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By Jean-Pierre Dormois

Is France nonetheless proving itself to be an exception to ecu financial improvement? Jean-Pierre Dormois surveys France's impressive monetary transformation over the last century. His common advent to the foremost transformation of French society tackles the major topics linked to France, corresponding to "Malthusianism", "exceptionalism" and "Colbertism", in addition to these present in general kingdom fiscal tests reminiscent of the function of human capital formation, financial associations, and openness to the remainder of the area.

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Golden age consumption patterns (domestic appliances for instance) had reached saturation point and were failing to sustain demand for domestic manufactures. Conversely, increased openness and international competition dented French firms’ market share both at home and abroad, inducing downsizing and outsourcing which would feed a long-lasting process of de-industrialisation. As earnings kept growing faster than GNP, while productivity fell behind, productive investment bore the worst of the crunch: net capital formation was virtually nil between 1973 and 1979 and it would take another seven years to return to pre-crisis levels.

Towards a ‘new age’? Concomitant with decolonisation, the advent of the Fifth Republic in 1958 represented a major watershed, not only in political and institutional terms but also in so far as it set the stage for subsequent developments in foreign and commercial policy. The turn of the 1960s marked France’s major reversal of attitude towards the rest of the world. After short-lived attempts between 1949 and 1952, the Fourth Republic had made little headway on commitments made at Bretton Woods (1944) to GATT, the OEEC and the WPU (all created in 1948) to open borders to foreign trade and investment and reinstate the franc’s convertibility.

The data lend themselves to a variety of interpretations which point to both the weakness and the fragility of France’s comparative advantages. Firstly, wars and periods of prolonged recession had a stifling effect on foreign trade and investment, which took a long time to recover. Perhaps these stand among the longest-lasting effects of modern war. Second, it is obvious that changing outside circumstances have influenced both the policy options and their outcome. Raising tariff barriers in an increasingly open world economy prevents a country from reaping the benefits of enhanced specialisation; conversely, maintaining relatively free trade or moderate protection in the face of increasing market segmentation can have deleterious effects.

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