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Revisiting the French model: coordination and restructuring in French industry in the 1980s

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  • Hancké, Bob
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    Abstract

    According to the contemporary political economy literature on France, the country appears caught in the worst of all possible worlds: it fails to create the conditions for economic growth and employment by deregulating labour markets as the UK has done, and it lacks the institutional infrastructure that makes the German economy an export success. This paper, which analyses the adjustment of the French economy in the 1980s and into the 1990s, argues that this image of France is wrong. This literature misunderstands the relative position of French industry and misinterprets how firms managed to successfully make the transition from conventional mass production to flexible quality production. The particular French mode of coordination, revolving around the state-centered elite political-economic structure, was at the basis of this adjustment path. The paper analyses how this mode of coordination interacted with the crisis of the French production regime in the early 1980s, and with the changes in the ownership structures of large firms in response to that crisis. The resulting corporate governance structure increased the autonomy of top management from the state as well as capital markets, and led to a situation whereby far-reaching organisational changes in the large companies could be pursued. -- Der gegenwärtigen Fachliteratur zufolge befindet sich die französische Volkswirtschaft in einer äußerst problematischen Lage: Versuche, die Bedingungen für Wirtschaftswachstum und neue Arbeitsplätze durch Deregulierung nach britischem Vorbild zu schaffen, schlagen fehl. Die institutionelle Infrastruktur, auf welcher die deutsche Exportstärke beruht, ist aber ebensowenig gegeben. Das vorliegende Papier, in dem die Anpassung der französischen Wirtschaft in den achtziger und bis in die neunziger Jahre hinein analysiert wird, argumentiert, daß dieses Frankreichbild falsch ist. Es beruht auf einer Fehlinterpretation der Art und Weise, in der es Firmen gelungen ist, den Übergang von herkömmlicher Massenproduktion zu flexiblen, qualitätsorientierten Herstellungsverfahren zu schaffen. Die besondere französische Art der Koordination, die auf einer staatszentrierten, elitegeprägten wirtschaftspolitischen Struktur basiert, bildete die Grundlage dieses Anpassungspfades. Das Papier untersucht, welchen Einfluß diese Art der Koordination auf die Krise des französischen Produktionsregimes zu Beginn der achtziger Jahre sowie auf die daraus resultierenden Veränderungen in der Eigentumsstruktur großer Unternehmen hatte. Die Corporate Governance Struktur, die das Ergebnis dieses Prozesses war, erhöhte die Unabhängigkeit von Spitzenmanagern gegenüber Staat und Kapitalmärkten und schuf damit die Möglichkeit zu weitreichenden organisatorischen Veränderungen innerhalb der großen Unternehmen.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB) in its series Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Economic Change and Employment with number FS I 99-301.

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    Date of creation: 1999
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    Handle: RePEc:zbw:wzbece:fsi99301

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    1. Glyn, A, 1997. "Does Aggregate Profitability Really Matter?," Papers 17, Centre for Economic Performance & Institute of Economics.
    2. Hohenberg, Paul M., 1977. "Political Strategies for Industrial Order: State, Market, and Industry in France. By John Zysman. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1977. Pp. ix, 230. $12.75," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 37(04), pages 1104-1105, December.
    3. Ulrich, Karl, 1995. "The role of product architecture in the manufacturing firm," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 24(3), pages 419-440, May.
    4. David Soskice, 1997. "German technology policy, innovation, and national institutional frameworks," Industry and Innovation, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 4(1), pages 75-96.
    5. Hancké, Bob & Casper, Steven, 1996. "ISO 9000 in French and German car industry: how international quality standards support varieties of capitalism," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Economic Change and Employment FS I 96-313, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).
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