One of the key signs, I believe, of a revolution – that is, a spurt of change in the culture, whether achieved peacefully or through violence – is when the misalignment between the will of a people and the actions of its representatives in government increases towards an intangible point of critical mass.We’ve seen this in the Arab Spring started in the Middle East in 2011, with the giant increase in wealth in China in recent years, and, in Western countries, we are seeing it today in two of the world’s largest economies – France & the USA.
Laissez Faire: going back to its roots
Although heavily rooted in the theory behind free-market economics, France has been anything but that, largely due to the post-WWII dependencies on the government for things like food & stability. Despite that, France, unlike many other Western European countries devastated by years of war, has managed not only to hold onto its status as an economic power, but also to keep at least one foot in the Fortune 500 – French Universities HEC, Polytechnique & ENA are all among the Top 6 most frequented schools by Fortune 500 CEOs, according to a study by the Times Higher Education. And yet, overburdening government, heavy regulation on a national and European level, and strict labor laws have plagued France’s ability to produce more global leaders, highlighted by the ever-growing list of unadopted technologies like Minitel & 2nd place leaders like Dailymotion & Viadeo.
Laissez Vivre: the USA discovers “quality of life”
Across the Atlantic, another country is recovering from its Post WWII frenzy. Perhaps the only country in the world to have really profited from WWII, the USA has been on a capitalism binge ever since it got a taste of that sweet, sweet nectar, and in the past few years, citizens have been taking off the rose-colored capitalism goggles and realizing that it may not be worth it to build the largest companies, if you don’t have health insurance to keep you alive while you do it.
Two revolutions; inspired by each other.
In France, the tone has changed. France has its first socialist president since the 1980s-era Mitterand and, oddly similar to the 1980s, all anyone can talk about is how France can lessen the government’s hold on its people. “Compétitivité” is a word that has defined the last two years – everything from the 75,000-strong entrepreneur’s “Pigeon” movement, which resulted in the cancelation of a proposed capital gains tax in order to tax revenue at the same level as capital gains, to the more recent fight to allow stores to remain open on Sundays. While Germany may be content with having a majority of commercial businesses inactive on Sunday, France, inspired by the likes of the UK & US, points out that it does 15-20% of its business on Sunday alone, and stores like Bricorama & Leroy Merlin are facing large fines if they continue opening doors on Sundays.
The US Government is currently shut down, due to yet another disagreement between Republicans & Democrats; however, in President Obama’s nearly 6 years in office, this is clearly the most tense debate the two sides have faced. Oddly enough, the debate is over something that every other Western country in the world already has in place: Nationwide Health Care coverage. Dubbed “Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act represents a step away from “how can we get the most for each penny” and towards “how can everyone get something for their penny.”
What is noteworthy is that both countries’ people want, more or less, the same thing; to be able to live in an economically leading country without sacrificing quality of life. The French have been honing their quality of life for years now – France comes well into the top ranking in terms of average lifespan (~81), where as the United States is below 50th at ~77 years (source).
Neither of these countries are certain to succeed in their respective revolutions – history is paved with failed revolutions – however, if they succeed, they may look shockingly similar to each other by 2040. And while they may not sit at the #1 & #2 positions in terms of economic powers or even in terms of average lifespan, they would certainly both be places that any entrepreneur, investor, employee or otherwise would be proud to work in.