Thursday, October 30, 2008

Plus Ça Change department ...

The result was the prodigious and noxious fecundity of the financial mind, which was so strikingly characteristic a feature of the administration of public funds during the final three centuries of the monarchy.

-- Alexis de Tocqueville, L'Ancien Régime et la Révolution, II.10

Cécile Laborde on "Catho-Laïque Particularism"

Once again, Cécile Laborde brilliantly dissects the "republican consensus" underlying recent administrative and court rulings in France and finds that it suffers from a "status quo bias."

Selective Immigration is Discriminatory

The HALDE (la Haute authorité de lutte contre les discriminations et pour l'égalité) has issued an opinion stating that the circular implementing the Sarkozy-Hortefeux policy of "selective immigration" is in essence discriminatory because it provides for hiring in certain positions on the basis of national origin without fair and open competition.

Paradigm Shift

It has been easy to mock Sarkozy in recent weeks for his battlefield conversion to dirigisme, state ownership, job subsidies, and so on, but even presidents are playthings of the gods, and the gods seem to have struck awe into minds far more consistently free-market-oriented than Sarkozy's. Witness this "remarkable" (to borrow Sarko's favorite adjective) article by Martin Feldstein in today's Washington Post. Feldstein not only calls for a stimulus package larger than the one proposed by the Democrats but also foresees a need for government intervention to put a floor under declining housing prices lest the unabetted free market "overshoot" on the down side.

We are all Keynesians now.

European Financial Stability Fund

An argument for a European financial stability fund.

And what's his game?

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, freshly cleansed of all sin, has told Le Monde that "vous ne savez pas tout" about who did what in saving the global economy from disaster. He was working hard behind the scenes, he says, and not just in the alcoves of Davos. Among supporting players Gordon Brown is mentioned several times but, unless I've missed it, Sarkozy is not named even once. At the same time, Brown has called for increasing IMF reserves and encouraging the fund to operate as a sort of global central bank, a move likely to enhance DSK's importance in ways that Sarkozy might find inconvenient. This little intra-European sideshow will be interesting to watch when the global financial meetings convene in Washington after the election.

What's His Game?

Patrick Devedjian says he wants Nicolas Sarkozy to resume his leadership of the UMP, thus displacing Devedjian himself. He omits to mention that Sarko had previously dispatched three "handlers" (Bertrand, NKM, Estrosi) to keep an eye on him and that he has not been in good odor at the château. Instead, he chooses to cast himself as the most loyal of Sarkozystes because the least personally ambitious. "I am not présidentiable nor was meant to be," he says (with apologies to T. S. Eliot). This is his not-so-subtle way of reminding Sarko, as if the president needed reminding, that a political party is not a band of brothers. With the persistent grumbling within UMP ranks rather louder of late, especially after the president's announcement of 100,000 new subsidized jobs and his opportunistic and perhaps temporary return to dirigisme, Sarkozy is surely aware that he needs to throw a few bones to the hungry young wolves. But that is what ministerial shake-ups are for, and the maneuvering is in full swing in advance of the remaniement expected early next year.

The other day, for instance, Alain Lamassoure happened to pass through Cambridge. Lamassoure, who was minister for European Affairs under Balladur, minister of the budget under Juppé, and advisor to Sarkozy on European matters during the campaign, was passed over for a cabinet position in favor of socialiste d'ouverture Jean-Pierre Jouyet, who has announced that he will be leaving the government in 2009. Lamassoure was careful to note in his Harvard lecture that "Nicolas Sarkozy is a remarkable man." No doubt he hopes that Sarkozy will note in turn that among those remarkably eager to serve him in this hour of need, there are others just as remarkable as Devedjian and perhaps a trifle less ironic in their zeal to flatter the prince.