“For Pierre Mendès France, a planning policy was an interweaving of political choices, well beyond technical choices”

2023-10-19 05:30:05

Lhe government is today faced with a formidable equation: how to invest massively in the transition to avoid ecological collapse, when public finances are dry and inflation threatens? Did Pierre Mendès France (1907-1982) have the answer?

In 1950, he was not yet the president of the Council which made peace in Indochina (1954), nor one of the fathers of a social democracy of government, but he had already been in charge in one of the governments of the Popular Front with Léon Blum (1938) and within the provisional government with General de Gaulle (1943-1945) to outline the broad outlines of economic policy. It was then that he gave a course to students at the brand new National School of Administration (in front, in particular, of a certain Valéry Giscard d’Estaing), entitled “Financing the reconstruction of France”.

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This course has just resurfaced from the family archives and been published, very fittingly, by the Committee for the Economic and Financial History of France and the Institute of Public Management and Economic Development, two research and training of the Ministry of the Economy, who presented it, during a conference in Bercy, on October 4 (Finance the reconstruction of France. Economic and financial problems posed by the investment and reconstruction policy in France, presentation by Alain Chatriot, 406 pages, 31 euros).

It is then a matter of massive investment to rebuild the country: 79 departments are affected, 465,000 buildings destroyed and 1.7 million damaged, 770 billion old francs (of 1938) lost pre-war capital… And the lack of maintenance and renewal of the remaining capital requires a “catch-up” of an almost equivalent amount. Because it is also an opportunity to modernize the production system to bring it up to the level of the United States, he insists.

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Who will pay ? In front of students familiar with classical economics, Mendès France uses the theoretical weapons of John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), whom he met during the negotiation of the Bretton Woods agreements in 1944. “We cannot completely abandon – I do say “totally” – to private initiative alone the task of making the most important choices, and of replacing the Plan. […] Indeed, private initiative will always give preference to work that it considers to be the most profitable; however, the works that it considers as such are not necessarily those that are most important to the community. »

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