Wednesday, December 31, 2008
It's an instructive exercise to compare this year's New Year's voeux du président with last year's. Gone is the pugnacity. This year's style is grim, compassionate rather than hortatory. There are a few gratuitous swipes at les conservatismes (always plural in Sarko's vocabulary) that stand in the way of reform, including of course le conservatisme des lycéens. There is praise for the "admirable personnel" of French hospitals, though the institutions themselves exhibit certain of ces conservatismes that make redoubled efforts of "reform" imperative. The crisis is une épreuve but also un défi: this is Sarko's version of Rahm Emanuel's dictum that "a crisis is too important to waste." How he plans to capitalize on the opportunity was left suitably vague. He mentioned his stimulus plan and aid to auto manufacturers, conditioned, he said, on a promise not to outsource (ah, but how ironclad is that promise, if subcontractors are not bound by it?). He once again took credit for coordinating the international response by organizing the G20, an exercise in immodesty that has become so habitual it hardly seems immodest any more.
The backdrop of leatherbound volumes in the Elysée library was suitably impressive and broke with tradition. Sarko looked somber, beleaguered, worn, and a bit off his game, but he has renewed his promise to go to Israel next Monday despite Israel's advance rejection of any cease-fire, which would seem to reduce his chances of pulling a rabbit out of a hat. But, as always, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and no one can accuse Sarko of an excess of Sitzfleisch.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Monday, December 29, 2008
Sunday, December 28, 2008
In Europe, however, governments everywhere seem equally hunkered down, and it's hard to tell whether the cause is exhaustion or anticipation. To be sure, la trève des confiseurs* always marks a lull in politicking, but here we are en pleine crise and the political scene is as torpid as, say, a Brazilian resort, which is where the hyperpresident has gone to kill time. His European jaunt is over, and once again he seems adrift, just as he did last winter at this time.
Yes, he has a stimulus plan, but it's small, and half of it consists of rescheduled rather than new appropriations. If he's feeling any urgency, he isn't showing it. His minister Eric Besson is busily planning the January summit conference that Sarko has planned with Tony Blair: Experience and Energy will team up to teach the Even-tempered neophyte a lesson in crisis management.
Not for Sarko the "slow boring of hard, dry boards" that is politics according to Max Weber. It's rather politics as spectacle for the society of the spectacle: Sarko will have been the first Debordian president, when all is said and done. But I can't shake the feeling that the timing of the American political calendar hasn't been a good thing. It has seriously delayed a proper response to the crisis, a response that economists say must above all be "targeted, timely, and temporary."
*For (possibly apocryphal) etymologies of la trève des confiseurs, see here and here.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Friday, December 26, 2008
But somewhere around graf 15 we get this: "But since Mr. Sarkozy took office last year, unions have consistently failed to muster a critical mass on the street." Ah, right. Tally another victory for super-Sarko. Except that the real story has already been told earlier in the piece: “Striking is hardly a threat when management doesn’t want you to work,” Bruno Lemerle, the head of the CGT at Sochaux, said gloomily. “It’s difficult to imagine a 1930s-style mobilization today.” And:
On the deserted Sochaux factory floor one recent afternoon, Nadège Taesch explained why she had not joined a union and would not support protests. “This crisis is frightening, and I don’t see how the unions can change that,” said Ms. Taesch, 32, as she pulled a light-blue plastic cover over one of hundreds of half-finished Peugeot models stretching along the motionless two-story assembly line.“I’m not scared of management,” she said. “I’m scared of how bad the economy will be in 2009.”
Perhaps there was tension between the reporters, who seem to have gotten the story from the horse's mouth, and the editors, who thought it ought to say something awestruck about Sarkozy. Though any notion of presidential superpowers is dispelled by the intervening paragraphs about government retreats in the face of (really quite mild) student protests.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
By the way, the prince is correct: Koons' work is pornographic.
La naissance du Christ parmi les plus pauvres, autant dire presque dans la rue, mais aussi de nombreux textes bibliques et écrits sociaux des Eglises chrétiennes, nous renvoient à des références éthiques essentielles pour affronter la crise. La pensée sociale chrétienne qui s'appuie sur ces références n'est pas une alternative à un quelconque système économique, mais un socle de réflexion qui a vocation à inspirer tout mode d'organisation durable de la société.
(signed) Guy Aurenche, Jean Boissonnat, Daniel Casanova, Jacques Delors, Xavier Emmanuelli, Jean-Baptiste de Foucauld, Sylvie Germain, Jean-Claude Guillebaud, Jean-Pierre Hourdin, François-Régis Hutin, Alain Juppé, Patrick Peugeot, Michel Rocard, Robert Rochefort, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, François Soulage, René Valette, Jérôme Vignon, François Villeroy de Galhau.
Which makes me want to reach for the well-thumbed Marxian bibles of my youth: the phrase "all criticism begins with the criticism of religion" comes to mind.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
PARIS -- Two weeks ago, one of my seven-year-old son’s classmates arrived at school with pastries to pass out to the class. His mother, a non-observant “cultural Muslim,” had spent the weekend preparing the delicacies that traditionally accompany the celebration of Eid al-Adha, as a way for her son to share the cultural tradition with his friends. But when he asked for permission to hand them out, the teacher refused. The pastries, it seems, would have violated France’s strict code of laïcité forbidding among other things, the introduction of religious dress or symbolism into the public school system.
At first glance, the episode seems like another illustration of the fundamental difference between the American and French understanding of secularism and the separation of church and state. With its origins in the Protestant flight from established religions, America’s republican tradition emphasizes the individual’s freedom of religious belief and its expression. By contrast, with its origins in the anti-clerical Enlightenment, France’s republican tradition emphasizes the collectivity’s freedom from religious beliefs and their expression.
The difference reflects the role of the French state as a counterweight to the—historically Catholic—church. Whereas Americans rely on Constitutional safeguards to defend the private sphere of religion against the encroachment of the state, the French look to the state to defend the public sphere of la République from the encroachment of religion.
So it would be easy to chalk the pastry incident off to an overzealous defense of a principle that, for cultural reasons, Americans have difficulty appreciating.
Except for one detail. At the same time that my friend’s son was told that he could not pass out the pastries, both of our children—along with the entire class—were busy learning songs for an upcoming recital for parents. Not just any songs, though. The children were being taught Christmas carols.
What’s more, it’s not at all unusual to find galettes des rois—a cake consisting of frangipane-filled pate feuilletée (puff-pastry)—in French schoolrooms. The galettes appear in bakeries every year around Jan. 6, the Christian festival of the Epiphany. The rois, or kings, that figure in their name are the same ones—Balthazar, Melchior and Gaspard—that, in the Christian tradition, visited the newborn Baby Jesus in a Bethlehem manger, giving the holiday its popular name, Three Kings’ Day.
Even the Ministry of Education’s official school calendar includes two religious holidays—la Toussaint, or All Saints’ Day, and Christmas—alongside the more laïque Winter and Spring vacations.
The typical French response to this sort of observation epitomizes the country’s inconsistent and incoherent approach to laïcité: Christmas is a cultural holiday, I’ve often heard, not a religious one. The galettes des rois are French, not Christian.
The problem is more than one of politically correct syntax. If there is nothing inherently religious about the galettes des rois, and there isn’t, then there is nothing inherently religious about the pastries that accompany the Eid al-Adha celebration either. So if they were excluded from my son’s classroom, it was not because they violated the principle of laicité, but because they were not French.
Not that I believe my son’s teacher made a conscious decision based on cultural prejudice. Rather, her response reveals a national blind spot, and helps explain France’s failure to formulate a cohesive and inclusive cultural identity that represents both its historic traditions and the demographic changes in its population over the past fifty years.
The reminder that the need for one is urgent comes every few years in the form of urban uprisings in the banlieues, when the French-born children of Arab and African immigrants battle the police and burn cars for days on end in the housing projects.
To be sure, there are many underlying historic and socio-economic factors that contribute to the failure of the French model of assimilation. Despite the solemn calls for national resolve that follow each new outbreak of violence, none of them have been effectively addressed. The financial crisis, which is sure to be disproportionately felt in the underdeveloped periphery of French society, will only aggravate the conditions that contribute to the social fracture.
But the reflexive recourse to laïcité as a guardian of French insitutions serves to mask the cultural component of the problem. So long as French citizens of Arab and African descent fail to see themselves reflected in the nation’s cultural identity, the resulting resentment will serve as a reservoir of fuel, easily ignited by the tiniest spark of injustice.
In light of the recent events in Greece, France has once again turned a watchful eye on its banlieues, wondering whether the pent up frustration that resulted in the past week of violence will prove contagious. But it would do well to examine itself as well. Its face has changed, and it might be surprised at what it does—and doesn’t—see there.
Judah Grunstein is the managing editor of World Politics Review. His coverage of French politics, foreign affairs and national security issues has also appeared in the American Prospect online, the Small Wars Journal and French Politics. He is currently based in Paris and has lived in France for eight years.
Indeed, Dray, by his own account, was one of those Socialists whom Sarko was calling between rounds of the presidential election to say, "I want you to be with me." Dray resisted the temptation of a ministerial portfolio and became instead a lieutenant of the defeated Ségolène in her (temporarily?) thwarted comeback attempt. Indeed, dark rumor has it that the investigation against him may have been triggered by a leak from opponents within his own party. So we are through the looking glass: enemies are friends, friends are enemies.
Meanwhile, Julien Dray has pronounced himself "serene." Rather like Gov. Blagojevich in Illinois, who quoted Kipling to the effect that it's best to keep one's head when everyone else is losing theirs (figuratively, to be sure). He, too, is serene, but the technology of bugs seems to have defeated the presumption of innocence, at least in Illinois.
Let's see what the authorities have on Dray. It may not be anywhere near as good as the Blago tapes. If so, Dray's serenity may be fully warranted. These things have a way of blowing up and then blowing over in France. Just a reminder from potential extortionists that payback is always an option.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
So--yesterday we had Bruno Julliard, only yesterday a student leader, saying that the place of the PS was in the streets alongside the demonstrating students. Not in party chambers attempting to develop a school reform policy better than that proposed by the government, but in the streets alongside students whose program does not seem to extend beyond "no reform," even though they are the first to complain about the status quo. Now we have the suggestion--which may be a manipulated one, to be sure, engineered by a government that has the power to cast suspicion when it will--that the PS was not only accompanying the students but perhaps egging them on, disruption being at this point the party's only road to visibility that doesn't involve its own internal dissension.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
At home in the metropole:
And abroad in Mayotte:
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Meanwhile, a commission headed by Simone Veil recommended against a constitutional amendment to enshrine diversity as a fundamental goal of the regime. Sarko also announced an experiment in which 100 firms would switch to the use of anonymous CV's in their hiring. This in response to the following study mentioned by Veil:
En 2004, Jean-François Amadieu, qui dirige l'Observatoire des discriminations, a envoyé plus de 1800 curriculum vitae concernant des postes de commerciaux pour lesquels il a obtenu 258 réponses. A CV identique, l'homme blanc portant un nom français et résidant à Paris était convoqué à 75 entretiens d'embauche, le même résidant au Val-Fourré, à Mantes-la-Jolie, n'en obtenait que 45 et pour celui qui portait un nom à consonance marocaine, le nombre d'entretiens tombait à 14… Dans l'entreprise, les discriminations se poursuivent : à diplôme de l'enseignement supérieur égal, seuls 11% des jeunes d'origine algérienne âgés de 25 à 33 ans sont cadres alors que 46% des jeunes d'origine française le sont.
Apparently Le Monde's editorial page is more easily impressed, as are many European observers. There's no accounting for taste.
1. "The Europeans and Asians, meanwhile, are unbelievably complacent."
2. "A restriction of global trade is not going to happen through traditional means, like high tariffs. It’s going to happen through domestic content rules on any fiscal programmes and on currency manipulation."
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
There you have the echt Baverezian manner: the enlistment of yet another culture hero in the liberal cause, the buried paraphrase of Marx to demonstrate the writer's universal ken, and the banality of the assertion, which manages to pose as the judicious conclusion of a careful argument while in fact culminating a series of thumping truisms with a statement that rings as it does because it is as empty as a bell. It's certainly no sin to cast Keynes as a liberal; he belonged to the Liberal Party, after all, and made it his mission to save capitalism from the venality, stupidity, and ignorance of too many capitalists. But Baverez manages at once to make it seem as though Keynes advocated a minimalist "night watchman" state while vaguely approving only those interventions needed "to recreate the environment necessary to the free play of the market and the full utilization of productive potential." This is scarcely adequate. Slightly better is Baverez' grudging recognition of Keynes' "dynamic conception of capitalism as a series of disequilibria," but he manages to blunt the force of this observation by linking it to a notion of the state as "teacher and comforter."
Baverez gained prominence because of the need in France for intellectual defenders of the market. Le Monde has been particularly receptive to his writing, even promoting his "declinist" book of a few years back with a forum of commentary. He filled a niche once occupied with far greater style and authority by Raymond Aron, but to mention him in the same breath as Aron is only to diminish him by the comparison. There is no boldness in his thinking and nothing very heroic in his defense of liberalism. On Keynes and Keynesianism he is no help at all.
Guérini was of course one of the southern barons who backed Ségolène Royal in her bid to lead the party. Her loss doesn't seem to have slowed him down.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Marianne seems to think that the incident makes Sarko look ridiculous. I don't know: I think he rather effectively captures the frustration that a lot of ordinary folks feel when diplomacy becomes a substitute for governing.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
On the other hand, we have the Süddeutsche Zeitung opining that the U.S. Republican vote against the auto bailout marks a return to "Hoover time." Go figure.
And now Le Monde is reporting that Merkel is planning a 30 billion euro stimulus package to be announced in January. Go figure again.
Friday, December 12, 2008
ADDENDUM: Or maybe all is not what it appears to be: according to Die Zeit, Merkel promised no more in Brussels than she had in Berlin.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
This may prove to be an effective policy, but it's not a forthright one.
The president of the Republic does not share this view. Our great consolation for toil in this vale of tears, he argues, is the right to shop on Sunday. As well as the right to work on Sunday and thus earn more, the better to shop during one's comp time.
And so the great issue of our time was joined in a memorable confrontation at the Elysée, where the dissident deputies of the majority were urged to brave their president's wrath and sit still for his rebukes: "The way you express yourselves is not very proper. It serves our adversaries, not our ideas."
The tenacity with which the dissidents defend Sunday rest might suggest an almost fundamentalist literalism ("... and on the seventh day He rested") were it not for the cynical observation that the same small merchants who pushed the Royer, Raffarin, and Galland laws see yet another threat to their viability if the dread grandes surfaces, hard discounts, et hypermarchés are allowed to desecrate the Sabbath, which the Good Lord of course intended for football, boules, and le pot au feu. I do hope the issue is resolved soon, so deputies can get back to thinking about bailouts for the auto industry and advertising boons for M. Bouygues.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
N’empêche, si le jeanlucmelenchon fonctionne aussi bien pour la gauche française que l’oskarlafontaine marche pour la gauche allemande, les députés de droite peuvent se faire graver des ronds de serviette à la cantine de l’Assemblée nationale : ils y sont pour un sacré bout de temps. Je me demande même si Jean-Luc Mélenchon n’aurait pas mieux fait de s’en tenir à la doctrine Chevènement : “Allemand ? Méfiance.”
All this is quite true, but it does raise the question of how we get to the more representative Europe that Chris would like to see from where we are now. The institutional reforms embodied in the Lisbon Treaty are not likely to move things very far along, but neither is simple insistence that "the [Irish, Czech, Polish, French, or Dutch] people have spoken, now let's get on with real democratic reforms in lieu of this elite politicking," especially if getting on with it has to be done in a context of dismally unpromising institutions. The EU is caught in an impasse: without effective representative institutions, European elections and referenda become mere sounding boards for domestic discontent. Voters can discharge their wrath without serious consequences, because the "economic" EU will continue to function as before, while the embryonic "political" EU will continue its interminable gestation, awaiting the convulsion that will finally make its birth inevitable. Yet even with a convulsion of the requisite dimensions now looming ahead, is there any reason to believe that the obvious need for greater policy coordination will lead to democratic reform? What coordination there has been has been entirely intergovernmental, even interministerial, while at the political level the sauve qui peut instinct gives every sign of carrying the day.
Any appropriate approach to fiscal policies in the current situation must be based on a number of sound principles. It is essential that the public's confidence in the soundness of fiscal policies is preserved. This requires that fiscal sustainability is guaranteed. Equally important, the EU's rules-based fiscal framework must be fully applied and its integrity preserved.
In practical terms, we should recall that the automatic fiscal stabilizers in the euro area -- policies that dampen economic cycles without direct government intervention -- are large and amount to about 1% of GDP. As the tax burden diminishes with subdued economic activity and government expenditures increase, for example in the form of unemployment payments, public budgets provide a powerful source of fiscal support for a weakening economy. And this type of stimulus is automatically reversed when economic conditions improve.
Only a few countries have the scope to take additional action. Where such room for manoeuvre exists, additional budgetary measures have to comply with the "three T's" in order to be effective. In the current circumstances, we cannot, and should not, risk adding a fiscal crisis to the financial turmoil and economic downturn.
Stark is a member of the Executive Board of the ECB. He seems barely to notice that there is a crisis in progress, let alone acknowledge its dimensions. It is interesting to compare fiscal conservatives in America with this echt-European representative. Martin Feldstein favors a large government stimulus. So does Greg Mankiw, although he would prefer tax cuts as an instrument to increased government spending. In stark contrast, Stark wants to stand pat and allow "automatic stabilizers" to do their work, as if this were an ordinary recession. European monetarism is a stern and demanding creed.
ADDENDUM: In fairness to Stark, it should be noted that some European countries have more to worry about when it comes to debt than others. Spreads on sovereign debt have widened recently, with Greek bonds, for example, trading at a premium of 185 basis points. Investors clearly do not regard Euroland as an economic unit, and, as noted here previously, Feldstein worries that these disparities may eventually crack European unity (Barry Eichengreen disagrees, and I largely agree with Eichengreen, however). The question is one of emphasis and intention, and if Stark's intention is to justify German reluctance to stimulate, his statements assume a political coloration inappropriate for a central banker.
One wonders if Kouchner came to his conclusion about angélisme before or after he assumed his post?
"Youth, parity, and diversity" constitute the façade that the PS would like to put forward in the media, but this conceals the reality that the party remains firmly in the hands of elected officials who are veterans of its internecine warfare and political professionals who are reluctant to dilute their power within the party by opening it up to new members from outside their milieu, especially representatives of the private sector. The party's inability to find a voice in which to address le pays réel reflects its own composition, in which le pays réel is scarcely represented.
A brief note on real economic issues. Everyone here seems to be talking about two things: the fate of the auto industry, which is in almost as much trouble in Sweden as it is in the United States, and the German problem. At a time when expansionary policies are desperately needed, the leaders of Europe’s largest economy seem to have their heads in the sand. This is a huge problem: there are large spillovers in fiscal policy among EU nations — that is, a significant fraction of, say, French fiscal expansion ends up promoting employment in Germany or Italy rather than France. So there’s a crying need for a coordinated policy. But the Germans aren’t participating.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
The trade is strictly regulated. Each bouquiniste is allowed four boxes painted dark green: three must contain books, the fourth can sell items such as prints, collectors' postcards, stamps and souvenirs.
How very French! The boxes must be painted dark green! Positively medieval. (h/t Maîtresse).
The prime minister's response excludes an anti-capitalist "corralling of the Anglo-Saxon Wild West."
"What Sarkozy doesn't really seem to get," this British account says, "is that we're not for tearing up the system and shooting all the people in the hedge funds. We're not going to destroy vitality and energy. We want to regulate the system better, not destroy it."
Although John Vinocur, who wants to portray the French-British couple as a "marriage of convenience," puts little stress on this difference, it is bound to loom large in the not-too-distant future. It's not just different attitudes toward regualtion of the financial sector that are at issue. France and the UK may both be capitalist economies, but the very culture of capitalism is quite different on the two sides of the channel. France is comfortable with national champions, a high-degree of state influence, and a cozy partnership (think pantouflage) between government and even those businesses in which the state does not participate formally. Sarkozy was not out to change that culture even before the crisis. His aim was rather to weaken the implicit guarantees to labor that went along with state capitalism, so that the state and its partners could "rationalize" the management of their work force. Paradoxically, the crisis, by weakening labor's bargaining position still further, may assist in this restructuring.
Gordon Brown's challenge is quite different. Britain's economic situation may be worse even than that of the United States and at this point is certainly worse than that of France. According to the Lehrer Report, one in five British jobs were tied to the City. The collapse of the financial sector is therefore not merely a precipitant of trouble in the real economy, because it is hard to distinguish in Britain between a Wall Street and a Main Street. Too many people are dependent on incomes from the rapidly shrinking financial sector. Sarkozy will be only too glad to see the City reduced to a shadow of its former self, not least because he hopes that some of its brokerage activities will be repatriated. What he wants to regulate out of existence, Gordon Brown wants to regulate in order to perpetuate.
There is a structural flaw in this marriage. I would like to work this into an extended metaphor by analogy with Henry James' Golden Bowl, in which a continental charmer and a naive anglophone are united in doomed matrimony symbolized by a cracked golden vessel. It doesn't quite flow naturally, however, as James' heroine is an American. But if Brown and Sarkozy are supposed to represent Europe with Barroso in the role of Charlotte (or is it Adam Verver?), there is a flawed vessel at the heart of this tale.
Monday, December 8, 2008
If "Martine" thought that the Ségo problem was behind her, she'd better guess again, and since the Martine-Ségo fight is of far greater interest to the media than the fine points of the Socialist program to manage the crisis by giving more purchasing power to the workers (yeah, right!), there will effectively be no opposition in France for the next four years unless the crabs in the basket can somehow be tranquilized.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Nous sommes le socialisme, levons nous, vertu et courage, car nous rallumerons tous les soleils, toutes les étoiles du ciel.
The reason for the boos was explained by militants to Jean Bauberot: "We can't stand this tele-evangelist rhetoric, which is offensive to our laïque culture."
The problem, Bauberot points out, is that the offending passage is taken not from a tele-evangelist but from socialist founding father Jean Jaurès. Bauberot's analysis, though long-winded, is worth reading in its entirety.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Of course the real joker in this deck is Pakistan. The Mumbai attacks underscore the volatility of the situation in Pakistan, and as US and European attention shifts from Iraq to Afghanistan, radical Pakistani groups are likely to seize the opportunity. Afghanistan will look more like pre-surge Iraq, and no "Sunni Awakening" pacification strategy presents itself, particularly if the Pakistani ISI is involved in the unrest and serving its own domestic political ends.
Will European public opinion remain negative if the Afghan theater heats up? Will this continue to be seen as a US operation, an extension of the Bush doctrine? A lot depends on Obama, but a lot depends as well on European leadership. For Sarkozy, I think the best strategy would be to refocus debate. Instead of viewing Afghanistan as the first stop in the "war on terror," a hopelessly discredited concept in the eyes of European publics, he could present it as an area of contention in a wider regional conflict involving two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan. It would be healthy if Obama took a similar tack. After all, the problem with radical Islam stems not from the existence of terrorist training camps in ungoverned wasteleands but from the spread of terrorist ideology, which is no doubt more rapid and effective in dense urban neighborhoods. The drive to control territory in Afghanistan is probably futile and certainly wasteful. Europeans, who know something about urban Islamic radicalism, might want to press that point with their new American counterparts. If that were done, European public opinion might not remain as static as Alex fears.
Meanwhile, Sarkozy announced a 26 billion euro (1.3% of GDP) stimulus plan, focused on investment. Slightly less than half of this will come in the form of various types of aid to firms (reduced corporate taxes, VAT rebates, research credits). The rest will be public investment, most of it to go into projects already planned but frozen for lack of funding.
The devil, of course, will be in the details. Crony capitalism is alive and well in France, and there is a large pile of cash under this Christmas tree. It could easily be misdirected. This is where it would be useful if France had potent legislative oversight, a functioning opposition, a vigilant press, and all those other accoutrements of a vibrant democracy. But, as Keynes said, in a crisis, even paying people to dig holes and fill them up again can be useful, so we await further developments. The new package will send the deficit soaring to over 4% of GDP, but apparently the Stability and Growth pact is a dead letter, even if the official trigger for suspension has not yet been hit. There is debate about the effects on the euro: see here and here.
ADDENDUM: More details on stimulus package.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Les centres, du Nouveau Centre d'Hervé Morin au Parti radical de Jean-Louis Borloo, en passant par Jean-Marie Bockel, Jean-Marie Cavada et mon mouvement, Les Progressistes, auraient pu essayer de se regrouper et créer un second parti à l'intérieur de la majorité.
That's a lot of centers: sort of reminds me of that saying of Pascal about the universe, whose center is everywhere and periphery nowhere. And Besson, though a recent transfuge from Socialism, isn't even counting the equally numerous "centrists" in the majority: Royal, Delanoë, Moscovici, DSK, Aubry even, when you come right down to it. It's a regular epidemic of centrism. Only the trick is, that in order to win the presidency, you have to appeal to your periphery as well as your center, and so far that secret has been vouchsafed only to Sarkozy, which explains Besson's sarkotropism. The center cannot hold: in this perception Yeats saw the seeds of tragedy, but perhaps it was only a definition of "the center."
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
I am struck at the resonances between the voices of young people in contemporary France and the cries of those who rebelled in U.S. inner cities in the 1960’s — arguably the last time we had nationwide un-civil unrest. French youth in the suburbs are mostly North African in origin — or from other parts of Francophone Africa. They are also mad as hell. Decades of poverty and social exclusion have created a growing cohort of teenagers and 20-somethings who feel no investment in their nation.The indifference of the French government toward such frustration is truly remarkable. The state of national denial is best exemplified by the refusal of the French government to allow either private or government bodies to gather statistics based on race or ethnicity. The French tell us that in their “republic,” everyone must be content to be (simply) a “citizen”; acknowledging attributes like race or ethnicity — or religion — would affirm differences, foster inequality, and thereby lead to threats against the national ideal of a brotherhood of Frenchmen.
... both increases in taxes and increases in government spending have a strong negative effect on private investment spending. This effect is consistent with a neoclassical model with distortionary taxes, but more difficult to reconcile with Keynesian theory: while agnostic about the sign, Keynesian theory predicts opposite effects of tax and spending increases on private investment. This does not appear to be the case.
Mankiw: "I am especially attracted to the goal of robustness: we should try to find a stimulus plan that works under a variety of alternative business cycle models." A pious wish, but does such a beast exist? Still, it's good to have the caution flag raised as we prepare to spend on the order of a trillion dollars. One of the problems with Europe's balkanized system of economic management is that the complexities distract from the essential question that Mankiw raises.
On Friday there will be a colloquium at Harvard in honor of Stanley Hoffmann, the doyen of French studies in the United States. You can see the program here. Stanley was born in Vienna 80 years ago, spent the war years in France as a Jewish child hidden in a Catholic school (the film Au revoir, les enfants parallels his story), and wrote his thesis on Pierre Poujade before coming to Harvard in the 1950s as part of a distinguished group that included Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. He has been a beacon to generations of Harvard students, as well as my mentor and friend for thirty years. Stanley has kindled a passion for France and for Europe in more Americans than probably anyone else in the world. His erudition is exceeded only by his wisdom and wit.* François Furet once said of him that "he is one of the great professors of the twentieth century." His greatness continues to enlighten us all in the twenty-first. Happy Birthday, Stanley.
* Stanley is also the kindest, gentlest, and most generous critic imaginable. I once wrote a paper in which I referred to a book that "Paul Hazard published in 1954." Stanley wrote in the margins of the draft I sent him: "If Hazard published that book in 1954, I must be mistaken in thinking that I read it in 1949, but you might want to check on the date."
Ca fait déjà un bout de temps que je me dis, en rigolant, "vivement que la gauche revienne au pouvoir, qu'on puisse avoir une politique économique un peu libérale". Aujourd'hui, je ne rigole plus.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Prenant la parole en fin de journée lundi, le président de la République Nicolas Sarkozy a déclaré qu'il comprenait "l'émoi" suscité par l'interpellation de Vittorio de Filippis et annoncé une mission chargée de réfléchir à "une procédure pénale plus respectueuse des droits et de la dignité des personnes".
Another implicit rebuke for Dati and a response, if not quite an apology, from the head of state: as Eolas remarks, M. de Fillipis's ordeal will have served a useful purpose.
Saupoudrée de jugements à l'emporte-pièce, cette démonstration hésite souvent entre l'essai et le pamphlet. Elle perd du coup de sa force. Surtout, Emmanuel Todd pèche par présomption. Si la solution qu'il défend était la panacée, on le suivrait sans hésitation. Hélas...
Well, Clive, I appreciate being turned to as a guru in these matters, but I haven't read M. Todd's screed, nor will I. Life is too short, and I'm a long way from sharing Todd's "reductionist" view, as characterized by the FT:
... globalisation is simply the exploitation of cheap workers in China and India by US, European and Japanese companies. He is therefore an unabashed champion of European protectionism. Erecting trade barriers would increase European wages which, in turn, would increase demand and boost trade, he argues. The "social asphyxia" that is sucking the breath out of democracy would disappear.
This is foolishness. The danger of course is that the crisis may make it seem plausible to people who would have dismissed it out of hand a year ago. It isn't productive to engage in polemic on this level, however, so I'm going to refuse the invitation, Clive, though thanks for asking.
* Old-timers will recall that it was M. Todd who provided Jacques Chirac with the phrase fracture sociale, which he used to such good advantage in his campaign against Lionel Jospin in 1995 and then promptly forgot as soon as he was elected.
One more "--ity": nullity, which is what this interview would amount to if its chief purpose weren't to keep the name "Copé" in the public eye. And Le Monde is willing to play the game. Sort of reminds me of a TV feuilleton I watched this weekend, Les Reporters, in which a newspaper that bears an awfully strong resemblance to Le Monde is manipulated by an aspiring politician named Michel Barlier. But the fictional Michel Barlier reminds me less of the real Michel Barnier than of his UMP colleague Jean-François Copé.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Saturday, November 29, 2008
It should be noted, however, that French household debt is relatively low compared with other European countries, although it has risen sharply in recent years, owing mainly to rising housing prices.