What's the Matter With Montebourg

I like Arnaud Montebourg.

I like his Kouchnerian style of expressing himself, high-pitched, rapid-fire, that always gives one the impression he's running after the lost object of his sentence.

I like his cheeky humor, his chutzpah, and, when he decides to wax (overwax?) eloquent on protecting the nation, the way his voice descends to the grave tones that remind me of my old friend (who was his mentor), the attorney Thierry Lévy.

I remember the day he discreetly appeared, the only one of his kind, at a neighborhood cinema where a rally in support of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was being held.

I remember another day, on the eve of the socialist primaries, when he invited me to lunch to explain, with all the nearly contagious enthusiasm of a great litigant capable of changing the lead of a misguided idea into gold, his theses on de-globalization.

And the fact is, he possesses an ardor, a flame, a sincerity that is sometimes volcanic, sometimes disarming and a welcome change from the cynicism, when it's not downright vulgarity, expressed by a good portion of the political class these days.

And yet, when it comes to the Florange affair, he's mistaken.

And no matter what he may say today, no matter what he may explain or try to explain concerning his actual intent, which was to wish for the nationalization without wanting it, though wanting it, while wanting, especially to twist the arm of a Mittal who understands only relations based upon power, he has even committed what was once termed a theoretical and political error.

Obviously, nationalization is not an obscene word.

It was justified, for example (the classic one Raymond Aron always presented in his lessons at the Collège de France) when it was a question of providing a France just emerging from a rural world with a network of railroads, half of which, it was well known in advance, would be structurally in deficit.

It was justified -- the grand argument of the CNR and, after the Liberation, the one Albert Camus continued to espouse -- in a post-Vichy France in ruins whose elites (and not only those involved in business) were too steeped in the dishonor of having accepted the worst and consequently not in a position to oversee the reconstruction.

It was justified again in the United States at the beginning of Obama's first term, in order to prevent the systemic (in succinct language, apocalyptic) crisis a second Lehman Brothers-type bankruptcy would have implied. Or once again when General Motors was nationalized in order to accomplish the task of recovery (put clearly, of restructuring -- and even more clearly, of layoffs, closing of non-competitive franchises, and suppression of unprofitable brands) no private capitalist would have had the courage to undertake.

But at Florange?

Or, as has been murmured, at the site of Rio Tinto, at Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, in Savoie ?

Well, what is true is the contrary.

We would not have effected a recovery but preserved, at the taxpayer's cost, and turned into a museum the obsolete blast furnaces whose potential and culture an Obama-style left would have gone to great lengths to employ elsewhere.

As in Malaparte's fable about the cadavers of soldiers bound to their living comrades, we would have risked seeing the dead grasp all that is alive in our steel industry (production, transformation, hot rolled sector, cold rolled sector), the gangrene of phantom industrial operations on life support invading the rest.

We would have created a precedent, just short of a legal one, interpreted as such by Petroplus, PSA Aulnay and other Saint-Nazaire shipyard wannabes in an analogous situation, who would not understand why what is valid for Florange would suddenly not be applicable to them.

In parentheses, we would have sent a very unfavorable message to the proverbial financial markets, about which we may think what we like but which, like it or not, detain the power to grade the debt of France and thus decide at what interest rates France can borrow the cost of its recovery and so assist -- or put a brake on -- the course of its convalescence.

And throughout all this there has been a tone of anti-boss, and more precisely, anti-multinational boss hatred, which is not the most subtle tune to play to attract the foreign investors France needs to compensate for the loss of profit due to the departure of those French investors horrified at the fiscal policies of Monsieur Hollande.

I am the first to be convinced that globalization is no panacea.

I have said, and will say again, the situation it has created calls for new regulations. For a France that seeks to be exemplary, to say so precisely and to translate the statement into concrete measures, proposed to Europe and to the world, would be a more exciting and useful endeavor than dragging up to date all the old saws of this Guesdist left, stupidly state-oriented, blindly sovereignist, that is one of our national sores and was the great sin of the early days of Mitterandism.

To de-globalize, on the other hand, to play with these sovereignist reflexes and methods, to free ourselves of the constraints of reality as did others who once dared to ill direct their vote in hopes of dissolving the people, is the worst of all possible solutions, for, believing we are acting virtuously, we would create a beast, and believing we have saved 630 jobs, we would destroy many more, in long-range terms, and create the conditions of a lasting decline.