Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Les Voeux Présidentiels


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

What Went Wrong?

A patient in urgent need of intensive care spent six hours in an ambulance looking for an open bed. Twenty-four hospitals rejected him before he was accepted by a twenty-fifth, where he died. But Roselyne Bachelot says that there were 11 beds available in the region, so the problem is not a shortage of personnel or beds. What went wrong then? She has launched an investigation to find out.

Villages jumelés

It seems that the village of Carlat in Auvergne wants to be paired off with the village of Bruni in Italy.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Two Papers on the Economic Crisis


By economic historian Barry Eichengreen and IMF economists.

Automatic Stabilizers

One reason advanced for the relative modesty of European stimulus programs is the fact that European countries, with their comparatively large welfare states, have built-in automatic stabilizers that ensure an increase in net government expenditures when the economy slows and tax receipts decline. France today announced a third-quarter budget deficit of 15.6 billion euros, which will bring the total debt close to 1.3 trillion euros, or roughly 66.1% of GDP. Next year, the debt is expected to rise to 69.1% of GDP.

Is French Next?

The University of Southern California has closed its German department. Arabic, Hindi, and Chinese are gaining in popularity at the expense of European languages.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Argument from Silence

The political world seems suspended, awaiting the arrival of Barack Obama and the expected explosion of action that will undoubtedly mark his first hundred days. Meanwhile, silence. One hopes that Team Obama is using its repose well to hone its plans out of the limelight.

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

Sloppy Seconds

Having recycled himself from the PS to the UMP, Eric Besson is now offering the state's assistance to private firms that recycle used computers (after wiping their disks clean of confidential data, supposedly). Many will end up in Africa, where the hope is that they will reduce the "digital divide" between that continent and the rest of the world. Few details are offered. Are the recycled computers loaded with Linux? One hopes so, since Microsoft Office costs more than the average per capita annual income in many African countries. (Or is Microsoft donating its software?) Are older versions being pushed (since newer ones tend not to run very well on five-year-old machines)? Are the recipient countries being assisted with Internet infrastructure? Are the refurbished machines headed for schools, businesses, or private homes?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Come Again?

The New York Times seems not to have gotten over its Sarkolatry. Today it ran a more or less reasonable article describing the secular decline of French unions and the weak position in which the unions find themselves at auto companies hard-hit by the crisis. Fair enough, but what's news about this? one wondered in reading. French unions have been in decline for decades, and auto unions haven't been faring well anywhere.

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.

EDF Put on Notice

The EU's competition authority is looking in to EDF's long-term contracts with large companies, which it believes may reflect anti-competitive monopoly pricing.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Message

My Christmas message is outsourced to Eolas. Happy Holidays, everybody.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Son Altesse Royale Is Not Pleased

Son Altesse Royale Charles-Emmanuel de Bourbon-Parme, supposedly a lineal descendant of the Sun King, asked a court to shut down the Jeff Koons exhibit at the Palais de Versailles on the grounds that it is "pornographic." "Would you want that in your grandmother's bedroom?" His Royal Highness asks a reporter in the video (visible at the link). The judge rejected the request, however. The prudish Robespierre might well have made common cause with the prince, but the Republic is now in the hands of sensualists and showmen, so it's unlikely that Koons will be banished anytime soon, especially since François Pinault is footing half the bill and Sarko-appointed Versailles director Jean-Jacques Aillagon used to work for him.

By the way, the prince is correct: Koons' work is pornographic.

Deus ex Debacle

The economic crisis has a rather ecumenical cast of republican characters suddenly finding religion:

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.

Times Have Changed

Time was, Yvonne de Gaulle refused to receive a divorced minister at her dinner table. But it's a new age. The president and his wife are vacationing in Brazil with Carla's real father, Maurizio Remmert, who had a six-year affair with her mother, Marisa Tedeschi, while she was married to "businessman and composer" Alberto Bruni. Benoît Hamon has accused Sarko of leaving a "vacancy of power" at home while he cavorts in Brazil. Sarko replies that those who accuse him of being a hyperpresident should be pleased that he's taking a few days off. No photo-ops this time, however: last year a horde of photographers was given carefully controlled access to the royal couple in Luxor. This year they are in the proverbial "undisclosed location."

European Elections

The PS faces challenges, described here.

New Unemployment Regulations Pending

Details here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Piketty Favors a Decrease in the VAT

Another economist in the news: Thomas Piketty argues for an immediate reduction of the VAT, as in the UK.

Blanchard Calls for More Vigorous Action

Olivier Blanchard, chief economist of the IMF, is calling for more vigorous action by states to stimulate their economies. "It is better for stimulus to proceed by increased public expenditure than by decreased public receipts," he insists (even though Greg Mankiw has cited a paper by Blanchard and Perotti in arguing for the opposite course). He also criticizes the confusion and lack of clarity of US stimulus measures to date.

Assessment of the Euro

From the OFCE, an interesting assessment of the euro and the Eurozone on the 10th anniversary of the Euro's creation.

Economic Patriotism: A Debate

Nicolas Véron and Alan Beattie debate the issue of "capital protectionism," a.k.a. "economic patriotism."

Monday, December 22, 2008

Laïcité? (Guest post)

The following is a guest post from Judah Grunstein. It encapsulates everything I find so hard to accept in the French attitude toward laicité.

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.

Dray Finds a Defender

Curious. Socialists haven't had much to say about their comrade Julien Dray's brush with the law, but Frédéric Lefebvre, the Elysée spokesman, has denounced the feeding frenzy and reminded his colleagues of the presumption of innocence. He wasn't so quick to the ramparts in defending the presumption of innocence in the case of Villepin and the Clearstream affair, so we may assume some special tenderness toward Julien Dray.

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.

Old Wine and Old Battles

Gérard Grunberg remarks on the regression of the Parti Socialiste under new management. They're not even paying lip service to "flexicurity" any more.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Background on Julien Dray

Some background information on Julien Dray and his relations with the FIDL.

Mosco-Camba--Ça chauffe!

Pierre Moscovici evidently isn't at all happy with Jean-Christophe Cambadélis's characterization of his political maneuvering in the recent intraparty contest. In the grand scheme of things, this spat of course doesn't amount to a hill of beans. Still, I am fascinated by Moscovici's apparent belief that setting forth his états d'âme is a useful way of doing politics. Apparently he's never heard the admonition, Don't get mad, get even. Nevertheless, I rather enjoy his talent at playing the wounded Knight of Doleful Countenance. As to which of the two is best serving the presidential interests of DSK--if indeed either one is looking out for anybody but number one--I have no doubt that Mosco is correct that a social democrat had better watch his back in meetings with Hamon, Fabius, Emannuelli, et al., but I also have no doubt that social democrats need to learn to play politics if they want to win the presidential nomination. Michel Rocard will be honored at his funeral with fine speeches, and I'm sure Pierre Moscovici could write a good one, but Rocard was never elected president. Apart from that, I'm not sure that DSK will want the candidacy in 2012, so the whole issue may be moot. In the meantime, amuse yourself by reading Mosco's lament.

Copé se meurt, Copé est mort.

Long-time readers may have gathered that Jean-François Copé is not my favorite politician. So I enjoyed this exercise in neo-Bossuetian rhetoric by the eminently talented François Miclo.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Good Cartoon

Here.

Hmmm ...

The brigade financière has conducted a search of Julien Dray's home in connection with an investigation of "suspect" movements of funds involving an association of lycéens and SOS-Racisme. The sums allegedly involved are substantial.

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.

Copé Emulates Coppola

Jean-François Copé is out to emulate Francis Ford Coppola. He wants to make a film to expose the opposition's parliamentary antics in opposing the bill to end advertising on French public TV. Well, I'm sure that will be a major hit. But antics are what you get when parliament is reduced to a rubber stamp on le fait du Prince, and this measure was one of Sarkozy's more high-handed presidential prerogatives, sprung on even his own party without prior discussion or preparation and pushed through at an accelerated pace for no good reason even after numerous reasonable objections were raised both by the leaders of public TV and the opposition, not to mention some of the president's own supporters. True, the Socialists have often called for an end to advertising on public TV in the past, but presumably they would have compensated for the loss in finance, as Sarko has failed to do. But the most offensive part of the president's move is the subordination of the media to the whims of power. He now gets to hire and fire at will. Not that he didn't already have--and use--his influence in the past. But now he wants the kind of power de Gaulle had--and indeed, one of the "antics" of the opposition was to pun on the name of the Gaullist-era ORTF with the appellation ORTS: Organisation Radio-Télévision Sarkozy. Not very elevated as political debate, to be sure, but only too accurate in its depiction of what might reasonably be feared as a consequence of the change.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

FAF Report

Andrew Hansen of the French-American Foundation (a most worthy organization from whose largesse I have benefited on several occasions through the FAF Translation Prize) was kind enough to write in response to an earlier post about French affirmative action. The Foundation recently prepared a report on "Promoting Equality of Opportunity in Selective Higher Education." The report can be found here. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I gather it takes up the "Texas plan" that I mentioned in the previous post and that Patrick Weil favors. Many thanks to Andrew for the reference.

Thirty Percent Boursiers

The president gave a major speech on affirmative action à la française today. He wants to see 30% of the preparatory classes for the Grandes Ecoles filled with scholarship students. He has named Yazid Sabeg diversity czar. Rhetorically, his most interesting move was the invocation of the Third Republic, arguably the Golden Age of le boursier, as a foil to the notion that "republicanism" is equivalent to "egalitarianism." When the Republic was at its best in fulfilling the dreams of ordinary Frenchmen, Sarkozy argued, it did not treat everyone equally but sought out the best and the brightest for special privilege. Well, yes, it did, but not on the basis of race, residential location, or attendance of a particular lycée. This is Patrick Weil's fundamental reason for favoring the "Texas plan," under which the top ten percent of students in all high schools are entitled to admission to the state university. Although Sarko has called for 30 percent of students in the classes prépa to be scholarship students (the figure already stands at 23%), he didn't say how many of these the Grandes Ecoles ought to admit; thus a fundamental ambiguity hovers over the plan.

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.

Satisfaction Guaranteed

Cohn-Bendit, Jadot, and Besset have a good point about Sarko's EU leadership stint: so desperate was he to obtain an agreement on climate protection under his presidency that he made more concessions than necessary to Merkel, Berlusconi, and Tusk, who were out to defend their industries tooth and nail. Pragmatism and voluntarism are all well and good, but when coupled with impatience, ridiculously brief tenure, and a style of governance that privileges effets d'annonce over actual achievements, what you get is bad compromises and untenable bargains.

Apparently Le Monde's editorial page is more easily impressed, as are many European observers. There's no accounting for taste.

Why Drezner Is Worried

A smart post from Dan Drezner listing reasons to worry about the inadequacy of the current response to global crisis. Key points as far as Europe is concerned:

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."

Expulsive Efficiency

Test Society calls attention to one of the less-touted Sarkozyan reforms: quantitative evaluation of bureaucratic performance--in this instance, the evaluation of the efficiency of the immigration police in expelling foreigners from French soil.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Aigre-Doux

A contrast in political styles: Cohn-Bendit and Giscard d'Estaing, together for the first time.

Fickle French

Does anybody pay attention to this stuff? Martine Aubry, 67% approval, because she managed to squeak past Royal? Bernard Kouchner, down from 79 to 69 because he criticized Rama Yade, approved by 66%, of whom 61% say it's because of her "courageous stands" on human rights? Aubry over Royal 60 to 33 among all the French, but only 52 to 44 among Socialists (who had them 50-50 a short while ago, no?)? I report these things every once in a while, just to show how bogus they are.

Is the ECB Reverting to Form?

The European Central Bank, which had at last seemed to recognize the gravity of the crisis, may now be retrenching. The Fed is still cutting, but the ECB is "wary of taking rates too low," according to Jean-Claude Trichet. Trichet has also raised the specter of "Ricardian equivalence," the idea that government borrowing to finance deficit spending influences expectations, with the result that investor confidence is depressed rather than augmented. This is by no means a settled issue. Tyler Cowen calls attention to a recent paper. This paper by Blanchard and Perotti offers another look. And here's a recent paper by Perotti. Clearly the matter is not settled, and Trichet's caution reflects the ECB's traditional bias.

Bavard Baverez

Nicolas Baverez is one of those commentators whose portentous manner lends an unmerited gravitas to banality. This morning he is at it again in a Le Monde commentary, which purports to be about Keynes but is really yet another defense of the "liberalism" that is Baverez' only theme. "If Keynes sees eye-to-eye with the 21st century," he writes, ".... it is by virtue of his liberalism, which postulates that it is human beings, by their actions and judgment, who make the economy, even if they know not what economy they make."

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.

Les Beaux Arts


Yet another unusual strike in France. A few weeks ago it was the archeologists. Now it's the life models who pose nude for students at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Story here.

Think Locally

Jean-Noël Guérini, the président du conseil géneral des Bouches-du-Rhône and PS boss in the region, has been quite active in fashioning a regional response to the economic crisis, which he hopes will not only boost the fortunes of his constituents but also put pressure on the aging UMP mayor and boss of Marseille, Jean-Claude Gaudin. It's all detailed here. Another informative piece from Rue89, which I think has a claim on being the best "newspaper" in France today, even though it's on-line only.

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.

TNR Article

The New Republic asked me to write an article about the Socialist Party leadership contest. I confess that the "hook" in this story--the device of comparing the French Socialists to the American Republicans--was the editor's idea. I wouldn't have written it that way myself, but I suppose it might grab the attention of readers otherwise uninterested in the PS. What do you think?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sarkozy Reforms the EU

Sarko gave another one of his impromptu sketches of the aspects of international governance that grate on his famously impatient nerves:



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.

Reculer pour mieux sauter

Well, how about that! Xavier Darcos has announced a postponement of lycée curriculum reforms because he doesn't want these to be the "spark that sets off the powderkeg." Whatever happened to the old "give 'em hell" spirit of Sarkozysme? "Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres." Not this time. Perhaps it was Bruno Julliard's timely reminder that Sarko had secretly encouraged the 2006 student uprising against the CPE. Things can quickly get out of hand with those young folks, and the images from Greece still haven't faded from the TV screen. So, for now, discretion is the better part of valor, and the lycées can limp along under the current system a while longer.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Merkel Consults, Sarkozy Exhorts

Angel Merkel and her Vice-Chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier are consulting with industry, union, and bank leaders about what to do about the economic crisis. Consultation does not go without exhortation: "It is essential that we accept collective responsibility," Merkel said. But unlike in France, exhortation and consultation are firmly associated, and the government neither wants to take care of everything nor assumes that it could even if it wanted to. The differences between Sarkozy's approach to the crisis and Merkel's thus go beyond cosmetics and atmospherics. They reflect fundamentally different approaches to governing.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Why France and Germany Disagree

At Telos, an article examining the deeper sources of Chancellor Angela Merkel's attitudes toward the financial crisis. Keynes has not made a comeback in Germany, argues Philipe Ward, where the great financial disaster of the 20th century was not the Depression of the '30s but the hyperinflation of the '20s. The watchwords there äre not "stimulus" and "demand," he contends, but "ordo-liberalism," "social market economy," and "regulation."

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

EU Stimulus Package Approved

Angela Merkel in the end decided to go along with the Brown-Sarkozy plan of 200 billion euros in stimulus, about 1.5 percent of GDP. This is smaller than the expected US package, but Europe has a larger share of welfare state spending, hence more in the way of automatic stabilizers than the US. Now we'll see what happens. With the failure of the auto bailout plan in the US Senate, don't expect the European announcement to halt the slide in the US stock market.

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.

Le Maire Gets European Job

Bruno Le Maire will replace Jean-Pierre Jouyet as the man in charge of European affairs. Le Maire speaks German, which might help to smooth the strained relations between Sarkozy and his German interlocutors Merkel and Steinbruck. The appointment demonstrates that Sarkozy's grudge against Villepin doesn't extend to one of Villepin's closest collaborators, whose portrait of Sarko in Des hommes d'État, while respectful, is not altogether flattering.

European Super-state?

In the comments to the note on Chris Bickerton's article, we have been debating the possibility of a European super-state. Marianne now puts the question to Hubert Védrine and Pierre Manent, and both agree with Chris and Louis and disagree with me: not even the crisis will overcome the absence of any political pressure or movement in favor of tighter integration.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Discontent in the Universities

In a previous post I referred to rumors of growing student discontent. It seems that university presidents are also unhappy. The overall university budget has increased, but the increases have been very unequally distributed. At the same time the universities are being asked to compete one another, as greater autonomy is devolved to their presidents. One doesn't have to be a rocket scientist or university president to see the handwriting on the wall: the ministry retains the power to distribute the cash, but the universities are left to use whatever they get to compete with one another. The favored institutions will soon outperform the disfavored ones, and the minister will have every reason to close some of the latter. Punishment is meted out at one remove, and the ministry can disclaim responsibility for choosing winners and losers on the grounds that the losers will have demonstrated their inability to compete.

This may prove to be an effective policy, but it's not a forthright one.

Medvedev Imitates Sarko

Russian president Medvedev imitates Sarko (via Charles Bremner):

Long Hot Winter?

The student riots in Greece have people taking the temperature of "youth" in other countries. The WSJ believes the discontent is not local but general and attributes the restiveness to poor job prospects for graduates. With memories of the 2006 CPE demonstrations still fresh (and recently revived by reports that Sarkozy privately assured Bruno Julliard of his support while publicly backing Villepin, though not very robustly), the French government is undoubtedly among the worriers. The Darcos and Pécresse reforms are enough to stir the pot. Still, I'm skeptical of this "pan-European youth conflagration" theory. On the other hand, I'm over 60, and I remember the days when I believed along with all my equally callow comrades that life ended at 30. So who knows? Any young people out there? Care to weigh in?

A House Divided Against Itself

Yes, these are momentous times. Particularly for certain members of the UMP and Nouveau Centre, who see a threat to the very cornerstone of civilization. I speak, of course, of le repos dominical (and not of that other cornerstone of civilization, commercial-free public television). We are, they say in a philosophical rumination published in the national press, creatures meant to rest on the seventh day in emulation of our Creator in order to preserve eternal French values from the depredations of "Anglo-Saxon neo-liberalism."

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

"Fables of Lafontaine"

Trudi Kohl ponders the strange amour of Jean-Luc Mélenchon for Oskar Lafontaine. Conclusion:

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.”

Bickerton on EU Integration

Chris Bickerton has an interesting piece on EU integration and the Irish vote. For him, the politics of the EU represents neither a revival of class struggle at the European level nor a battle between nationalists and transnationalists. It is rather a crisis of democracy: "The EU embodies a vision of politics widespread in Europe, in which the relation between citizens and their leaders is one not of representation but of trust and faith." Trust us, the leaders say, and everything will turn out well. A new vote in Ireland would be, he argues, an expression of this view: you got it wrong the first time, the Irish people will be told, but we'll give you a second chance to get it right. This is not the way a democratic Europe ought to operate.

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.

Fiscal Conservatism

Contrast Paul Krugman's puzzlement at German inaction (below) with Jürgen Stark's call for fiscal conservatism:

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.

Kouchner Concedes

Bernard Kouchner, speaking on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, conceded that "it is impossible to direct the foreign policy of a country exclusively on the basis of human rights. Running a country obviously makes it impossible to adhere to a strictly 'do-good' approach." Hence, he says, he should not have asked for the addition to his staff of a secretary of state for human rights. Poor Rama Yade: disavowed yesterday by the head of state, today by her immediate superior. Time to move on?

One wonders if Kouchner came to his conclusion about angélisme before or after he assumed his post?

Bouvet on PS

Laurent Bouvet has the best analysis I've seen of the "renovation" of the Socialist Party. Bottom line:

"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.

Krugman on European Coordination

Paul Krugman, still in Stockholm on his Nobel tour:

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

Terra Nova Critique of Stimulus Package

Terra Nova, the left-leaning think tank, has published a short critique of Sarkozy's stimulus package. It revises the amount of short-term stimulus downward by about half and deplores the lack of effort to stimulate consumption directly, primarily by support of low-income households. It answers the objection that consumption stimulus will go primarily to imports and do nothing for employment at home by arguing that, unlike in 1981, France will not be the only country attempting to stimulate demand. This part of the argument is incomplete, to say the least. Nevertheless, the document is worth perusing, because its talking points will no doubt be taken up by the opposition.

New Progressive Space

Splintering? Crumbling? What is the right word for what's happening to the French Left? It isn't enough that the PS is split down the middle. It isn't enough that Besancenot's Trotskyists must now share their niche with Mélenchon's French version of Die Linke. Now Robert Hue, who as previously reported here, has quit the Communist Party he once led, is creating his own Nouvel Espace Progressiste. This is the "Field of Dreams" theory of politics: if you build it, they will come. As de Gaulle once remarked à propos of something or other, "Quelle mascarade!"

Yade Is Out

Libé is reporting that Rama Yade has been "excluded" from consideration to replace J.-P. Jouyet as secretary of state for European Affairs. Bruno Lemaire is now the favorite for the post. Apparently, Sarkozy was mightily displeased by Yade's refusal to head the UMP Ile-de-France ticket in upcoming European parliamentary elections. Once an ornament constantly at Sarkozy's side despite her junior position in the cabinet, Yade now bids fair to be banished from proximity to the prince. Life at court is full of such vicissitudes. The young aspirant can now spend her time reading the Memoirs of Saint-Simon.

Books by the Seine

Those bouquinistes who sell their wares from bins along the Seine in Paris are in trouble. Buyers of old books have gone on-line (guilty as charged, your honor!), and tourists don't read. But what really caught my eye in this article was the regulation of the Seine-side book trade:

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 Golden Bowl

Sarkozy met yesterday with Gordon Brown and José Manuel Barroso. The French president reportedly finds it easier to work with Brown than with Angela Merkel, whose response to the crisis baffles her allies. Brown shares Sarko's urgency, although the two men's instincts are quite different:

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

Peillon: The New PS Can't Spell

According to Vincent Peillon, the new Socialist Party of Martine Aubry is not only guilty of "intellectual regression" and "forgetting education," it can't even spell correctly, "which is unacceptable in a party of government." In addition to these peccadillos, it has all but excluded the Ségolénistes from participating in the running of the party, despite their 50% representation. Ségo herself went on TV to deny that she was refusing "to work." She is ready and willing, she says, and told "Martine" so on three occasions but is still waiting for her call, despite the fact that she "represents fifty percent of the militants."

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.

Bertrand to Head UMP

No surprise, but Xavier Bertrand has been named interim head of the UMP.

Habermas and Sarkozy, Même Combat?

Jean-Claude Monod tells us that Jürgen Habermas, the great apostle of rational dialogue, no longer believes in the self-sufficiency of "communicative reason" and argues that rationalists must enter into "critical and self-critical dialogue" with what he variously calls "religion, the religious heritage, religious traditions, and the normative resources of religion." Perhaps this is not quite the same thing as Sarkozy's contention that the schoolmaster alone is not enough or that there is no civilization without religion, but the point seems similar enough that one might expect Habermas soon to be added to the Sen-Stiglitz Commission on the "politics of civilization"--if it hasn't already been disbanded or transformed into the Economic Crisis Advisory Board.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Replacing Jouyet

Jean Quatremer offers some speculation on who might replace Jean-Pierre Jouyet as secretary of state for European affairs (Jouyet will become head of the AMF). One possibility is Rama Yade, who seems to have faded from public view in recent months. Another is Bruno Lemaire, now a deputy (for l'Eure), formerly Villepin's chief of staff and the author of an interesting book, Des hommes d'État, which gives, among other things, an insider's view of relations between Villepin and Sarkozy.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Speak Softly and Wear a White Scarf

Braving Chinese threats, Nicolas Sarkozy met with the Dalai Lama. His words toward China were rather conciliatory. China's rhetoric in recent days has been more muted as well. So now that this symbolic Rubicon has been crossed, perhaps Sarko can get down to the business of defining what French policy on Tibet actually is. The Dalai Lama says he doesn't want independence. Sarkozy has no intention of challenging Chinese sovereignty. Jawboning has its limits, but France is now in a position to act as intermediary. The president's gesture showed that he was willing to pay a price--albeit a rather small one--for principle. It may even have earned him a little respect from China. Now he needs to demonstrate resourcefulness in making something of that gain and proving that his purpose wasn't merely to bolster his macho street cred back on the block.

No Healing in PS

Martine Aubry announced the new leadership of the PS today, and two things are clear: treachery pays, and there has been no healing or even temporary patching up since the disastrous Reims Congress. Benoît Hamon becomes party spokesperson, a reward for his last-minute rallying. Cambadélis, who bolted from his supposed alliance with Moscovici, takes over Moscovici's job as national secretary for European and international affairs. Montebourg, who also flirted with Mosco for a time, becomes national secretary for renovation. Harlem Désir is responsible for "coordination" (good luck). Pascal François Lamy and Michel Sapin are in; the Royalistes are left out in the cold. Early signs of reconciliation have vanished.

Slump Hits Brit Expats

Charles Bremner reports that the slump has hit the British expatriate community in France quite hard, and many are moving back to Britain.

Ségo's Sin

It seems that Ségolène Royal was booed at the Reims Congress for uttering the following line at the end of her speech:

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

Economists Debate Stimulus Plan

Le Monde solicits the reactions of economists to Sarko's stimulus plan. Jean-Paul Fitoussi is generally pleased. Philippe Aghion is more critical. He thinks the boost to firms to encourage investment will not do the job in the absence of a boost to households to push consumption. He neglects, however, the problem that households may choose to save rather than spend, or may choose to spend on foreign-produced goods, which does nothing to help French employment. He also ignores the accelerated funding of public-works projects, which will channel wages to households that may then spend. Still, the implicit basis of his critique, that the size of the stimulus to investment is probably too small to compensate the anticipated fall in output, is echoed by other economists cited in the piece, one of whom suggests that there had better be a stimulus plan B already in the works.

French Economic Geography

A brief note on the distribution of economic activity in France.

Correction: Devedjian, not Woerth!

A correction: I said yesterday that Eric Woerth was going to be promoted to the post of "minister of stimulus." Le Monde reports this morning that the job is going to Patrick Devedjian, who is being kicked upstairs from his position as head of the UMP, from which his departure has long been anticipated. This is a surprise, since Sarkozy had supposedly been unhappy with Devedjian's performance. It has to be said, as well, that he hardly brings to the post the stature of a Larry Summers or Tim Geithner. So either Sarko doesn't attach much importance to the ministry of relance or Devedjian will be a figurehead while someone like Woerth, more of a numbers man, does the work. I leave it to you to decide which option Sarko has chosen.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Crisis and Trade

VoxEU has produced another e-book on the crisis, this time in relation to trade.

Sarko Emulates Palin

Sarko sounding a bit like Sarah Palin:

Obama and Europe

Alex Massie and Dan Drezner have been debating the question of whether tensions will rise between the US and Europe over Afghanistan after Obama takes over. Alex stresses the widespread popular sentiment in Europe that there is no military solution in Afghanistan. Dan counters that European policy elites are more receptive to the notion that a reinvigorated multilateral push in Afghanistan can halt the slide and possibly turn things around--provided that things in Iraq remain stable.

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.

Minister of Stimulus

Eric Woerth has been promoted from secretary of state in charge of the budget to the new post of "stimulus minister." Next thing you know, he'll be sitting in a bathtub doing Cialis ads. Woerth's new position puts him in something like the same role as Larry Summers in the US. As head of the National Economic Council, Summers will presumably be coordinating the stimulus spending expected to begin soon after Obama takes office. Woerth will be doing the same in France. It will be interesting to see how closely firms receiving aid will be monitored in the two countries.

Stimulus Here, There, and Everywhere

Flash: the ECB reduced its principal rate by 0.75% to 2.5%, the biggest single decrease in its history.

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.

EDF Takes On Buffett

EDF is attempting to buy a nuclear power company in the United States, threatening to scuttle an offer made previously by Warren Buffett for the same firm. One can imagine the outcry if a US company did the reverse.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sciences Po Changes Its Doctoral Program

Details here. With its affirmative action admissions policies, tuition fees, and now reformed doctoral program, Sciences Po has broken with the standard French university model in significant ways. Will it set an example for future changes across the university system? Or will it be rejected as alien to the spirit of French education? I invite your comments.

The Center Cannot Hold bis

Well, it seems that the exclusive post-G20 summit conference that Sarko and Blair announced right after the Washington get-together, much to the consternation of George Bush, who wasn't invited, was actually the brainchild of Eric Besson, or so he says. Besson also sees a bit of crowding in the mushy middle of the political spectrum:

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

The Center Cannot Hold

Holy smokes! Conservative economist Ken Rogoff is recommending "moderate inflation in the short run – say, 6% for two years" as the only way out of the crisis. The financial system is just too screwed up to fix one institution at a time. I can hear the alarm bells ringing at the European Central Bank. Mon Dieu! The end is nigh.

Riots Ahead?

Will riots again break out in the banlieues? Sudhir Venkatesh thinks so:

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.

Pisani-Ferry on Stimulus

Jean-Pisani Ferry considers the problem of coordinating stimulus plans in the Eurozone. In Europe, with its patchwork economic governance, debate will naturally gravitate toward this question of coordination. In the United States, however, criticisms of the still-unformulated Obama stimulus package have tended to focus on the question of what theoretical assumptions will inform the plan and whether the proposal will please economists who make different assumptions about how the macroeconomy works. Greg Mankiw, for instance, asks about the robustness of certain nostrums under alternative models and notes that IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard published a paper with Roberto Perotti which found that

... 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.

Advisors on Stimulus Plan

Le Figaro reports that Sarko is huddling daily with advisors who are helping him to polish the presentation of his stimulus plan, expected on Thursday. Who is advising him? Christine Lagarde, of course, but also Henri Guaino, Raymond Soubie, and François Pérol. Lagarde, the minister of finance, and Guaino, the ubiquitous speechwriter, need no introduction. The latter two names may be less well known. Pérol is a managing partner of the Rothschild Bank who was on Sarkozy's staff when he served as minister of the economy. Soubie, a Sarko advisor, was formerly the head of a human resources consulting firm. Both are énarques. In one of the earliest posts on this blog, I commented on the prevalence of lawyers and relative absence of énarques in Sarkozy's cabinet. The énarques have not disappeared, however, even if many of them are lurking in the background, like Pérol and Soubie, rather than occupying the front-line positions.

Stanley Hoffmann turns 80


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.

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* 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."

"Buy French!"

Readers of a certain age will remember the "Buy British!" campaigns of the 1960s. Sarko, speaking to mayors yesterday, recommended a policy of "Buy French! Buy local!" and cost-be-damned if that's what it takes to do your patriotic duty. Ceteris Paribus puts it well:

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

Filippis Affair

After a tart dismissal of the matter by Rachida Dati, who remarked that "all procedures had been followed," President Sarkozy has once again taken things in hand with a more temperate response, as reported by Maître Eolas:

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.

Todd's Latest Blast

Clive Davis asks what I think of Emmanuel Todd's* Après la démocratie, which the FT reviews rather more warmly--although the review begins by saying that "Mr Todd's thesis will strike many readers as nonsense," it adds, almost grudgingly, as if to make a fair fight of it, that "some of Mr Todd's arguments are as insightful as they are polemical"--than Le Monde:

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.

Er, the President Misspoke

"Misspoke," that wonderful English word used by politicians to lift their errors into a limbo of forgiveness lavished upon those whose every utterance is exposed to public scrutiny, must now be applied to Nicolas Sarkozy, who confidently stated on Nov. 27 that there is no TGV to Strasbourg, and what a scandal this was. But there has been a TGV to Strasbourg for more than a year.

Copé Makes Good Copy

Jean-François Copé certainly learned one thing from Nicolas Sarkozy: the importance of keeping one's name in the newspaper all the time if one aspires to become president of the Republic. So today we have him discovering the importance of the "-ities": austerity, "conviviality," diversity. Yes, France needs a stimulus program, but if it's going to spend more here, it needs to save more--well, anyway, some--there. Yes, it's his job to whip the majority into line on the question of Sunday work, but he's going to do it with "conviviality." And diversity: yes, if we need more solidarity, we have to recognize our diversity.

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.

Prix du Livre de l'Economie

The Prix du livre de l'économie was awarded last Friday by Christine Lagarde to a deserving recipient, my friend Jacques Mistral, for his book La troisième révolution américaine. It's an excellent book, which among other things highlights the shortcomings of the Anglo-Saxon economic and social model before the crisis. Congratulations, Jacques.