In economy as in politics, formulas have a hard life. So to the Glorious Thirties, according to the title of Jean Fourastié book, coming from 1946 to 1975, would have been followed, after the two oil crisis, by forty years of mistakes which would explain the difficulties France is today confronted with. But the reality is quite different. The Glorious Thirties have not been as glorious as it is said and during the Eighties have been accomplished realizations France would be proud and which have changed French people life.
The judgment carried about the post-war years largely rests on the growth rate France, as anyway most of the Western economies, has known, a level that the country has not recovered since that time. This analysis is superficial because the growth then has been mainly generated by reconstruction which is, by definition, temporary. The same remark can be done regarding household revenues and purchasing power evolutions which has not impeached, at the end of the period, France to be confronted with inflation, increased unemployment and a huge trade deficit.
During the Sixties, have been built around major cities without offering an equilibrium between the different categories of population which went to occupy them and without offering public transportation infrastructures and the indispensable proximity public services. The safety deficiency on roads provoked more than 8 000 deads per year. The construction norms were insufficient and it will be necessary to launch costly works to eliminate the toxic effects of asbestos, massively utilized at that time. At last, France has missed decolonization, through doubtful relations with many African heads of State and being unable to support the development of these countries in order to guarantee to their populations an acceptable level of life. Apart from extracting oil and gas, French companies lowly invested there. That will create a deep worry and that will be one of the causes of the tensions observed today. The evaluation of that period is not as glorious as it is said.
In the same time the policies leaded during the Eighties and the obtained results are still the purpose of violent critics and omissions, despite the spectacular successes of numerous achievements; there is of course a political angle in these judgements due to the coming into power of the left. But that doesn’t explain everything because still today a majority of journalists and even historians are still giving a negative appreciation.
The Eighties have first been marked by determining progresses in the European construction. The creation of the European Monetary System in 1979, in a very volatile international context had been essential but it is the France decision to remain in it in 1983 which has been decisive. Currencies were then fluctuating freely except between the countries which had joined it. The dollar sharp increase resulting from the American monetary policy had created unbalances constraining Members-States to proceed to several realignments. The French trade deficit augmentation, only caused by the oil bill rise resulting from the dollar increase, was at the origin of several realignments but the government maintained its position to remain in the EMS. Without that determination, it would have exploded and it is very little likely that the euro would have been created fifteen years later.
France then has entrusted Jacques Delors with the mission, inside the European Commission, to prepare the creation of the Unique Market whose adoption has constituted a new major step in the European construction. The State, under the leading role of Pierre Bérégovoy from 1984 to 1986 and from 1988, as Minister of Finance, has reformed the operating mode of the French financial markets which has allowed to financing France public deficits in good conditions and the enterprises to getting the necessary resources to realize their investments. It was a radical change compared to the Seventies when credit was supervised, prices under the State control and the international transactions regulated.
To the contrary to what we still hear even today, the decisions regarding the low wages increases, the working time reduction with the generalization of the 5th holiday week and in the plants the creation of a 5th team, have constituted significant social progresses which were not at the origin of the French foreign trade deficits.
Major industrial restructurings have been carried after the nationalizations. They have allowed to saving full sectors as the steel and the chemical industries and to creating world leaders whose France is today proud. The Dassault Systems case is an example. Dassault had developed a software, Catia, allowing to charging in the computer the representation of an object with its three dimensions. IBM had proposed to sale it to its own clients. But France, in the past, had always been against any cooperation with the data processing American giant. During the 1981 autumn, the State gave its approval, abandoning that wrong vision of innovation. Dassault after, created a subsidiary, Dassault Systems, to operate tist new business. After, the company was introduced on the stock market. Its market capitalization, as a proof of its exceptional success, is today near 50 billion euro. Another example, among so many, is the aluminum industry. In 1988, the State, still the Pechiney shareholder, gave a greenlight to the construction of a plant in Dunkerque. Despite the disastrous management of the company after its privatization which made it passing under the control of several American equity funds, Dunkerque is still the biggest aluminum plant in Europe and it is to that one that the president of the Republic paid a visit to praise the merits of the French industry.
The context of the period has not impeached, to the contrary, the birth of a generation of new entrepreneurs whose successes still today contribute to the country prosperity and to its international influence. Bernard Arnault, with the acquisition of the textile company Boussac, which was in great difficulties, has built from 1984 the first luxury company in the world, LVMH. François Pinault, who was at the origin, according to his own definition” a importer of wood from the North” has almost in the same time started to build an industrial and commercial empire today named Kering. At last, the Bolloré family who was making cigarette paper in a small plant in Brittany, became, itself too, a major actor with Vivendi in the medias industry.
1981 has also been the year of the renaissance of the High-Speed Train. The program had been stopped by the previous government. But during the inauguration of the operating section of the Paris-Lyon line, the president of the Republic asked the SNCF to study the construction of new lines connecting Paris to the country Western regions. The greatest European network of rail transportation infrastructures in Europe was going to be born, transforming the French people life and giving to the cities which were on the lines, new growth opportunities. The connection with England, which was a dream for near two centuries, was also going to be built thanks to the Canterbury Treaty which was signed during 1986 Spring. On parallel, a large highways program was launched which will contribute, with the measures relative to the use of safety belts, to periodic cars technical controls and to speed limits, to divide by near three the road mortality.
The new French nuclear program had been decided at the end of the Messmer government in 1974 with the choice of the pressurized water technology. Most of them will be built in the Eighties with the conception of two new models with an increased power of 1300 MW and 1450 MW. France so acquired a greater energy independence, without emitting greenhouse gas and along offering a very competitive electricity price.
It is at last during the Eighties that has been launched the renaissance of La Défense which is today the biggest business center in Europe. The CNIT renovation and especially the construction of the Arch, under the Great Works program decided in 1982, have constituted determining factors. We could add that it is the attractiveness of the country which has convinced Disney in 1985 to build its first attraction park in Europe near Paris. Euro Disney has so become the 1st tourist destination in Europe and has allowed the creation of tens thousand jobs.
These few examples bring the proof that it is not justified to bring to the firmament the glorious Thirties and to condemn the policies achieved during the following years. The Manichean way of thinking is not good as an adviser. Instead of stigmatizing what has been achieved during that period, it would be better to get inspiration from it in order to solve the problems France is today confronted with.