The crisis we are currently experiencing highlights the vital role played by the State: financial aid and support for companies and whole sections of our economy, logistical organisation related to the entire population’s lockdown, the delicate management of certain essential resources (masks, respirators, etc.) or the operation of our healthcare system. It also shows the extreme limitations and the need for a “change in software” when the lockdown ends.
“We must know how to reinvent ourselves”
In his speech on the 13th April, Emmanuel MACRON himself pointed out the government’s own lack of preparation and organization in the face of an underestimated crisis. “We must know how to reinvent ourselves, and that starts with me,” he concluded, indicating profound changes ahead. But what changes?
The changes must be profound if the state is to operate more reactively, genuinely fostering innovation and the adoption of a new model promoting green growth. This virtuous growth must ensure the compatibility of renewed economic development and an awareness of sustainable issues related to the environment. We have all seen the remarkable mobilization of associations, companies, start-ups, individuals who have not hesitated to transform their production equipment to meet the urgent need for masks or hydroalcoholic gels. Serycine, a company that is relaunching the silk industry in France, made its teams available only a few days after the start of lockdown, adapting its production to help manufacture masks, as did so many of their colleagues in the textile industry.
At the same time, the government and the BPI were quick to offer initial responses, whether organizing the lockdown, or providing economic and financial support for businesses and employees … “whatever the cost”.
On the 17th March, Bruno Le Maire announced the “complete mobilisation of the State in support of employees and entrepreneurs”. We know that this commitment has and will continue to have a profound cost for our economy. Here the state poses as “saviour” by providing massive (and yet certainly inadequate) financial support. This role is necessary in times of crisis but cannot hide the “pain points”.
These efforts must not overshadow the deeper changes that will have to be put at the top of the list of ideas and actions, as soon as we turn the corner. Without questioning the global phenomenon of globalization, here are the three major challenges that the government should tackle: the importance of domestic production and local consumption; the allocation of State resources for innovation; and the role of the State in key economic sectors. These efforts must not overshadow the deeper changes that will have to be put at the top of the list of ideas and actions, as soon as we turn the corner. Without questioning the global phenomenon of globalization, here are the three major challenges that the government should tackle: the importance of domestic production and local consumption; the allocation of State resources for innovation; and the role of the State in key economic sectors. The state has neglected some of our industries and sectors. Our agricultural models are at the end of their tether and need to be profoundly reinvented. The French say they are ready for these changes. According to an Odoxa-Comfluence poll, the French do not want life after the coronavirus to look to look the same as it did before. More than 90% of them say they are ready to accept higher prices in return for the relocation of essential products and a push for goods “Made in France”.
The health crisis we are experiencing today should not make us forget all the other issues, particularly global warming, which in the long term is probably more serious than the coro-navirus. The State’s powerful mobilisation over the past month shows an ability to act and react when necessary. Tomorrow we will see the need to thoroughly rethink our economic models and their value chains.
France must let go of its Jacobin tradition and make politics a tool of the common good. Conditioned by more than three centuries of centralisation, we have killed the culture of innovation, responsiveness and change in France. Our organisations, our companies and our start-ups are rich in tangible actions but too often come up against the slowness and immo-bility of the State administration which is almost corporate in nature.
Since 2015, Xenothera, a biotechnology company based in Nantes, has been working on a therapeutic treatment based on polyclonal antibodies to fight viruses and infectious diseas-es (Ebola, previous covid). At this time, when the government is announcing the release of significant funds to support research, the process still directs financial resources towards established authorities and traditional players, ignoring the innovation coming out of smaller laboratories.
If the will and expectation for shorter circuits exist, it is indeed the methods that must be shaken up, to ensure that increased funding is available, faster, to those who can offer dis-ruptive, innovative solutions. Innovation is often defined by the ability to have new ideas … but to make room for new ideas, you have to learn how to discard the old ones. Cohabita-tion is not recommended and we now need a rapid transition to turn our economies to-wards the 21st century and the major challenges that lie ahead.
As early as 2015, Bill Gates expressed the belief that our civilizations would probably be hardest hit, not by a nuclear war between different powers, but by our economies’ lack of preparedness for epidemics. “We’re not ready,” he said, uttering words that seem prophetic today. I would like to think that while we were not ready yesterday for the major changes in our economies, we are ready today, thanks to a painful period of “test and learn” that is now conscious and deliberate.