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.
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