Socialist economics criticized in France

By all accounts, Jean Gandois was an impressive businessman.

In his three years as chairman of the chemical giant Rhone-Poulenc, Mr. Gandois had begun to turn the company's fortunes around. So well regarded was his performance that when the Socialists nationalized the firm in February, he was one of only two chairmen in the 11 nationalized companies to be kept in his job.

But last week he resigned from his post, charging in an angry letter that the Socialists were misdirecting the company's affairs. The government's industrial ''policy contains too many contradictory elements to be realistic,'' he wrote.

The resignation stung Francois Mitterrand's government. Coming a month after the Socialists' second devaluation of the franc within a year and the imposition of unpopular austerity measures, including wage and price controls and cuts in spending plans, it raised yet more uncomfortable questions about Socialist economic policies.

Would the new state-owned enterprises become the lean, competitive ''locomotives'' of the French economy, as Mr. Mitterrand promised when he nationalized them? Or will they become perennial money-losers, sheltering untenable jobs in dying industries, such as nationalized industries in Britain?

In the current climate, Mr. Gandois wrote, ''the nationalized industries cannot play, socially and economically, the locomotive role that the government claimed as the principal justification for the nationalizations in the first place.''

For Rhone-Poulenc, Mr. Gandois said this meant that the government could not come up with the $435 million he figured the company needed to invest over the next two years.

By definition as a state-owned firm, he said he could not do what he would have liked to finance this investment in the first place - bring in new shareholders or foreign partners. And his business acumen would not let him borrow the money outright, because the company's debt was already too high.

With such constraints, the only other solution was an austerity program, including job cuts, wage reductions, and a delay in further reductions of working hours. But this solution was politically unpalatable to the Socialists. The Socialists' economic policies are ''keeping alive illusions,'' Gandois wrote , that all of Rhone-Poulenc's jobs, each at fewer working hours, can be kept.

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