What are the French good at?

“The French government has always been very good at making things where government support is critical,” like trains, nuclear power plants and airplanes, Mr. [Joel] Mokyr says.  “But the French are not terribly good at creating Googles or Microsofts, where private action is central.”

The French engineering company, Alstom, after all, is the world market leader in high-speed trains.  But a well-informed person would be hard-pressed to name a leading French information technology company.  Indeed, many of France’s best computer brains work in Silicon Valley.  These Franco-geeks, who number in the thousands, even have two associations, SiliconFrench and DBF.

“The French business system is constraining for individuals while supportive of scientists and engineers working on large, rigid systems that actually benefit from top-down decisions and slow change,” says Jean-Louis Gassée, a former Apple executive who helped organize DBF and is a partner at Allegis Capital in Palo Alto, Calif.

Here is more.  Looking toward culture, the French are relatively strong in cinema and contemporary classical music, but weak in painting and rock and roll.  Contemporary fiction you could argue either way, though I incline toward the negative.  I am not sure if these patterns fit into the broader thesis above, though perhaps health care would.


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