Thursday, December 27, 2007

For Wonks Only

Only true policy wonks will want to risk a look at the Lambert Report on "Relations between the State and Local Collectivities." Presiding over the effort to understand the Byzantine structure of the French state was Alain Lambert, a UMP senator and one of the right's more intelligent voices (his blog can be found here). Decentralization, once the watchword of all efforts to reform the French state, has now itself become the target of reform, since decentralized government has turned out to be a tangle of criss-crossing lines of authority, horizontal (intercommunal) committees glued together by "contracts" with central government entities that no longer command and control but rather exhort and encourage. A good deal of money is devolved from center to periphery, where it is soaked up by the functionaries of the territorial civil service.

The Lambert Report is hardly a model of clarity, nor could it be, given the wide range of services, from schools to security, from industrial sponsorship to traffic management, for which "local collectivities" are responsible. And the number and variety of "local collectivities" contributes to the impression of ungovernability. The very ambiguity of the term is an index of the regnant confusion. The report doesn't pretend to solve the problem but does remind people of its existence.

Discrimination and Wages

A new paper (via Tyler Cowen) tests Gary Becker's theoretical work on the effect of racial discrimination on wages in the United States and finds empirical confirmation. I mention this not because I want to hypothesize that a similar effect would be found in France (though I suspect it would), but rather to ask whether the recently-passed law banning the collection of racial statistics in France would preclude empirical research of this kind (again, I suspect it would). And if my suspicions are correct, might not those who defend the law in the name of a race-blind society want to reconsider their position, insofar as research like this might be used to combat racial discrimination politically? Just asking ...

CORRECTION: Instead of "recently-passed law," I should have said "recent decision by the Conseil Constitutionnel ..." Apologies for the error.

FP Becomes a Player

When a blog joins The Independent, The Sun, the New Zealand Herald, the IHT, The Daily Mail, Alsumaria, and Chugan Dong-a as a representative of "global opinion," one does feel that the world has changed a bit.

Financing and Flexibility

These days between Christmas and New Year's Day are known in France as la trève des confiseurs, The Confectioners' Truce, because the political guns fall silent and mouths are filled with candy rather than invective (or treacly promises). But while Sarko cavorts in Egypt ("Kozy and Girl Not in De Nile" headlined The Sun), Fillon is minding the confiserie, inviting the "social partners" (unions and employers) to negotiate on two of the touchiest matters on the political agenda, greater flexibility in working hours and financing of the unions. It seems that French union finances are covered only 20 to 60 percent by union dues, compared with 80 percent in other countries. The remainder comes from various sources, including fees for managing the retirement system, subsidies from employer groups, and--allegedly--under-the-table payments in return for "cooperation" on a variety of issues. Fillon wants to change this, but details are sketchy.