samedi 22 décembre 2012

France, shame on rich, poor management, mutual untrust, taxes and welfare system

Lyon, France
Dec 22nd

Dear Marc,

As it seems we've survived the Maia's 'end of the world' prediction, I can reply to your last note about economic policy as a pie recipe. I'll answer on the core aspects of the matter but I'll also focus on a very specific topic. Because that debate is currently raging in France (in the political world and, for a large part, in the media world, making the headlines in the most viewed evening news) : tax level, and the way we should "manage" rich people and famous people fleeing in more rich-welcome countries (Switzerland or Belgium). All the ingredients are gathered for a great buzz : famous people (actors), relation to the Nation (is it legit to leave your country to avoid paying too much tax ?), large revenues. But it's also highly related to the economic policy or, to take your analogy, Marc, the pie recipe.

France budget tanked, welfare 60% of national budget, no mutual trust, everlasting unemployment

Let's add some context here. French budget is tanked, debt is high, nothing really different compared to US (metrics are quite comparable, debt is almost 90% of GDP). But, as you noticed, the positions are extremely different when you come to welfare. Three stats here :

  • 45% of individual yearly revenues are absorbed by taxes or social charges to cover governmental machinery and welfare spendings
  • Governmental spending (including welfare) equals 56% of our GDP
  • 60% of our national budget (welfare + Nation budget + local administration budget) is absorbed by welfare (mainly pensions and health)
That's huge. Obama Care is a boy's toy compared to our welfare system, born in the ruins of post-WWII. Only a few small countries in Northern Europe (Denmark, Norway) have comparable numbers (actually slightly more.)

Other major issue : people don't trust each other in France. A worldwide survey is being performed every 4 or 5 years with the same set of questions submitted in each country to approx 1,000 persons. At the question : "Generally speaking, would you say most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people ?", possible answers are "Most people can be trusted or "can't be too careful".

Here are the results for the last survey (2005 - 2007) :

Scandics people are trusting each other strongly which was expected. As well as a low mutual trust in former USSR countries. But a lot of surprises here :
  • Iraq has the same ratio US have (as well as Japan, Germany or Italy)
  • France ratio is half the US one, competing with pre-revolutionary Egypt or African countries

Why does it matters ? Because trust is business. Some research shows each percent added trust result in raises in GDP and wealth. Why ? Because you can have contracts and lawyers backup but, at the end of the day, business needs trust. You don't make good business with people you don't trust. The other outcome is that the society works better if people trust each other. The defiance we see in France in those stats result in lower or middle-class suspicion (at least) for the rich, private workers lurking for governmental workers benefits (and opposite), small business against blue chips (and vice et versa).

Same research came to the conclusion that it is not linked to France's DNA. Apparently, we trusted each other until WWII. Swedish, now at the top ranking for mutual trust, were defiant against each other back in the 20s. The level of trust is the result of History but also of economic policy. The fact that we have more than 500 different retirement pension systems is a powerful tool to fuel distrust (cause every system beneficiary thinks the other systems are more generous).

Last issue we have to address : unemployment. Let's face it and use a blunt word : this is the cancer of French Society. If the National Front (extrem-rightist party, anti-Islam, anti-arabs, anti-immigrants , used to negate or minimize Jewish holocaust during WWII) is close to 20%, that's one of the major reason. Basically, you have 29,000,000 potential workers in France.

  • The number of "category A" (never worked at all during a month) unemployed is currently 3.1 millions, basically 10.6% of population
  • If you include categories B and C (worked even an hour but way less than they wanted), the number rise to 4.5 millions, 15.5%
  • If  you add categories D and E (e.g. people close to retirement so they don't have to search for a job anymore), that's 5 millions so 17.2%

But we're in crisis time, aren't we ?

The real drama is that if you go back until '97, the "best times" were in 2008 with 2 millions "hardcore unemployed" (6.7%), 3.1 millions with categories B & C (10.7%) and 3.5 millions overall (12.1%). So France is basically unable, even when economy is booming, to go under 10% unemployed. We're glorifying ourselves because we have one of the best worldwide (maybe the best one) productivity per head. Well, it's easier to play football if you downsize your team (and the opposing one) and let all the weakest (young, 50+ years old, low-educated) on the bench, isn't it ?

Gerard Depardieu fleeing his country to a low-tax haven

One of our most famous actors, Gerard Depardieu, just announced that he will now live in Belgium, no longer pay taxes in France (possible if you live 183+ days a year outside France, unlike in US where you still got to pay something as a citizen), give back his french passport and welfare card. This has been a shock as he's the latest of a streak. Some of our neighbours (even in European Union) are very welcome with French People leaving France : they offer them a tax rate even lower that the one applied to their own citizens. The French Prime Minister said that Depardieu is "a prick", a lots of celebs backed Depardieu or confirmed he's a moron. Lots of politics said he's everything but a patriot. Some say people on tax exile are "rats leaving the ships", some others that they'd do the same would they be in their shoes. All of this is is page 1 in newspapers and makes headline story in evening news. Me ? Well, I'm not in their position and I don't like being too affirmative telling what I would do in this or that situation.

Let's try not to get ahead of ourselves and get some background. French economy is tanked, no growth, high deficit, high debt, high unemployment. Elections have taken place in May 2012 and leftist François Hollande won. As you described, Marc, the main thinking in France is to share the pie, not to enlarge it. This is especially true with leftist party.

Says French President : "I don't like rich people"

The government decided to massively raise taxes to reduce the deficit as asked by Germany and rating agencies. It decided that reducing Nation's and welfare spending is impossible (the conservative government tried to reduce them between 2007 and 2012 but failed). So taxes have been raised, mostly for the richest, and for 2 years. Hence the temptation for businessmen or actors to flee in Belgium (Brussels is 1h30 away from Paris in high-speed train) or Switzerland (Geneva is next to the french border). About the spending, almost everyone from politics to the media through the population wants them to be reduced so we could reduce taxes. Well-known CEOs have made a paper in the most famous French newspapers to say that a year ago. The problem is when you want to get the specifics : do we cut into military ? justice ? pensions ? health refund (75% of individual health expenses are covered by national mandatory system) ? Nobody wants to tell. Everybody wants to have the cake and eat it too. Sure it would be possible to improve the global spending efficiency (it's what a politician invokes when he says we must downsize spending and he's asked by journalists on what and he does not want to be unpopular - 100% of them - by saying 'yeah, let's cut on health refunds'). Choices have to be made. If we want less taxes and a more lightweight governmental sector, we need to be prepared to pay more for school, health or save more for pensions by ourselves.

About the tax raising, question is : are we too tough with wealth ? Well, the current President said a few years ago that he "does not like rich people". In another interview, he said that being rich starts with $75,000 yearly revenues (in other words, he is part of the rich now so he should not like himself, right ?). His behavior toward the rich has greatly evolved since, during the campaign and after the election but one can't forget where he comes from.

You said, Marc, that there's a profound distrust toward the rich in the French psyche and I'll give you that much. My feeling is that it comes from centuries of catholic religion being official in France. It's somewhere in the Holy Bible that "it will be more difficult for a rich to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the hole of a needle". That leaves some marks and, indeed, French people are suspicious  of the rich.

But I also doubt that most of our rich (or high revenues) are "love-able". The problem is that, in France, to build a fortune or to enter in the inner circle of very high revenues, you need to :
  • Inherit from your parents
  • Graduate from specific schools (2 or 3)
  • Have a rock solid political network and use it
  • Have worked as a "sherpa" or spin-doctor for a politician at the beginning of your career : at lot of blue chips CEO nominations, even for stock-exchange listed companies where France is not shareholder, need to be "backed" by government

Add to this that French capitalism has a level of endogamy : CEOs of Blue Chips are at the board of other Blue Chip companies. This is the same in US but to a much higher extent in France. Let's take an example : the French richest man, Bernard Arnault, has a $25B fortune (do I need to mention that he lives in Belgium ?). He inherited from his father (pretty large real-estate company) and used the cash to buy a large sinking company, Boussac. A deal was made with the Prime Minister of the time (1981), Laurent Fabius, now Secretary of State, so Bernard Arnault could buy Boussac at a very-low price in exchange with the promise to "save the jobs". He cut the company in pieces and sold them with a very nice bump. He was asked later on about the promise on the jobs he did not respect. He said that, once he had sold the companies, the promise could not be respected. No harm (for him). Then, he used the cash to buy LVMH and managed to raise it to worlwide #1 of luxury industry.

I don't say that Mr Arnault does not have talent or insight : he does. But let's compare this with the two co-founders of Accor Group. This is a hotel chain including Ibis, Novotel, Four Seasons, Sofitel, Pullman and many others. $8B yearly revenues, 4,500 hotels, 145,000 employees, all of this built on their own with no political network or dummy promises. What is the fortune of the two co-founders ? $200M each.

The problem in France is that the yearly revenues or fortune is not related to personal credit, risks taken  or talent. And people are no fools : they see that (with more or less accuracy). Take Xavier Niel, the rising star of French Capitalism. He did not attend the "good" schools, did not succeed because of political friendship, never worked for a politician, was a son of middle-class average couple. He started in the sex industry and "pink Minitel" (Minitel was a french-designed ancestor of Internet in the 80s). He's now compared to Steve Jobs. That is wrong because he did not invent a product but a business model. He launched a low-cost telco company (Free), paying himself a very reasonable wage but his fortune is worth $5B. And I never heard anyone complain about the guy (unlike other rich people) except 5% extreme-leftist that are opposed to any property rights.

Rich Americans are a lot about philanthropy (Gates "Giving Pledge" program, building a hall or an aisle in the college where they graduated) : that's very rare in France. Mr Arnault is a sponsor for his passion : contemporary art.  That's nice but that's not a way that is recognized as "giving back to the community". So I wouldn't say that French don't like the rich. This is much more complicated and I would say that French are waiting for rich people they would be able to like.

Have a merry Christmas, my friend, waiting for your views on this,

lundi 17 décembre 2012

Post economic meltdown : France vs US two opposing recipes for recovery

Redwood City
December 16th 2012 
Nicolas (*),

I‘ve been living in the Silicon Valley for sixteen years. You live in Lyon, arguably the best spot on earth when it comes to fine food and wine. I’m keeping an eye on what’s happening in France, and I know you are in touch with what’s happening in what is my current country . I believe we can agree that the differences in vision and strategy to resolve the economic crisis that fell on us are incredibly striking. And this comes with consequences: as we are experiencing a slow but consistent recovery, France is going deeper and deeper in a financial and moral meltdown. 

USA and France : so much in common, so many differences

We shouldn't be surprised. Sure, France and America have a lot in common. They share extremely deep historical roots, have never been at war against each other (there are not that many other examples among the “civilized” countries) and have been fighting side by side in almost every conflict in which one of them was involved. Both nations pride themselves on their active promotion of tolerance and freedom. Both respect free enterprise and private property.

But. Even if France is one of the largest European countries, it sits on a land seventeen times smaller than the USA. Its history goes back twenty centuries, coming to existence in its current shape during the Middle Age, growing up in the Renaissance, surviving a few kings misusing their absolute power, reinventing itself through several major revolutions and bloodbaths, agonizing during WWI (one of every three male citizens ended up dead or crippled), disintegrating during WWII and a gruesome occupation, reconstructing itself while losing its colonies and former glory and power, while under the threat of a nuclear war, with a Soviet Union at its door, and a communist party gathering over 20% of the voters within its borders.

Economic policy as a pie recipe

Let’s refocus on the economy and consider it as a pie. Looking at France, this pie is not growing, however what is discussed is how the pie should be shared. This comes with several consequences:

  • If someone has a larger portion, others will see their share as reduced. The consequence is a profound distrust of the “rich people”. This is deeply rooted in the French psyche, perhaps also a consequence of living for too long under the rule of an aristocratic class.
  • As the surface of the pie remains constant, the role of the government is to make sure that everyone gets a share. This leads to a system based on massive welfare programs.
  • At times of crises, the government will be expected to manage the decreasing size of the pie. By sharing.

Now let’s come back to the Land of the Free. For most American citizens, the discussion is around the growth of the economy, hence, how to enlarge the pie. The country is expected to become richer and richer. Consequences follow:

  • If someone accrues large wealth for himself, he is usually very well considered, as he is contributing to enlarging the pie. Since this will be benefit to all, nobody really minds if his size is bigger.
  • When facing an economic crisis, the focus is on maintaining the size of the pie, and even making it bigger to resolve the issue.

At times of troubles, the scenarios differ:

  • Day one: a big disruption occurs. Markets collapse on both sides of the pond.
  • Day two: in America, companies “reduce expenses,” followed by a flow of unemployed people filing for unemployment. In France, hiring is stopped, but employees keep their positions, as firing them would be in the short term more expensive than getting rid of them. France shares the shrinking pie while America modifies the sharing.
  • Day three: US companies deliver better results and start hiring again. French companies are still in the red, increasingly so, and as the economy supports the growing ranks of the unemployed (the one who could not find a job because nobody is hiring) taxes go up. As a side effect, the US companies that are too weak to survive in a bad economy disappear.
  • Day four: America is back on track, everybody is happy until the next crash. New businesses are created, taking the place of ones that disappeared. In France, the deficit rises and companies benefit from the wellbeing of the US and world economy, but are getting weaker because they have less cash at hand than they should. They could hire new workers, but are afraid that the next crisis might kill them if they have too many employees.

That’s the theory. Reality is, of course, more complicated as the models are not so crisp and pure, but you get the idea. Will this stop? Well, it will have to at some point. The real question is: when?

(*) Marc and I decided to work this blog as a correspondance between two french-born men, living 8.000 miles apart. Our inspiration (Marc's idea actually) comes from "Les Lettres persanes" of Montesquieu (1721). Except that, in the Montesquieu masterpiece, the two correspondents were imaginary. It was just a matter of style. Marc & I are real. Well, even if we add our talents, we won't be 5% as gifted as Montesquieu. That's the bad news. The good news is that we're alive and writing. We don't know each other that well. We bumped out in each other while he was board member of a company were I was CFO. But most of the boards were over the phone so we maybe met twice or 3 times. Nevertheless, we managed to keep in touch, mainly from Marc who posted comments on the economic blog I handled for 3 years for a french national newspaper. Let's not pretend we're enemies or opponents. As far as I can tell, we're sharing a strong core of views and values. But there are enough discrepancies between each others to challenge ourselves enough. It won't restrain us to post papers outside this correspondence. I'll keep on posting my favorite kind of papers : long with a load of stats and data.

samedi 15 décembre 2012

Gun control and mass killing sprees: European historical perspective trying to understand

This morning found myself explaining my 5 1/2 years old daughter why a man killed 20 children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. And I started to cry. I did not have the President Obama standing to retain my cries outburst. Why did I explain that to her ? Because I thought it would be better for her to hear this from me with context and explanation rather than get a random glimpse from radio or TV. Kids are always surprising. The first question was "Daddy, how do you do to kill yourself ?" when I explained about the shooter's fate. Well, I know it's time for prayers for those who believe or grievance or just empathy thoughts. I just wanted to bring some European's "return of experience" and history lessons about gun proliferation and violence control. Well, it's not perfect over here, far from it. A so-called white supremacist crusader killed 77 innocent people in a single day in Norway a year ago. Huge majority of French population never hear about the 2nd amendment, they just think you can have in US any firearm you want, anywhere in America and wear it into your belt. And that Americans are crazy about this. And I want to say to my compatriots that Americans are nor crazy nor fools. Just products of their history like we are.

Statistics : guns proliferation control and homicide rate

We know that the 2nd amendment is coming from the time where there was no US Army, thus the need of militia and the need for any individual to own a firearm. That was the case in some times in French history but too far away to remember. It's also difficult from French people to understand that Americans don't want to move anything from their Bill of Rights when we changed 19 times of Constitutions in the last two centuries (I mean major versions !). It's also very difficult to understand why lobbies like NRA spend some much money on defending the freedom to carry weapons when we care so little about civil rights in France.

I've made a graphic (on the left) of the number of guns (or other small firearms) for 100 citizens for a various range of countries. USA is worldwide leader but a European country like Switzerland has a high rate because its army is made of reservists (and they should keep a firearm at hand). Some other countries decided to keep a firm governmental monopoly of guns (and violence) : Russia, China, Japan. Note that among this list, democracies are not a majority. Other countries like France and Norway have a pretty high rate of small guns equipment for traditions. In France (like in Norway), people use to hunt in countryside from centuries. So you can easily acquire a small caliber firearm (.22 long rifle being the most common but I'm no expert in firearm, never shot an ammo for my whole life !).

Now, let's try to cross those data with homicide rates. Well, the correlation is not really obvious (see below) 

Officially, Rwanda or Russia have very few firearm proliferation. But their homicide rate jump to the roof : homicide rate in Russia in 2.5x higher than in US, 10x higher than in France and 30x higher than in Japan. Switzerland, despite its gun proliferation, has an homicide ratio 6 times lower than in US and 50% lower than in France. Iceland has 3 times less firearms per citizen than in US but 30 times less homicides per citizen.

Beyond the stats

It's way more difficult to have statistics on killing spree. In France, March 2012, an arabic-origin french citizen killed 7 people, including children and targeting Jewish and French soldiers. During a siege that lasted more than 30 hours and were he finally been shot dead by elite police, he claimed to be leaded by Al Qaeda. In 2002, a french citizen was assisting a local town debate and killed 8 elected people, few months after another guy killed 14 people in similar circumstances in Switzerland.

But it's easy to see that it's way less frequent than in US. Columbine High School shooting did not happen in France. The closest event was in 1993. A guy, calling himself "Human Bomb", took a preschool class (with the teacher) as hostages). The story made all France catch its breath for more than 48h (I was 21 years old at this time and I perfectly remember this). The RAID (french version of SWAT) was negotiating. The mayor of the town on which the preschool stands was a certain ... Nicolas Sarkozy who'll become President 14 years after (yes, that's him on the photo lifting a kid away from the classroom). Finally, the hostage taker appeared to be more desperate than dangerous. But the authorities did not want to take any risk. The RAID managed to put some sleeping pills in its food and shot him in the head during his sleep. (Pretty happy) End of the story.

So France and Europe are mostly pacific. You have some places with high-rate homicide : Corsica island or Marseille in France or Napoli in Italy. It's mostly related to mob and drug trafficking. But desperate killing spree like shooting from a University Tower in Austin in 1966 ? Virginia Tech ? Very very rare. Fortunately. Is this due to firearm control ? I don't think so. In Corsica or Marseille, people who really want to kill someone find Kalachnikov on black market for few hundred bucks. Russia shows that if you want to kill someone, you don't need a gun. At least not an official one.

Do I say US don't need more gun control ? Well, I think they do need some. I don't have any right to intrude in this debate as an European but seen from Europe, well, I think a better control would be no harm. Now, even with a better control, would those killings disappear ? Part of them maybe. It's about raising the difficulty to organize a mass killing and to discard the "opportunistic" issue.

Beyond that? I think it's more a problem of American society being violent. Stats show that USA and Russia are indeed violent societies. Russia violence surely comes from its very violent history. US history had also been violent from american-native extermination, far-west and Civil War. This violence can also be seen in Kennedy assassination and Reagan life's attempt. In Europe, we can't glorify ourselves. It took us centuries to domesticate our civil violence and give the monopoly of legal violence to Nations. Although, this domestication did not prevent the WWI and WWII butcheries. I'm pretty confident in the fact that America will become less and less violent as time goes by. In a meantime, some law about gun control may help ...

I usually put a song at the end of my posts.
Today, I would just put a prayer but I'm not very religious myself so I won't be able to choose something that fits. If someone has a religious song or any appropriate song to suggest, I'd be happy to paste it here

lundi 10 décembre 2012

Old Europe is more and more risk adverse, shutting the door to progress, jobs and prosperity

Today, I want to talk to you about risk and progress. Progresses can only be obtained at the price of risk taking. And it appears that "Old Europe" is becoming more and more risk adverse, France leading the way. Much more than US, much much more than emerging country, China first. That may lead Europe to further de-industrialization, job losses, welfare system crash, decline and relative poverty. I've also taken the energetic policy as an example to show that the "cautious principle" we've set in our Constitution is leading us into dead-ends as we need to take risks not only to make progress but just to cover our basic needs.

Optimism bias, black swans and Challenger crash

Risk is very difficult to assess if not impossible. If you have a very strong statistical database (with a deep outlook on the past), then you have a chance. But that's not because something never happened that it won't happen. Nicholas Taïeb (or Taleb) described those phenomenons as "black swans". Europeans long thought that swans were all white, that the probability to see a black swan was equal to zero ... until they explored Australia and found black swans. Earthquakes of magnitude 10 had never been measured but one could happen. 9/11 can be seen as a black swan : we (and the CIA) knew terrorists were ready to do anything to harm America, we knew they used to hijack and destroy airplanes. But crashing planes into building ? That was too hard too imagine. This is also about detecting "low-intensity signal" and not being in denial. A plane was hijacked in 1994 between Algeria and France and French Intelligence had some clues that the terrorists intended to crash the jet onto Paris. We also need to avoid denial because sometimes it's just too tempting to discard images too awful to sustain.

The other mechanism at stake is hidden is everyone's mind. It's called the "optimism bias". We all tend to overestimate our chances to win (the lottery for instance) and underestimate our chances to loose (die from a lung cancer when we smoke - which is my case : smoking and underestimating consequences). Some may say it's hell of a flaw we have in our brain ! But some others think this is the very reason we're humans and not apes. If they didn't have overestimated their chances, our ancestors would never have explored continents, domesticated horses, grew wheat or corn, flew over Atlantic oceans or fly to the Moon. And we would still be in the countryside eating fruits from the trees and hoping to catch an animal from time to time.

So taking risk is part of human progress. But we need to domesticate our optimism bias. The US spatial vehicle Challenger had exploded because of a black swan and optimism bias. The O-Ring were meant to keep the booster solid fuel inside its cylinders so Challenger won't explode. Those O-Ring were never tested in cold ambiance because weather is never cold in Florida. Almost never cold. Unfortunately, in the night between Jan, 27th and Jan, 28th 1986, it was freezing at Cap Canaveral. Some engineers noticed that. But the decision was made by NASA to proceed with the launch. That is because the risk was dramatically underestimated. The crash happened on the 25th launch. Field engineers thought the crash probability was somewhere around 1 out of 100, managers 1 out of 1.000 and the investigation found that some upper management members thought it was 1 out of 100.000 (which is totally out of proportion showing not only optimism bias but also a belief rather that a rational estimation and huge dose of denial of reality). Well, anybody know what happen this Jan, 28th. 

The French "cautious principle" : no GMO, no shale gas

But we need to keep the optimism bias alive. Otherwise, we'll stop progressing. This is all about competition too. If we, French people, decide to stop moving on the progress path, then Americans will. Chinese too. And we will keep on losing our industries, our plants, our jobs and our wealth. 

Of course, we had our failures like Challenger. The most recent scandal (which is different because the Challenger case revealed no bad intent like greedy guidance) is "Mediator". This is the drug that was conceived, manufactured and sold by a french lab (Servier). It was filed as a cure for diabetis but the lab advertises it to physicians (prescription drugs ads for population is forbidden in France) as diet pills. Millions of people took it (especially women) for years. It appears now that the lab had cheated on the filing, has hidden some side effects, had lobbied (at least) to avoid the drug being withdrawn from market. It took a French's Erin Brockovich to fight the lab and authorities for years to see the drug go off the pharmacy's shelves. Now, it appears that the drug caused 500 to 2,000 deaths not counting all disabled persons (lung severe problems) and was not really efficient on diabetis (althought it was good diet pills ... but losing 10 pounds weren't worth the side effects) . Well, the case is "under investigation". That kind of case usually takes 10 to 15 years to go to trial and the lab founder & CEO (deeply committed in the drug misfiling and misuse) is 90-something. So he'll die quietly without being convicted. As there's no class actions in France, the pharma company will also easily survive (unless the government use its power to marry it with Sanofi, our national big pharma).

But I don't think we have had more failures and cheating than other countries. In 2005, a "cautious principle" had been added to our Constitution with opinion favors. The habit is when politicians want to do something but they know they won't do it, they put it in the Constitution (that's why it's not a booklet but a multi-volumes encyclopedia). Two years ago, a huge debate took place to know if we should add a "golden rule" in the Constitution forbidding more than 3% GDP national deficit. This has been abandoned. This cautious principle says : "« When a damage realization, even uncertain in the scientific state-of-art knowledge, might affect seriously and irreversibly environment, authorities, by applying the "cautious principle", and in their competence domain, will setup evaluation procedures to assess risks and to take provisional and proportional measures to avoid damages realization".

Wrapped-up, it says that we need to be sure beyond reasonable doubt that there's no risk before going on. As a result, all genetically modified (GMO) crop had been banned.

On shale gas, it appears that our soil may be packed with shale gas. But not only extraction had been banned but exploration too ! So it's forbidden to dig a hole trying to see and assess our shale gas potential.  At the desperation of industrial companies CEOs seeing a potential competitive advantage (lower price energy) disappearing. When we have too few of them

France : no energetic resources in our soil but a real cool climate

The nature gave us a disadvantage : we have no energetic resources in our soil. We used to have a lot of coal but we extracted about every ton of it and the few left is way more expensive to extract rather than to import it (from US - 22%, Columbia - 19%, Australia - 17%, Russia - 16% and South Africa - 12%). We never had any petroleum so we bring it from former-USSR countries (36%), Africa (29%), Middle-East (19%) and Northern Europe (14%). We have only one natural gas exploitation site so we're also importing it from Norway (32%), Netherlands (16%), Russia (13%), Algeria (11%). We don't have any uranium so we're bringing it from Mali or Canada. That leads us to import roughly 70 billions dollars a year of energy, roughly our trade balance deficit.

To be fair, nature gave us a huge advantage : a very moderate climate. The number of days with freezing (even 5' during the day) is 32 yearly in Paris, 59 in Lyon. In "coldest" places (except mountain villages), it's 100. The number of days in year where the temperature reaches 85°F is 16 in Lyon and the highest ever is 104°F. Coldest ever is -9°F. In Paris, 13 days of haze yearly (all data after are in Paris). 15 days of snow. 4.5 hours of sun a day as yearly average (more than 7h on the French Riviera). Coldest ever -10°F. Highest ever 105°F. 19 days of thunderstorm. Heaviest rain ? 41 inches a day. 105 mph as the worst wind burst. All of this is average. We don't have a lot of storms, no tornadoes, some flooding but few earthquakes. A good land to live on. In 2003, a wave heat of 3 weeks saw the temperature tops to 100°F in most of the countries. As we're not used, not equipped, not prepared, 11,500 people (mostly elderly) were supposedly died because of this.

Energy mixes and why France is pissed-of about American energetic policy

With this cool climate, we need to consume less energy. In 1985, only 1.5% cars sold in France had air conditioning. It began to be really ordinary in the 2000s and now comes with 90% of new cars. Only 3% of homes in 2012 are air-conditioned equipped. This ratio is the one that used to be in US in the early 50s. The current equipment rate is nowadays 87% in USA. That's one of the explanation of the fact that the energy consumption per capita was 3 (forget about the unit) in France and European Union (EU) in 2004, 4 in Japan and Russia and ... 9 in US ! Not mentioning 1 in China and 0.5 in India. Many other factors explain those numbers : industry (more plants, more energy consumed), efficiency (more plant efficiency, less energy consumed), culture and way of life (it's always surprising for Europeans to have to wear a sweet-shirt inside a restaurant in US when the temperature is 90°F outside).

Well, even if we don't need that much energy, we need some in France. And we also need to ensure your "energetic independence". Being dependent of other countries for our energy is no good because you'll have to bend your diplomatic choices to ensure your supply. And, in wartime, it'a drama. Fortunately, during WWI and WWII, we were relying on our colonies with gas and petroleum in their soils.

Where does all this energy comes from ? Worldwide, 2004 data, 35% petroleum, 25% coal, 21% gas, 10% biomass (burning wood) and 9% electricity. This electricity comes from 39% coal, 21% gas, 16% nuclear power plants, petroleum 7% and 16% renewable (solar panel, wind turbine and mostly dams). So, all in all, nuclear power plants are providing 1.4% of the world energy. To ensure our energetic independence, lower the electricity price for consumers and improve the trade balance, a huge nuke program was launched in France in the 70s. We're now world leaders (in percentage) with 75% to 80% of our electricity being produced this way. We also fully exploited our hydroelectric capacities which provides 10% of our electricity. Rest is mainly burning some fuel and some coal. We now have a cost-efficient electricity with few CO2 emissions.

US made radically different choices. Three Mile Island incident in 1979 froze the nuclear program. Therefore, in 2009, nuke was representing only 20% of the US electricity production and most of it is burning fossil resources with a lot of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission. And this is really pissing French people off ("Americans don't care about the Planet !").

Basically, in France, our energy comes :

  • 52% from petroleum
  • 20% gas
  • 16% nuke
  • 3% coal
  • 2% dams
  • 7% others (including an experimental plant to get the tides energy started in 1967)
In USA :
  • 37% from petroleum
  • 27% gas
  • 8% nuke
  • 23% coal
  • 3% dams
  • 2% others
More fossil energy (87% vs 77%) in US - especially coal, more nuke in France. 

The main reproach the French politicians and medias address to United States is : "you're burning too much energy, especially in residential and agriculture (because you're eating too much meat), you're using too much fossil resources, you're emitting too much GHG". French usually also ignore regional differences in US. A Texas resident will use twice more electricity than a San Francisco or Chicago resident and 3 times more than a NYC resident.

French energetic policy : no (more) nuke, no shale gas, no petroleum, no more coal

Now, once that said, what do we really do ? The ecologists ("greens") electoral score is within 2 to 15% but the average is 5/7%. Not a strong political power. But they're smart and managed to have some seats (2) at the current government table (french greens are on leftist side). They obtained the nuclear power plant program to be stalled and that the % of nuke in electricity production will be decreased from 75 to 50% (in 10 to 25 year, very unclear). We also don't want to burn anymore coal and want to reduce the petroleum usage. We cannot build any more dams. We have forbidden any shale gas exploration.

So what's the solution ? Trying to decrease the energy consumption by a better energy use efficiency or a better building isolation. Fine but it'll take a long time (and need investments with money we don't have at hand). Trying to develop "alternative energies" like solar, wind, geothermal but we're in stop & start policies. There were huge subventions for solar panel until the government find out most of them were manufactured in China and stopped the subventions. Wind turbine setup is blocked by the NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) effect (we're a densely populated country). Fact is we have no solutions other than trying to do a little better, step by step, and find a better balance.

So we're at the leading edge of ecology in the major conferences (Kyoto, Durban, Doha recently), giving lessons to the world (one of our favorite activity) but we haven't found our way. And our "cautious principle" won't help us find smart solution to fight global warming or to feed to world without killing the climate. Not having found our way is not abnormal because it's utterly hard. French citizen are making some small efforts, like US people do (the density of Toyota Prius on 101 or 405 south of San Francisco is amazing) but we like being fresh in our car, like big motors (well, me at least), like to be warm in our houses in winter, like to travel, prefer our individual car to buses or train. I don't think we're saints. No more than evil. Maybe Americans have had "easier energy" in the past so they have more room today to smooth their consumption without too much restriction. So let's US citizen find their very own way and improve, without giving any lessons.

Nicolas QUINT

Some say that's progress
I say that's cruel

Midnight Oil "Progress"

dimanche 9 décembre 2012

Americans work in silos but terrific in execution, French creative but lame in execution (e.g. online journalism)

In this paper, let's talk about a crucial topic : the discrepancies in the way of working between US & France. I usually dislike generalities : America is not a "block" : eastern/western/northern/southern differences, white/blue collar, ethnic origin, ... Same in France. Basically, you'd need to work on a case-by-case basis but that's not possible so let's proceed with generalities. I'm no expert in US working habits. I never worked in US, been in business with Americans for 4 or 5 years tops. My main (exciting) experience is when the French company where I was CFO had been acquired by a California-headquartered one. I had to deal with US management for a year before moving on.

Basically, Americans tend to work like in the Army. When a manager gives a job description, team members follow it, no more, no less. And they don't waste time asking tons of questions. In France, that's the opposite. Team members are asking a lot of questions : "why this decision ?" "what's the rational ?" and they spend a lot of time discussing it a the coffee machine. Team members won't apply a decision if they don't understand it and copes with it (note it's the same thing with citizen and law. And myself. I don't understand the rational of speed limits implementation - why 70 mph at this place ? - and I don't cope with it, at all. So I do not respect speed limits, I follow my own rule : no more than 20 mph above the speed limit  - where the real troubles begin if you get caught and I've been several times - if the weather and traffic allows it - according to my very own perception). 

Job description small arrangements

So, when managing people in France, you'd better rely on explaining and manipulating (in the right way of the term and for a good cause) rather than use your authority. Now, pros and cons come with that. French people sort their job description. They will discard some items but also do some stuff not in their job description if they're committed and think it's good for company. They would also change some part of job desc items for the greater good of company - according to their perception.  Those working habits allow an organizational creativity to emerge and reinforce colleagues cooperation. At the opposite, American tend to work in silos. In my experience, the outcome is that, in a very small company, for a same job to perform, you'll need twice more people in US than in France. I'm talking about creativity potential dry-up here but Apple is the perfect example that US is at the leading-edge of creativity. But Steve Jobs biography shows perfectly that his creativity would led to nothing without a rock strong execution. And that's where we're failing in France : Execution. Our economical history is full of inventions made in France (the 1st "real car" had been put on the market in 1873 by a French but the massive production was led by Henry Ford. I could list dozens of example like this but, indeed, Internet is an US invention) but everybody forgot that it was French. Because we were unable to execute and other people, often Americans (Germans too), are executing our ideas so well that the world forget it was a French idea at the very beginning. And the cash is not flowing towards us.

As company grows, the advantage coming from our work habits tend to disappear and become clearly a problem. That's one of the explanation that, in the French blue chips, you have no companies founded later than 30 or 40 years ago. And many founded one or two centuries ago. No Apple, Google or Dell in France ("Free", a telco, may be a very recent exception). Cause we're unable to execute. Too many questions and approximations in the chain of command. No respect of the chain of command where US companies execution ability is as powerful as Stalin's organ like.

Note that if you persist in working on a part of your job desc only and, for each time, acting on what you think is the best despite the orders, your job will be at risk. But 5,000,000 french employees (15 to 20% of overall employees) are working, directly or indirectly, for government. And a lot of them have a "lifetime employment warranty" (except for massive fraud or grand theft - which is very rare. On a rare number I found, 264 out of 5,000,000 governmental employees had been revoked in 1988 - that's one over 500 in a lifetime - 0.2% probability). So some of them may be tempted to act "as they please".

The US/France discrepancy also exist within Europe. Like in many other areas, you can split Europe in "beer drinkers" (England, Germany, Netherlands, ...) and "wine drinkers" (France, Italy, Spain, Greece, ..). On the matter I've just spoken about, "wine drinkers" tend to act like French, Beer drinkers like Americans.

A personal experience in online journalism

I wrote an economic blog for Liberation, one of the three main generalist national French newspaper (although  only 175.000 copies printed and 125.000 sold daily only - 14% of them by the Air France airline). It did this for 3 years, published about 170 posts, generating 1.6 millions pages viewed (not that bad at french scale), 6,400 comments and great readers appreciation. A very good experience and a lot of fun. So why did I stop ? The deal was very clear from the beginning and I was OK with it : Liberation was getting some free content and traffic (not insignificant for the online edition as an exec told me "off") , I was gaining some visibility to expose my views and thoughts (personal branding). But, as the time goes by, I was expecting a little bit more : some recognition signs from Liberation. Nothing fancy, no over-expensive diners. The last thing I got was a half-a-day visit of the newsroom (I got to pay my train ticket to come from the town I live but don't be greedy), such a great experience. But I expected some small free other signs of Liberation : get to talk with economics journalists of the newspaper, got to meet other bloggers. Liberation is organizing conferences where experts and politics are debating in front of a 1,000 people attendance. The entrance was on invitation only (maybe you can pay and go if you're not invited, I don't know). I would have expected an invitation, not in the VIP lounge, not having my travel and accommodation paid. Just an invitation. Again, nothing fancy. Just some "recognition toys".

A glimpse of French press business model

The french press is in bad shape. The national press is less and less read and numbers of copies sold per capita is #23 in the world. Between '94 and '04, the number of sold copies had dropped by 7.2%. More than 3% drop for 2008 only. All national paper sales are lowering. Readers are older and older. Marketshares are being taken by free press and regional press (progressing sharply). The five daily papers best-sellers are, in order : Free press one (782,000 copies), Regional one (722,000), Free press one (736,000), Regional one (532,000) and, finally, one of the "Big 3" of national generalist press, Le Figaro (320,000 copies sold daily). Le Monde, the most glorious in the "Best 3", is selling 300,000 copies a day vs 2 millions for US Today, 3 millions for The Sun (UK) and 13 millions for Yomiuri Shinbun (Japan where the population is only twice the French one). The five english best sellers are 5 times more sold than the five french best-sellers. Between '06 and '07, ads spending, had rose by 39% on Internet, 2% on TV but dropped by 10% on national newspapers.

Liberation, among them, is fighting to find a new business model. Its financials are awful (huge indebtedness and no assets other than the brand) and any other companies would have had go to bankruptcy. If Liberation, Le Monde or Le Figaro (the "Big 3) are still alive that's because :
  • French press get yearly subventions equals to $30 per french citizen aged 15+. That's 13% of the press revenues
  • Liberation, Le Monde, Le Figaro got equities from rich folks with absolutely no hope of Return on Equity (RoE). That means those people either are disinterested sponsorship either thy got a political agenda. For The Figaro, the second choice applies. The investor / sponsor said he will use his newspaper to fight the "leftist cancer". Which does not mean french journalists are not independent and fight hard for this independence.
  • Basically, the Big 3 is surviving because politicians think it's the better way to address population (TV & radio would quote those papers with the reinsurance given by the brand). If they have not found a new business model before, the day the politicians realize they's better address directly TV or radios or talk to citizen through social networks, the Big 3 is dead. In a blink of an eye.
Ajouter une légende
Back to my story, those papers are trying to find a better business model, trying to convince people to pay for online content by providing better analysis, fact-checking or interactive content. Bringing free content from external contributor like I was is part on the plan (building an ecosystem). Except the content I provided was freely available and Liberation did not want to put ad banner on my blog (except ads for Liberation itself. They say they don't want to make money on bloggers that are not paid. Nice ethic but I would have preferred that Liberation get some cash through ads on my blog and give me free recognition toys). I hope press will find a new business model because I love press and I think it's a mandatory ingredient for a real democracy. I also hope Liberation will do so cause I really love this paper (especially writing style, paper angles, layout, photos, ...). Content too but you can also find very serious content in Le Figaro or Le Monde. I read Liberation for 20 
years now and I spent more time face-to-face with it than with most of my best friends.
    Stopping my blog and finding out that online Liberation's execution is just lame

    When I decided to stop my blog, I felt I owed an explanation to  my readers. So I wrote a good-bye post. I received 28 very nice comments right away, a lot of emails, Facebook messages. I published not using the usual process (when delivering a post, a contact at Liberation was checking (with no censure) what I wrote - note that I was never censored - before sending it online) because I feared Liberation won't authorize the publishing. The content was not insulting for Liberation, it was basically what you've just read on the two previous paragraphs. This was not a real breach. Despite I've worked 3 years for them, despite I wrote 2 millions signs for Liberation, they never made me sign anything : ethic code, publishing process, content policy, waive of rights on content, nothing. I also feared that, once published, Liberation would discard the note.

    Then a little game started and that showed me how online content managers at Liberation are unprofessional (I'm not blaming any individual here, just the organization and/or the French culture itself). Liberation is using Typepad as a blog platform manager. I've changed the password for my blog and Liberation lost access to their own blog (well my blog but published under Liberation name with their URL and logo). My contact (young but really good and promising, if you need someone, check her resume) asked me to give back the passwords. I've send back an email saying : let's cut a deal. You let "live" the post for a week and I'll send you back the password afterwards. No drama.

    I switched to my normal job activities, was on phone with a customer. I've got 3 messages, more and more on a pissed-off tone, from a deputy editor of online version of Liberation. I'm calling him back, he's shouting at me saying it's a "coup'" (like a military one), saying he can't wave his "editorial responsibility" so he needs this access right now. Well, I was thinking (and maybe told him) that it's something he may have worried about 3 years ago when they gave me the code with no policy, no ethic code, no nothing. He promised not to discard the post (he kept his promise but disabled the comment feature few hours later ; some comments were not very good for Liberation saying my posts were better than most of the paper's articles made by real journalists. Flattering indeed. But untrue : I don't want to compare, I published posts whenever I wanted to on the subjects I chose. Working on deadline on given matters are a very different thing. Well, that's a job. Blogging, as I used to do it for Liberation, is a hobby).

    Oops the newspaper lost access to its online platform

    When I tried to changed my Typepad access code (it was one of my "usual password"), it failed. The guy I got on the phone had called Typepad and reset the password. So he was proud to having gained back his "editorial responsibility" and "editorial integrity" of Liberation. But he forgot to ask Typepad to disconnect alive sessions. So, for days (until I reboot my PC), I was able to change the content, still having access to the blog management.

    And I've also created, months ago, a Facebook group for blog community management. There was on the blog a right-side panel with Facebook group members and ... member's discussions displayed. So myself or any of the member of the group were able for weeks to breach the "editorial responsibility" just by typing on Facebook. It stayed  like this for 3 weeks or so (it took an email from m for them to realize). Finally, I also sent an email to the 2.722 people that left a comment on my blog (a thank-you email). My contact at Liberation asked me about the CNIL. CNIL is a french organism that is checking that data gathering is not leading to any abuse (political or commercial) and that any significant data collection is declared (with associated information to users like "how to be deleted from the database"). It appears that my email was authorized by that Liberation stocking all the comments in the base (content of the comment, nickname or real name, email address - most of the time real and IP address) is supposed to be declared to the CNIL according to the french law. Liberation got a database of thousands (if not dozen of thousands) people with data sufficient to fully identify them associated to comments that often clearly indicate their economical, sociological, political or sexual orientation. Knowing that commentators ignore that and giving your political information to your friends is a taboo in France, you see the problem. I sent an email to my contact at Liberation and she said to me "I guess we're totally illegal here" with a smiley ... Typical.

    So Liberation best brains are trying to find a strategy to survive in an hostile environment, trying to move to journalism 2.0 and the ability to execute of their team is close to zero. I guess that's a good example of french problems with competitiveness ...

    When the generals talk 
    You better listen to him 
    When the generals talk 
    You better do what he say 

    There's a rumour in the ranking 
    Someone talking insurrection 
    So the general has a purge 
    'Cos he wants to win elections 
    With the certain satisfaction 
    That the people are appeased 
    Long live the revolution 
    The general's very pleased 

    Midnight Oil "When the general talks"

    samedi 8 décembre 2012

    France/US/UK justice system similarities and differences part one

    Talking about differences in the justice system between France, USA and England would take several posts because, basically, they're so different. French system is based on Ancient Roma's one, England had developed its own barely from scratch ("common law") and US's one had been derived from UK's one but diverged and even copied some French choices. Kind of complicated. French people hardly know the US justice system (mostly based on US series like Ally Mc Beal and DSK/Sofitel case coverage by french media) and do not understand it. At all. But the common impression in France is that it's a justice that is kind for the rich, hard for the poor. May not be wrong. Is that so different in France ? I'm not sure. At all. So let's discuss few topics here. Other posts will follow on the matter.

    France : no Habeas Corpus, low civil rights, third-world suspects treatment

    Habeas Corpus had been developed in England. The "creation" took its roots as far as in the XIIth century but has been officialized in 1679. The basis is that no individual should be incarcerated without judgment and should know why he had been arrested. In USA, Habeas Corpus had been adopted since the Constitution. Unfortunately, France did not adopted this basic principle. We have our own lifelines but let's take some examples. When you're arrested in US, you should me mirandized (informed of your rights). In France, this right had been suppressed between 2003 and 2011. If police suspects (with the backup of a judge that's easy to have) you of something (maybe a felony like DUI), you'll be kept in custody for 48 hours. In 2009, there were 900.000 custodies of this kind in France - including 300.000 for driving-related felony) for a population of 65 millions. Most of the time, you'll be kept in a shithole (pardon my french but that's the reality - a prison just being disaffected here in Lyon was built 2 centuries ago. Nice from the outside but never changed inside), a cage with many other folks (and some of them dangerous). No separation between suspected murderers or DUI offenders. A law had been voted in 2011 to reinforce civil rights. Before the law, you had access to a lawyer the first 30 minutes (on 48h) and your lawyer (and yourself) had neither access to the file neither access to the charges you're blamed for. Now, you have the right to have the lawyer all along the custody.

    No bucks, no good justice

    Our justice is awfully slow because of restricted budget (that's the reason given by Justice labor union and this had been backup by many audits). On 43 European countries, only 6 spent less on justice as a % of GDP (Armenia, Albania,..). The graph on your left gives you the yearly justice budget comparison (not including jails), as percent of GDP, per head. Germany and Portugal data are not available

    We spend something like $74 yearly per capita for our justice not including jails or 0,18% of our GDP. That's similar to US spendings ($91/year/head and 0,18% of GDP too) but more than England & Wales ($30/year/head and 0,07% of GDP) although some other studies (perimeter / period problems) say UK is above France for justice spendings.

    If you include jails management,, you have :

    • France : $152/year/head and 0.37% of GDP
    • US : $182/year/head and 0.36% of GDP
    • England : $85/year/head and 0.20% of GDP (with previously mentioned calculations problems)
    So France and US are very similar ! But we got to set some comparisons with other countries
    • Switzerland : 
      • Justice only : $105/head ($74 in France, $91 in US) ; 0.13% of GDP (0.18% in both France and US)
      • Justice + prison : $ : $177/head ($152 in France, $182 in US, $85 in England) ; 0.23% of GDP (0.37% in France and US ; 0.20% in GDP)
    • Germany : 
      • Justice only : $86/head ($74 in France, $91 in US) ; 0.21% of GDP (0.18% in both France and US)
      • Justice + prison : $ : $124/head ($152 in France, $182 in US, $85 in England) ; 0.30% of GDP (0.37% in France and US ; 0.20% in GDP)
    • Portugal : 
      • Justice only : $42/head ($74 in France, $91 in US) ; 0.19% of GDP (0.18% in both France and US)
      • Justice + prison : $ : $65/head ($152 in France, $182 in US, $85 in England) ; 0.29% of GDP (0.37% in France and US ; 0.20% in GDP
    Now, if you take the number of declared crimes related to the overall population, if US were 100, you'd have :

    - 253 in UK
    - 146 in France
    - 99 in Switzerland
    - 201 in Germany
    - 193 in Portugal

    So with those few examples only, you can see that the resources used for justice are quite similar in very different countries. And that the correlation (and moreover causality) is not obvious. It "seems" that putting more money into justice has an outcome of smoothing crime but it's far from evident. 

    I've added a picture with declared victims rate in the left side that gives a pretty different view.

    Slow motion justice

    For a crime trial, between the act himself and the first trial, the average in France should be like 3 to 5 years. And for the appeal (which is automatic on defendant or Public Ministry simple request), add 2 more years. So, on the 65,000 people sleeping in french's jails, you have a lot of them that are simply awaiting for their judgment (while 13% of jail time sentences are never served because of a lack of jail places (people are officially allowed not to serve their time) or will/means to search convicted people). The decision to keep you in jail awaiting for your trial is based on a multi-judges decision assessing dangerosity or fleeing risks. If after 5 years awaiting in your cell, you're declared innocent, a commission will assess damages and pay you some few bucks. Recently, a citizen got $1,000,000 for 10 years procedure and 7 years in jail for a rape he never committed. And it was not a "bad jury decision". This was acknowledged as a (professional) justice fault. Imagine what can get a guy cleared by jury after 2 years of "preventive jail". He can buy himself a lunch, that's all.

    Prosecution system : the French neutral judge illusion

    Let's take Mr Strauss-Kahn, former IMF director and about to be French president (what chocked the most French people was the perp walk BTW. And also a politician in jail. That's something you never got to see here !). The case is "The People of the State of New York v. Strauss-Kahn". In civil court, as per my understanding, it will be "Diallo vs Strauss-Kahn".To be honest, it did not understand why, in this very case, while Nafissatou Diallo was the plaintiff, the case turned to be "People of NY vs DSK". My knowledge is limited here but I know it's not always the case (Roe vs Wade being one example). Anyway, that would have been done in France. The US system is : District Attorney (DA) for the prosecution and Defense Attorney for the defense. In France, that's a trio. A judge ("juge d'instruction" that you can translate by "case working judge"), supposed to be neutral, has the monopoly of official resources (police, experts) and try to find the truth (guilty or not ?).

    In a famous case ("Outreau") that took place in early 2000s, a case was given to a young (30-something) "juge d'instruction". It was a ugly pedophilia case with people allegedly abused their own children, beat them and prostituted them. The so-called neutral judge convinced himself that the accused were guilty and instructed the case to prove this. But a famous french defense attorney (his nickname is "Acquitattor', see the photo of the "beast" at the left ; "beast" is with my utterly respect because he just wrote a book named "Black beast". Black beast also means a person you have fear of) hired his own PI, fought the case like a bull and all defendant were cleared. But those folks spent years in jail, families and reputations were destroyed, jobs lost, and one of the accused killed himself. A total mess. What happened to the judge ? He got a blame and was moved to an auditor position. Not even disbarred.

    That shows the French system is far for being perfect. Now, the main reproach being made to the US system by French people is that, in US system, despite the discovery process, if you want to be decently defended, you need some money to hire your own resources (PI, experts). That's true but the advantage of the US system is clarity : the DA is working on the accusation side, the defense attorney on defense. Clear and simple.

    Victims, judges and lawyers places

    In France and England, judges are appointed by the "Ministry of Justice", depending on political power. Although we're theorized the separation of powers (voting law, executing law, bring justice) three centuries ago, we still don't apply it. We cherish Montesquieu and the other "enlighten", want to bring them to the whole world but are reluctant to apply their lessons to ourselves. The main flaw of this is, quite often, prosecution against politicians (like corruption cases) are buried by so-called independent judges. The US system is at the opposite. Judges and DA are elected which is theoretically very good (separation of power) but can bring bias (political agendas influencing cases).

    The victim role is also in question. In France, it used to be next to zero. Victims can asked to be "civil parties" so they'll have access to (part of ) the files. That's all. Well, it's changing. Nicolas Sarkozy claimed he wanted the victim to be at the center of the justice system. It had not been very far (some shrink help) and I think it's a good thing (this project being stalled).

    Beyond being pro or anti-death penalty, with my french culture, the fact that victims can assist to the execution makes me uncomfortable. For me, it turns justice into pure and simple vengeance. My feeling is that justice is between the "people" (as a community or a society) and a perpetrator. The victim is part of it but does not intervene (other than as a witness). But that's my feeling, easy to write in cold blood. Would I become a victim tomorrow, seeing my young daughter being raped and murdered, I could easily change my mind.

    Finally, the lawyers. In France, we have specialized lawyers (corporate, tax, crime, ...) but they're taking (with their team) the case from A to Z. From the plaint to the plea. That's very different in England where you got to work with a solicitor who works the case. But when it's time to go in front of court, the solicitor can't and must pass on the file to a barrister which is kind on a theater expert (with a Queen's Counsel or "Silk" for the best ones). Well, there are pros and cons although I would be uncomfortable having someone pleading on behalf of me and not having worked my case before. USA began with the England system but quickly switched to french one.

    There are a lot of other topics I'd like to discuss :

    • Why "class actions" do not exist in France ? (this is "on the table" for long but big companies are strongly lobbying against) ?
    • Why criminal and civil charges are leading to penalties ridiculously weak in France compared to US ?
    • Why is the appeal automatic (on simple request) in France (the first jury ruling is basically useless in most cases in criminal cases) when you need some grounds in US ? As I said, our justice is very low because there's not enough Ministry of Justice's employees. But with semi-automatic appeal, that's quite understandable
    • Why most of French people are against plea bargaining and why had it been shyly and introduced recently and for minor felonies only ?
    • Why do we need a law for any single aspect of our lives when abortion policy stands on a Supreme Court ruling for almost 40 years ?
    • What is the role of our "constitutional counsel" vs your "Supreme Court"
    • Why can't we have a simple and readable Constitution (I've read the US one but never reached the end of my country's one !) ? and why do we change it all the time (the last major version had been made in 1958)
    But that's another stories. And that'll other posts !


    Halls of Justice Painted Green
    Money Talking
    Power Wolves Beset Your Door
    Hear Them Stalking
    Soon You'll Please Their Appetite
    They Devour
    Hammer of Justice Crushes You

    Metallica "And justice for all"