The Paradox Of France’s New Baby Boom

The French birth rate is higher than its been in 30 years, defying European trends and France's own collective pessimism. Portrait of a distrustful society made of individuals betting on the future.

Parisian kids (Kathleen Conklin)

Demographics are a funny thing! We have before us a France that is booming. The 2010 data released this week by the French national statistics institute show that we apparently know no crisis or depression or the slow suffocation of a nation that all too often seems somehow doomed.

Last year, French mothers gave birth to 828,000 babies. The birth total is the highest its been in 30 years, far closer to the peak of the post-War baby boom (878,000 in 1964) than the low point of its graying years (711,000 in 1994).

A symbolic threshold has been crossed for the first time since 1974: French women have an average of two children (based on the total fertility rate). In one generation, the country has surpassed 65 million inhabitants, up by 10 million. And one generation from now France will have more people than Germany, where the population has been declining for the past seven years.

This France vitality can be attributed to three main factors. The first is technical: a time lag. In recent decades, women were more likely to be employed, and therefore decided to have children later, pushing the average age of a mother giving birth above 30. And the boost in fertility has shown up most notably in those mothers older than 35, more likely than before to be able to have children.

The second reason is political: the State continues to encourage a rising birth rate with a wide array of policy measures, from family allowances to support for childcare to targeted tax breaks for having children. Future leaders will need to keep this information in mind when they move ahead with tough budget cuts.

The third source of our population boost is more profound: the French simply want to have kids. In a country beset by doubt, with little obvious hope on the horizon, and fearful of a changing world, this is a desire that is a deep-down bet on the future. A poll released this week by the Foundation for Political Innovation, measuring attitudes of young people from 25 countries, makes the point clearly: French youth are both among the most pessimistic about the situation of their country (25% satisfied) and the most worried about an increasingly globalized world (only 52% see it as an opportunity), and yet at the same time more likely than others to say they want to start a family (47%) and have children (60%). In a world perceived as hostile, we retreat to the nest.

Behind this French "birthing" itch, there is the best and the worst, hope and fear. The desire of children, however, is ultimately a sign of deep confidence in the future. Yet there must be a way to connect this individual feeling and our collective destiny, so that we might finally become a society that has as much confidence as its individual members.

Read the original article in French

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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