Friday, November 30, 2007
ADDED Saturday morning: it seems that he will be a candidate on one of the PS lists in Paris, the arrondissement yet to be determined.
"An interesting Blog,often way too Leftist, but nevertheless informed and intelligent commentary on France."
Free Republic describes itself this way:
Free Republic is the premier online gathering place for independent, grass-roots conservatism on the web. We're working to roll back decades of governmental largesse, to root out political fraud and corruption, and to champion causes which further conservatism in America. And we always have fun doing it. Hoo-yah!
Well, there you go. Quite a few readers of this blog find it too rightist for their taste--I'm one of those "social liberals" who have given up on le grand soir and am prepared to abandon the workers' defense of their acquis sociaux--so it's reassuring to know that to an honest-to-god dad-gum, down-home right-winger, it's obvious that my heart remains on the left, even if my head can't always follow. But we always have fun on this side of the spectrum as well, even if we're unlikely to express our delight with a hearty "hoo-yah!" Donnish humor and well-honed irony are more our style.
As for the substance, the audacity was a thing of wonder. The president had been expected to speak about le pouvoir d'achat, purchasing power, that marvelously elastic term that makes it unclear whether the subject is the price of goods, the wages to purchase them, or some supposed "consumer power" that is supposed to compensate for the diminished political influence of the putative popular sovereign, who has no purchase on central banks or global markets. And indeed he did speak about purchasing power, mainly to assure people that, unlike some others, he accepted that the problem was "real, not mere sentiment." This despite the fact that existing measures of inflation and wages indicate relatively little erosion of purchasing power over the past several years. "We need a new measure of inflation, which reflects what people actually consume," Sarko said. This crowd-pleasing jibe at the hard-working gnomes of the INSEE, whose inflation gauges he dismissed as "claptrap" (fariboles), served to introduce the red meat of the evening: a proposal that would allow firms, with the approval of a majority of workers, to jettison the 35-hour week in return for a wage increase. He also proposed "monetization" of RTT, or "comp time" awarded to workers under the 35-hour regime when required for administrative reasons to work longer hours in a given period. In plain English, workers could cash in their comp time for money rather than take days off. (This could be a huge problem for the state, which owes hospital workers billions of euros worth of comp time, but Sarko, who found time to denounce François Hollande for demagogy, did not address that issue.)
The real audacity here was to present these proposals, which are not without merit, as a solution to the perceived purchasing power problem. Any way you slice these measures, their intent is clear: to get people to work more by paying them to do so. Economics 101. What is mind-boggling is that such an idea should be portrayed as a veritable revolution. To be sure, Sarkozy said that his proposal was meant to overcome the "sluggishness" (atonie) of current wage bargaining. But what accounts for the lifelessness of the labor market? Why should the initiative have to come from the state?
And then there was another clever linkage of ideas: striking students are demanding greater state investment in the universities. All right, then, says Sarkozy: I'll sell off 3 percent of the state's stake in EDF to raise 5 billion euros for the universities. Students see the Pécresse Law as a step toward privatization of the university, do they? Well, I'll give them the étatisation they say they want, but in exchange they will have to accept a partial privatisation of EDF. The Trotskyists manning the remaining university barricades will therefore have to choose: is it really money for the universities they want, and will they swallow a denationalization to get it?
Of course the injection of an actual number into the debate over the universities makes clear the magnitude of the obstacle to be overcome. Sarkozy has said that he wants to make the French universities the equal of any in the world. He has put on the table an offer to sell 3 percent of the national electric company to increase university funding by 5 billion. There are 85 universities in France. Five billion is less than the amount of the increase in the endowment of just one American university, Harvard, in the past year.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
It will remain, I suppose, one of those questions that will exercise the Political Hot Stove League for a few months. It's certainly true that quite a few people were looking for a way to "stop Sarko," but it's also true that the swelling of Bayrou's vote in the final weeks of the campaign was due in large part to disaffected center-left and center-right voters convinced either that Royal could not win or that Sarkozy should not win. Would a Ségo-Bayrou tandem have taken these votes? I put it to readers. What do you think?
Sarko's gift to lexicographers: la voyoucratie, which is what he sees at work in Villiers-le-Bel.
«Je réfute toute forme d'angélisme qui vise à trouver en chaque délinquant une victime de la société, en chaque émeute un problème social» he also said.
Yet if the president is right, and Villiers-le-Bel really is ruled by une voyoucratie, operating with impunity just a few kilometers from the center of Paris, arming itself with shotguns loaded with buckshot, and going to ground only when faced with the superior firepower of a battalion of CRS and a dozen helicopters, then one might conclude that this in itself is un problème social. I'm not sure what else to call it.
The saddest post-riot scene was the conversation on France2 news last night between M. Pétillon, the owner of an auto dealership that was burned to the ground, and a young man from a neighboring town who had come to Villiers to assess the damage. "Don't they realize that the people who work here live in the zone?" M. Pétillon asked. "Where will they work now?" The young man said he was just as "disgusted" by the waste as the businessman who had invested 2 million euros 15 years ago to develop what had been a vacant lot and who employed 30 people, all devastated by the news that he will not reopen the business.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Laurent W. : Pourquoi, alors que vous êtes étudiant à Sciences-Po, formation dont l'excellence repose bien évidemment sur la sélection (comme toutes les grandes écoles publiques), êtes-vous opposé à la sélection en université ? Vous empêchez par ce biais la création de filières d'excellence à l'université. C'est bien regrettable.
Jean-Baptiste Prévost : Je suis opposé à la sélection à l'entrée de l'université, parce que, notamment dans le cadre de mes études, je me suis rendu compte qu'elle maintenait la reproduction sociale à l'université. J'y suis également opposé parce que la France a besoin de plus d'étudiants qu'elle n'en a aujourd'hui. Nous sommes en retard sur ce plan par rapport aux autres pays de l'OCDE. Mais le vrai problème, effectivement, c'est de faire revenir l'excellence à l'université.
Now, what is so curious about this is its perfect and complete denial of reality. The argument goes as follows: "The status quo embodies a system of social reproduction. Extending the status quo would also embody a system of social reproduction. Social reproduction is bad. Hence we had better preserve the status quo, rather than make changes that would reproduce the negative elements of the status quo." Such is the syllogism, and as such impervious to the suggestion that change might also entail modifications attended to alleviate the unfortunate byproducts of selection. Nor does it occur to M. Prévost that competition for students among rival institutions might be a way to "bring excellence back to the university." And the fact that Sciences-Po has instituted a form of affirmative action to counter the social-reproductive aspects of selection seems to have made no impression. Prévost's protest against social reproduction would carry more weight if he were to propose effective ways of reducing its ills under the current two-tier system of higher education that he wants to preserve, and of which he is the protesting beneficiary.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
It seems that a guerrilla band infiltrated one of Paris's most famous monuments ... in order to restore its clock.
The Centre of National Monuments, embarrassed by the way the group entered the building so easily, did not take to the news kindly, taking legal action and replacing the administrator.
Getting into the building was the easiest part, according to Klausmann. The squad allowed themselves to be locked into the Panthéon one night, and then identified a side entrance near some stairs leading up to their future hiding place. "Opening a lock is the easiest thing for a clockmaker," said Klausmann. From then on, they sneaked in day or night under the unsuspecting noses of the Panthéon's officials.
"I've been working here for years," said a ticket officer at the Panthéon who wished to remain anonymous. "I know every corner of the building. And I never noticed anything."
Aux grands hommes, la patrie reconnaissante ...
Pour la petite histoire: in 1977 I lived à deux pas du Panthéon at 214, rue des Médicis, the very place where Jean Calvin lived when he was a young student in theology. I went every day to write in the Café Soufflot, just down the rue Soufflot from the Panthéon, not far from where this picture may have been taken. Michel Foucault frequently took his lunch in the same café.
So this morning's news that François Hollande, meeting with reporters aboard the train returning from Avignon, still regards himself as a présidentiable for 2012, seemed as good an occasion as any to advert to the virtual absence of the PS from the national scene. Perhaps the upcoming municipal elections will reveal that the party is less moribund than it appears. But if the PS was waiting for massive strikes to destabilize the new regime and inaugurate an era of cohabitation as in 1995, it would seem to have miscalculated. It will have to reconquer power with a program of its own, not wait for control to be ceded to it by default. Or else, if it concludes that its internal divisions are too deep to permit any such reconquest, it had better disband and allow its various factions to strike out on their own in quest of a new political philosophy, which may abandon the label "socialist" altogether (as Manuel Valls has proposed). Many who voted socialist out a sense of "family obligation" no longer identify with the party's current philosophy, if they can even articulate what it is or differentiate it convincingly from that of the parti en face. And countless "family members," from BHL to Julien Dray, from Jack Lang to Claude Allègre, have intimated in one way or another that they are as fascinated by Sarkozy's energy as a moth is by a candle flame, and more or less indifferent to the personalities of the left.
This is not a healthy situation. One cannot disguise rotting leftovers with dollops of sauce hollandaise, especially when the sauce has not entirely prise.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Meanwhile, Laurence Parisot wants to "eliminate penalties" for failure to achieve salary equality.
Sarko was equally blunt about Chinese pollution: "Chinese growth should not and cannot come at the price of a degradation of the global environment, exhaustion of natural resources, and accelerated warming of the planet." And one of the contracts signed in China was with Natixis, which will supply equipment to reduce CO2 emissions. Of course that contract was for only a few million euros, compared with the 12 billion to Airbus for aircraft that will add to emissions, but the symbolism is noteworthy. And the 8 billion to Areva for nuclear technology may be regarded as symbolic in its own right.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Meanwhile, Jean-Marie Cavada, a MoDem European deputy, will head the UMP list in the 12th arrondissement, indicating a rift with François Bayrou, whose party appears to be disintegrating under him.
It is perhaps one of the many ironies of China's transformation from communist pariah into (still nominally communist) paragon of state capitalism and indispensable trading partner and banker to the nations of what used to be called the Free World that the human rights issues that used to bedevil Sino-Occidental relations must now be discussed sotto voce, at least when there is serious business to be transacted. Hypocrisy, Dr. Johnson said, is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.
Yesterday, I mentioned that Alain Badiou had compared Sarkozy's regime to Giscard's and Pétain's. Today, Le Monde's proofreaders compare it to the Restoration and the July Monarchy. The former comparison derives not so much from historical analogies as from the person of Édouard Balladur, M. Sarkozy's factotum in charge of constitutional reform, who "always looks as though he has just stepped out of a sedan chair." Indeed he does. I congratulate my blogging colleagues on this marvelous description, which they believe "incarnates [the Restoration style] with panache." More conventionally, they view Sarkozy as "a self-avowed nouveau riche" who is always running.
As Ron Tiersky remarked the other day, the historical analogy game is always fun to play. Which past regime does the present one remind you of? I wonder if it wouldn't be more profitable in Sarkozy's case to extend the game outward rather than indulge in traditional hexagonal nombrilisme. I ask you, then, which foreign regime of any period does Sarkozy's remind you of, and why? I await your answers in comments.
In searching for the picture of Louis XVIII (above), I discover that he and I share a birthday.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Friday, November 23, 2007
Jean Véronis notes similarities in the speech patterns of the late Communist leader Georges Marchais and Nicolas Sarkozy. Both tried to parler popu', as Véronis puts it, but only one became president of the Republic.
Olivier Besancenot, the Trotskyite leader who won 4.9 percent of the vote in the presidential election and who has been enjoying a certain unaccustomed publicity during the strikes, has lost all sense of the meaning of words. Seeking to link himself to the great revolutionary tradition, he cast about for a phrase that would be reminiscent of Trotsky's "permanent revolution" yet applicable to the French situation. What he came up with was, "la rentrée sociale permanente." This raises the art of the oxymoron to new heights. Permanent revolution meant extending revolutionary influence outward in ever-widening circles, not marching around in circles in the streets of Paris or tying up the périphérique. La rentrée, before the metaphor became lexicalized, implied a return from vacation, which will hardly be possible if a fraction of the work force were to persist in keeping the majority from their jobs. If anything encapsulates the radicals' absence of an alternative, not only to the reforms but to the world as it is, it has to be this particularly inapt phrase.
But the owl of Minerva seems to have flown at night, as Hegel predicted. Besancenot uttered his oxymoron in the waning hours of the strike--a happy Thanksgiving gift for Sarko l'Américain.* In the end, he will have made the trains run on time. And yes, GB, I am aware that this gauge of good government has come to be associated with Mussolini. The lesson that should be drawn from this is not that trains running on time are a sign of fascist rule but rather that trains not running on time create the preconditions for a fascist takeover. With a little luck, the chaos in the stations will not become the hallmark of la rentrée sociale permanente that would indeed be remembered as the precursor of la répression vraiment permanente.
* For French readers: in the US yesterday we celebrated the annual Thanksgiving holiday.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
What do you make of the flap aroused by Jean Quatremer's post on his blog concerning Sarko's comments about Muslims? Did the regular media ignore this because they thought Quatremer's information unreliable, or what?
Steve, I read the story and decided not to comment on it, because the sourcing seemed extremely flimsy. If you look back over the blog, you'll find that I've criticized Quatremer several times for what I thought were weak pieces in Libération. On the other hand, I've also praised him, and he was the reporter who broke the story about the private meeting Sarko had with the Euroland finance ministers, who criticized him sharply. His blog is quite widely read and has won awards, but he is more than willing to relay rumors and hearsay without substantiation, a habit that does not necessarily diminish the number of his readers.
The blogosphere has created an opportunity for reporters to publish material they could not get past their editors, and I believe that that is the case with this story. Of course there's no way to stop this sort of thing, but I don't think we're compelled to believe scurrilous reports just because they come from the pen of someone employed by a newspaper. And I see no reason to credit this story unless someone corroborates it.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Participation is down at both the SNCF (22.8 %) and RATP (16.4 %).
Sarkozy has called for severe punishment of those responsible for burning of TGV switches.
Manuel Valls harshly criticized his own party, the Socialists, for failing to state clearly that they favored the alignment of the special regimes with the general civil service regime.
Talks have begun.
A bulletin from Le Monde informs me that Jacques Chirac has been mis en examen for his alleged role in the diversion of Paris city funds when he was mayor. There was a time when I would have greeted this as good news and murmured something about "the rule of law." But Chirac, who was once as pictured in the photo, a would-be Nouvelle Vague matinée idol, now looks so old and, as Jospin put it years ago in one of his many campaign errors, usé, I can't help feeling that the trial will be a sad waste of time. It's a new era. Why bother? Will it get the Métro running again? That, at the moment, seems so much more important than stale retribution.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Essentially, Thibault is caught between the more intransigent members of his and other unions' rank-and-file and the need to work out a compromise before the public loses patience. The point has been made, he's telling his men; let's not overplay our hand. He sounded like a nervous man, however.
On this point... might this not be a good moment to consider dusting off all the material on autogestion to interrogate if those ideas offer some route past the impediments to movement? As you rightly point out the current situation has now ceased to be about the reform of the special pension provision and turned into a more general crisis of legitimacy. Or alternatively the efforts at reform have uncovered a latent legitimation crisis..
Thanks for the suggestion, Jim. I would take it up more readily if I thought that there might be a happy end to the autogestionnaire impulse. But I was living in France through much of l'Affaire Lipp and came to feel that too many cooks spoil the soup. And autogestion in a firm with a relatively circumscribed market is child's play compared with autogestion of an economy or even a social security system. It is, moreover, late in the day, as it was also in the case of Lipp, to propose an alternative management plan. Self-management is at bottom an expression of deep suspicion of management's motives. If one doesn't believe that the diagnosis of the problem on offer by those in charge is an honest one, it is easy to assume that a better alternative is feasible. But the workers at Lipp faced a shift in the structure of the market for their wares, and it was never in the cards that worker-managers could reverse that stark fact, any more than the management they displaced. And they were of course far more unified and organized, and had a more clearly defined common interest, than the various categories of workers, students, and functionaries whose distrust of Sarkozy is creating the crisis of legitimacy you detect.
Pierre Rosanvallon, whose intellectual odyssey began with a book on autogestion, has more recently written another called La Contre-Démocratie: La politique à l'âge de défiance. I've just translated it, and CUP will bring it out next year. Rosanvallon emphasizes the utility of distrust as a means of democratic control, but he is also at pains to stress that distrust can be carried too far, to the point of paralysis.
La défiance, distrust, seems to be the theme of the season in France. As I reported a while back, there was recently a colloquium on the subject, organized around the paper of Yann Algan and Pierre Cahuc (Rosanvallon was in evidence there as well). Today, in La Vie des idées (the Web publication of Rosanvallon's think tank, La République des idées), there's an excellent critique of Robert Putnam's use of the idea of distrust by Éloi Laurent. The strikes have laid bare the distrust that social scientists have for some time seen as gnawing away at the social bond in France. Under such conditions, I don't see how a grass-roots movement, and by all signs a minority movement, can hope at this stage to impose an alternative that it has done so little to prepare despite abundant warning that in the absence of such an alternative it would face precisely what it now faces.
Some months ago, I predicted that the strikes would end quickly and said that if they didn't, I would stake Éloi Laurent to one Vélib' ride. I was wrong, and I owe Éloi a ride, but he tells me that he won't ride in the streets as they are today, so I've agreed to buy him a coffee instead. Of course this will cost me more than a euro, and the euro has risen so much against the dollar since I made the bet that I'm afraid I may have to apply for a subsidy from the Ministry of Culture, which can of course be financed out of the additional income to be realized from all the reforms, reductions in size of the civil service, etc.
Bordélique. The adjective seems appropriate, though I suspect it's quite unfair to bordellos.
In the universities the questions are these. What new powers are being awarded to university presidents? Who will control hiring of new researchers?
Civil servants want to know how freely they can be transferred from department to department, and who wields the power to transfer them?
Rank-and-file union members want more power at the base in exchange for any concessions on retirement. A settlement that suits the national leadership may not suit the locals.
And so on, and on, and on. There is of course nothing new about an explosion of particular resentments and revendications when the central power attempts a systemic reform in the name of the general interest. This is French history in a nutshell. And the next few days will no doubt remind us that French history has generally been a messy affair.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Jacques Mistral writes at Telos about the way in which French criticism of the European Central Bank is seen outside France, especially in light of the judgment abroad that the French have been particularly lax about reducing government spending and applying necessary economic discipline.
Meanwhile, Sarkozy's approval rating has dropped to 51 percent, the first time it has dipped below his election score. You can expect that to change quickly if the strike is successfully resolved by Wednesday. But "stop the strike" demonstrations in Paris and elsewhere turned out impressive numbers of marchers. Meanwhile, my friends in Paris ride the Vélib' or walk.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
The government seems content to wait out the strikers, but there is a potential that the walkout of civil servants scheduled for next week will reignite the movement.
This post is especially for Gregory Brown, who mentioned that he had a professional interest in special retirement regimes in the theatrical world. The République des Lettres has some interesting information on offer today. The special regime at the Paris Opera dates back to 1698. Dancers get to retire at 40, singers at 50, stagehands at 55, and musicians at 60. Perhaps John Rawls has a theory of justice to explain this interesting gradation.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
By contrast, the Sages ruled against the collection of racial and ethnic statistics on the grounds that Article I of the Constitution declares that France is a "republic, one and indivisible .... ensuring equality before the all for all citizens without distinction as to origin, race, or religion.
Giscard and Chirac sat together on the Council for the first time as ex officio members.
The Financial Times has issued its annual ranking of European finance ministers, and Christine Lagarde comes in last, although the FT seems skeptical of its own methods:
At the other end of the scale trails Christine Lagarde of France - one of this year's debutantes - who is ranked as the worst performer. France's fiscal recalcitrance continues to raise eyebrows across the rest of Europe while the hyper-activity of Nicolas Sarkozy, the president, especially in economic affairs, creates confusion about who is really running the show.
The FT guide, by nature, uses crude yardsticks. Ms Lagarde could well ask just how should a finance minister be judged - and over what period? What is the appropriate size for a fiscal surplus or deficit or the appropriate tax rate on labour or capital? But benchmarking performances has become as popular among European policymakers as talent shows on television - and there seems no reason why finance ministers should be left behind by fashion.
LATER: Le Monde follows suit.
Here are some related thoughts from Paul Krugman and Greg Mankiw, in agreement for once. Tyler Cowen takes a contrarian view, however. Cowen, like Laurent, notes the unsatisfactory state of the models used to predict exchange rate variations, on which Krugman is relying. Brad DeLong nevertheless seems to agree with Krugman.
For a diverting take on the fall of the dollar from a rather different point of view, see again Paul Krugman.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, has proposed beefing up Europe's conventional defense forces and suggested the possibility of bringing North Africa and the Middle East into the EU single market by 2030. The first proposal is in some respects a response to Sarkozy's hints that France is ready to contemplate a role in a joint European military structure. The second would seem to be a counter or challenge to Sarkozy's idea of a Mediterranean Union separate from the EU. It will be interesting to see the French response.
François Hollande said today that "they should end the strike tonight." If it continues, "users will have their lives disrupted. So I hope, and now I'm even demanding, that they start this morning on a round of negotiations firm-by-firm," as the CGT has insisted.
So much for the last-ditch stand. Anne-Marie Idrac, the head of the SNCF, says she wants firm-level negotiations. The CGT says it wants firm-level negotiations. The government says it wants firm-level negotiations. François Hollande "demands" firm-level negotiations. Faces have been saved. Now the concerned parties can get on with dotting the i's, which was probably completed weeks ago, long before the curtain went up on this street theater à l'ancienne. As Laurence Parisot said with inimitable tactlessness, "I can't stop thinking about all the people who love France and who are looking at us today and saying, 'What is it with all this outdated rigamarole (ringardisme)?'" Ma chère Laurence, one is allowed to think such thoughts but not to say them out loud. You need a counselor in public relations. Why not hire one from the Élysée, where they know how these things are done? Claude Guéant flattered Bernard Thibault by crediting him with "taking a step to resolve the crisis on the first day of conflict." When the enemy is about to surrender, the time is ripe to tell him how valiantly he fought.
Prediction: by Monday it will all be over, and we will know how much the government paid in concessions in order to rack up a victory on the principle, whatever the principle turns out to be. Because in the end it will all seem a little muddy: yes, everyone should work more, and the rules should be the same for all, except when they can't be, or aren't, or it isn't worth fighting over ...
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
The first, by Gaëtane Richard-Nihoul, analyzes the Lisbon Treaty.
The second, by Éric Maurin, discusses formulas for financing university educations in Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere, and suggests that France needs to consider a system of tuition loans with deferred repayments. Of course the very idea of tuition payment and rationing of university access by imposition of fees would be greeted in France with howls of protest, even if the payments were presented as a tax on future earnings to be borne by the beneficiaries of the proceeds. The idea that "free" public goods are not free when paid for out of national income is still greeted as radically Anglo-Saxon. Nor is the idea that returns to higher education are arguably a major source of inequality in today's world a familiar one in France. "Human capital" formation is nevertheless promoted, rightly, as a major comparative advantage of the developed world in its competition with the low-wage countries of the developing world. No industrialized country has yet to come up with a satisfactory way of dealing with this problem. In the United States, competition for access to "elite" private schools and universities has escalated to absurd levels, and tuitions keep rising. But in France, "free" access to higher education simply masks enormous failure rates and a de facto inegalitarian system of Grandes Écoles and ordinary universities. Maurin's article looks at policies that fall midway between these extremes. (The Stafford Loan system in the US bears some similarities to the systems discussed but has numerous shortcomings.)
This site presents news from the protesters' side. And here is an anti-strike site. Archaisms are emerging on both sides, as is inevitable in this sort of conflict. For instance, the president of the University of Rennes claims that what is at stake here is nothing less than the viability of democracy in the face of a "totalitarian regime," while the student in the photo is wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt that was probably manufactured in one of the bustling mills of Chinese capitalism.
Monday, November 12, 2007
The INSEE has revised its method of estimating unemployment to bring it into line with ILO and Eurostat norms. The figures just released show that unemployment by the new measure is 8.1 percent and has been declining for 7 quarters.
“None of this is helped by the continuing stories that just keep going around and around and around that any day now there will be another war which is just not where we want to go,” he said.
“Getting Iranian behaviour to change and finding ways to get them to come to their senses and do that is the real objective. Attacking them as a means to get to that spot strikes me as being not the first choice in my book.”
One hopes that Bernard Kouchner reads the Financial Times.
ADDENDUM: Ségolène Royal encapsulates the ambivalence of the PS to perfection by announcing her belief that "the students are right to strike" while ignoring the strikers' stated goal of having the Pécresse law rescinded. For Royal, the goal of the strike should be to ensure that "the reform is revised."
Sunday, November 11, 2007
First, there is a distinction to be made between sponsored research and voluntary gifts by individuals. Consider this article from Rue89. It reproduces a letter from Richard Descoings, the head of Sciences-Po, to alumni of that institution, asking for contributions and informing them of available tax deductions. The lead to the article suggests that this letter is likely to "throw oil on the fire" of student protest. Why? Is accepting contributions from individuals likely to influence what is taught at Sciences-Po? Is M. Descoings, who has tried (with his program of discrimination positive) to bring more minorities into the upper echelons of French administration and business to which Sciences-Po grants its graduates access, accused of wanting to increase inequalities in French society or merely of attempting to improve his own institution? Will denying private funding to Sciences-Po make it less prestigious than it has become with state financing? Will it allow lesser institutions to "catch up," as they have failed to do under the existing formula? Is it realistic to hope for "equality" among 80-some different universities across France if all of them attempt to emulate the Sciences-Po curriculum? Can one assemble the critical mass of top-flight scholars and talented students at that many universities in every field?
Second, there is the question of a different kind of private financing: sponsored research by industry. This pertains mainly to the sciences, although one can imagine certain firms sponsoring work in the humanities for reasons of prestige rather than direct economic interest. Does this imply a "take-over of campuses" by the MEDEF, as one of the slogans reported by Le Monde appears to suggest? Whenever money is taken from private sources, there are of course concerns about strings being attached. For that reason, in the United States, where many universities, including state universities, do sponsored research, there are mechanisms in place to reduce conflicts of interest. Furthermore, it is not necessarily true that sponsored research limits scientific work to areas of greatest immediate interest to industry. Take the work of Albert Fert, the recent French Nobel prizewinner in physics. His work on giant magnetoresistance could not have been carried out without the cooperation and financial contribution of Thomson-CSF; his seminal idea would have remained stillborn and unproven without the industrial capacity to fabricate the device needed to demonstrate it in practice. In other words, there are fields of science in which the kinds of ideas that can prove fruitful are restricted more by refusing cooperation with industry than by accepting it.
Finally, it is worth considering whether industrial sponsorship is more or less distorting than state sponsorship, which often equates to military sponsorship. If the ideas that are valued are those with military rather than commercial applicability, is society necessarily better off?
These few remarks only scratch the surface of the issues involved, but perhaps they are worth throwing into the hopper along with:
la fac n'est pas ton fief"
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Of course the two political cultures are very different, as is the economic conjuncture. And in a sense, Sarkozy is continuing the Gaullist tradition of conciliation of workers, whereas Thatcher consciously rejected the conciliatory aspects of Toryism.
As for the unions, SUD and FO want to keep the present system, period; the CGT is just "against" the reforms but hasn't distributed any outline of a counter-position to its members; UNSA is supposed to distribute a tract on Monday; he didn't meet anyone from CFTC and doesn't know the position of CFE-CGC; and FGAAC, the union of engineers and conductors, is out for its own membership only and has already reached a separate pact with the SNCF. Most workers, he says, are distressed that the situation has deteriorated to this point. He believes that the government could turn things around quickly with a decent offer and a willingness to negotiate in good faith.
Here is a directory of Web sites pertaining to the municipals.
Details on the modalities of the vote.
Wikipedia article on the 2008 municipals.
Wikipedia article on the 2001 municipals.
Friday, November 9, 2007
"Facs ouvertes aux enfants d'ouvriers,
facs fermées aux intérêts privés".
"Lutte sociale, grève générale,
derrière la réforme se cache le capital".
la fac n'est pas ton fief"
"Cécilia, on est comme toi,
on en a marre de Nicolas".
"On veut étudier
pour pas finir policiers".
The insistent, if sometimes wrenched, oom-pah rhythms and moon-June rhymes are of course made for the megaphone and the synchronized heartbeats and footfalls of a crowd on the march. None of it yet rises to the level of the more surreal slogans of May '68: Sous le pavé, la plage ... Now there was a slogan à faire rêver. Of course it was wall art, not suitable for marching--the fruit of a mature manif, on its last legs, battle-weary, and ready for retirement to the dustbin of history.
What's in it for France? Sarkozy sees NATO as a force multiplier. Working through NATO, France will be able to project a greater military influence around the world. His assumption is that France, by setting conditions for its re-entry, will be able to re-orient the alliance toward the defense of Europe rather than the projection of American might. He thinks he is taking advantage of a moment of American weakness, or need, and to prove his bona fides, he has apparently told Bush that he will increase the French presence in Afghanistan.
But is Sarkozy perhaps overestimating the potential French influence in a revamped NATO military structure? Back in the heady days before "shock and awe," the story was that the American military didn't need or want help from anyone; working with allies just got in the way of a beautiful, pefectly-honed command-and-control structure. America's vastly superior military technology, predicated on vastly greater military spending, made it virtually impossible, technically speaking, to collaborate productively with antiquated forces that hadn't yet developed the capacity to fight on the "electronic battlefield."
Of course Iraq has shown that the dusty battlefield and, even more, the grubby back streets of ancient capitals, may still have some relevance after the electronic battlefield has been stored away in the closet for old video games. Still, it's not clear what Sarkozy is signing up for. He seems to be aiming to build a transnational military capacity before there is any agreement on, or even adumbration of, a transnational military policy. What is France willing to allow its troops to be used for? And what missions does the United States now envision for foreign boots on the ground, now that it has discovered that drones, sensors, and laser-guided bombs aren't a panacea for the world's ills?
Thursday, November 8, 2007
After reviewing the passions on display here, turn, for a soberingly cold shower, to the OpinionWay poll that has 69 percent of the French in favor of maintaining the push for reforms and even moving faster.
Some further information here, but still extremely sketchy.
Americans, in their relations with foreigners, seem impatient of the slightest censure and insatiable in their appetite for praise. They are pleased by the merest of commendations and seldom satisfied by the fullest. They pester you constantly for your praise, and if you hold out against their importuning, they will laud themselves. Doubtful perhaps of their own merit, they wish to have its portrait constantly before their eyes. Their vanity is not only greedy but also restless and envious. It gives nothing yet is always asking to receive. It is simultaneously grasping and argumentative.
I say to an American that he lives in a beautiful country. He replies, “Yes, indeed, there is none other like it in the world!” I admire the liberty that its inhabitants enjoy, and he responds, “Liberty is a precious gift, but very few peoples are worthy of it.” I remark on the purity of morals prevailing in the United States: “I can imagine,” he says, “that a foreigner struck by the corruption that is so glaringly apparent in all other nations might be surprised by such a sight.” Ultimately I leave him to contemplate himself, but he returns to my side and refuses to leave until he has made me repeat what I have just told him. A patriotism more trying or loquacious is impossible to imagine. It wearies even those who honor it.
Democracy in America, II.3.16
Nicolas Sarkozy seems instinctively to have recognized this American vanity and decided to flatter rather than mock it. So he told a joint session of Congress yesterday that France could not get enough of us: of our GIs, of Elvis, of Ernest Hemingway and John Wayne. And we loved it, or at any rate our duly elected representatives for reasons best known to themselves pretended to lap it up. Perhaps they were feeling repentant for the orgy of French-bashing that broke out in Washington and the rest of the country a few years ago, or perhaps they were just vain, as Tocqueville believed, and not particularly bright or wise in the ways of the world.
In a letter to his mother dated May 14, 1831, Tocqueville had this to say:
The absence of wine with our meals was quite disconcerting at first, and we still cannot quite conceive of the multitude of things that people put in their stomachs here. Did you know that in addition to breakfast, dinner, and tea, with which the Americans eat ham, they also serve a very copious supper and frequently a snack? Thus far, this is the only respect in which I am prepared to grant that they are incontestably superior to us. But they believe that there are many others: the people here strike me as stinking with national pride. It shows through all their politeness.
"Stinking with national pride": one wonders if Nicolas is writing as frankly to his mother about his day with the Bushes.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
On the substance of the issue, I think there is good reason to be concerned about the possible distortion of educational priorities by the injection of private funds. Nevertheless, competition and choice can be useful stimuli. The goal should be to allow students of equal talent an equal opportunity to choose among competing universities. To insist on equality among universities is to ensure mediocrity, and the existence of Grandes Écoles belies the egalitarian discourse in any case.
Tactically, Bruno Julliard's UNEF seems to have been outmaneuvered by the Collectif Contre l'Autonomie des Universités (CCAU), a new group apparently influenced by the extreme left, which is also a force in the more militant union protests against the special retirement regime reforms. The UNEF apparently joined the CCAU-led university protest yesterday, fearful of being left behind though dubious about the mobilizing issue. In short, it appears that there is an effort afoot to bring student and worker discontent together over the next few weeks in the hope of derailing Sarkozy, just as Juppé was derailed in 1995. How Sarko handles this confrontation will be an important test. If he gets past these next few weeks without conceding too much, he will have consolidated his presidency.
I would be particularly interested in hearing from readers who know anything about the CCAU and its leadership, affiliation with other organizations and parties, etc.
Meanwhile, Cécilia is also doing her part for Franco-American relations. The New York Post ran a photo of her emerging from a Manhattan restaurant named Orsay. Note, however, that the quai d'Orsay was conspicuously absent from the higher echelons of Sarko's entourage, unless you count Rama Yade, whose extraordinary beauty seems to bump her up a few protocol notches above the place her status as a junior minister would otherwise entitle her to. She, along with Christine Lagarde and Rachida Dati, accompanied Sarko to a state dinner, demonstrating to admiring Americans that the French have learned to manage "diversity" as glibly as their American hosts. Sarko also brought a chef with him, and the director of the Louvre. All of this connotes a "return to normalcy" in Franco-American relations: hand-kissing, elegant women, haute cuisine, haute couture, and high art--these are the things that represent "the good France," "our oldest ally," in the American psyche, and as long as the French content themselves with the finer things of life and don't meddle in the serious business of war and finance, we can get along just fine.
Sarko seems willing to play along. He is even finding time in his brief 26 hours in the US to meet with what The Times delicately describes as "American Jewish leaders"--and no doubt his advisor Jean-David Levitte has told him how heated things were with that group just a few short years ago. All is forgiven if not forgotten, and The Times even finds space to mention [I'm correcting an error in my original post here] that Sarkozy's mother is partly Jewish (for la petite histoire; la grande will remember only that "France is back").