Recent scholarship has documented the resistance of national economic institutions to the forces of globalisation (see, e.g., Berger and Dore 1996). But resistance has not always been appreciable among national financial institutions. Several Western European countries have experienced some form of ‘Big Bang’ financial liberalisation. France, once the European representative of state-led developmentalism, has shown greater liberalising zeal than other European countries, and looks today like the poster child of global financial capitalism. But French liberalisation has had its limits. I focus on those limits here, not to contest the obvious, but to inform discussion regarding the room to move accorded to states under conditions of globalisation.
I articulate the examination of financial reform in France around three themes, a structural one, a more sociological one, and finally, a speculative one. The structural theme inquires into the usefulness of the opposition between state power and market power. The structural constraint that contributed most significantly to reform in France did not oppose a Colbertist state and a global market. Rather it opposed a large country, the United States, and a smaller (small, that is, in the sense of price-taker), more trade-dependent country, France. French vulnerability to the vagaries of US policy supplied the principal motivation behind French reforms. France's interest in European integration today is fed to a considerable degree by the desire to diminish the force of that structural constraint. Because I develop this theme elsewhere, I offer only a summary here, and a response to critics.