LeWeb 2013 Interview of Arnaud Montebourg

Loic Lemeur asked Jeff Clavier and me to react to Arnaud Montebourg’s presentation at LeWeb and ask him a few questions. I suggested France might adopt some measures that would make the economy more efficient, while preserving the French progressive social model, but I fear he misunderstood the question.

It’s a pity given that France has so much potential: a talented, creative and productive labor force, a reasonably large market, good entrepreneurs and angels. There is a real opportunity for France to take a page from the Nordic countries: capitalizing the retirement system, promoting labor market flexibility by eliminating work contracts “CDI” and moving to at will employment, eliminating the regulatory requirements for companies above 50 employees that push most small companies to want to remain small, indexing the retirement age with life expectancy, and much more. All this can be done while actively helping the needy, which France actually does not do a very good job at, especially for minorities who live in “les banlieues.”

In fact given France’s centralization it’s in a better position than most to even go a step further and take a page from Estonia to introduce online medical records for everyone and online access to homework assignments, grades, attendance records, etc. for all K-12 students.

His suggestion that innovation should only be allowed if it does not disrupt existing industries shows how unaware he is of how innovation actually works. He supports passing a law requiring preventing Uber drivers from picking up passengers less than 15 minutes after they are called. Imagine how ridiculous it would be for a car to show up within 5 minutes, and having to wait another 10 minutes before being allowed to get in. All that to protect a cosseted taxi monopoly. As he made clear, he feels the incumbents have to be protected from the innovators. The worst part is that he is sincere and means well, but as I pointed out to him: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

At least it was fun translating for him at the end. His answer had the merit of being precise and well-constructed. Next time instead of interviewing him, I think I should be given equal time to debate him, in French to avoid misunderstandings.

  • Credit to him for accepting the invitation and the associated risks of taking questions. But what strikes me once more in his speech is how much our leaders are disconnected from the dynamics of economics. It is so obvious that he really does not understand what drives economic actors and the role his ministry could take. I was almost feeling bad for him when he is trying to explain the economic aspects of his policy. This is not a particularity of the current leftist government; but it is particularly visible with a person like M. Montebourg who is totally dedicated to his ideologic concepts.
    And, yes, we salute his willingness to speak english, but really shouldn’t this be expected from the minister of Industrial Renewal of a top5 economy?

  • Excellent débat autour d’Arnaud Montebourg en Anglais. Il est rare qu’un ministre (de plus socialiste) ose (en anglais) affronter un panel d’entrepreneurs vivant aux USA.

  • Was fun to watch @loic’s face during the debate….nice job Fabrice. Take him on in a different setting (invite him to Estonia 😉 and you ll get your point across better.

  • A.Montebourg était invité au Grand journal, ce soir. Ils ont passé un instant cette de cette séquence ou l’on te voyait. Heureusement que tu relevais le niveau…

  • I’m not convinced the taxi vs. Uber issue is a matter of creative destruction, but more an issue of legislation moving at a different pace than innovation. As long as it costs anywhere between 150k and 400k Euros to get a taxi licence, and is subject to a numerus clausus, I find it normal that the Ubers & co which are not subject to these requirements would have to wait 15 minutes before pick-up while the legislation is being figured out. If you want an app to hail or to get instant booking, then you can just use apps like Hail-O (not sure it exists in Paris though). The problem is that the legislation is outdated. The authorities should either get rid of the paid licence for all and loosen up the legislation for taxis, or on the contrary, which is probably what they will favor, regulate more and issue a new type of paid licence for companies like leCab and Uber for them to fulfill instant reservations. But the bottom line is, you can’t have a double standard.

  • @Fabrice, I must say that I have trouble with Montebourg’s attitude, much less his content. If precise, what a disdainful way to respond. Oh well. As you say, France has potential. The issue, I’d say, is conversion!

  • C’est bien d’avoir essayé, à une prochaine fois sans doute avec moins d’intervenants pour permettre à chacune des parties de mieux atteindre son objectif.
    C’est vrai que ça coule plus facilement en français 🙂

  • Fabrice, I watched the entire 47′ and with all due respect, I couldn’t hear Montebourg say that “innovation should only be allowed if it doesn’t disrupt existing industries”. What he said was that when disrupting existing industries, his role is to maintain balance and make things go a little slower because he has to take care of all the constituencies. I think he totally understood you. Were you really expecting him to just say yes to all your suggestions??