In Paris, technology is a la mode. In early February, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin became the first French leader ever to appear on a podium with a technology guru when he welcomed Microsoft founder William H. Gates III at a technology conference. Jospin's government has vowed to embrace the Internet, even if its lingua franca is--mon dieu!--English. Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, in turn, claims to be a friend of high-tech startups and venture capital.
The rhetoric couldn't be better. But it's mostly hot air. Ask any French entrepreneur. Up to 25% of France's elite university graduates are leaving the country every year in search of opportunity. Thousands of France's best-trained engineers and software writers are creating new companies and working in California's Silicon Valley.
The majority of French people, and certainly the country's current leaders, still believe Karl Marx was right. The social, political, and economic climate in France is hostile to anyone who wants to make a profit. Company owners are perceived as rapacious capitalists who should be taxed aggressively to be kept under control and prevented from doing ill to society.
France's Socialist government doesn't have the courage to challenge French attitudes. Worse, both the political elite and the voters have an interest in keeping state control over the economy. If free-market forces erode the state-controlled economy, the politicians and bureaucrats will lose power. And those employed by the state could lose their jobs and benefits. Better to disenfranchise the young, the energetic, the risk-takers. Better to sacrifice France's future.