Come back: Le fantôme de Colbert.

George Bush: « what’s the French for “dirigiste”? »

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Corbis

THIS summer, when Jim Bunning, a senator from Kentucky, read in his morning paper that the American government had taken control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, he thought he had “woken up in France”. In the weeks since, Western governments have spent hundreds of billions of dollars buying up the banking system. America’s government has given its carmakers $25 billion in soft loans. And Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, has floated the idea of a group of European sovereign-wealth funds taking stakes in the continent’s most important firms.

Much fuss has been made about the return of John Maynard Keynes. But the ghost jumping triumphantly from his grave is a French bureaucrat, not a British economist. Jean-Baptiste Colbert brought industrial policy to the court of Louis XIV, rebuilding the economy around national champions.

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