Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Rocard Décomplexé

I generally like franc-parler in politicians, usually a mealy-mouthed class, but Michel Rocard is so unbuttoned these days that one worries about his equilibrium since his cerebral incident last year. In an interview he muses on the causes of the current economic crisis, leaping from collateralized debt obligations--sound enough--to the US departure from the gold standard in 1971! Then he says that he wishes Milton Friedman were alive today to witness the devastation he wrought. If he were, then he could be haled before the International Court of Justice and tried for crimes against humanity!!

One can wish that Friedman hadn't been quite so influential, but this seems a tad hyperbolic.

Europresident

The hyperpresident that was seems to want to become the once and future Europresident, that is, the durable leader of Euroland, which he believes needs permanent leadership at the head of state--and not just the minister of finance--level. Naturally he sees himself as filling the role perfectly and would like the other member states to pony up capital for a European Sovereign Wealth Fund whose mission would be to prevent other sovereign wealth funds from snapping up European firms at bargain prices in the coming period of recession.

All the earmarks of authentic Sarkozyan policymaking are here: the idea is bold; it circumvents existing constitutional roadblocks (or in this case, the absence of a constitution and therefore of a stable European executive, which itself is a roadblock to decisive action); it was announced without prior consultation; it is an affront to other powerful players (Angela Merkel foremost among them); and it is an inextricable mixture of good ideas (continuity of policy and centralized decision-making are probably needed in the present crisis if not always) and bad ones (the sovereign wealth fund idea, which Germany has already rejected, is traditional French-style "economic patriotism" writ large and dressed up as an antidote to economic collapse, which it is not; the absence of democratic controls at the EU level would pose a serious problem).

Still, Sarko's excesses have the virtue of getting the pot boiling. Something may come of his proposal, though it will no doubt have to be much modified before it becomes acceptable to all the veto players. The sheer chutzpah of appointing himself economic czar of the Eurozone takes the breath away, but his instinct that, if not a czar, then at least a coordinator with clout is essential is probably correct.

Maybe DSK will be the man for the job if the IMF decides to sack him (I think they won't).

Guéant

There's a new book out about Claude Guéant, the secretary-general of the Elysée whom some call "the vice-president of France." The review on nonfiction.fr emphasizes Guéant's working-class roots chez les Ch'tis and his meritocratic ascent: bac, scholarship to the U.S. for deserving student, Sciences Po, ENA. At ENA, for his required work internship, he chose the mines of the Nord, returning to his roots. Upon graduation he entered the prefectoral corps, at the time a not particularly prized assignment. The choice surprised some of his peers, but it seems to have served Guéant well. He remains a man of the shadows, exercising his considerable influence well out of the limelight, and the review doesn't tell us much about how he goes about his business behind the scenes. It seems clear, though, that Sarkozy relies on him heavily.