ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVES 17

French regulatory farce

Just for fun, let’s indulge in a grand generalisation and say that in a dictatorship, say in North Korea or Venezuela, even China, everything is forbidden unless explicitly allowed; and, in a democracy, everything is permitted unless explicitly prohibited.

Having just returned from a 3-week sojourn in France, I am convinced that, although it retains all the political trappings of a democracy, France is rapidly taking on the mantle of the regulation centre of the universe.
We have been visiting South West France, where we have had a house for 40 years, and the insidious encroachment on people’s freedom to make decisions and think for themselves has become a counterproductive folly – from food-labelling to car-parking.

Some examples

We have accepted short-term holiday lets for many years in order to defray the ever-rising energy costs, licence fees, water rates, insurance premiums, broadband, and local and national property taxes. About ten years ago we had to install a fence around the swimming pool because parents can no longer be trusted to look after their children.

alarm shrieking blue murder

The letting agent has, however, now informed us that our fence is no longer compliant with the latest generation of regulations because it is not a rigid, lockable (requiring two hands) structure, and recommends that we should go further and install an alarm system. This should be bolted to the wall just above the surface, with a tube descending into the water, and it shrieks blue murder if the surface is broken. [Cost: 270 euros plus 200 euros to install. Penalty for failing to comply is a fine of 45,000-euros – I am not kidding!!]

Unintended consequences

These spoon-feeding strictures are bound to achieve the very opposite of what is intended. They are dangerous in the extreme because they convey to tenants a sense of security designed to replace the only true security, which is keeping an eye on your kids!

The effect of all this high-tech paraphernalia will be to challenge the inquisitive youngster to find a way of climbing over the barricade, and when he falls into the pool the alarm will wake a dozing parent just in time to see a glugging child struggling in our 100 percent compliant pool.

Our “Welcome Pack”, left on the living room table for new arrivals, helpfully lists all the local natural beauty spots, including flowing rivers, gorges, beaches, scenic parks, ancient Cathar ruins, playgrounds with slides, swings, and see-saws – all possessing an absolutely lethal propensity for causing terrible injury or death. We shall now play safe and insert a bold disclaimer in the Welcome Pack declaring that we accept no legal responsibility for the consequences of actually visiting any of these delightful places.

how did our own children survive

How on earth did our own children survive those idyllic summer days all those years ago? Dropping from overhanging branches into the flowing river below, kayaking down the Herault, climbing trees to reach ripe figs, or diving into the gorge from the rocks at Pont d’Diable.

Officialdom gone nuts

The regulatory lunacy knows no bounds. Before we installed our own pool, our son-in-law was refused entry to the public pool in nearby Pezenas because his swimwear was not of the skin-tight bikini variety. He was informed that his ordinary swimming shorts would be waterlogged on exiting the pool and would therefore breach EU water conservation regulations – no doubt drafted by a committee of highly remunerated bureaucrats, paid to dream up increasingly inventive ways of ruining everyone else’s fun.

While in Pezenas I visited the beautifully tended public gardens and found a shaded bench on which to write my next economics missive. Just as I settled down a young woman appeared wearing the luminescent yellow uniform of officialdom, and informed me that it was 12 o’clock, and therefore time for me to leave – the park was to be shut for two hours: “lunch-time for the workers”.

By this she obviously meant that it was her lunch break, there being no other attendant in sight, and an unaccompanied adult like me could hardly be trusted to survive a couple of hours in the danger-filled wilds of a public park. Who knows? Perhaps an unfenced pool of ravenous alligators lay around the corner!

no thought for the real workers

But no thought for the real “workers” – the inhabitants of Pezenas in need of a break from their desks and a stroll in the park. Or the children just out of school, jostling and joking in the dusty and sweltering streets – while the town’s main recreational facility is shut.

Yes, I know – it’s everywhere; not just in France. If you buy a cup of tea on a train in England you will not be permitted to carry it from the counter to your seat – you must put it on a little plastic tray to allow the “health & safety” rules to protect you from a spillage burn!

Thus does officialdom triumph over liberty, the “tail-wagging-the-dog” syndrome that has taken over wherever you look. If you look!
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