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?