Friday, November 30, 2007

Julliard Quits

Bruno Julliard has resigned as head of the student union UNEF, ostensibly for "personal reasons." Having led the anti-CPE movement of 2006, Julliard has found himself out of phase with leading elements of the current student protest against the Pécresse reforms, which he seems on the whole to favor. It seems likely that his "personal reasons" for resigning include ambition. I wouldn't be surprised to find him soon inside the government rather than outside.

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.

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For those who read French (and are curious about what I might sound like in that language), my review of Denis Lacorne's De la religion en Amérique has just gone up on nonfiction.fr. Not French politics, to be sure, but make of it what you will.

Did the Euro Cause Inflation?

Many people in France and elsewhere in Europe are absolutely convinced that businesses availed themselves of the introduction of the euro to raise prices, despite the prohibition of the practice. A new paper uses evidence from ATM withdrawals to test this hypothesis and finds it does not stand up.

Artus on Greenspan

Patrick Artus, one of the most influential economists in France, says that Alan Greenspan was "an arsonist and a fireman combined." For a review of Artus's book, see here. For a review of Greenspan (now out in French), see here.

Comments Blocked?

I've received a report that a reader could not post a comment because a Google account was required. I did not make this change, and my Blogger settings allow comments from anyone. Has anyone else encountered this problem?

Pigeonholed

Here is a comment on this blog from Free Republic:

"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.

Encore de l'audace

Sarkozy had another one of his marathon chats with les tribunes du peuple, or what passes for such in the media age: telejournalists. It was an odd performance. The Élysée doesn't really suit its current incumbent. Its rococo excess makes a strange contrast with his blunt language. He cannot bring himself to sit up straight, despite chairs that would seem to require it. He slouches and squirms, and one keeps expecting to hear the voice of an admonishing parent: "Sit up straight, Nicolas!" His tie was not knotted comme il faut, leaving him looking slightly bedraggled, despite the dazzling white shirt (wrong for television), expensive if rather somber suit, and bling-bling timepiece (I think he may have bought the Breitling he was seen ogling in the pages of Yasmina Reza's book). Formality and tradition cannot repress his pugnacity. Ocassionally, a reaction shot seemed to catch the inevitable M. Poivre d'Arvor with a quizzical look on his face, as if to ask, Why are you pummeling me with aggressive words when all I did was ask a straightforward question? Sarko spoke as if he were still confronting the shop steward in the SNCF Maintenance Center at Saint-Denis. "Écoutez, Mme Chabot ..." This time, the poke in the chest was verbal rather than physical.

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.