• Email
  • Print

French Planning

In response to:

The Way of the World from the March 31, 1966 issue

To the Editors:

It was nice to learn from Mr. Lichtheim’s review of Shonfield’s book (March 31) that institutional manipulations have finally brought progress and harmony to contemporary France. So many upheavals, and all for nothing. What a pity.

Personally, however, I would feel easier about endorsing this conservative broadside if I were shown how the French Plan works. Mr. Lichtheim doesn’t tell us, but then, neither does Mr. Shonfield. Who the planners are, what they decide and how they decide it, that we do know for adulatory self-congratulation is the péché mignon of these grand commis. But how the planners have gotten the business community to act together and in the national interest, that is very obscure. Mr. Shonfield says (page 145) that the relationship between businessmen and planners is “a species of intellectual confrontation” which is of course so much bosh. In fact, businessmen now as always do what they want: when it pays to make more cars (even at Renault which is state owned) or less steel (which soaks up government loans) they go right ahead and do what they like.

Of course, the government has taken an interest in maximizing industrial growth, in reforming the structure of banking, in channeling investment for the renewal of an outdated industrial infra-structure, and it has tried to concert its efforts with the wishes of businessmen within the context of national harmony. But so did Napoleon III.

The institutional feebleness of the powers of the Planners should make us think twice about singing the praises of Jean Monnet and his friends. It is far from obvious that it is because of them that France has finally made the jump into the modern world. But what they have done is to disarm criticism of the social-economic system. Contemporary France is still a hierarchic and authoritarian society riddled with injustices of all sorts. Whatever the Plan itself has done to change this through bigger and better growth shouldn’t obscure the fact that the myth of the Plan is today the most powerful ideological weapon of the French establishment.

Patrice Higonnet

Cambridge, Mass.

  • Email
  • Print