Leviathan Inc :
LISTEN carefully, and you may detect a giant sucking sound across the rich world. In the 1990s this was the sound protectionists in the United States thought (wrongly) would accompany jobs disappearing to Mexico as a result of a free-trade deal. This time, too, there are big worries about jobs and growth, but the source of the noise is different, and real enough: it comes from the tentacles of the state, reaching into more and more areas of business in an effort to get the economy moving. It is the sound of Leviathan Inc.
Politicians are reviving the notion that intervening in individual industries and companies can drive growth and create jobs. It is not just the usual suspects—although it is true that France, the land of Colbert, is busy taking stakes in toy manufacturers, video-sharing websites and fallen national champions. Elsewhere in Europe, from Berlin to Brussels, demand for industrial policy is back. Japan’s new government is responding to what it sees as the increasingly aggressive policies of foreign competitors by deepening the links between business and the state. In America Barack Obama, the effective owner of General Motors and a chunk of Wall Street, has turned his back on the laissez-faire approach of the past: a strategic-industries initiative is under way.
Although an understandable panic over economic growth in the rich world explains much of the state’s new meddling in business, other forces are at work as well. After the finance and property bubbles some influential companies—such as EADS and Rolls-Royce in the aerospace industry—are pressing for policies that support manufacturing. Bail-outs and billions of stimulus spending, however justified at the time, got government back into the habit of intervention. The case of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, America’s housing-finance giants, illustrates both the perils of state meddling (implicit state guarantees distorted the mortgage market with fatal consequences) and the difficulty of giving it up: having rescued the pair, the federal government lacks any plan to pull out.
Yet the overwhelming reason for China’s miracle is that the state released its stifling grip and opened the country to private enterprise and to the world.
In the rich world, meanwhile, the record shows, again and again, that industrial policy doesn’t work. The hall of infamy is filled with costly failures like Minitel (a dead-end French national communications network long since overtaken by the internet) and British Leyland (a nationalised car company). However many new justifications are invented for the government to pick winners, and coddle losers, it will remain a bad old idea. Thanks to globalisation and the rise of the information economy, new ideas move to market faster than ever before. No bureaucrat could have predicted the success of Nestlé’s Nespresso coffee-capsule system—just as none foresaw that utility vehicles, vacuum cleaners and tufted carpets (to cite examples noted by Charles Schultze, an American opponent of state planning) would have been some of America’s fastest-growing industries in the 1970s. Officials ignore the potential for innovation in consumer products or services and get seduced by the hype of voguish high-tech sectors.
The universal race to create green jobs is the latest example. Led by China and America, support for green tech is rapidly becoming one of the biggest industrial-policy efforts ever. Spain, blinded by visions of a solar future, subsidised the industry so lavishly that in 2008 the country accounted for two-fifths of the world’s new solar-power installations by wattage. This week it slashed its subsidies, but still has a bill of billions.
How to keep the beast at bay
Not all such money is wasted, of course. The internet and the microwave oven came out of government-led research; the stranger stuff that governments do can prove surprisingly successful. A few governments, such as America’s and Israel’s, have contributed usefully to the early development of venture-capital networks. Some advocates of industrial policy argue that the government, like a pharmaceutical company or a seed-capital firm, should simply increase the number of its bets in order to raise its hit rate. But that is a cavalier way to behave with taxpayers’ money. And the public funds have an odd habit of flowing towards politically connected projects.
Fortunately, there are now some powerful constraints on governments’ ability to meddle. In an age of austerity they can ill afford to lavish money on extravagant industrial projects. And the European Union’s competition rules place some limits on the ability to do special favours for particular firms.
That points to the first of three ideas that should guide a more sensible approach to securing the jobs of the future. Straightforward steps to improve the environment for business—less red tape, more flexible labour markets, simpler tax and bankruptcy regimes—will be more effective than handouts to favoured firms or sectors. Europeans ought to be seeking to strengthen the rules of their single market rather than pushing to dilute them; a long-overdue single European patent process would be a good start. Competition will do far more for jobs than coddling.
Second, governments should invest in the infrastructure that supports innovation, from modernised electricity grids (a smarter way to help green energy) to basic research and university education. The current fashion for raising barriers to the inflows of talented researchers and entrepreneurs hardly helps. Third, rather than the failed policy of picking winners, governments should encourage winners to emerge by themselves, for example through the sort of incentive prizes that are growing increasingly popular.
None of this excites politicians as much as donning hard hats and handing out cash in front of the cameras. But the rich world has a clear choice: learn from the mistakes of the past, or else watch Leviathan Inc grow into a true monster.
Source : The Economist
Picking winners, saving losers :
AS THE financial crisis hit in late 2008, Meccano, a French maker of construction toys, watched its pre-Christmas sales slip. Its banks got jittery and things looked difficult for the 103-year-old firm (which was born British, in Liverpool). The government stepped in. In July 2009 the Fonds Stratégique d’Investissement (FSI), a sovereign-wealth fund set up in 2008 by the president, Nicolas Sarkozy, invested €2.2m ($3.1m). “Should toymaking now be considered strategic for France?” asked a business radio station. The firm will bring jobs home. In February Meccano said it would repatriate manufacturing jobs from China to its headquarters in Calais.
France’s tinkering with Meccano is a part of a renewed trend of industrial intervention by governments in rich countries. America has pumped billions into banks and carmakers, taking large stakes. Barack Obama said in 2009 that the government must make “strategic decisions about strategic industries”. His stimulus plan last year earmarked billions for innovation in sectors such as renewable energy, high-speed rail and advanced vehicles.
Source : The Economist
Ces 2 articles issus de la presse britannique montrent qu'une grande partie des nations riches a souhaité mettre en place des fonds d'investissement publics. Sur la forme, bonne idée lorsque la période est difficile, et ce fut le cas ces 2 dernières années avec la crise financière. Sur le fond, il est intéressant de noter que des entreprises ont bénéficié des aides de l'Etat alors que leur activité n'avait rien de stratégique pour le pays. Il est tout à fait concevable de sauver un géant de l'industrie comme ce fut le cas pour Alstom lorsque Nicolas Sarkozy était ministre des finances. Il est davantage illogique de "sauver" une entreprise de jouet avec des fonds publics lorsqu'il est évident que la France est incapable de rivaliser avec les 0.70€/ heure d'un travailleur chinois (après augmentation) sur le long terme.
Est-ce une doctrine fataliste ? Il me semble que non. Concentrons-nous sur les activités à forte valeur ajoutée, conservons et faisons en sorte d'améliorer notre supérioté technologique. Innovons et créons.
La doctrine libérale est souvent critiquée et on peut le comprendre : "les banques sont à l'origine de la crise financière et nous les sauvons avec de l'argent public. On privatise les gains et on nationalise les pertes". Ce discours est assez logique mais le libéralisme pur aurait supposé de ne pas sauver les banques. Il parait que la destruction est créatrice selon Schumpeter. Mais cette doctrine est impopulaire, les images d'une fermeture d'usine ne passent pas dans l'opinion publique d'où la nécessité de s'agiter pour montrer que l'on met des rustines sur un phénomène contre lequel on ne peut pas lutter. L'intervention de l'Etat est évidemment nécessaire mais ne doit pas se disperser de tous les côtés et se concentrer sur le stratégique et inciter les investissements étrangers dans l'économie.