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Will France Also Play the Nuclear Fool?

Professor Ferdinand E. Banks
ferdinand.banks@telia.com
September 2nd, 2011

Many years ago, although it seems like centuries, I was sitting in a small bar-disco in a town near Stuttgart Germany, talking to an Ivy League type from the same brigade in the U.S. Army as myself, as well as a friend of his who was the son of a former German general, but whose Christian name was definitely American/English.

I of course asked him how so many Germans could have jumped for joy when Adolph Hitler declared war on the United States (on December 11, 1941). Didn’t they understand what that was going to mean? Didn’t the German generals understand?

What I now call the ‘TV audience’ apparently didn’t (for the most part) have the slightest idea of the consequences of that folly. The generals did of course, or at least most of them, but as my friend’s friend said, what could they do – the rank and file, the foot soldiers, overwhelmingly believed in ‘Adi’.

This didn’t sound right to me until I heard the same thing from a woman whose work is always cited in my books, Hildegard Harlinger, a researcher at the IFO Institute für Wirtschaftsforschung (Munich). Then it made all the sense in the world, because I was going to teach game theory, and was familiar with the conversation between John von Neumann and Jacob Bronowski during a taxi ride in Wartime London. The man who was called ‘the best brain of the 20th century’ made it clear that game theory is basically not about those beautiful equations we write on black and white boards, but ‘bluffing, little tactics of deception, etc’, which means departing from the rationality we hear so much about in abstract economic theory.

We don’t see much of that kind of thinking in the standard textbooks of game theory, but there is plenty of it on the nuclear scene. In addition to the nuclear foolishness that Chancellor Angela Merkel claims to subscribe to, an important contender for the Socialist Party’s leadership in the 2012 presidential election in France has said that France should only get 50 percent of its power from nuclear by 2025. The rest of this fantasy is well described by Tara Patel (2011), to include a pronouncement by the present French Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, who reaffirms that “France’s goal is first of all to ensure its energy independence”.

France’s goal is more than that. It is to profit from the insane German decision to reduce nuclear capacity in the near future by 25%, and to liquidate their nuclear sector by 2022. As a one time student of physics, Angela Merkel almost certainly has an inkling of the bêtise of this option, but votes are votes, and if she prefers the Reichstag to watching (on her wide-screen TV) her political rivals staring across the table at Messrs Sarkozy and Berlusconi, she evidently feels that she has no choice but to accept what the great American songwriter Irvine Berlin called ‘Doing what comes naturally’, which in this case means supporting a program that makes no technical or economic sense.

Returning to France, l can conclude this discussion by repeating what I say about their energy ambitions in my forthcoming energy economics textbook (2011). First and foremost they want to remedy the problems experienced with the bothersome construction (by Areva) of the 1600 Megawatt (Generation 3) reactor in Finland, the largest in the world, and in doing so demonstrate to all interested parties that France can still deliver the nuclear goods. The vehicles for this ambition are the reactors being constructed at Flamanville, and proposed for Penry. Ceteris paribus, carrying out and extending this program will be a fillip for the French economy in these perilous times.

And last but not least, for the many who failed to read the last chapters in their favourite Econ 101 textbooks, a total (or maybe even a partial) German nuclear retreat will be an unhappy event for much of Europe. Accordingly the answer to the question in the title of this note is so obvious that I will leave it for my future students and other interested persons to answer and discuss.

REFERENCES

Banks, Ferdinand E. (2011). Energy and Economic Theory. London, New York and Singapore: World Scientific.

Harlinger, Hildegard (1975). ‘Neue modelle für die zukunft der menshheit’ . IFO Institute Für Wirtschaftforschung (Munich).

Patel, Tara (2011). ‘France won’t build nuclear reactors to make up for shutdowns in Germany. Bloomberg (Bloomberg Economic News).


Professor Ferdinand E. Banks
September 2nd, 2011
ferdinand.banks@telia.com




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