A lot of small shops around Paris have this sign in their windows-- bakeries, butcher shops, bookstores and stationers, hardware stores, fish shops, cobblers, coiffeurs, small grocery stores, greengrocers, chocolate shops. It says "SACRIFICED but not resigned. Sign the petition here or at www.sauvonslaproximite.com" (i.e. save local shops).
The petition comes from the UPA or Professional Artisans Union of France. It started in October and has 900,000 signatures, a lot in a country of 65 million.
It's a complaint about taxes and regulations "suffocating" small businesses. It's true that in Paris, one-quarter of all small local businesses have disappeared within the past ten years.
In the U.S., entrepreneurship is admired and encouraged. Shoeshine and newspaper boys who make good are part of our legend, and everyone's seen a lemonade stand run by a little kid. Owning your own business is viewed as a kind of freedom. Not in France! A recent survey showed that 73% of young people aspire to be fonctionnaires-- government employees. Most of the rest want to work for huge companies. The government, the establishment, and many normal French citizens seem to start from the assumption that small businessmen are all thieves. You almost never hear their voices in the media. Strikes, highway blockades, holding managers hostage, demonstrations-- listen to the news and the interviews will be only with the protestors. In a survey of opinion in ten countries, the French were the most anti-business: 30% of the French want nothing to do with capitalism. In lycées and universities, students don't learn the basics of economics, such as how money is made, but do get a full dose of anti-capitalism from many of their teachers. (If you read French, try Googling lycées and économie.) In this context, as the French say, it is interesting to note that François Hollande, who has never worked in a business nor run any organization on-budget, actually taught economics at Science Po for 11 years.
Different faces of Président Hollande: "normal," taking the train; "simple," less paperwork; and "innocent," knowing nothing of budgets
The longer I'm in France, the more I am struck by this mistrust of the French, including the elite who go to (government-run) Grandes Écoles (except the business schools) for anything that smacks of libéralisme--the market economy. (Read "la tragédie des grandes écoles" here.) It's what I call the pensée unique of France-- although in France itself pensée unique usually refers to American-style business methods (not that I approve of those either).
French presidents Hollande, Chirac, and Giscard went to ÉNA, Mitterrand to Sciences Po. (Sarkozy didn't; that's actually a big part of his problem.) Most top bosses of large French companies also went to Grandes Écoles. I was once told by an American here that he had been ordered to hire only graduates of the École Polytechnique ( 400 a year; ÉNA has only 100) for a certain top job that, in the U.S., any intelligent person with the right experience could have been hired for. France stifles the bright student who doesn't "fit the mold" -- an expression you hear all the time.*
If you think people who graduate from these schools have any interest in small business, think again! They want to live like the people in the photo above. They graduate and go straight into internships and then jobs with prestigious companies, rising to the top ranks often without ever working in a new or small company-- or even knowing anyone who does. There are age limits (21-23 years old to begin one) at the Grandes Écoles so no one ambitious can study abroad for any length of time and hope to get in. The result is that the elite in France is unusually parochial and has no clue about or interest in what it takes to start or run a business. And this has a huge effect on French administration, worldview, and intellectual life. Many things are run well in France-- the health care system, the autoroutes and the glamor industries come to mind-- but entrepreneurs and artisans suffer from this lack of knowledge and interest by the bigwigs.
A stack of new regulations and paperwork have been imposed on small businesses in the past two years and that was the last straw for many of them. They just quit. I've seen this in my own neighborhood where my favorite butcher, rôtisseur, baker, and corner shop have all, as the French say, "put their keys under the door" and closed.
*rentrer dans la moule