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