Remember those employee strikes when Indian banks first tried to computerise? Actually, the very first time people were afraid to use a machine, thinking it might replace their jobs was when Frenchman Blaise Pascal invented the mechanical calculator called Pascaline in 1642. Some of the world’s most spectacular inventions came from France. But are these inventions done for charity donations? France has largely not been able to fructify her inventions for financial gain, while other nations have taken those inventions forward.
Invention without execution makes you a loser. Much before World Wide Web was introduced in 1994, the French enjoyed Minitel, the world’s most successful Videotex online service accessible through telephone lines since 1982. French Post launched this online service, handing out millions of terminals free to telephone subscribers. Minitel allowed users to make online purchases, train reservations and chat in a way similar to what’s possible through the Internet. About 25 million of France’s 60 million population had used the Minitel network. But today when you look at the top ten countries with the highest computer usage, France does not figure in the list.
Influential French inventions modernising our life in medicine, computers, clothing, arts, food, physics, mathematics, even sports, have come over a few centuries. Blindman Louis Braille invented the Braille system for the blind. To keep Napoleon’s troops well-fed in far-flung places, Nicolas Francois Appert invented canning in 1809. Louis Pasteur invented pasteurisation to sterilise food. Undersea explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau invented the aqualung in 1943. Today’s standardised metric measurement system was invented in Paris Academy of Sciences in 1790, oxygen by Antoine Lavoisier in 1778. Tailor Barthelemy Thimonnier perfected the sewing machine in 1830. American Isaac Merrit Singer turned it into big business. Herminie Cadolle made the bra in 1889, Coco Chanel the little black dress in 1920, Louis Réard the bikini in 1946, and Guy Cotton the raincoat in 1960. Father Marcel Audiffren invented refrigeration in 1894. American company General Electric capitalised on it in 1911, manufacturing refrigeration machines for homes.
Individual transportation was another convenience the French gave us. Nicholas Joseph Cugnot drove the first self-propelled car in 1769. Édouard Michelin invented inflatable tyres in 1895, Louis Renault invented the drum brake 1902, while French-born Rudolf Diesel invented the diesel engine, and Gustave Trouvé the first electric automobile 1881. So where does France stand among auto majors? In the 8th and 10th positions, overtaken by Japanese, American, German and Korean companies. In water transport, the steam boat came from Denis Papin in the 19th century . Pierre Michaux and Pierre Lallement developed the bicycle 1864, but France figures nowhere among the best manufacturers today. Frenchman Rinaldo Piaggio invented the scooter in 1884, but world leader Piaggio is an Italian brand today. The first helicopters were experimented independently 1907 by Louis Breguet and Paul Cornu.
Extreme Right rises as recession weapon. When General Charles de Gaulle became French President after World War II, he believed the French had struggled greatly during German occupation, so he nationalised most industries. Through liberal laws, he provided good living comfort to citizens. The people became totally dependent on the state. The small and medium enterprises (SME) in France started vanishing. When the Government molly-coddles people, the backlash can be non-productive corruption. In many cases, people work only two hours, not eight, sharing the booty with the job-doling official. In Europe’s recessionary wave, the German economy stands tall on the strength of her SME manufacturing base. Whenever a country’s economy deteriorates, jobs become scarce, citizens become protesters and the political fallout is rise of insular extreme rightism. That’s just happened in France’s first round Presidential elections on April 22 when the extreme right party unexpectedly got 19 per cent votes among ten candidates. The more recession grows, so will parochialism. Indian business houses focusing on Europe have to observe this movement. It cannot be permanent, but will have high volcanic eruptions from time to time.
Typical French inventive characteristics are worth emulating. They include embracing the new and constant effort to differentiate work. In fact modernity is characterised by the aspiration of freedom, equal rights and brotherhood that translate to the 1789 French Revolution motto of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. However, during Nicolas Sarkozy’s Presidential term, 350,000 industrial jobs were lost; the unemployment rate for mainland France in the fourth quarter 2011 was 9.4 percent, close to a 12-year high. This proves that when invention is not put into the execution of industrialisation, even an inventive country like France has to battle an economic crisis, having lost the inventive SME spirit and the AAA S&P rating from long years of financial indiscipline. When invention becomes charity, the country suffers economically.