How Big Is the Government's 'Pot?'

photo: bistro tambour, rue montmartre

This wierd place is a 'Bistrot' and its name is 'Tambour.'

Police Nab a Cool Stickup Artist

Paris:- Sunday, 6. February 2000:- French media was been hounding the government during the week, to reveal the true size of the surplus tax 'pot' collected by the finance ministry.

The Minister of the Economy, Christian Sauter, announced that the surplus was expected to be no more than 24 billion francs - up from an estimated 13 billion last November.

Since the latest 'official' estimate, surplus taxes collected in 1999 are believed to be between 30 and 40 billion francs, and Le Parisien has run the figure up to 66 billion.

This is tricky to figure out because France has one of the highest budget deficits in Europe. With the 'surplus' - whatever it is - the deficit for 1999 may be less than the amount voted for 2000; which will require the borrowing of 40 billion francs to cover.

The reality of these budget deficits makes talk of 'what to do with the kitty' slightly surreal. An ex-minister of the economy is very annoyed with Christian Sauter for 'lack ofphoto: bar du grappillon transparence' concerning the surplus.

The ex-minister thinks the surplus should be used for non-budget items like re-capitalizing state firms which need the money. This sounds kind of odd; coming as it does from a supposed 'economic liberal.'

One of the many small bistros in the streets near Montorgueil.

About this time, many French taxpayers are receiving the bills for their 'first-third' advance payment of year 2000 income taxes. This 'first-third' is based on taxable income for 1999. Again, according to Le Parisien, these 'first-thirds' will show substantial increases over last year.

Actually, what is causing the government bean-counters problems, is the up-swing in the economy - which has been reducing unemployment and thus increasing the numbers of taxpayers.

Employed people are also buying things, so the revenues generated by the value-added taxes have shot up too. The country has moved out of its recession a bit more strongly than government economic forecasters expected.

This should be good news. The real 'good news' taxpayers are waiting for, is some indication of reduced rates of taxes. Sooner or later, the government is going to have to reduce the excessive value-added tax rates, to bring France into line with its European partners.

When this happens it will be more 'good news.' But I think the government will wait for the deadline before doing it, so it can collect as much as possible before it decides to announce and take credit for this impending 'good news.'

Meanwhile, those shouting about the 'big pot' seem to have forgotten that France was recently whacked by a big storm, and the major damage caused by it has to be paid for.

Paris Bourse Converts To Casino

Le Parisien has the magical ability to subtitle a report about the Paris Bourse with the word 'espargne' - savings - with hints on how to 'gagner' - win - by playing the stock market.

It means some ordinary folks have some spare money, which they would normally put into savings accounts.

However, interest paid on savings accounts has fallen into the cellar.

Last week the Paris Bourse' CAC40 - the index of the 40 biggest French firms - topped 6000 points. For 1999, this index gained 50 percent. The magic words 'Internet' and 'public offering' have crossed the Atlantic, and everybody wants to get in on the new century's new game.

As on the other side of the Atlantic, high-tech and communications firms are the stars. Recently Canal+ jumped 50 percent in paper-value, Thompson-CSF went up 28 percent and Vivendi gained 22 percent.

Le Parisien says it is the time to get into the game. It also says the French are still too timid; thatphoto: coiffeur hommes they consider flutters on the Bourse to be risky. Half of the 5.2 million French stockholders hold small lots of the paper of privatized state firms, and 1.8 million have brought shares in dull and boring mutual funds.

Near Montorgueil there are many small personal service shops.

Or worse yet, the French are leaving their surplus money in low-interest savings plans or life insurance policies. The paper gives the figures - 2.25 percent gain for the savings plans; while the Bourse went up 33.6 percent in 1998.

To 'dope up' savings today, the paper says, the year 2000 has 'excellent perspectives.' Then it drives the nail home - 'In 10 years the value of the Paris Bourse has multiplied by three!' with an exclamation mark.

Then it gives tips about how easy it is, and how cheap it is - with the telephone banks and the Internet brokers. Their first hard advice is to invest at least 100,000 francs - a 'consequent sum.'

In the two pages - the lead pages two and three of yesterday's edition - I can find no mention of price-earnings ratios. Neither do I find any mention of the capital gains tax, which clicks into action at 50,000 francs - and is about 20 percent.

Instead, a headline shouts '150,000 francs of capital gains in 12 months.' Nothing is said of any 30,000 franc tax assessment that would be due if this were more than paper profit.

But the fundamental point has been made. Paris now has its casino.

The Robber Who Came Into the Cold

In late 1999, after the nth stickup of a frozen-food chain outlet, the police nicknamed the unknown robber the 'Picard Bandit.' The MO was so similar in stickups in seven different arrondissements, that police were sure it was one man they were seeking.

Each frozen-food outlet was near a métro entry. All the holdups were in the afternoon, andphoto: l'euphrate the robber would break off the action at the slightest resistance, or if the shop wasn't nearly deserted.

One holdup, on Tuesday, 4. January, took place two blocks from here - so I know which métro he used. He scored 944 francs in that one.

The bistro l'Euphrate has Kurdish specialties.

The frequency of the attacks began to bother the police. They got lucky at the end on January when the holdup artist forgot to take a package of frozen lasagna after sticking up a cashier.

The bandit had a couple of other faults. He drank before and after the stickups, and he used some of the illegal gains to buy illegal dope. He was also searching through the city's social service centres for a 'lost' daughter, and he left his address all over the place.

The report doesn't say exactly how, but the police surrounded the residence of the semi-clochard Antonio, 42, and arrested him as he was leaving it, pistol stuck in his belt.

He is now in detention, facing 27 charges of armed robbery. The report doesn't say whether Antonio's gun was loaded and there is no mention or anybody being hurt during any of his holdups.

Antonio may have been an alcoholic and a junkie, but he wasn't crazy - except for a fondness for a particular chain of frozen food outlets.

France's Online Life

Sneak-Preview Movies

PrimeFilm is a new Web site with big ambitions, and you will need a high-speed cable, ASDL, XYZ or some other high-tech connection to benefit from it. The idea is to offer new release movies in the MPEG-1 format, for downloading - for a fee, of course. The PrimeFilm site also has other cinema info, photos, and shorts, so it won't hurt to take a glance at the site even if you don't want to see all of Laurent Bouhnik's '1999 Madeleine,' which started its run in Paris cinemas on Wednesday, 2. February.

A Night At the Opéra

The Paris Opéra has gone online with ticket sales, and this means reservations go in hand with this. Online, Internet-Actu found Sleeping Beauty fully booked already except for last Christmas Eve. This could mean Paris opera fans are storming the Web site, or it is possible that it isn't up to full steam yet. If you are a fan and are starting long-range plans for a visit, give the site a try-out. If successful, let me know.

Beaubourg Re-Opens

This is old news now. During the klotzy culture factory's two-year renovation, its Web site kept ticking over. Now is this time to see what's new, both at the centre - its library reopened recently - and with its Web site.

The 'Fête' de l'Internet

Every year this event is announced with some fanfare, and every year I fail to grasp what it's all about, because it seems to be entirely 'virtual.' Its organization is non-profit and it is coordinated by the AFI association. This event is not restricted to France; at the European level it is called the Fiesta 2000. The actual Fête/Fiesta will take place from Friday, 17. March to Sunday, 19. March.

Greenwich Net Time

Luckily Arte-TV ran a documentary last week about the search for calculating longitude. Two approaches were tried - one with accurate clocks - which had to be invented; and the other involved star-gazing, whichphoto: la grappe d'orgueil was difficult on heaving ships in foggy waters. An 18th century British inventor came up with an ocean-going chronograph that kept better time than my Japanese wrist-sized 'chronograph' does today.

This bistro is in the Rue Montorgueil itself.

Anyhow, 'Greenwich Net Time' has been on trial since January and is supposed to be rolled out on Tuesday, 29. February, which is 'leap-day' - which is in some dispute too. The idea, I think, is to have a universal 'Net Time' so all our emails carry some sort of correct time, independent of GMT.

Davos and WTO Roundup?

The 30th world economic forum, known simply as 'Davos,' held its meetings in Switzerland, from Thursday, 27. January until Tuesday, 1. February. The WTO is an United Nations organization with something to do with world trade and it too has a Web site, called 'Global Compact.' Aside from the protestors' actions, I know nothing about it. Should I? Should you?

Web Shorties:

The 27th comics festival at Angoulême ended a week ago. This Web site presents this year's prize winners, plus links to other sites featuring 'bandes dessinées' - BD for short. In France, the 'comic books' are hardcover and they outsell practically all other forms of published fiction, except some potboiler books sold in airports.

The annual 'Milia 2000' takes place from Tuesday, 14. February to Saturday, 18. February. This is the annual market showcase for multimedia, which includes the Internet of course. Entry fees are from 2000 francs to 5000 for the 'Think Tank.' These amounts do not include the value-added tax; so add 20.6 percent to the bill.

Mentioned last week but worth repeating: historians of social movements may be interested by a new site conceived by the 'Equipe du Maitron,' within the framework of a CNRS lab and a group of interested associations.

Some of the suggestions for these Web site references have been gleaned from 'Internet-Actu.' To sign up for this free weekly newsletter in French, send an email to internet-actu-subscribe@ftpresse.com

Internet-Actu has also just launched a new bi-weekly newsletter called Pixel-Actu, which concerns digital imaging; also in French. Laurent Katz is the editor. For a taste of Pixel-Actu, give its Web version a hit.

Both of these newsletters feature many items you will already be familiar with, but they also include news of developments in Europe. Both are well-written in French, so if you want to build up your techno vocabulary, these newsletters can help.

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contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
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