In 2000, France's Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, leader of the Socialist Party and a Trotskyite in his youth, caused public outrage by acknowledging that, in the economic realm, "the state cannot do everything." Everywhere else under the sun, such an assertion would have been accepted as a mere statement of fact. Not in France, however, where the population has been educated to believe that the state can do more and better than the market.
That belief has been at work for quite some time. It is worth recalling the case of the Franco-British supersonic jet Concorde, sponsored and vaunted by General de Gaulle in the 1960s as a flagship of French "grandeur." The Concorde project took the form of an agreement, not between profit-seeking, autonomous firms, but between the French and British governments. The plane took off in 1969, but it was never bought by airlines other than those of the two countries concerned. It was a commercial fiasco.
In France, state-piloted economic crashes are anything but negligible. In the 1980s, French authorities decided to disburse taxpayers' money as way to help the launching of Minitel, a supposed competitor to the U.S.-created Internet, as well as the purchase of the domestically-produced computer TO7. Their fate? Well, Minitel has become a museum piece, while TO7 lived only 2 years (1982-1984) before ending up in garbage dumps.