Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Benefits for Workers of Labor Market Reform

Rue89 has a good rundown of debates on the Web about whether or not the pending labor market reforms offer benefits to workers.

Believing the Numbers

A fortuitous conjunction of two articles suggests a need to think again about numbers. In Le Monde, the economist Jean Pisani-Ferry attempts to link skepticism about economic statistics in France to the supposed severity of Gallic distrust that has become a favorite theme in recent months in French intellectual circles. Pisani-Ferry proposes to counter this skepticism by offering legal guarantees of independence to statistical agencies like INSEE.

But at Telos, another economist, Hervé Boulhol, offers a cautionary tale that will come as no surprise to anyone who works with economic statistics: they are often unreliable. But this unreliability usually has nothing to do with base political motives and everything to do with the cost of collecting data, the variability in what data are collected from country to country, and the haste of researchers to press into service whatever data are available in order to come up with answers to pressing questions.

Boulhol's article is interesting for reasons apart from its comments on statistics. He considers the question of whether employment protections contribute to persistent unemployment, as is often alleged, and finds that when the data are appropriately corrected, the answer is at best ambiguous. If there is an effect on unemployment, it appears to be smaller than had been believed. This information is of course poignantly relevant at this moment, since the negotiations over labor code revisions seem about to yield an agreement, which will diminish the employment protections currently in place under the old CDI. Boulhol's article suggests that there is good reason to doubt that this will yield much benefit.

He Really Dislikes Her

Michel Rocard pretends to analyze the dilemma of the Socialist Party: it has lost its voice because it can't overcome the divide between those who want Europe and those who don't and those who believe the market is inevitable and those who believe it must be rejected. The party has failed to diagnose the reasons why the full-employment, high-growth capitalism of the period 1945-1973 has given way to the lackluster growth and persistent high unemployment of recent decades.

If that were all he had to say, however, it would hardly have been worth picking up his pen. Everybody knows these things, as he says. The reason for his blistering column is simply that he hates Ségolène Royal and thinks that she is leading the party to ruin. Is hatred too strong a word? Consider: "The problem is that this good-looking and charismatic candidate clearly lacks the abilities needed for the responsibilities to which she aspires. She represents a certainty of defeat, at the price, moreover, of a very serious crisis within the party."

These are astonishing words. Rocard might be entitled to his view if he deigned to tell us precisely which qualities Royal lacks. Rocard himself aspired to the same responsibilities, and I think it's fair to say that he, too, lacked some of the requisite qualities, such as the ability to express his diagnoses of economic and social ills concisely in a way that could be communicated effectively to voters. As it happens, Royal would not be my choice for party leader either. But Rocard, by choosing to dismiss the woman who was in fact his party's choice in the last election in such a contemptuous and unjustified manner, adds incivility to the other debilities of the PS. And no doubt misogyny: Would he have expressed himself in quite such rude and peremptory terms about, say, Laurent Fabius, whose arrogance surely counts as a strike against him, or Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose flaws as potential party leader are widely whispered about?

No doubt it's the signs that Ségo has got her mojo back that have unhinged Rocard.