I am pleased to have several free days in Paris, but of course this only stimulates my curiosity. I have been wondering the following:
1. Why do so many high-rent districts in Paris have fancy-schmancy bookshops that appear to stock no more than five hundred books? How do they possibly pay their rent?
2. Why has French art plummeted in quality and popularity so drastically after the Second World War? I love Yves Klein as much as does the next guy, but France is no longer a world leader in painting.
It can’t be the wartime devastation or the Nazi persecution. German contemporary art, in comparison, has been robust, as evidenced by Baselitz, Kiefer, Richter, and others. Nor are government subsidies the root of the problem. A good case can be made that the subsidies have wasted money. But no one in France forces artists to stop selling to private customers. The subsidies are not so large as to make French artists richer than Baselitz and Richter, who sell to the private sector. So why doesn’t a dynamic private art sector coexist with the less entrepreneurial subsidy-supported sector?
Perhaps subsidies somehow corrupt the entire artistic network, but the logic of this argument remains to be spelt out. Furthermore many European countries subsidize their artists, but the fall of French art is much steeper than we find elsewhere.
3. Why are there so few Internet cafes in Paris, and why are so few open Sundays? Demographics may be part of the answer here, since the Parisian French population is aging. And while the French minitel (a kind of ecommerce through the phone network) remains, it has not prevented robust French internet growth over the last few years.
It would be neat if one aspect of French culture, or the French economy, helped explain all three of these facts. I do not, however, expect such simple answers.