The Government of France

By E. Drexel Godfrey | Go to book overview

its citizens is essentially a consequence of the weakness and instability of political traditions. Not only have transitory governments embarked on ambitious economic and social programs only to be overturned in a few months by another with different objectives, but these same weak governments have been easy prey for a host of competing special interest groups seeking protection or benefits from a benevolent state. Moreover, most governments in the twentieth century, at least, have been obliged to take into account the fact that the French economy itself is somewhat of a paradox. It contains some of the most dynamic and progressive large industries in Western Europe, and yet it is still strongly influenced by the psychology of the small, inefficient producer and his far more numerous commercial counterparts.

The development of the country is also quite uneven, large areas, especially in Brittany and the Southwest, lagging far behind the rest of the nation in terms of economic vitality, economic growth and living standards. French soil is probably the richest in Europe, arable land plentiful, but the poor organization of agricultural production and distribution has made French food prices the highest on the continent, and on occasion has necessitated the importing of foodstuffs. Sound historical explanations exist for many of these weaknesses, gaps and paradoxes in the French economic structure. We cannot here be concerned with these reasons, but we must recognize they are so important to the French economic scene that they preoccupy all French planners and economists. The political imperatives of caring first for the small farmer, or adjusting tax rates so that they do not overburden the poorest section of the country -- these problems absorb energies that might otherwise be expended in the creation of a truly modern society.


The State as Planner

Ambitious efforts have been made from time to time to adopt logical programs of economic and social action that would chart new courses for the French economy. These have been essentially of two types: (1) sweeping political programs so all- inclusive as to amount to complete charters of social-economic reform; and (2) national economic plans, largely devoid of political connotations, that have had as ends in themselves the expansion and strengthening of the economy. The most explosive and dramatic example of the first type was the Popular Front program of 1936, a massive assault on economic institutions which

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