. “I resisted the move, but it’s become impossible,” she says.

(MORE: The European Slump: France Gives Up Lowering Its Budget Deficit)

Hollande’s efforts to raise taxes on wealthy residents and capital-gains taxes on businesses, and to stop people from stashing their money in offshore bank accounts, have wide support among French voters, who have for years pushed to have the rich to contribute more toward the government coffers — key to maintaining France’s generous social benefits. No surprise, then, that the greatest subsequent disaffection has been voiced particularly by a privileged minority; the most famous départ since Hollande’s election last May has been of actor Gérard Depardieu to both Belgium and Russia, where President Vladimir Putin handed him a passport on arrival. Among the superrich set, the exodus seems to have hit a crisis level during the past year. Charles-Marie Jottras, president of Paris’s biggest luxury-real-estate company Daniel Feau, estimates that during the past year his company has sold hundreds of homes of wealthy families leaving France, driven out by what he calls “a very bad atmosphere.” Jottras says the departure of wealthy clients is reminiscent of the early 1980s, when the previous Socialist President François Mitterrand was in power. The difference this time, he says, is that “it used to be just rich people who left, not business people.” He believes Hollande’s government now realizes that its policies might be driving out the very people he needs to help grow France’s economy. Last month the President promised to trim capital-gains taxes and to issue more visas for foreign business people in order to keep investment and talent from going elsewhere.

But beyond the upper crust, a more pervasive unease is inflicting a wider group of misérables. It is a feeling, says Pierre Reboul, founder of Electronic Business Group, a Paris-based networking company, that “there is just no support for people who are enterprising.” Bucking the trend, Reboul packed up his apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in March, after two years in New York City, and moved back to his native Paris. But he says he made that decision only in order to be near his aging parents. Like Jottras, he blames current government regulations for the departure of young professionals these days, including hefty social charges that companies are obligated to pay on behalf of their employees and the difficulties in laying people off. Reboul says he believes young people are increasingly seeking opportunities for self-employment, rather than salaried employment, on which much of the French social benefits have traditionally been based. “There is this digital economy, and the new youth want to be part of it.”

(MORE: Liberties, Excesses, Fragility: François Hollande’s Turbulent Year)

In fact, the sense that the world beyond France might hold a lot more promise for French people than home does has so intensified that in recent months two weekly magazines, L’Express and Le Figaro — both fiercely conservative critics of the Socialist government — featured the same cover headline: “Why they are leaving France.” L’Express added the subtitle: “It’s not just the rich!” as though the editors were amazed that regular folk would opt to try their luck elsewhere and forgo cherished French benefits like minimum five weeks’ annual paid leave, decent public health care and free schooling. The magazines cite the 300,000 French estimated to be living in London and the 200,000 French residents in Belgium — a 25% rise since 2010, according to Le Figaro. Each magazine interviews young go-getters who’ve upped sticks for New York City, Dubai, Shanghai and elsewhere for better pay, more-rapid promotion and a chance to make their mark — things that those profiled say are all-but impossible under a sclerotic French system. Alexandre Perrot, 30, featured in Le Figaro, moved to New York City a year ago and works for a business-intelligence company, is quoted as saying that France’s system “does not value or stimulate active youth.”

If there’s anyone who still needs convincing that France is in a dyspeptic funk, a flurry of statistics last week showed just how serious the situation is. The statistics suggested that the problem might not be due only to Europe’s economic crisis, as Hollande argued during his press conference on May 16. On May 14, Pew Research published a poll saying that “no European country is becoming more dispirited and disillusioned faster than France,” with 91% of those surveyed by the organization saying that the economy was doing badly and 67% ranking Hollande as doing “a lousy job.” The next day, May 15, France’s official statistics agency INSEE announced that the country had entered its third recession in four years, with unemployment rising more than 11% since Hollande came to power. And on Friday came a new poll by Gallup, showing that only 16% of French youth were optimistic about their future, the lowest rate in the E.U. Compare that with Spain’s youth, 49% of whom felt optimistic about their future, even though their country’s unemployment rate is double that of France.

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In the face of all this, Hollande is pleading for patience. During a press conference last Thursday he told the country: “My duty is to bring France out of it lethargy.” But his words made the faintest of imprints. They were all but drowned out by another statement that same day — David Beckham’s announcement that he was retiring from soccer. For Parisians, Beckham’s move last year to Paris St.-Germain (PSG) was celebrated as sure proof that their elegant city was still a strong enough lure for one of the world’s most adored icons. As it turned out, the thrill of having Beckham in Paris was short-lived. After playing his final game for PSG last Saturday, he told fans, “To finish my career here could not be any more special.” And with that, he added one more departure to France’s gloomy spring.

80 comments
AlbertGomperts
AlbertGomperts

I said that Hollande would be a disaster and he is. Not surprising really. Sarko had the right idea about rolling back the 35 hour week and pushing up the retirement age. Alas the majority of the French, who have always made a show of having liberal sentiments, hated his occasional reactionary outbursts. Hollande promised to change all this and he has ... watch France marching off into the economic wilderness for the next four years, except in the unlikely event of Hollande and his government making an economic about face. 

hgoldmeier
hgoldmeier

The 485,000 French Jews in particular are giving up on France hedging their bets they will be forced out of the country.  They are buying homes in Israel, Canada, and the U.S. French Jews fear the rising tide of hate speech from devout Catholics, and hate crimes against them perpetrated and supported by many of the 5 million Muslims inhabiting France today. This leaves the Jews no long term future there. In another generation, French government policies will be dictated by the exaggerated animosity  of race hatred giving legs to the bloodbath of another French Revolution. By then, France will have lost one of its most precious and loyal resources and will wallow in its own chaos for years to come.

Dr. Harold Goldmeier teaches business and social policy at American Jewish University-Aardvark Gap Year Program in Tel Aviv, is a writer and consultant on business and government living in Israel.

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

WHEN YOU EARN 1,000,000 FRANCS.......AND YOUR SOCIALIST/COMMUNIST/MARXIST GOVERNMENT ......SENDS YOU A TAX BILL  A TAX BILL FOR..........1,005,000 FRANCS.........IS IS TIME TO FLEE...........OR FIGHT !!!!!!!!!!!

VALENTINE VALENTINE, COMEDIAN, LOL

hectorjeg
hectorjeg

I don't know whether the economic situation of France is because of 'Socialists', but there were right wing presidents in France for 10 years, and Hollande has been in office for one year ... The right wing people in France are having fun now saying what Hollande should do, I wonder what they did during 10 years where they were in power!!! People in France didn't want of Sarkozy because he was doing too much, and now they are disappointed by Hollande, feeling that he's not doing enough ...

hectorjeg
hectorjeg

I don't know whether the economic situation of France is because of 'Socialists', but there were right wing presidents in France for 10 years, and Hollande has been in office for one year ... The right wing people in France are having fun now saying what Hollande should do, I wonder what they did during 10 years where they were in power!!! People in France didn't want of Sarkozy because he was doing too much, and now they are disappointed by Hollande, feeling that he's not doing enough

sensi
sensi

The usual francophobic drivel of the pitiful Time, with the usual idiotic and bigoted comments of an audience for which this rag is made for.

Pathetic.

HenryThoreau
HenryThoreau

Stupid ass socialists.  They are a cancer on the human race.

ByteMarx
ByteMarx

They should go to Canada, where there is strong support for French language/culture, AND strong support for business.

celticharm
celticharm

Excuse me, but who is buying these luxury homes. think about it. it is a poorly researched article. it is truly a one sided piece, 

SillyLibby
SillyLibby

TIME! Do you NOW see the effect of socialism????? Do you? You should you're reporting it yourself.

MickeyCashen
MickeyCashen

The French are moving to Shanghai?  Yeah, no Socialism or Government Control there!

hasaisd
hasaisd

Hey; everyone who has read Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged," please raise your hands. 

People may not like its message, but it would be wise to at least pay attention to it. 


HarryKuheim
HarryKuheim

Take note all you Obama Voters...this is the end result of "Social Justice" and "Hope and Change" Policies.

tomdavis2020
tomdavis2020

The French introduced a financial transaction tax (FTT) about six months ago. It's a huge flop, raising only about 25% of the projected revenues, increasing capital costs and driving investment capital out of France. It's a net-negative tax (the total costs and lost taxes are greater than the tax revenues raised). This is exactly what Berkeley Economics Professor, Barry Eichengreen, predicted would happen.

BigBill
BigBill

 If you can find interesting work, France is a delightful country. I doubt that many French would emigrate if there wasn't the current German fixation with austerity. In understand the German love of austerity, you have to understand Schadenfreude,  which  is pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. Right now, Germans enjoy the misfortunes of the French, Greeks, and Spaniards and view them as the just reward of living too well. 

Rocket
Rocket

To the author of this story.  Why do you call them the priviledged few.  Have they not worked for their money.  Why don't you call them the enterprising few or is it because you ar  becoming French yourself.

TomCraig
TomCraig

You read too much the anti-Government rag "le Figaro".  It is all propaganda. "A few hundred families" does not mean anything.. What about the thousands who arrived here this past year.  They may not be the 1% that you go on about but they do count. And emigration has always happened in the Globalized World that we all live in.  How many Americans left the U.S. during the Great recession. Le Figaro doesn't talk about that either.  Beware of overtly political agendas in the French Press.  Using them as source os like use Fox News as a source. To be taken with a large grain of salt or better, good glas of French wine.  Cheers!

macbaldy
macbaldy

If the French are normally so grumpy, how does one calibrate this?  Is a French 80% pessimism like a 40% British pessimism?

12Purple
12Purple

A 35 hour work week?  Nice.

OzarkGranny
OzarkGranny

People have been emigrating for better opportunities since people left Africa a million years ago.

paulgeorges
paulgeorges

@hgoldmeier1 minute ago

As a French born in africa,used to live in many countries,speaking some other languages,a christian catholic but against intolerence I like this quote :     "Never dial with extremism, racism, anti-Semitism or the rejection of the other. In our history, extremism has failed to lead us to the abyss. It is a poison. It divides. It perverts. "

"Anti-Semitism is not an opinion, it is a passion. "

"The Jewish people have served as a safety valve for the ruling classes. "


(Jean-Paul Sartre)                I think when people demonize a  full country,France for instance, because of his political behavihour they should look as they they perhaps don't  know, the hidden part of their own country (against Natives,CIA behaviour,racism against jews in their own countries,Vietnam war,Irak war....)Perhaps the best way is to talk about the good things that could unite us accept to worship one God in a different way, accept that the other may have a different language with different thinking, different customs, peace instead of war, the knowledge of the other instead of hate.............   But no more a catholic .I no more go to catholic church because of a catholic priest sentence about the jews "they were wicked ,wicked".Borned in Africa I saw many racism against my familly but not all are racist in France .If one day I can do ,with pleasure I shall go to Israel ,because of the country and not  because against one.For love of a country and  not because of hate of a country. 

guswfla1
guswfla1

@sensi I notice you are not only here, but commenting as well.  :^)

YUL1976
YUL1976

@ByteMarx NON MERCI!!!! The French have been coming here for years and they are destroying my neighbourhood (see my post below). And by the way, the Québec government, the 'francophone' province, loves to imitate the French way of governing (socialist) and have sunk our economy into the toilet. We are now the economic laughing stock of Canada and North America. The French need to stay out of Canada and especially Québec. 

guswfla1
guswfla1

@paulgeorges I imagine that while it is legal to work more than 35 hours in one week, it is illegal for an employer to FORCE and employee to work more than 35 hours in one week.

Johno304
Johno304

@paulgeorges Does one eat to live, or live to eat. Does one work to live or live to work. Is one, by ones own existence a slave to ones existence to be prostituted by others or a master of one's own existence from mutual contribution to each other's life.

HiFreqTraitor
HiFreqTraitor

@hasaisd, Atlas Shrugged is complete fiction, and really bad fiction at that.  Why would anyone want to waste their time reading garbage?

soup831
soup831

@HarryKuheim Obama voters have "good" intentions. Consequences be damned. See: Kant.

GaySpecking
GaySpecking

France took socialism to extremes and became a nanny state. That won't happen in the US under any president.

soup831
soup831

@famulla5 Don't diplomats take an oath to the Constitution, not to the govt?

GaySpecking
GaySpecking

What does this have to do with the French economy? Obama bashers can't miss an oportunity, even when it has nothing to do with the subject.

ByteMarx
ByteMarx

@BigBill At least you don't generalize your prejudices too much.

SillyLibby
SillyLibby

@TomCraig Wrong. The arrivals in France are poor Muslims. The rich left England too before Thatcher when England tired teir taxy hopie changie Socilaism there. Its is ALWAYS the same result.

Caspian
Caspian

Nice, until you have to run a small business requiring long hours.

macbaldy
macbaldy

@OzarkGranny Much of humankind's diaspora was instigated by social strife and survival efforts.

soup831
soup831

@Johno304 @paulgeorges >master of one's own existence from mutual contribution to each other's life.

How stupid did you have to make yourself to evade the obvious contradiction? 

paulgeorges
paulgeorges

From the quote of Molière"We must eat to live and not live to eat. "  You forget perhaps

excerpt from The Miser More on this quote "Languages ​​always have venom spread. "


Excerpt from Tartuffe More on this quote "My God Most often the appearance deceive"."it must not always be judged on what we see,"    "Drink, dear friends, drink: The fleeting time we're invited."   "  Take advantage of  life as we can". "Against backbiting there is no bulwark. "

or from Tartuffe More on this quote          "Those who conduct offers more laughter are always on the first to slander others. "



HenryBowman
HenryBowman

@GaySpecking Keep on believing that.  Also, that they aren't looking to take our guns, the lady from the IRS "did nothing wrong," and Obamacare is NOT a tax.  Ostriches ain't got nothing on socialists.

soup831
soup831

@Caspian Or you want to buy something in a statist economy. 

BldrRepublcn
BldrRepublcn

@CaspianI think that's what he was commenting on.  "Long hours" to Americans is 70-90 hrs /week.  Apparently, the author referred to someone who was thinking 35 hours/week was "long", because they were complaining about having a work week with those hours.

sole21000
sole21000

@HenryBowman @GaySpecking 


Because Plutocracy is so much better....it's totally not like we have enough resources for everyone or that there's aren't inefficiencies in more right-leaning societies like America. What was that about 14 empty houses for every homeless person?

GaySpecking
GaySpecking

Remember the five weeks paid vacation.

DenaKelley
DenaKelley

@BldrRepublcn @Caspian - More likely, they are complaining that they are limited by law to 35 hour workweeks. In France it's illegal to work more than 35 hours or to work more than one job (because you are taking away from the potential for someone else to have that job). It prevents people from getting ahead.