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Emmanuel Combe begins one of his columns - in this case on the perennial weakness of long-term interest rates - with a formula that we will allow ourselves to divert: "Decidedly, current events never cease to contradict the most established economic laws (...)". The reading of his work would lead us to conclude: "Decidedly, current events are more easily decipherable with the most established economic common sense". Indeed, the book published by Emmanuel Combe, Chroniques (décalées) d’un économiste, which gathers his tribunes published in L’Opinion between 2019 and 2021, testifies to the indispensable contribution of economic reasoning and a solid institutional and historical culture to make complex economic phenomena that may seem contradictory, even chaotic, intelligible and easily assimilable.
The real tour de force achieved in the course of the columns in pedagogical terms is illuminated in a particular light by their joint publication and organization in a book. The chaos of the events of the last few years, from the Trump administration’s antics to the Covid-19 pandemic, in no way obscures the coherence of the economic explanations.
If liberalism is the compass of all of Emmanuel Combe’s columns, pragmatism, an exceptional talent for popularizing the results of economic analysis, and solid analytical common sense are the features common to each of them, regardless of the field of application (from microeconomics to macroeconomics) and the current events deciphered.
In each field, chronicles have a double contribution. The first is to give a rational (and particularly clear) explanation to complex phenomena. The second is to grasp this complexity head-on with the same logical reasoning to avoid simplism and binary reasoning in order to understand what the unintended effects of a given public policy measure might be.
Beyond this contribution in terms of the intelligibility of economic phenomena, these chronicles constitute an essential contribution to the democratic debate by showing the stakes and the trade-offs in terms of public policy and collective choices. This second contribution is more essential than ever in the context of public debate: the complexity of democratic choices implies providing citizens with keys to understanding political and economic phenomena, and economic analysis is one of the essential elements of their intelligibility. Emmanuel Combe provides column after column not with prescriptions but with tools for reasoning that the reader can easily appropriate and apply to other economic issues. This is why these columns, which follow the Petit manuel (irrévérencieux) d’économie, which brought together his previous articles, are essential reading for all, not only for students and practitioners of law and economics, but perhaps above all for the honest man, in other words for those who want to better understand the stakes and the transformations of our economy and our society.
This (admiring) review of the book would not be complete if I did not allow myself, within the framework of our journal, to shed a particular light on some of the contributions concerning the law and economics of competition, of which Emmanuel Combe is one of our most eminent theorists and practitioners. To detail each one of them would not allow to give an account of their overall coherence and would not do justice to the clarity and the vigor of the author’s pen. Instead, they should be grouped into a few main categories.
In the first place, these (offbeat) columns are linked to the most current debates about the return of industrial policy and the arguments in favor of economic sovereignty. Among the lines of force that emerge from the columns, two seem particularly important. First, competition policy is an industrial policy in itself. Second, there is no international efficiency without internal competition. Industrial policy must enable the emergence and development of efficient firms, but must not in any case consist in choosing the winners or reside in an objective of catching up or building a national champion alternative to a dominant foreign operator. Still on the subject of industrial policy, but at the interface with international trade, Emmanuel Combe shows that no "import substitution" policy can meet the challenges of an interconnected economy: the intervention of States and, in our case, of the EU, is much more relevant to consolidate relations of strategic interdependence between economic areas sharing the same values.
Secondly, the columns bring us closer to the major competitive issues of the day, particularly those related to digital technology. They invite us to look at the digital economy from the perspective of the business models of companies, particularly the large platforms at the heart of digital ecosystems, in order to consider pragmatic ways of regulating competition. Not all business models result in irreversible blockages of competition, but it is necessary to preserve the conditions for competitive disruptions and to protect consumers without depriving them of the gains generated by this economy, which is increasingly inseparable from the physical economy.
These points on competition policy in the broad sense are far from exhausting all the themes addressed in these columns, some of which play a central role in the political debates of spring 2022, whether it be the ecological transition or the return of inflation. The very partial nature of this overview is in fact an invitation to immerse oneself in the reading of Emmanuel Combe’s book.