French President Hollande Faced with The Harsh Reality of France’s Brain Drain

French President Hollande Faced with The Harsh Reality of France’s Brain Drain
February 15, 2014 Leslie Juvin-Acker

French president Francois Hollande was in Silicon Valley meeting with French executives and professionals about the subject of French innovation and developing what he called the “spirit of initiative”.

While in Silicon Valley, Hollande was faced with the harsh realities of the economic and legal sanctions he has fought hard for during his political career which has chased out some of France’s most educated and innovative professionals.

Miskin and Carnegy of the Financial Times write,

There are now 60,000 French nationals in California, one of the biggest French diasporas. The French government is concerned both to sustain links with what otherwise might become a damaging brain drain and to persuade US companies that France itself is a good place to invest, despite its reputation for interventionism, high taxes and stifling labour regulations.

There certainly is an issue. A survey of US businesses in France by the American Chamber of Commerce in October showed 68 percent would not recommend France to a US company seeking to establish a business abroad.

The main problem with Hollande’s camp and a majority of voters in France is that there is a great spirit of anti-business – from the smallest company to the biggest company – and that creates problems from the individual to the collective scale. The illegible and painfully high tax system means that 82% of the jobs created in France in 2012 were temporary contracts (CDD) implying that companies can’t afford the taxes and costs of hiring employees full time and that generating the kind of income to leave social welfare is impossible with a part time salary. The majority of companies in France have less than ten employees and do not want to risk taking on more by being forced to jump into a higher tax bracket. 57% of France’s GDP is government spending.

It’s one thing for government to step in with anti-trust laws which limit fair trade and competition and to ensure that large corporate conglomerates like Google, Facebook, and Amazon don’t misuse the labor market and take advantage of rights such as privacy. However, I have a strong feeling that Hollande learned very little about his visit to Silicone Valley and will do very little, if not anything, to change the cultural malaise that surrounds French entrepreneurship and the general distrust of high earners.

Being a business owner in France, I see no value in earning beyond a certain amount because it just means that I’ll have to work significantly more to pay for childcare and join a much higher tax bracket. Teaching in a university with international students, my students say they have no interest in starting businesses in France and look forward to starting them in China, USA, and other European countries. Essentially, most of the brightest and well-breed students in France can’t wait to take their education and run to other countries. France doesn’t seem to understand the fundamental problems with this type of attitude that pervades its social fabric like a giant stain.

After five years of living in France, I’ve grown exhausted by the jerks who work in Geneva, just over the border from Annecy, earning two to three times more than France’s national average family income of $28,310 per year (or 20,660 euros) that insist I should pay the high business and personal income 35%-65% taxes to pay for their social security and retirement benefits, while they pay 16%-20% income taxes in Geneva. I kid you not, a man said this to me and told me if I didn’t like it then I should “go back to where you come from”. (Believe me, I’m working on it).


When all of the best and brightest in France have gone in search of greener economic pastures, with what are we left? A depressed country self-titled with a “cultural malaise”.

According to a 2011 study that discovered the extent of France’s social depression,

Denis Gancel, president of W & Cie, told The Local on Thursday that he was most intrigued by a gulf in attitude between two kinds of French person.

“There are there the traders and business people, who are outward-looking and at home in globalization, and they are quite optimistic. Then there are the traditionalist French, who feel disillusioned and pessimistic,” Gancel said.

It doesn’t just extend to adults these days, but the majority of French youth want to become government workers and have no desire to own their own businesses.

Why is work so tied with happiness? It’s because one can express themselves with their actions, i.e. make choices and have autonomy. If you feel that you can create something that matters to you on your terms, and just so happen to earn a satisfactory living as a result, then you are more likely to be happier. Unfortunately, in France, you have very little choices – accept a low paying job and live off social benefits, work at a secure job for the rest of your life with very little chance of evolution and promotion, or have a high paying job that you like and pay exorbitant taxes (up to 75%) and be miserable with the high costs and risks of doing something you like.

“But, but, there is five to seven weeks vacation! You don’t get that in America!” some proud French will cry.

Yes, I will say that an increased amount of personal and vacation time is something the USA and other developed countries should offer considering that the average American work week in hours and GDP is significantly higher than the rest of the world. With some maneuvering and creativity, it’s possible and Americans have certainly earn it. However, as an expat having lived in France for nearly five years my argument is this: what is the point of having five to seven weeks paid vacation and low cost health care if you spend all of your free time going to the doctor because you’re depressed and fed up with your job and life that you need to escape for a month to simply gather up the energy to go back to work?

I hate to admit it, but a vast majority of my French friends and acquaintances use their vacation days because they’re “so tired” and “worn out” from their jobs and have no optimism to actually do anything to change their situation. Some have said to me, “I have a long term project to change my job situation” which can take three to five years on average because, according to them, they’re being paid just enough to stay and that it’s just too complicated to do their own homework to follow through with their goals.

Hollande’s visit was the first of any French president to step foot in California in over 30 years. I’m sure he experienced some harsh realities when we was told by his own people that they were chased out of their own country for wanting to work, earn, and contribute. The sad truth is, a lot of people, like me, feel this way and without significant social and economic policy changes, we have no intention of coming back.