France reported last week that its summer hosting of Euro 2016, Europe’s soccer championships, added $1.26 billion to its economy.
This is good news, for sure, and worth celebrating.
But here’s the thing: Why doesn’t France put as much effort into supporting its businesses and markets as it does its soccer franchises?
After all, the country has an entrepreneurship problem—as in, business growth and its labor market are struggling.
A lot of the blame lies at the feet of its labyrinthine web of regulations, which the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) once called “unnecessarily complex.” Barriers to entry in several key industries, including architecture, accounting and legal services, are prohibitively high, which has decimated the country’s labor market in the last few years.
More than 25 percent of all working-age French under the age of 25 are unemployed right now, a meaningfully higher rate than for youth in the European Union (18 percent unemployment), United States (10 percent) and Japan (4 percent). Household savings rates are skyrocketing, consumer confidence is on life support and investments growth has been sluggish.
As a result of all this, economic growth in France is among the worst for major EU economies. There it will remain, sadly, unless officials commit to strengthening competition by streamlining its tax system and reforming regulations. But at least it has some great soccer clubs.
Surging Demand for California Munis
By comparison, look at California, whose economy just surpassed France’s in size. Say what you will about the state and some of its colorful residents, it’s successful because it recognizes talent and fosters an environment in which innovation and entrepreneurism can thrive. Silicon Valley is seeing a boom right now, which has helped the state government generate budget surpluses. Debt is being paid down, and the state’s rainy-day savings account is growing. This has contributed to California enjoying its highest credit rating since the turn of the century, Bloomberg reports, and caused demand for its municipal debt to climb.
At the same time, California munis can be volatile because state revenue depends on wealthy taxpayers whose incomes are tied closely to the stock market. According to Bloomberg, the top 1 percent of earners paid half of the state’s income tax revenue in 2014.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, then, that California has one of the highest Gini coefficients, a measure of economic inequality, in the nation. Although some might balk at this, I think it’s proof there are huge, life-changing opportunities in California, and in the U.S. in general, that can turn “regular folk” into billionaires almost overnight.
Speaking of which, check out our latest slideshow, “10 Living, Self-Made Billionaires.”
Small Business Optimism in the U.S. Is Soaring Right Now
As further proof that France should do more to open up its economy, look at what President-elect Donald Trump’s pledge to lower taxes and slash regulations is doing to business optimism here in the U.S. Last month, the Index of Small Business Optimism soared a phenomenal 7.4 points to 105.8, its highest reading since 2004. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), which conducts the survey, reported that attitudes toward capital spending and job creation in particular surprised to the upside. Research firm Evercore ISI called it a “blowout report,” and I have to agree.
In their commentary, the NFIB’s William Dunkelberg and Holly Wade expressed cautious optimism that the incoming administration could satisfactorily relax some of the regulatory burden on businesses.
“Politicians say they want to create jobs, but their regulations and laws… only increased the cost of hiring a worker, and that is not good for job creation,” they wrote.
(Consider compliance-related paperwork alone. In fiscal year 2015, Americans spent a jaw-dropping 9.78 billion—yes, billion —hours complying with federal rules and regulations, according to a recent report from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). That’s up nearly 4 percent from 2014.)
Many chief executives of large multinationals have been very receptive to Trump’s proposals, taking him at his word that he can succeed at fostering an improved business environment in the U.S. Ford recently scrapped plans for a Mexico factory, while Fiat Chrysler announced a $1 billion investment in Michigan and Ohio, expected to create up to 2,000 new jobs. After meeting with the president-elect this week, Jack Ma, founder and CEO of Chinese ecommerce site Alibaba, said he was committed to adding 1 million U.S. companies to his hugely popular online shopping platform. The chief executive of active wear company Under Armour told CNBC that it would be bringing jobs back to the U.S., specifically Baltimore, where it’s headquartered. And on Thursday, Amazon unveiled plans to grow the number of its full-time, U.S.-based jobs by 100,000—from 180,000 today to over 280,000 by 2018.
As I’ve said many times before, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding Trump, who will be sworn into office this Friday. At the same time, businesses and investors clearly like what they’re hearing. Appearing on CNBC last week, legendary economist Robert Shiller perfectly summarized this distinction, saying that “nervousness can go along with optimism.” Although he didn’t vote for Trump, Shiller acknowledges that animal spirits are running high, adding that he sees the Trump equities rally spilling over into the housing market this year.
Joining Shiller in offering a balanced assessment of Trump is my old friend Alexander Green, whose writing skills I admire and opinions I greatly respect. In his most recent blog post, Alex makes a convincing case against Trump’s protectionism, which are “not good for the economy or the market” and “undermines American economic growth.” Although investors have moved billions into the stock market since the election, the Trump rally could easily turn into the Trump correction, Alex says, “unless he changes his tune” on international trade.
“Why does a flat-panel HDTV that cost more than $10,000 in 2003 cost less than $400 today? Globalization,” he writes. “How can you walk into a Marshalls store and buy a fine cashmere sweater for 35 bucks? Globalization. Why does an $8 million supercomputer from 20 years ago sit in your pocket and cost less than $200? Globalization.”
U.S. Economy Could Get a Boost in the Near Term
The World Bank contributed to the wave of good news last week, making encouraging projections for the U.S. economy in light of Trump’s business-friendly policies. In its flagship report on global economics, the financial institution explained that expansionary fiscal policies—including tax cuts and plans to upgrade America’s infrastructure —could boost U.S. economic growth as high as 2.5 percent this year and 2.9 percent in 2018.
This would be a welcome surprise, as growth slowed considerably in 2016 to 1.6 percent, down from 2.6 percent in 2015, according to the World Bank.