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Mittal Europa

France’s Socialists are more bark than bite.

Dec 17, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 14 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
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All governments are uneasy coalitions between hacks and true believers. Generally you woo true believers with rhetoric and hacks with legislation. Hollande’s attempt to do that has failed. The true believers have won the public’s ear, and the hacks are scrambling to explain. Bruno Le Roux, leader of the Socialist deputies in the National Assembly, complained that Montebourg’s tactics had been too extreme. “What looked to us like a means of pressure was carried out as the only solution,” he told the press.

But it is Montebourg who has logic on his side here—if you throw around the claims Hollande has been throwing around, nationalization is
the unique solution. France went into the era of deregulation with unreasonable expectations. A nationalized industry can serve as a jobs program, in a way that private industry cannot. That is why nationalizations were popular in the 20th century in the first place. “Public-private partnerships” can sometimes allow the state to act as
a free-rider on private enterprise. But a free-rider does not get to steer. 

When Arcelor Mittal reminded France of that last week, Hollande did not share the truth with his public. How could he? France resorted to the nuclear option—threatening nationalization—and got nothing out of it, not even, ultimately, the 600 jobs it set out to try to save. And in the process it has acquired a reputation as a place where no corporation can be assured its private-property interests will be respected in the slightest.

It would seem that corporations need not be so fearful. Hollande has proposed a 75 percent tax on high earners. He has said in speeches that he does not like the rich. Well, maybe he doesn’t like them, but he fears them. And as far as the rich are concerned, that will do just as well.

Christopher Caldwell is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.

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