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Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Over - Regulation and Under-Regulation: the Boulangeries of Paris

France is still a Tribute Act to the Soviet Union. Even the smallest changes show that there is still life in the Central Committee.

An excellent article by Michael Stothard in the Financial Times (22/23 August) tells us that the Prefect of Paris has lifted some of the requirements previously imposed on Parisian boulangeries. 

Artisan bakers can now take their holidays when they like in July and August; they don’t have to go on leave when told to by the Prefect. The rationale for the old system was to prevent Parisians having to walk too far to find fresh bread in the summer. Now they may have to trek for a loaf, since bakers – like everyone else – are quite keen to get out of the city in August (Tourist Tip: Never, but never, go to Paris in August. It’s awful and that’s before you take into account the weather).

However, the Prefect retains the right to tell bakers on which weekday they must (not may) close, another measure designed to assist convenience shopping.

Not that I think of Paris as a city which has ever had convenience shopping. Everything appears to be shut when you want it, especially banks (long lunchtimes) and restaurants (very limited hours).

The Prefect’s solicitude for the people’s bread supply has an old-Soviet kind of charm but it stands in strong contrast to how the public sector treats itself.

Back in August 2003, France experienced an unusual and powerful heatwave. Old people were badly affected and many died. In fact, when the statisticians subsequently ran their programs,14,802 excess deaths were recorded from the two week period of the heatwave.

One reason for the high death toll was the simple fact that the doctors (especially the Parisian ones) had all cleared off on holiday. It’s August, innit? No rota imposed on them. They were professionals – and workers in the public sector – and entitled to do as they pleased.

So here we have a country where you can find both over-regulation and under-regulation. That is also a feature of Soviet and quasi-Soviet regimes.

The balancing act for a democracy is to make careful decisions about what needs to be regulated and what doesn’t.

The weakness of free market quasi-democracies, like Britain’s, has been to under-regulate the private sector and, notably, its most powerful elements – in Britain, the under-regulation of banking still remains a problem, despite 2008. 

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