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 Public Debt: a Marker of Transformations in the French Economy

Robert BOYER * Directeur d'études, EHESS ; membre du Conseil scientifique, Centre Cournot ; vice-président du Conseil scientifique, Institut des Amériques. Contact :
Olivier BOYLAUD ** Membre, Centre Cournot. Contact :

After 1945, public debt was used to finance infrastructure spending which allowed the emergence of the mode of growth of the Golden Age whose dynamism and inflationary character then ensured the reduction. Since then, the drift of the public debt testifies to the tension between the imperative of redistribution in response to the new responsibilities of the State and the limits encountered by tax levies. In 2022, the search for an alternative growth model and a functional tax system has still not succeeded, so that public debt has become the structural adjustment variable. The repercussions of the 2008 financial crisis, then that of the Euro and finally the pandemic point in the same direction: the use of public debt in response to adverse events. In the trade-off between social peace through redistribution and preparation for the future, most governments have favored the first option. In the absence of a founding compromise of the type observed in social-democratic economies, capable of reconciling these two objectives, the drift in public finances appears as a means of continuing to buy time. Can it last forever?