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AB 2000 studies

Alain Boublil Blog


The Orsay Museum and the French industrial decline

We could ask ourselves what kind of link could exist between the debate generated by the project to rename the Orsay Museum with the name of the one who was its inspiration, Valery Giscard d’Estaing and the admission of the degradation  of the French research and industry achievements which is not new. All the same, this admission is real, it is coming from a long time ago and it emerges from one of the most anchored characteristics of the French society.

These who were opposing the change of the name put forward, and they won, that it was unfair to grant the merit only to him because his predecessor, Georges Pompidou took the decision not to destroy the Orsay Station, and it is his successor, François Mitterrand, who achieved the construction and who chaired its inauguration ceremony. To the opposite, it is him who gave his approval for the transfer to this new establishment of the State collection of Impressionist paintings which was in the Jeu de Paume Museum. He was validating the constant opposition of the curators to the consecration of these artists consisting in being at last admitted in the Louvre.

During their life, these exceptional artists were never honored by the State. Exhibition managers excluded them to the point that was created a “Salon des refusés”. Their paintings were difficult to sale. Few patrons, among them one of their colleagues, Gustave Caillebotte, allowed them to properly live. When he died and bequeathed his collection to the State, this one refused a large share of it, with notably several Cezanne, some Renoir and some Degas paintings. Administrative authorities, which couldn’t imagine they were mistaken, persisted during a long time in that denial. So most of that period masterworks are today in foreign countries. They contribute to France international influence but it is not possible not to make the parallel with the many bright researchers who followed the same way.

France is among the countries which have the most Nobel prizes and Fields Medals. Despite that, its results regarding research are disappointing as we once more saw with the pandemic which is affecting the world. It is French researchers working outside the country in foreign companies who have decisively contributed to the discovery of several vaccines which will allow to putting an end to the pandemic. Stifled by the heaviness of the universities bureaucracy and ignored by these who are in charge of supporting the national research effort, they flew outside the country.

Valery Giscard d’Estaing was admitted at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration and was the only French president to go to Ecole Polytechnique. So he belongs to that elite composed by these who attended these prestigious schools which are supposed to select the highest civil servants. So he was not going to disown the administrative system which assumed the power of judging artists, despite the past mistakes, as for example, the sale after World War I of the hundreds ofPicasso and cubist paintings which had been seized in the gallery owner Kahnweiler home, for the benefit of American collectors.

That bureaucratic hold progressively extended itself to the banks and the big companies world. For most of them, their executives were men and women coming from the major public institutions. They started their carriers as members of ministers staffs which had opened the doors to them, once their missions were finished, of the business world. But the required qualities to reach these functions do not prepare them automatically to manage a company which has its own culture, its values and where client requirements are the essential conditions of success. These qualities are only acquired through escalating all the steps of the organization and not in being appointed immediately at their arrival in the executive boards. It is what makes the difference with Germany, frequently quoted as a model of industrial success, where most of the executives made their entire carrier in the company they manage.

There too, it is learnt to recognize mistakes and to take appropriate actions. Cultural institutions were wrong when they exposed on the Louvre galleries walls the “Pompiers painters”. They persisted in their mistakes in maintaining them at their places and in proposing to send these they rejected in the past to the Orsay Museum. Big French company executives have multiplied costly foreign acquisitions, frequently through the rise of their indebtedness. They increased their size and their prestige and it is indisputable that in the ranking by size of large world companies, France is well positioned. But the pride motive is illusory. How many, among today giants will be still there tomorrow? During the last twenty years, Péchiney, steel companies, Lafarge, Alcatel and since a few days Peugeot have disappeared or have fallen under foreign control. 70% of the business of the companies in the CAC 40 index is localized outside of French borders. The situation is quite also unfavorable regarding employment. The last “France Stratégie” report explains that the number of employees of the foreign industrial subsidiaries of French groups represented 62% of their employees in France when this ratio is 52% in the United Kingdom, 38% in Germany and 26% in Italy.

Trade deficit for manufactured products doesn’t stop to increase for 15 years. Labor costs are put forward to explain that and successive governments have devoted huge amounts of money to reduce enterprises charges, which has increased budget deficits and the public debt. Who can still believe this policy is efficient and, especially, that analysis is well-founded when we see that wages costs in Switzerland are twice higher than in France and that the country has a solid trade surplus? The case of Italy is quite also revealing. It has a very dense network of family controlled company which didn’t launched costly foreign investments. That allows the country, also, to have a large trade surplus.

But in order to admit that this development model and the policies which have supported it have failed, it would be necessary that these who inspired it and put in practice recognize that they were heavily wrong. The disappearance or the weakening of French industry jewels is coming from the mistakes of their executives and of the kindness they received from public authorities. Renault constitutes a tragic example but it is not the only responsible of the reduction by half of the numbers of cars produced in France. Peugeot, which has benefited several times of the State support, has just announced that it will stop the production in France of its star model, the 2008 SUV, to delocalize it in Spain. General Electric did take commitments when it bought Alstom power activities. The company will not respect them, which is a surprise for no one. Despite that, the State gave its approval for that operation.

France is an exceptional creative place and it will remain it in the future but it doesn’t know how to take advantage of that. The denial of the Impressionnist painters which is enduring and which has lead to their exile to the Orsay Museum is providing for a century a good example. The many errors made by their executives in French major companies are causing a very high cost for the collectivity, whose we don’t know until when the country will have the resources to cope with. Well, these mistakes are coming from a system of formation and co-option that nobody dares to denounce and even less to reform.          



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