Monday, August 18, 2008

PPDA se survit

The PPDA marionette featured on Les Guignols de l'Info will remain even though the real PPDA has been booted from TF1. A new distinction is thus born: the person who is so eminently caricaturable that his caricature outlives his public persona.

What Is to Be Done?

It has been obvious almost from the beginning that Sarkozy's economic policy was ill adapted to the global economic context that has taken hold since the subprime crisis. That policy was predicated on the assumption that France was doing worse than its economic peers owing to a combination of factors including restrictive labor market laws, the 35-hour week, early mean retirement age, and high social charges.

But now France's peers, including the most "liberal" of them, the United States, aren't doing well either. The Bush administration and Congress have already approved several stimulus measures, and the Federal Reserve has endeavored mightily to keep credit channels from freezing.

The French, meanwhile, have been slow to react. That now seems to be changing. The slowdown has finally focused the government's mind. Unfortunately, the chorus that once sang in unison has now devolved into cacophony. Christian de Boissieu, the head of the Conseil d'Analyse Economique, is calling for stimulus. Eric Woerth, the minister of the budget, still makes the case for long-term structural reform, yet even he seems to be scrambling to free up money for immediate stimulus, while remaining mindful of the limited room for maneuver owing to Europe-imposed deficit and debt limits. Christine Lagarde, meanwhile, evinces, publicly at least, a Micawber-like belief in the imminence of cost-free salvation: the worst of the crisis is over, she says, pointing to the recent decline in oil prices as a sign that the markets will stabilize themselves.

But is there any intellectual coherence to all this? James Galbraith, whose lament on the decline of Keynesianism I cited the other day, continues (in French) with a rather cheerful coda on the decline of monetarism, whose doom he believes the current financial crisis has sealed. No doubt there is a great deal of truth in this, but the failure of the Monetarist Revolution does not mean that a Keynesian Restoration is imminent. Too many weaknesses of the old regime were exposed in the interim to permit a return pure and simple to the way things were. Worse, current policymakers are left to fly blind, without instruments, in a conjuncture of pea soup. The disarray visible in France suggests that in such conditions, the once-anticipated "soft landing" is unlikely.

Death of Henri Cartan

Not politics, but ... as some of you may know, I was a mathematician before becoming a specialist in things French. My doctoral dissertation drew on the work of two French mathematicians, René Thom and Jean-Pierre Serre, and both were students of Henri Cartan, who died last week at the age of 104. Cartan was one of the greats of twentieth-century mathematics, as well as a founding member of Bourbaki, the name adopted by a group of French mathematicians who aspired to write a series of texts that would establish the entirety of mathematics on a firm, rigorous, and modern foundation. He (like his father before him, also a mathematical giant) was one of the crown jewels of French thought, but I wonder how many in France even know his name.

Back to Church?

Bernard Girard notes changes in the religious behavior of the French and wonders if this might connote a sharpening of class divisions. A speculative but thought-provoking comment. And as a bonus, a link to a note on Sarkozy's upcoming meeting with the pope, whose defense of the indissolubility of marriage will not prevent him from entering the divorced president's palace via la petite porte.