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Moi Président de PME

Quel “président” j’aimerais être?

Un président de PME qui, d’abord, respecte la France, qui l’aime. Je suis le président d’une petite société, je ne peux être que président de pratiquement rien, chef de rien, mais en définitive responsable de tout.

Moi, président de PME, je ne suis même pas le chef d’une minorité. Je n’ai pas le temps de recevoir qui que ce soit parce que je travaille soir et week-ends.

Moi, président de PME, j’ai à traiter avec des investisseurs, pas à polémiquer de savoir si on les appelle associés ou collaborateurs.

Moi, président de PME, je participe à toutes sortes de collectes de fond parce que que je n’ai pas l’option du déficit budgétaire.

Moi, président de PME, je fais fonctionner la boîte de façon indépendante, mais j’ai des compte à rendre si j’agis contre l’avis de mon “conseil d’administration” (ou ce qui en tient lieu dans une SAS).

Moi, président de PME, je n’ai pas la prétention de nommer des directeurs, je sais très bien que c’est par leur indépendance d’esprit et leur initiative qu’ils ont mérité ce titre

Moi, président de PME, je fais en sorte que mon comportement soit à chaque instant exemplaire, tout en ayant une conscience plus aigue que jamais de mes propres limites.

Moi, président de PME, ce n’est pas de gaité de coeur que j’ai un statut très peu protégé, sachant très bien que si mes actions venaient à être contestées, aucun magistrat n’hésiterait jamais à me convoquer.

Moi, président de PME, j’ai constitué une équipe paritaire, avec autant de femmes que d’hommes dans la mesure où on peut le faire dans une équipe de cinq. Et alors?

Moi, président de PME, je suis soumis tout comme mes investisseurs à un code de déontologie qui interdit tout conflit d’intérêts. Là encore, et alors?

Moi, président de PME, je constate que mes associés ne cumulent rien, sinon les heures de travail mal payées, car on peut considérer qu’à partir de 70h par semaine, on se consacre plus que pleinement à sa tâche.

Moi, président de PME, j’aimerais bien voir un peu de décentralisation, j’aimerais bien qu’on donne aux forces vives locales que sont les PMEs un nouveau souffle, qu’on tire parti de leurs compétences, qu’on leur accorde un peu de liberté.

Moi, président de PME, j’aimerais bien grossir assez pour avoir des partenaires sociaux ou consacrer du temps aux associations professionnelles. Je préférerais quelques discussions régulières à des lois imposées sans négociation.

Moi, président de PME, je me contenterais bien d’un petit débat. On a évoqué la taxation du capital, et il est légitime qu’il puisse y avoir sur ces questions là un débat citoyen.

Moi, président de PME, je suis soumis à la proportionnelle face à mes actionnaires, et ce n’est pas en 2017, c’est dès maintenant que l’ensemble de leurs sensibilités est représentée.

Moi, président de PME, je suis la tête dans le guidon, avec toute la hauteur de vue qui va avec. J’aimerais bien fixer de grandes orientations, de grandes impulsions, mais en même temps, je dois m’occuper de tout et je dois avoir toujours le souci de la proximité avec les clients.

J’aurais bien aimé une vie un peu plus normale, mais rien n’est normal quand on est président de PME. Etre président, c’est pas si facile. Notre monde traverse une crise majeure, en tous cas la France. Mais on peut encore réussir à se fâcher avec l’Europe. On peut encore créer plein de conflits en se montant les uns contre les autres ou en se disputant sur l’environnement Bien sûr qu’un président doit avoir une réponse toute prête qui prenne de haut ses sujets: “je n’aime pas les riches“, ça suffit largement à montrer qu’on est proche du peuple, qu’on est capable de comprendre toute la complexité de réalité économique et sociale en France.

Cela dit, moi, président de PME, j’aimerais bien qu’on laisse nos investisseurs tranquilles. Ca serait déjà pas mal comme changement tout de suite.

Et si vous ne comprenez pas pourquoi je dis ça:

(Mis à jour pour utiliser le terme de PME, plus général que SAS)

Explaining #geonpi to non-French entrepreneurs

There’s been a recent flurry of activity on twitter around the #geonpi hashtag. What is going on?

The short version is that French entrepreneurs are all up in arms against the French budget law for 2013. On the surface, one aspect of the law is intended to align the taxation of capital on the taxation of work, to use the words of the French government. But the reasons that entrepreneurs react is that, in practice, the new taxation may well make the creation of startups in France completely untenable.

Etymology of #geonpi

A first question you may have is: What the hell does “geonpi” mean? Well, it’s simply Verlan for pigeon. And in French, pigeon is a slang word for a dupe, a scapegoat, or someone who is being easily been taken advantage of. In short, a sucker. But there are many other expressions and word associations around pigeons, like “tir au pigeons” or “roucouler”. Les Pigeons movement is clearly about the “easily abused” meaning.

Entrepreneurs in France feel that they are the “pigeons” of the whole social system.

What caused the wrath?

Like in any other country, entrepreneurs in France take risks. They create new wealth. They create jobs. They usually reach the legal 35 hours per week on Tuesdays. They often put a good fraction of their own savings into the enterprise (I talk from experience here). They don’t sleep well at night.

Yet, in France, entrepreneurs get very little recognition. This may be hard to comprehend for someone who is more accustomed to Silicon Valley, where being an entrepreneur is a Good Thing™. But in France, “entrepreneur” is almost a dirty word. In the mind of the general public, entrepreneurs and greedy corporate executives earning millions per year are one and the same thing.

In reality, entrepreneurs in France earn very little if anything, just like in any other country. No minimum wage here. No job protection. Entrepreneurs, unlike other workers in France, have practically no retirement benefit, and certainly no “golden parachute”. More to the point, they don’t get anything from the state if they fail.

The new regime

So what changed? What bothers French entrepreneurs is how they would get treated under the new budget law in the unlikely case they succeed. In France like in any other country, nine out of ten entrepreneurs fail. They are prepared for that. But what happens if they succeed is the problem here.

The new law is supposed to double the the taxation of the benefits you might derive from a successful investment in a small startup. from an already meaty 30% or so to about 60%. Yep, you read that right, six oh. I guess you have the reaction reading that number that I had reading the gas mileage of a Humvee. [Update: ddabdul commented that I should talk about capital gain tax, but it's actually a combination of various taxes, one of them being capital gain tax. To muddy things further, the French government actually moves that to the income tax. So I decided to stick to my previous wording with this clarification.]

If, after 5 to 10 years of an extraordinarily uncomfortable life, one lucky entrepreneur happens to have any kind of success, which by the way means he created a sustainable company and presumably quite a few jobs, then under the new regime, he immediately loses a little over 60% to the Benevolent State in taxes.

But don’t worry for the Poor State of France, there’s more. The State gets to collect a few extra percents here and there in value added tax and other taxes on goods (e.g. on gas). Then 1% to 2% per year on the “tax on fortune”, another beautiful French invention. And finally 45% of whatever is left would again go to the State when the exhausted entrepreneur dies.

Le Gendre was right

Sorry to put it that way, but so much stupidity really hurts.

The debate in France about why the State needs to be so greedy is not exactly new. Colbert once asked to a merchant named Le Gendre what the State could do to help. Le Gendre reportedly answered “Laissez nous faire“. Centuries later, that wisdom remains ignored by the French government.

Slashdot on the election of Nicolas Sarkozy

There is an article on Slashdot about the election of Nicolas Sarkozy. The header of the story included Sarkozy is seen as a divisive figure for his demand that immigrants learn Western values (and the French language), a phrase that number of readers commented, noting if I’m going to move to France I’m at least going to try and learn French. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that if you want to come and work in America, you might pick up a little English first.

There were a few comments on Muslims and immigration. One reader, who claims to be a Muslim himself, wrote If you’re a second-generation Muslim with a foreign accent, something is seriously wrong. If you immigrate to a country, you should raise your children to natively speak the language of that country. And, truly, it is one of the things that surprised me when I lived in the US, that second-generation Americans of obvious Asiatic or Muslim ascent had no hint of an accent when they spoke English. Something in the French integration system does not work as well as it does in the US.

Another reader noticed this as well:

The immigration problem in France is a world away from the “problems” we have in the US. By and large, our immigrants either end up working hard in the lower runs of society, and many end up leading productive lives in the professional class (doctors, engineers, etc). Many groups in our immigrant population assimilate [...] and even the ones that don’t do not go out of their way to resist American culture. In comparison, the French have to deal with huge waves of lower-class immigrants who clog up their social welfare system. Moreover, not only do they not assimilate, but they actively resist and antagonize the native culture.

We will really know whether Sarkozy is successful addressing this issue if and only if second-generation muslims start speaking of France as their country, with pride, and become proud of French litterature. This is all too infrequent today, unfortunately.

On the topic of voting systems, a number of readers found it surprising that Royal would “surrender” so quickly (since the last American elections took days to be resolved), to which a reader indirectly replied: On the other hand, Americans could do worse than adopt the French election system. A genuine, fair two-round election, an 85% voter turn-out, a clear majority for the winner, and the election over at election night — not bad, isn’t it?

Finally, there was one high level comment on the dynamics of democracy which I found interesting: the side that is being the poor losers and choosing to tear apart the democracy rather than accept loss is the side that, when they win, produces the relatively peaceful government. The side that, when they win, produces “polarization” is the more democratic side. It’s almost as if this guy lived here.

The democratic power of the Internet

Chances are that you never heard about 08-f8-10-01-9c-73-e2-5a-d7-40-55-c4-62-55-87-bf, and that nobody cares about that number at all. Now, add one to every byte, and all of a sudden, the resulting number becomes a key ingredient to writing an HD-DVD player for Linux, which some argue makes this number a reverse-engineering weapon that exposes you to legal threats.

How did we get there? According to John Dvorak, this is all the fault of the lawyers. I think that Dvorak is missing the point, big times. We got there because of the revolutionary democratic power newly granted by the Internet, the power for anybody to publish and be read by a large number of people all over the world. I already wrote in an earlier post that I believe democracy itself is going to change because of this kind of technology. But in the present case, this is not about democracy, but about secrets, about what some call “big money”.

Cash can’t buy secrecy anymore

It used to be the case that a big pile of cash and a big team of lawyers could easily buy you secrecy. There were only a small number of people to bribe or threaten, which made it easy to kill a story. This actually still seems to work pretty well when big monetary or legal interests are at stake. But it does not work against the people, against a crowd, as the Digg example demonstrated plainly. Nowadays, when you try to hide something that people want exposed, you simply don’t stand a chance.

Why was there a revolt against Digg taking down stories showing the “secret magic number”, then? Many users simply want free software. Obviously, they also want to watch HD-DVDs. There are plenty of tools that companies can use to deter these people from obtaining what they want: patents, DMCA takedown notices to try to “hide” some internal encoding keys, and so on. This will simply not work, because as the GNU web page clearly says, free software is about freedom, not (just) price. People tend to react when they feel a legitimate freedom is being taken away.

Fighting piracy

What does this mean for companies in the media business? And first, let’s think about why they care. The problem they face is piracy. There are really two forms of piracy: rampant piracy, where a noticeable fraction of the user base prefers to use illegitimate copies of the media that they copy one at a time, and organized piracy, where parallel distribution channels perform massive copies. These two forms of piracy require different angles of attack.

Organized piracy, like any form of organized crime, can only be dealt with using state-enforced means (police, justice, diplomacy). It often crosses the borders, making it a bit harder to fight. A recent extreme example of this is the unofficial state-owned Disneyland in China. You cannot fight this kind of intellectual property theft without going directly talking to China and teaching them how they could benefit from respecting intellectual property. Now, before Americans look down on Chinese folks too harshly, they should look back to their own history and remember that back when the US were a developing country, Americans did not respect the British copyrights too well either…

Rampant piracy is a different matter entirely. Taking down “magic numbers” is definitely not going to work. There are simply too many people who care about what they see as their freedom, and they are spread in too many countries to fight efficiently from a legal point of view. It’s not my job to help the media industries figure that one out, but Steve Job’s thoughts on music might be a good starting point…

Voting algorithms

France is voting today. As many of you may know, France uses single-name, two rounds voting procedure, similar to what is being done in many other countries. Every single time I vote, I cannot help but think about the flaws of our voting system, and of the other voting systems commonly in use. And this usually brings me to thinking about the flaws of democracy in general. As a programmer, I want to point out early that I’m thinking about the flaws of the various implementations of democracy, not the flaws of the concept itself.

Flawed voting systems

One of the things that strikes me about the various voting systems that I know about is just how “mathematically” flawed they are. Most of the voting systems can lead to situations where the winner is not really the one the people chose. This is well known in the United States for example, where the so-called popular vote (raw count of votes) may not match the electoral votes (the vote among the few chosen to represent the people). This was the case in the 2000 presidential election, for example.

A similar problem also exists in France for a different, more subtle reason. During the second round, voters no longer have a real freedom of choice, since they can only vote among the remaining two candidates that many of them did not choose. For example, for the current 2007 presidential election, projections indicate that less than 50% of the votes will go to the two winners. So more than half of the population will have to choose during the second round for someone they chose not to vote for during the first one.

This even led to situations where the result of the secound round was hard to understand based on the result of the first one, like in 1981 in France. During the first round, Valery Giscard d’Estaing (right), had more votes than Francois Mitterrand (left), and Jacques Chirac (right) had more votes than Georges Marchais (left). But on the second round, Francois Mitterrand still won…

Why does it matter? Well, democracy means giving power to the people, so shouldn’t we try to make sure we actually elect the person that the people chose? First of all, this is quite problematic, because “the people” is not some monolithic entity. Individuals sometimes change their mind, and so do people. One explanation of the 1981 vote could be that folks simply changed their mind after, say, a political debate on TV. But ignoring that aspect, it would seem interesting to have some idea that the actual will of the people was correctly captured at some given instant.

Fair voting procedures

What makes flawed voting procedures really irritating to scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and all those who somehow live in the illusion that humans are logical is that voting procedures have been studied since at least Condorcet in the eighteenth century.

There are actually several voting systems that satisfy the so-called Condorcet criterion, namely that the winner will always win one-on-one against any opponent. So, what’s the problem with such methods? Well, it shows well in the current French presidential election: Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal are both credited with more vote intentions in the first round than the “third man” of the election, Francois Bayrou, yet all projections indicate that Bayrou would win the second round against any opponent… This is a typical Condorcet paradox.

But there are other, more complicated voting procedures that do not have this problem. One of them is the Borda count (also devised in eighteenth century France, which is not a coincidence if you ask me), where you rank candidates by giving them points. Being a consensus voting system instead of a majoritarian one, it is probably more representative of the “average” will of the people than any majoritarian voting system.

Fixing the wrong problems

Many people are aware of issues with their voting system, so they try to fix it. And they usually end up fixing the wrong problem. For example, France, like many other countries, did some experimentation with electronic voting, and it was considered by some as a catastrophe.

What’s wrong with the good old ballot box? I mean, it’s not like France ever had hanging chads problems, so why bother with slower, more expensive, possibly insecure replacements? Why fix what works, why not fix what does not work? Electronic voting, in my opinion, is very well described like the X window system once was: complex non-solutions to simple non-problems.

I suspect that one reason people prefer fixing the way we collect ballots rather than the way we count votes is the suspicion of fraud. People are so attached to the power given to them by democracy that they don’t want risking it by changing the method. Changing the tool is OK, but changing the method might be giving up the power.

Artificial flatening due to random chance

There is another thing that turns out wrong with democracy, it’s what I would call the artificial flattening of opinions. In any democratic country, under practically any circumstances, with practically any pair of candidates, a vote that is not very close to 50%-50% is considered a banana-republic score. Is that normal?

To understand why I ask the question, take a panel of random folks, and ask them to vote whether they should walk along a cliff or take a more conservative route. Chances are that you will not get 50%-50% votes, but more like 95% voting against walking along the cliff. But then, ask them to choose at some random point between walking left and walking right, and you will probably get 50%-50%. The vote gets more marked when there is danger, this explains how Jacques Chirac ended up with more than 80% of the votes during the second round when he had less than 20% during the first round.

Similarly, ask a panel of experts to decide whether global warming is caused by human activity, you may get something like 80% of them saying “yes”, but if you ask a bunch of politicians who, for the most part, know nothing about the science of global warming, chances are they won’t be able to make a clear decision. So “danger” is not the only factor that is important in deciding a vote. Also critical are the ability to perceive it and the evaluation of how important it is.

So the customary 50%-50% score indicate that people, to a large extent, “don’t care”, that they do not feel that the winner election is going to make a huge difference. This is, in my opinion, the big failure of democracy.

Can this indecision be fixed

I keep thinking that there is a way to fix that, and it would be instantaneous, continuous voting. This kind of continuous democracy is now technically feasible. Why do I think it would be better? Because this would ensure that the will of the people is not decided by so-called “representatives” based on their own electoral, political or even financial interest. But, more importantly, because people, if they are asked frequently, will tend to vote mostly on the things they care about and know something about. On average, I expect that people would therefore tend to vote more “intelligently”, and therefore make more contrasted, more informed decisions.

Imagine that today, you would be allowed to vote, for example, on digital restrictions management, electronic voting, euthanasia and the reduction of the VAT for restaurants to 5% (which is a real controversy in France, believe it or not). I know that I would probably not vote on the last one, being not very well informed about the issues at hand. On the other hand, I would definitely vote on the others, because I believe that I have an informed position

No matter who wins this election, there is no chance that he or she would be able to know exactly how I would vote on all these topics. That’s another failure of democracy: elected officials should execute the will of the people, not phrase it.

Categories: Politics, Voting
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