Friday, June 29, 2012

What would your political party be in France?

Slavery is not OK if the majority vote to support it.
Image is public domain.
If you read the Wikipedia entry for French political parties, you discover that there are many parties representing a broad spectrum of viewpoints. The upside of this is that you avoid the tyranny of the majority, a problem in democracy where the majority can uphold terrible laws that ignore the interests of the minority. Consider the case of slavery in the US. Does the fact that it was supported by a democracy make it OK? Of course not.

By contrast, in France and many other countries, the tyranny of the majority is avoided because your vote might actually matter (this is part of the reason why the US has such low voter turnouts), as opposed to the US where, for example, Green Party supporters don't have many options. Of course, there's a downside to this, too. When you actually have a democracy, people often vote for groups you don't like. Sometimes it's pretty awful, but that's the price you pay for a real democracy: people with different voices have a say in what's happening.

So what political party might you be aligned with in France? There's a Web site,, that has you answer a bunch of questions (some of which are very poorly worded) and it gives you a rough idea of where you might fall in the  French political spectrum. However, it's in French, so that's an issue if you don't speak the language. Fortunately, this blog entry has translated the test into English. You can pop back and forth between the French and English version to get an idea of where you stand.

The blog entry that translates the test into English has this interesting bit:
[One French] journalist asserted ... that there was no significant electoral force in American politics on the left side of the political spectrum such as it existed in France. Hearing this almost caused me to fall out of my chair. To equate the US Democratic party with the UDF betrayed an ignorance of the latter—a party with Christian Democratic roots, a moderately conservative sensibility, and mainly provincial bourgeois voting base—and of the former as well. There was, moreover, the implication here that mainstream American Democrats in France would gravitate toward the UDF—which, despite its claimed centrism, was marked in the public mind as moderate right—over the dominant party of the moderate left, the Socialists.
In other words, the author was arguing that many US Democrats in France would vote socialist and he was surprised when a journalist claimed there was no significant electoral force in American politics on the left side of the political spectrum. But he should not have been surprised because, again, the difference here is between who you want to vote for and who you're allowed to vote for. In the US, you really have no choice. There's a right-wing and far right-wing party (relative to most major democracies). There is no "left" option that you can seriously vote for, despite the fact that one third of Americans view socialism favorably.

So go take the politest, using the English translations of the politest, and discover what democracy really means.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Are the French really most productive workers?

Eiffel Tower from the Siene
The Seine river in Paris
Photo by teamaskins
Did you know I have a 35 hour work week? I have a two-hour lunch break written into my contract? I get five weeks vacation? And that's not counting about 11 public holidays per year, plus an extra day off every month for something called réduction du temps de travail. Under French law, it's very, very hard to fire me and if I leave my job and my company doesn't want me to work for a competitor, they have to pay me 25% of my salary for two years!

So the French work less hours than any other country in the world and have more labor protection than most industrialized nations, but you know what?

One of my neighbors was quite proud of the fact that data indicates that the French have the most productive workers in the world. Of course, we know that historically France has been one of the strongest economic powers in the world, but who would have thought that treating workers like human beings would be worthwhile?

From this Business Insider article:
Think about it. Nationmaster ranks France as #18 in terms of GDP per capita, at $36,500 per person, yet France works much less than most developed nations. They achieve their high standard of living while working 16% less hours than the average world citizen, and almost 25% than their Asian peers as per UBS. Plus, if you visit France you'll also realize that their actual standard of living is probably much higher than GDP numbers would indicate.
Actually, the article points out that Americans are the most productive workers in the world, but the French edge them out when you consider output relative to hours worked (by about 50 cents an hour). Unfortunately, that was from a 2009 article and the Nationmaster data has not been updated, so I had to do some digging. According to the International Monetary Fund, US GDP per capita for 2010 is $48,386.69. For France it's $44,008.18. Combining this with OECD data on number of hours worked per worker, we see that France clocks in at 1,554 hours per year and the US is at 1,778 hours per year (2009 and 2010 numbers respectively, but these numbers tend to be somewhat stable). That leaves French workers producing $28.32/hour and US workers producing $27.21 per hour. Of course, we'd need better data to really nail it down, but with these numbers Americans would still have to work about 70 hours less a year to beat French productivity and that seems pretty damned unlikely (factoring in unemployment rates would also be interesting). It's entirely possible that US productivity is falling even faster than French (with all the caveats of ad hoc analysis). I haven't grabbed the rest of the country data right now, but it would make for some interesting reading.

Yes, we're struggling right now (as is most of the world), but somehow many Americans seem to think that's it's a terrible socialist quagmire over here, with people struggling under the burden of high taxes (remember, it's a democracy and the French voted for this) and slovenly businesses which can't get anything done, but nothing is further from the truth. Still, France is routinely considered the best place in the world to live.

I find it interesting that so many Americans seem to have no idea that things can be different. I can't even imagine how Libertarians would explain this away.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Happy birthday/anniversary to me!

Curtis & Leila
From our wedding at Tower Bridge
Photo by Andy Armstrong
Yesterday was both my birthday and our wedding anniversary (what better birthday present can one ask for), hence a lovely evening but no post.

Just to make this post is still vaguely relevant to what most of you come here for, here's an article about  working in France with or without a work visa. Regular readers of this blog will know much of the information there, but there are still some interesting tidbits that can keep you going — and dreaming!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

George Pompidou Center and a child's playground

No time for a real post today. I've been finishing my book and we've had guests in from the US. So here are two quick videos you might enjoy.

I took this at the pool by the Centre George Pompidou.

And this is a playground in the Parc de Belleville in Paris. It's awesome!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Singapore: The Perfect Place To Work And Start Your Business

Recently I was contacted by a Singaporean company, One Visa, asking if they could provide me with a guest blog post about Singapore. When this happens I usually tell the company that I'll consider it, but the content should not sound too corporate and it must actually be useful for someone wanting to live and work in another country. I have previously rejected other guest blog posts for not meeting these guidelines. I have not asked for or received compensation for this guest post.

Singapore is popularly known as "The Lion City" is a beautiful country, with excellent geographical features and an urban population. With about half of the country covered with greenery, Singapore is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in Asia. The exceptionally attractive geographical features of Singapore make it an ideal place to retire to.

Often we come across people migrating from competent and highly developed economies like the United States, migrating to Singapore. This fact makes one wonder why people prefer Singapore to work and live. Following reasons explain why people prefer Singapore for work and business:

Best Country To Run A Business

Singapore topped the ranking on 'Ease Of Doing Business' for the sixth consecutive year. The beautiful Singapore is one of the best places for running your business easily and effectively. You can convert your dreams into reality. It takes relatively lesser time and capital to set up a company in Singapore. Besides, Singapore enjoys growing economy and best industrial statistics in the world. That is why it is also known as the 'Best Labour Force in the World'.

Another key point that makes Singapore a favorite choice for doing business is an outstanding tax system. The Singapore Government has one of the lowest Goods and Services Tax rate of 7%. There are no capital gains taxes in Singapore, and hence it remains to be the best choice for entrepreneurs.

Ease Of Communicating

One of the most important factors that make Singapore an ideal place for working is the ease of communication. English is the official language of Singapore, and you can easily communicate with the people there.

Ease of communication is an imperative factor for working, as it helps you express yourself and understand people in a new place. Therefore it’s not difficult to mingle with people in Singapore and establish contacts. Most people find it easy to adjust in Singapore, because of this very reason.

Flexible Immigration Policies

Singapore has an open immigration policy, which allows entrepreneurs to easily relocate to Singapore and set up their businesses. For those looking to work in Singapore at the earliest, obtaining a Singapore Work Visa is easy. If you are talented and got the right credentials, you can easily pass the eligibility conditions of immigration and get a Singapore Work Visa. People who are considering settling permanently in Singapore need to get Permanent Resident Status in Singapore.

Political Stability And Low Crime Rate

One of the major reasons that attract more foreign professionals to Singapore is the safety and low crime rate. The political stability is another privileged professionals working at Singapore enjoy. This highly prized stability gives Singapore the title –‘The Switzerland of Asia’. There are fewer incidents of crime in Singapore making you feel safe while enjoying a enjoying a quality life.

Singapore is the perfect place to head to, for a safe and secure future. It is situated at an ideal location, where expanding business is easy. You can enjoy good public and private transportation, along with an excellent support system for businesses. Other desirable aspects of working and staying at Singapore are good schools, easy access to neighboring countries along with a safe and healthy living environment.

Author Bio:

Priyanka Iyer is a content writer who likes reading and writing about travel and technology. She is a student of Statistics who loves to learn new languages and read about the different career prospects in different countries. She is currently writing about Singapore Work Visa, healthy lifestyles and business relocation.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Video of Life in Europe, in the 1800s

Since yesterday's post was about the past, it seemed only fitting that I add another today. I'm frantically working on the last chapter of my book and don't have time to update this blog properly right now. My apologies for that.

I really would love to be able to add more stories about historical expats — not famous ones, per se, but ordinary people. Somehow it seems like it would have been a more adventurous thing back then (yeah, right. Tell that to the Irish immigrants to the US, escaping the potato famine).

On a personal note, I lived very close to the Westminster Bridge you see in the above video and I find it fascinating that so many of the views I see in the video above are relatively unchanged today.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

112 Gripes About the French

A few years ago when visiting the US, my wife (then fiancée) and I were staying with my best friend, Sean. Since he is a veteran, as a gift I brought him a copy of Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain, 1942. This was published by the US military and handed out to US soldiers stationed in Britain during WWII. It cautioned US soldiers against flaunting their (relatively) high income. It warned them not to take "seconds" in meals when visiting someone's home as the British were likely to use an entire week's worth of food rations to provide a pleasant meal for their guest. In short, it gave a bunch of US GIs information about an unusual situation that they might not ordinarily be aware of.

There are similar guidebooks for France and Germany, but I've not yet had the pleasure of reading them. However, there was one curious little book I didn't know about and it's free online to read: 112 Gripes About the French, published in Paris in 1945. This handbook is a lovely explanation of a different culture, aimed at American audiences. Apparently many US servicemen were unhappy with the French and this guidebook was produced to give a very frank (ha!) breakdown of what was really going on. Even today it's well worth reading to get a better understanding of how other cultures many not be better or worse, but simply different.

I particularly liked "Gripe #35":
35. "The French do things different than we do. That's what I don't like."

It is always something of a shock when you run into different ways of talking, eating, doing things. But what is different is not always inferior: "different" does not mean "worse". There is more than one way of skinning a cat.

The story is told of an American soldier who saw some Chinese putting rice on the graves in a Chungking cemetery. "That doesn't make sense", said the American with a smile. "When do you expect the dead to eat the rice?"

"When your dead return to smell your flowers", was the answer.
Gripe #109 was about the French political system, a system many Americans didn't (and don't) appreciate. Part of the explanation of it was thus:
The French political system is a democracy. It is like ours in its basic principles: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of the vote, minority rights, protection under the law, trial by jury, etc.

The system differs from ours as far as parties are concerned: we have a "two-party" form of administration; the French have many parties.

The French have a political party for almost every conceivable political position. They don't believe that "there are two ways of looking at things"; the French think there are dozens of ways, and that if enough people hold to any one way they have a right to be represented in the government.
Even today, I think that's a message that many could stand to hear.

Go and read 112 Gripes About the French (in particular, Gripe 48). It's a fascinating look at another culture, in a time of great stress.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Social Networking Site for Expats

I've received a press release and yes I'm posting it, but it's useful enough for those reading this blog that you might find it interesting. Note that I'm doing this because I think it's useful. I was not offered money, nor did I ask any.

IslandX is a "Facebook for expats" and would-be expats (though I'm don't know that they would like this comparison). There are actually quite a few Web sites out there for expats but most of those are little more than discussion forums.

I think you'll find IslandX has some rough edges (hey, they're brand new!), but I love its focus.

If you sign up for a free account, add me as a friend and I'll add you back.

And while we're at it, you should follow me on Twitter, too.

Social networking site launches today to help you study, work or live abroad

IslandX, a new social networking site for people who want to study, work or live abroad, launches today, connecting the millions of people across the world that migrate each year. The free site is a one-stop-relocation-shop, with up-to-date knowledge on your destination provided by an extensive network of international members, making your move as easy and informed as possible.

Over ten million people migrate each year, and the International Office for Migration (IOM) estimate this will reach 400 million living outside their country of origin by 2050. At present, the internet is home to a confusing array of information sites, blogs, communities and guides about international living. The need to join this altogether and provide an easily accessible relocation resource is what led the founder, Marius Hjelset, to set up IslandX.

Marius said, “International migration is a hugely significant social phenomenon and a reality of globalisation. Migration has increased by nearly 38 per cent globally over the last 20 years, and this trend is set to continue. Our network will help the millions of people who want to take their first steps towards an international lifestyle”.

He continues: “Social networks have a role to play in helping people make informed life choices, and we want to provide a platform to address the current online relocation confusion. IslandX can help you find relevant, well-qualified information on places you want to move to while connecting you with international people in the process”.

The reasons for the dramatic increase in migration are complex, but strong drivers include demographic changes resulting in imbalances of labour supply and demand around the world, and the cyclical nature of the global economy. This combined with inexpensive international travel has fuelled the increase.

Based in London and with connections across the world, an international team runs IslandX; they know a lot about living abroad, having each moved across many continents for study and work. In addition, the relocation website’s beta test has already attracted a global audience, with members spanning all seven continents, and ambassadors in key cities across the world: London, Toronto, Cape Town, Boston, Sydney, Istanbul and Berlin.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why import workers in a bad economy?

When discussing various laws related to immigrants, I invariably hear someone say "we don't want immigrants taking our jobs".  And these aren't even racists worrying about that. It's natural when your country has a serious unemployment problem to wonder why in the hell your government would make it easier for workers to move there.

The problem, frankly, is that politicians don't explain the subject very clearly. I won't speculate as to why they don't, other than to note that the topic is rather boring for many people. However, it's important and because people keep asking this question, it deserves an answer. I've already talked a bit about how laws covering immigration and emigration often have little to do with the data, but importing workers into a high-unemployment area can make perfect sense.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
There are several types of unemployment, such as frictional and cyclical unemployment. In the case of highly skilled workers, the government is trying to address structural unemployment, a type of unemployment which is very durable and hard to fix. Imagine you have a company and it's doing really well and you need to hire a new system administrator, a DBA, two top-notch C++ developers and a front-end developer. Plenty of people apply, but no one has the skills you need. That's structural unemployment: when available workers skills do not match available jobs.

The common rebuttal is "train them!" But this has several problems. First, businesses need these employees now, not after a years of training. So people say "OK, we'll patch the problem now and then invest more in universities to deal with this." Patching the problem now means importing highly skilled workers (or letting your businesses suffer).

People sometimes still don't believe this, but I'll give you an example. Years ago I was applying for a job with a small company that was nonetheless very well known in their field. The owner of the company was interviewing me and he showed me a custom programming language they had designed to make life easier for their customers. After glancing about at a programming language I had never seen before, I turned to the owner and asked him "do you know what an SQL injection attack is?" I showed two different vectors they had for it. He was stunned. He looked at me and said they had this problem for years but had only discovered it two weeks ago. I got a job offer out of that (which I declined).

Even if you train people really, really well in my field, most of them won't be able to do that without a plenty of experience (many top-notch devs read my blog, so it probably won't seem too remarkable a feat to them, but it is for someone who doesn't know the field). That's why your country may have high unemployment and highly skilled workers still get imported: we can bring immense value to an enterprise.

Beggar Cat
Gratuitous cat picture
I took this while on vacation in Corsica
OK, fine. That's OK in the short term, but what about the long term? What happens at university? You can't force people to study for these highly skilled professions and, as it turns out, they're generally not doing that. Students aren't graduating with engineering, maths or physics degrees ... at least not at the rate they're studying art history or philosophy (I'm not bashing the latter two. If that's what you want to study, fine, but there's still a demand for skilled workers). Why aren't students going for high demand/high pay jobs? I haven't the foggiest notion (but if you want to move to another country, you know what to do!)

And if you could convince them to study those high demand skills, you find out that some don't have the aptitude (there are some studies in my field which unfortunately back this up, but the scope of the problem is unclear) and those with the aptitude may decide they don't like the field no matter how much they are paid (One programmer I worked with in Amsterdam was a medical doctor, but he decided he hated it).

In short, you need willing and qualified workers and the Universities aren't putting out enough of them, If you decide to beef up your university system, you then have to ask where that money's coming from and you have another political fight on your hands, but even after years of study, the graduates will still likely need experience in their field to get qualified. This is not an easy problem to solve.

Finally, you have the problem with economic growth. When I mentioned the example of your business needing to hire several new skilled workers, imagine a booming economy with thousands of businesses in the same boat. You can't supply the labor as fast as the market demands it. These people don't appear from nowhere. So either you turn your economic boom into a bust or you import the skilled workers. If you do import the skilled workers, your economy can continue to grow and offer opportunities beyond just the skilled jobs.

Paul in the Pool
My friend Paul messing about in the
pool in the Corsican manor we rented
Working against many readers of this blog is the fact that most companies want to hire local labor because they understand the process and the risk is far lower. It's not like they're saying "oh, I'll just import someone from another country". That can be very risky and companies know that, but it's my experience in talking to employers who are struggling to find workers that their resistance to importing them is because the laws make it very difficult or confusing.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Watching the Matrix in French

La Matrice
Used under fair use
My wife and daughter were in Nancy while I had to stay home and try to finish the next chapter of my book. It was a long, painful weekend and I decided to destress by rewatching The Matrix.

I first watched Matrice (Matrix) in English with French subtitles to improve my French and noticed that the subtitles were, well, wrong. They were shorter and didn't match what I would have said in French.

Then I decided to watch in again in French, but I didn't know how to shut off the subtitles and discovered that the dubbed French (dubbed in Quebec, according to the DVD) didn't match the French subtitles, but they did match closer to what I would have expected to say (e.g., simpler French). Sometimes, though, the French wasn't simpler (je ne peux pas faire ça versus j'y arriveria jamais) and sometimes the subtitles didn't translate the English word (merde, French for "shit", was omitted from the subtitles but not in the dubbing).

It was also interesting in the interrogation scene where Neo is demanding his phone call. To the American audience, it's perfectly natural that he's asserting his rights. Unfortunately, in the subtitles Neo kept demanding telephoner,  saying, more or less "I want a telephone" instead of "I want my phone call". It seems a subtle change, but one which seemed like it could make Neo sound like a whining bitch if you didn't know he had a right to a telephone. Or maybe everyone outside the US knows that the US legal system guarantees this right? I suspect that might be the case given how pervasive US media is.

Interesting, in the dubbing for that scene Neo was saying he wanted his avocat (lawyer) of a telephone. That seems like it would translate universally, so I'm surprised it wasn't used for the subtitles.

Later, my wife informed me that she had the same problem when she tried to learn English by watching English movies with English subtitles: the subtitles can't match because they have to be shorted to give people time to read them (note: trying to brush up on a language by reading foreign subtitles sucks because you get caught up in the film and forget to read the subtitles).

It's interesting because I'm so used to "foreign" films being dubbed, but now I have to realize that this is a foreign film. I don't live in the US any more and realizing it was foreign to me was sort of unsettling, like a splinter in the mind.

Friday, June 1, 2012

1997 renunciation data anomaly explained

At first it looked like 2011 was the highest number of Americans ever renouncing their citizenship. Then the gentleman who published the excellent International Tax Blog reported that in 1997 there were 1,812 reported renunciations according to the Federal Register! That's the highest number ever. There's been a bit of speculation as to why this was, including Chinese in Hong Kong renouncing their US citizenship when Hong Kong reverted to China, or perhaps a change in Korean laws at this time leading to many Koreans giving up US citizenship. I was highly skeptical of the reported renunciations, so when I was working out renunciation data, I left them off this chart:

Source. This data matches my own research, but until
I have generated my own numbers, I will rely on this.
The year 1997 was so out of proportion to everything else and there didn't seem to be a clear reason for it that I omitted this data point until I could do more investigating. Now I know what's going on. User "Tim" over at the Isaac Brock society Web site pointed me to this GAO report which documents the number of Americans renouncing citizenship from 2001 back to 1991. It states (emphasis mine):
According to the GAO, data for the years 1995 through 1997 are not distinguished by year because the IRS published the total number of former citizens for all three years in 1997 (the year the requirement was enacted). Id. In addition, the Joint Committee staff requested the Department of State to identify the number of approved CLNs [Certificate of Loss of Nationality] for each of these three years. The Department of State advised the Joint Committee staff that they are unable to provide a yearly breakdown of CLNs approved for the years 1995, 1996 and 1997. According to the Department of State, their prior practice of collecting statistics on the annual numbers of CLNs was discontinued in 1994 because it did not serve their specific needs.
So now we know what was going on: 1997 was three years of data compressed into one. 2011 does have the highest recorded number of renunciations in US history. So I've simply divided the 1997 renunciation data by three and spread it across the three missing years:

US Renunciations Per Year

That looks much better. So yes, 2011 was the highest number of expatriations ever recorded and it looks like the trend is holding. Clearly the number of renunciations has been holding steady and something has caused it to shoot much higher. Of course, we already know exactly why Americans are giving up their citizenship. Everything I read points to the same thing. However, I've had contact with two people who are telling me that the renunciation appointments at various consulates suggest much higher numbers than are being reported in the Federal Register. I have ideas on how to find those numbers, but I don't have the time. I'll give it more thought.