The Problem of France
By Pierre Lemieux
The explanation may look too simple, but it is very likely the correct one. The problem of France is not wine, literature, or the sensuality of the whole country. The problem was illustrated by a French government minister a couple of days ago. Alexis de Tocqueville and other observers already pinpointed the problem as it sailed unchanged from the Ancient Regime through the democratic governments that followed the devastating revolution of 1789. The problem is the French state.
On Thursday, Bruno Le Maire, Emmanuel Macron’s minister of the Economy and Finance, attacked Libra, the tame and regulation-friendly cryptocurrency that Facebook is trying to launch. Le Maire fears that Libra could lead to “an eventual privatization of a currency” and to many other problems such as “large financial disorders.” (See “France Hardens Position Against Facebook’s Libra Currency,” Wall Street Journal, September 12, 2019; and “Libra: la France s’oppose au développement de la monnaie de Facebook « sur le sol européen »,” Le Monde, September 12, 2019.)
Le Maire declared (“Cryptomonnaie: la France ne veut pas du Libra de Facebook sur le sol européen,” La Tribune, September 13, 2019; see also the official text of his speech):
There is no reason why the libetarian philosophy should win in the field of new technologies. I don’t see why the new technologies should necessarily be guided by a libertarian ideology that rejects all regulation and challenges any role for the state.
This is something remarkable to hear from a French statocrat: the Minister knows the word “libertarian.” He learned the name of the enemy. Not that Mark Zuckerberg has any libertarian bone in his body, but Libra could still mildly challenge the mantra of state sovereignty—“state monetary sovereignty” as Le Maire said. And recall that it is not the French government that invented Bitcoin and Libra.
Mr. Le Maire also declaimed, as if he were an actor in the theatre of the absurd:
If the price to pay for the emergence of new technologies is the destruction of the state, then it will happen without France and without Europe.
Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the Finance minister of Louis XIV, gave his name to “colbertisme,” which, in Molière’s language, describes a system of state interventionism and mercantilism. Colbert’s successor three centuries and half later, Bruno Le Maire, declared:
No libertarian ideology, but the respect of the authority of the state that serves the general interest [« l’intérêt général »]. … Let me come back to what I was saying regarding my opposition to the libertarian philosophy and the need to respect the general interest and the sovereignty of states. … Under these conditions, we can’t authorize Libra’s development on European soil.
The name that Facebook gave its would-be currency, “Libra,” has its root in the French word libre (and similar words in other romance languages), which means “free.” “Liberty” has the same root. Le Maire pointed his finger to the enemy of his state.
Not surprisingly in our statist world, the Libra Association (the group of 28 companies, including Facebook, that that will manage the new cryptocurrency) twisted itself into servile humility when responding to Mr. Le Maire’s comments, which, the association’s press release said, in a soft murmur,
underscore the importance of our ongoing work with regulatory bodies and leadership around the world [as the association members are] committed to working with regulatory authorities to achieve a safe, transparent, and user-focused implementation of the Libra project.
Who said that large corporations dominate the state? If that were really true, it is the French or the American government who would crawl before Facebook and the consumers of its products. “Master, please, don’t get angry!”
Perhaps most troubling is that the US government, from Steven Mnuchin to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also made noise against Libra. The stance that will be taken by the Trump administration and its possible successor will reveal much on a crucial question: Will the American government continue to turn its back on economic freedom and try to become as colbertiste as the French and European governments?