LET 151 Lecture Module 5 “Economy and Business”
The French economy is one of the world’s largest, ranking always in the top ten
and some years as high as the fifth largest.
France leads the world in many domains.
Areva is the world leader in nuclear
Vinci Construction is the world leader in construction.
Total is France’s largest
company, and one of the world’s largest energy companies.
Many people are familiar
with France’s luxury goods, like Louis Vuitton leather goods, Chanel perfumes, and
Christian Dior evening gowns.
Lesser know French products may surprise you.
instance, Motel 6 is owned by the French Accor group of hotels.
Boston’s Bunker Hill
bridge uses stay cables designed by the French company Freysinnet.
And Nissan cars
can be said to be roughly half French since Renault and Nissan formed a strategic
partnership in 1999.
Take a look at page 180 in Helen Drake’s Contemporary France to
see the names of more French companies.
The article entitled “France Sees Surge in
Foreign Investment” gives some indications of France’s competitiveness in today’s
Overall, France is a capitalist country today.
1 But France also has a long tradition
of state-intervention or “dirigisme” with respect to the economy.
The “dirigiste” tradition
precedes the Revolution and is partly the reason for the glory of seventeenth-century
With the advent of the Revolution, a new value entered economic matters – the
This notion of national solidarity, or the third term in the revolutionary
slogan of “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité,” has molded France’s economic matters ever
The French Revolution was largely about eliminating “privilège,” that is,
exclusive rights or special exceptions to certain people or certain regions.
So the French
have a tendency to believe that the economy must benefit everyone and that this can best
be done through centralized decisions.
In the US, the tendency is to believe something
almost the opposite of this.
Americans tend to believe that individual gain is the best way
to ensure the economy benefits everyone.
In actual practice, the economies of the two
countries probably are generally fairly close, but the underlying beliefs are starkly
Read Drake’s pages carefully to get more information on dirigisme.
You will also read two parts of Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon.
As you read,
“The Strike” you will get some insights into French economic practices and the country’s
He mentions how France is centralized around Paris (in a way all roads
and railroads mostly do lead to Paris.
Also, 20% of France’s population lives in the Paris
Most companies have their headquarters there.
One quarter of all university
students attend schools in the Paris area.
It’s like New York, Washington DC, and LA all
The strike itself is the reason I chose the chapter.
In France, workers tend to
take an adversarial role in respect to management.
Thus, the rule seems to be “Strike
The Communists are an obvious exception.
Some of the Socialists are also exceptions, but since roughly
the middle of Mitterrand’s first term, the Socialist Party accepts a market-based economic system.
first, negotiate later.
” Note, however, that union membership is higher in the US than in
In talking about the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, James Corbett notes on
page 223 of Through French Windows that “The trouble is that issues that never make it
to the National Assembly tend to explode in the streets.
” Thus, the Fifth Republic can be
seen as the root cause of France’s strikes.
In “The Tower” Gopnik relates a funny and true incident that reveals some
interesting cultural differences.
Commerce is the US is highly service-oriented.
France, it is more trade-oriented.
Waiters, for instance, in France go through training and
are licenced to exercise their trade (métier, in French).
You don’t tip them because the
tip in included in the bill (service compris).
In my opinion, the tip is included because
the waiters have professional pride and will do a good job to honor their trade.
of “serving” a table to earn a good tip seems vaguely humiliating.
It’s a lot like Gopnik’s
idea of “producerism.
The newspaper articles deal with some important issues.
The one entitled
“French Paradox at Work” is about a really important and controversial aspect of French
life today – the 35-hour work week.
As you read it, think about who proposed it and
Then chart the pros and cons of it for both workers and employers.
And then you
should read the follow-up on the 35-hour work in the other article “France to Let
Companies Scrap 35-Hour Week.
500-word essay on this subject: “What is dirigisme and to what extent does it influence the economy and business in France?” Justify your answer by referring to specific parts of the readings for this module.
You must include all the readings and viewings
Gopnik “The Strike” 28-35 and “Trouble at the Tower” 123-25,
NY Times, “A French Paradox at Work . . .
,” 11 Nov 1999, by Suzanne Daley.
NY Times, “France to Let Companies Scrap 35-Hour Week,” 24 July 2008, by Agence France Presse.
NY Times, “France Sees Surge in Foreign Investment,” 28 March 2011, by Matthew Saltmarsh.