Tuesday, March 31, 2009
No doubt the president has in mind de Gaulle's deft use of la politique de la chaise vide (thanks Sophie! for the correction) but this affair risks being more of an empty threat than an empty chair, and it is beginning to make Sarko look like an empty suit to his foreign partners, who aren't in the mood for playing games.
Monday, March 30, 2009
nonfiction.fr : En quoi cela tranche-t-il avec le système français actuel ?
Michèle Lamont : Le système français est en transition. Il y a une crise profonde, en partie parce que par le passé, les commissions d'évaluation étaient souvent composées d’un ou plusieurs groupes "affinitaires" dont la légitimité scientifique pouvait être faible, incluant des universitaires proches du politique ou des syndicats, mais qui n'avaient pas toujours un dossier de publications de premier ordre, alors que les chercheurs de pointe pouvaient refuser d’y siéger. Par ailleurs, en France, l'accès à un poste requiert souvent un lobbying préalable qui est humiliant pour le candidat, et qui reproduit des relations de patronage qui sont malsaines et qui vont a l'encontre du développement d'une culture de l'évaluation à même de renforcer la légitimité des universitaires.
Il me semble que le principal problème est que cet univers reste hyper-politisé, en partie à cause de la pénurie durable de ressources. Les universitaires ne considèrent pas toujours comme évident qu'un expert de haut niveau doive pouvoir évaluer un profil ou un projet en faisant abstraction de ses intérêts personnels. Je ne dis pas que c’est toujours le cas aux États-Unis, loin de là, mais on y constate qu'un expert qui ne fait pas d'effort pour séparer de manière explicite ses intérêts personnels de ses critères d'évaluation voit son statut professionnel décroître, et n'est pas réinvité à siéger dans les comités d'évaluation. Le localisme est associé à la médiocrité dans ce vaste système universitaire national où la performance selon des critères universalistes est vue comme une marque de véritable excellence.
Aujourd’hui, il semble que la politique gouvernementale française veuille remplacer le système actuel par une approche managériale, susceptible de renforcer le localisme, et davantage "automatisée" (notamment par l’utilisation systématique d’indicateurs quantitatifs). Les réformes proposées ne semblent pas mettre l'expertise des chercheurs au centre du dispositif d'évaluation. Le système américain marche en partie parce que les évaluateurs sont reconnus en tant qu'experts ayant passé une bonne partie de leur vie à développer une connaissance approfondie de leur domaine de recherche, ce qui leur permet de déterminer quelle sont les nouvelles questions qui valent la peine d'être explorées. Dans le contexte français, cette prérogative de l'expert est aujourd’hui mise en question. Il semble y avoir une crise profonde de l'expertise de recherche, ce qui est assez surprenant dans un pays ou la vie intellectuelle est si centrale pour l'identité nationale.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
*i.e., he is smiling, from the resemblance of the mouth forming a smile to a banana, says the dictionary. In English we might say that he has a "s***-eating grin on his face."
Saturday, March 28, 2009
But let me play devil's advocate for a moment--always a useful role in an emergency, when urgency hardens choices prematurely and tends to shut out doubt and experimentation. I'm not as sure as Krugman that the mystique of finance continues to flourish, since it suckled on the milk of optimism, which has now evaporated. The ruling ideologies of the moment, derived from the lessons of the last Depression, are, I think, 1) that output gaps must be filled with unstinting government expenditure and 2) that trade openness must be maintained lest neighbors be beggared. About open capital flows there is less agreement, indeed a growing sense that these need to be regulated and perhaps taxed, but free trade in goods remains largely intact and untouchable.
I tend to believe these orthodoxies myself, to the point where I find dissent from either of them, such as that expressed by Angela Merkel on stimulus spending (h/t Eloi), shocking, just as the first attempts to throw off the "golden fetters" were found shocking in the 30s. But what if we orthodox believers are overlooking something?
Is there any reason to believe we might be? Well, take this column by Epifani and Gancia. They aren't directly concerned with the current crisis and are perhaps less likely, therefore, to be influenced by their emergency commitments. Although they are concerned with explaining the effect of trade openness on government size, the mechanism they discuss--the effect of government spending on terms of trade--is one that needs to be more thoroughly explored. For what Eichengreen and Temin remind us of is the way in which local instabilities were transmitted and magnified via adherence to the gold standard. We no longer have that to worry about, but we do have new mechanisms for the transmission and amplification of instability around the globe. How these mechanisms will interact with stimulus packages, especially when those stimuli are uncoordinated, is a matter about which history has little to teach us and theory--pace Mundell and Fleming--is underdeveloped.
I'm not saying that anxiety on this score should undermine belief in our orthodoxies. Just that all doubt shouldn't be thrown overboard to lighten ship in the storm. It just might turn out to be a life preserver. I see no reason to forget that, like our forebears, we, too, are likely to hold that the beliefs to which we cling in troubled times are the very embodiment of wisdom and virtue. That's certainly the way Paul Krugman feels about his beliefs.
Friday, March 27, 2009
1. Nicolas Sarkozy : 17,1 %, le 14 février 2008.
2. Dominique Strauss-Kahn : 16 %, le 26 mars 2009.
3. Rachida Dati/Bernard Tapie : 15,2 %, le 16 octobre 2009.
4. Bernard Kouchner : 14,4 %, le 15 mai 2008.
5. Une spéciale "Impôts, pouvoir d'achat, salaires" : 14,1 %, le 27 mars 2008
6. Martine Aubry : 12,7 %, le 29 janvier 2009.
7. François Bayrou : 12,3 %, le 11 décembre 2008.
8. Une spéciale "Crise" : 12,3 %, le 13 novembre 2008.
9. François Fillon : 12 %, le 12 juin 2008 (face à un match de l'Euro sur TF1).
10. Xavier Darcos : 9,8 %, le 11 septembre 2008.
The Institut Montaigne also notes that European governments have met with difficulty in funding their deficits. The Germans were unable to place all of their last bond issue, according to the document. This may help to explain why Europeans are reluctant to stimulate by increasing their deficits further. The IM document suggests that an authority be created to issue a European sovereign bond. Details on this are a bit sketchy, and though they are said to be fleshed out elsewhere on the site, I wasn't able to find them. Without an EU taxing authority, I'm not sure why Euro-debt should be easier to place than national debt, but the underlying idea is clear: with a common currency and a common central bank, one needs a way to issue debt that compensates for the deficiencies of the weakest member states.
These are constructive proposals for the G20 to consider, and there's much more in the document, which is available in both French and English (except that, on checking, the English "document" appears to be in French as well).
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Martine had better hope she's a knockout on Drucker's show.
This is outrageous, pure and simple.
First, Mr Wasner, we French are not the ones who have to "accept the other". It is "the other" who has to make the French accept him first. He is the one who decided to come, nobody forced him. So please, let's put our priorities in order.
Then, Mr Wasner has already decided that the problem to be solved is discrimination.
No. The main problem is an excessive immigration. Immigration is fine just as long as you can assimilate immigrants. When there are too many of them, that becomes impossible and problems occur. It happens to be the case that most recent immigrants are either arab or black, and therefore, if immgigrants don't integrate well, the ethnic statistics will tell us that Blacks and Arabs seem to be pushed aside. And no doubt, racism will be invoked as the primary factor here. Indeed, invoking any other factor will be deemed racist.
I see nothing in Wasmer's remarks to warrant this rejection, not to say "outrage." Wasmer does not speak of "acceptance" but simply of employment. But suppose we consider the issue of "accepting the other," which for M. Granville is paramount. Granville argues that "it is 'the other' who has to make the French accept him first." But what does that entail? Wasmer notes that the unemployment rate for youths with at least one Maghrébin parent is 1.5 times higher than for youths with two "French" parents, even when the level of educational attainment is the same. He doesn't say that "racism" is the only possible cause of this. Indeed, as an economist, he may well be thinking of the standard economic argument that a foreign name or "underprivileged" place of residence is taken by employers as a "signaling" device connoting other characteristics pertinent to the employment decision.
Whatever the cause, the social problem remains. But my question for M. Granville is, "How exactly has 'the other' failed in his duty to 'make the French accept him first?'" He has obtained the same diploma as the French job applicant; he has signaled his readiness to work more in order to earn more by applying for employment. And yet he is turned away at a higher rate than his competitor. Is M. Granville arguing that his preparation for employment is somehow deficient? Perhaps he has attended an inferior school. If so, that is a social problem, a challenge for the government, that more precise social statistics might help to solve. How can one answer the question of whether a high concentration of children of immigrants in a particular school district is a challenge to educators unless one knows where immigrant children are concentrated? Under current law, such judgments must be made by indirect inference. Wouldn't it be better to measure directly?
M. Granville also makes the following point:
And by the way, Jews probably have a better memory of what ethnic statistics can be used for. I don't think it a coincidence that Simone Veil opposed the modification of the constitution's preamble, and she is right, of course.
Having argued that it is best for purposes of lawmaking not to distinguish subgroups of the national population, M. Granville nevertheless finds it useful to distinguish the Jewish subgroup as one possessing a special memory in regard to the collection of "ethnic statistics." Indeed, the fichage of members of this or that category for purposes of exclusion, expropriation, expulsion, and extermination is what no one wishes to see repeated.
But why is this example the one for which opponents of improved statistical data reach immediately whenever the issue is debated? The data to be collected are to be kept anonymous. To ensure that this will be the case, surveys must be carefully vetted and approved. Personal identifying information will be removed from all records. There is simply nothing in common between the kinds of data to be collected by social scientists and the fiches used by Vichy's police. Since I am as Jewish as Mme Veil, I can say with utter confidence that not all Jews share the sentiments that M. Granville imputes to her and, by extension, "them." To say more about "the Jewish position" on the question, I would need to gather statistics using some reputable and recognized social scientific method. To rely on purely anecdotal evidence, as M. Granville does, is to open the door to the imputation of whatever "ideas" the commentator wishes to whatever group he or she chooses to characterize. This practice is precisely what the collection and analysis of data is meant to counter.
Finally, as to M. Granville's point that "excessive immigration" is the problem rather than discrimination, I can agree that it is difficult for any society to assimilate immigrants when the arrival rate exceeds a certain level. But what we don't know in the French case, precisely because we lack adequate statistics, is the degree to which high observed unemployment rates are distributed among different groups issus de l'immigration: Is high unemployment primarily a phenomenon of the first generation? To what extent do the second and third and fourth generations also exhibit differential unemployment and education rates when compared with les Français de souche? How do neighborhood patterns vary with assimilation? None of these questions can be answered by inference from data on last names and parental origin alone. That is why better data are needed. Because one cannot say what rate of immigration is "excessive" until one knows how well previous generations of immigrants have been integrated into the society, and in France, despite the excellent work of authors like Justin Vaïsse and Jonathan Laurence, we still do not have all the information we need.
UPDATE: nonfiction.fr roundup here.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Sarkozy was gratified last week when Obama welcomed his historic decision to take France back into the military command of the US-led Nato alliance. But the glow vanished when it became known on Friday that Obama had sent an effusive letter -- of all people -- to Jacques Chirac, Sarkozy's bete noire, who did everything to stop his younger colleague succeeding him in the presidency in 2007.
"I am certain that over the coming four years, we will be able to work togetyher in a spirit of peace and friendship in order to build a better world," Obama wrote. Chirac stuck it hard to his successor, saying in public how "sympathique" he had found Obama's letter. It provided obvious fodder for the comedians, who wondered whether Obama might be under the impression that the chief international opponent to President Bush's war in Iraq was still running France.
Nicolas Canteloup, the breakfast radio impersonator, today performed an hilarious sketch on the President's imagined phone-call with Obama. "Allô Barack, this is Nicolas... you know, Little Big Man," said Canteloup-Sarkozy. "You know me, the husband of Carla Bruni, you know, the bombshell."
Sensing the differences with Washington ahead of the London summit, Sarkozy has toughened his rhetoric this week while François Fillon, his Prime Minister, was dispatched to lobby in Washington. Sarkozy is determined at least to get a commitment from the reluctant Americans to start work on new world financial regulations.
In a speech in Saint Quentin on Tuesday night, he warned Washington and other foot-draggers that the G20 must take action to "put morality back into financial capitalism". He added: "I will not associate myself with a world summit which decides to decide nothing." It's not clear what he meant by that.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
In any case, what we see here is an attempt to bail out a failing manufacturer with state funds. Who will be next in line?
Defending an income tax ceiling last week, he told factory workers: "Si y en a que ça les démange d'augmenter les impôts..." A London equivalent might be be "If there's anyone 'ere that's itching to put up taxes..." [I'm sure people can suggest better versions]
Sarkozy's verbal failings are compared to George Bush's and characterized as a means of reaching the "common man." It's interesting that Bush's pratfalls used to drive me up the wall, but Sarko's don't. In part, of course, it's the difference between hearing one's mother tongue mangled and hearing colloquialisms in a learned language. But maybe it's deeper than that. A commenter yesterday likened the visceral dislike of Sarkozy that is so widespread in France with the Bush phobia that was until recently so rampant in the US, and suggested that one of the reasons Obama won was that he never ceded to the facility of Bush-bashing. I think there's something to this observation.
Monday, March 23, 2009
"Il n'apparait pas que la priorité soit d'ouvrir le débat entre sécurité et liberté", estime l'ex-premier flic de France, plutôt raccord, sur ce coup, avec Valls. "Je ne suis pas sécuritaire, mais pour la sécurité. Et la sécurité n'est pas attentatoire à la liberté. Quand Sarkozy s'en prend aux bandes à Gagny, il a raison. Les délinquants ne sont pas les premières victimes de la société."
Judah Grunstein speculates imaginatively on the potential "populist fallout from the economic crisis" in France. Judah notes disaffection from the main parties on both the extreme left, where the NPA is on the rise, and the extreme left, where Le Pen voters briefly wooed and won by Sarkozy find themselves disillusioned with the result. For Judah, the chief beneficiaries, other than the extremist parties themselves, are likely to be the center-right in the person of Hervé Morin (rather than François Bayrou) and the Gaullist right (in the person of Alain Juppé rather than Dominique de Villepin).
Judah's argument resonates in some ways with the mini-paper I gave at George Ross's retirement fest on Saturday. I, too, emphasized disaffection with and dissension within the two major parties, PS and UMP. To populist disaffection I added elite disaffection: I sense disappointment on the part of business elites with Sarkozy's abortive reforms and failure to adapt or innovate in the face of the crisis, while the PS is no more convincing to this group under Aubry than it was behind (or under the feet of) Royal.
In short, the crisis, if it lingers, and particularly if it worsens and brings further disruption and protest, will act as a corrosive on all the existing bonds within the political structure. The Socialist Party seems to me ever less plausible as a political force. It is on the verge of extinction, though it hasn't yet recognized the mortal peril it faces. I agree with Judah that--assuming the center can hold, despite Yeats's doubts*--the ultimately significant action will be in the center, not on the extremes of the political spectrum, though the media, which always prefer the vivid and colorful to the drab but influential, may try to persuade you otherwise. I'm not sure that Morin is the man to articulate a new centrist vision; Bayrou certainly isn't. I look slightly further to the left, to a vacuum that Strauss-Kahn might fill (on DSK has the man calling the shots behind the scenes, see this). Add Moscovici, Valls, and the long list of center-leftists who have signed on with Sarkozy (Bockel, Besson, Hirsch, Lang, Jouyet, Allègre, etc.) and you've got the nucleus of a new party to the left of Modem and the New Center but to the right of the ever more muddled PS. It's a long shot, but I'm sure that some of these ambitious men see the void and wonder if they might fill it.
And Ségo? She has occasionally made stabs in this direction, painting herself as a Blairist. But she inspires no confidence in the business elites--the managers, consultants, think-tankers, and opinionmakers--who would be the key to getting a party like this off the ground--a sort of Democratic Leadership Council à la française. Would this be a step backward, toward some Third Way God that Failed? Perhaps. But one does have to hope that the center will hold, lest "the blood-dimmed tide [be] loosed."
* Yeats, The Second Coming: "The center cannot hold ... the best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity."
Even if you disagree with me about Sarko and civil liberties, you can see why making this theme central to the identity of the PS is a mistake. What voters want now is a response to the economic crisis. They are less worried than they may have been about personal security, French identity, immigration, prisons, and police. They want action on the economic front and evidence of some understanding of how we got here and what is to be done. The new PS message is therefore off-key as well as off-target. It just doesn't speak to the anxieties of the moment. It's a non-starter, and the sooner the PS recognizes that the better. And note, in the Figaro photograph, the vast array of empty seats behind the small knot of leaders massed in the front rows. These make the case for tactical error more eloquently than any words I can write.
See also Causeur.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Si la ministre a abordé cette question, c'est que les stock-options distribués à ses cadres dirigeants par la Société Générale - qui a bénéficié d'aides de l'Etat - ont fait grand bruit cette semaine. Mme Lagarde a sèchement déclaré: "Il serait grand temps que Société Générale rime un peu plus avec intérêt général". "J'avais demandé aux dirigeants de la Société Générale de prendre des décisions appropriées", c'est-à-dire de "renoncer à l'attribution" de ces stock-options.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
LES RÉFORMES RATÉES DU PRÉSIDENT SARKOZY de Pierre Cahuc et André Zylberberg. Flammarion, 244 p., 18 €.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Mr Sarkozy will sit at Mr de Hoop Scheffer's right hand whenever TV cameras are in the room, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will sit at the Nato chief's left.
When the cameras leave Nato's heads of state and government, including President Obama, will switch their seats to return to the neutral, and traditional, alphabetical order.
The tip comes from World Politics Review, which offers more substantial comment on France and NATO as well.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Laurence Parisot, the MEDEF's pixieish leader, has been accused of pouring oil on the fire by suggesting that these one-day strikes exact a heavy toll in "demagogy and illusions created." Is she perhaps in cahoots with Olivier Besancenot, eager to fan the revolutionary flames? asks an editorialist for Sud-Ouest.
It's hard to imagine what motive she might have for doing that. A more parsimonious explanation would be simply that, like rational economic calculators everywhere, she sees absolutely no point to burning a day's gross domestic product simply to generate more steam to blow off.
But rational economic calculators are constantly being disappointed by the unruliness of human emotion, and the crisis is generating plenty of that. Alain Juppé, who knows a thing or two about how even the best-laid calculations can be bollixed up by people letting off steam, rebuked Parisot for her "arrogance." First he attacks the Pope, now MEDEF: Juppé seems to be bidding to put a new face on conservatism, and why not--the old new face, Sarkozy's, now seems only to anger roughly the same percentage of the people that approved of his program immediately after the election.
Democracy is fickle that way, and often a disappointment to the rational calculators. Sarko was never one of those, but he has experienced the fickleness and no doubt figures this latest episode will also pass. Nevertheless, his nervousness has been apparent in his recent public statements: sniping at the weak-kneed members of his own party, imprudently insulting teachers and professors, and still insisting that he was elected not to raise taxes but to "reconcile" France with "enterprise," as if either of the two parties to that divorce were in the same condition they were in 2007. France is morose, and enterprise is prostrate. If the president hopes to be their marriage counselor, he needs to acknowledge the sad state in which they find themselves.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
It wasn't so long ago that the president of the Republic was delivering sermons about the necessity of religion's moral guidance. Secular ethics could never suffice without the "civilizing" benediction of the sacred. Clearly, Alain Juppé, who declares himself "attached to Christian values," has his doubts about Sarkozyan as well as papal doctrine.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
They assert that Sciences Po is a "symbole du système élitiste et hiérarchique dans l'enseignement supérieur français ... On veut nous enfermer dans des facultés qui tombent en ruine, alors nous nous enfermons dans l'école la plus riche."
It will be interesting to watch this one play out.
France's return to the heart of NATO will certainly not spell the end of France's independence and autonomy, nor will it prove the alliance's undoing. But both will be changed, in ways that no one -- least of all Sarkozy -- can foresee. Rich in symbolism, profound in consequences, unpredictable in effect: The move is typical Sarkozy, for whom it is the deed, and not the outcome, that matters.
Cf. the last line of my post "Huh?".
Worldwide, I might add, the loss of asset value has been estimated at $50 trillion. There goes Europe.
It's time for the real Nicolas Sarkozy to step foward. Do you have any idea what you're doing, Monsieur le Président? Or are you content simply to do, perpetually, and devil take the hindmost?
My propositions may have sounded absurd just a few weeks ago given the credo on optimal taxation of factors. But the inability of European leaders to undertake coordinated action on the one hand, and the sudden collapse of the perceived of superiority of laissez-faire models on the other hand, give a unique window of opportunity to build a new post-crisis social consensus.
Why, then, the growing divide between the US and Europe on how to respond to the recession? The size of public debts is one answer. Another answer is that the hallways of power in Washington (both in the Fed and the Treasury) are peopled with first-rate economists who happen to be of the saltwater variety who believe that fiscal policy works and have developed a clear view of what they want to see done. Several of them are also economic historians who have studied the Great Depression in great detail and concluded that, maybe, policy actions did not do as much good as is sometimes asserted, but that inaction under the Hoover administration transformed the financial crash into a full-blown recession.
Now look at the hallways of power in continental Europe, and you will not find many economists, even fewer first-rate economists, and certainly no one who can claim any in-depth knowledge of the Great Depression. Confused policymakers cannot develop a macroeconomic strategy on their own. On the other hand, microeconomic policies are more reassuring, because they do not seem to involve general equilibrium reasoning. Policymakers like partial equilibrium reasoning – because it is easier but mainly because they can believe that they understand what they do. Of course, we know that partial equilibrium is dead wrong and that you never get what you expect.
All this is true enough, but it's also true that one of our saltwater macroeconomists, Larry Summers, was deeply involved in removing and limiting the regulations on banking and financial markets. The remedy may thus lie in the malady, but I wouldn't say in this case that it's a blessing in disguise (I allude to Jean Starobinski's Le remède dans le mal, my English translation of which was published under the title Blessings in Disguise).
Monday, March 16, 2009
Cohen links the left's eagerness to see assaults on liberty even where they are not to its zeal to avoid realities for which it either has no solutions or quietly acquiesces in the solutions proposed by the right. "L’ambition générale est d’ériger le tout-répressif sarkozyste en catégorie philosophique," writes Cohen. "On est sidéré de voir à quel point la gauche incapable – et peu désireuse – de se frotter au sarkozysme idéologique, en particulier en ce qu’il a de novateur à droite, préfère cibler l’homme, foncièrement pervers et forcément pétri de mauvaises intentions."
Yes, there's a lot of truth in this, and it's a sin of which I'm often guilty myself. No question about it: Sarko is a flawed president. But his flaws will neither win the presidency for the left nor justify a left victory in the absence of a coherent program. Sarkozy's France is less of a police state and less of an authoritarian regime than de Gaulle's, and the left will not frighten voters into voting it back into power by attempting to paint it otherwise.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Ce qui me frappe et ce sur quoi, à mon sens, on n'a pas assez insisté, ce sont moins les modalités du paiement par un autre des frais d'un séjour purement privé - modalités au demeurant guère reluisantes- que le fait incontestable que le couple présidentiel n'a pas jugé bon de régler lui-même les dépenses afférentes à son escapade intime de deux jours. Pour ma part, c'est cette abstention qui ne laisse pas de m'étonner, pour ne pas dire plus. Comment se fait-il que le couple, avec un partage aussi clairement établi entre le privé et le public, n'ait pas choisi l'attitude, qui allait de soi, de prendre en charge lui-même ce qui relevait de la phase festive ?
In short, Sarko is behaving like an ill-bred parvenu. Is anyone surprised by this anymore? It's been like this from day one, and the presidential character was confirmed the other by Sarko's friend Jacques Séguéla, the man who introduced the president to Carla. Séguéla, defending Sarkozy against the charge that his wearing a $16,000 watch during a recent press conference displayed a certain insensitivity in these hard times, said that if a man reaches 50 without having acquired a Rolex, he's wasted his life. The head of state apparently shares the values of the advertising man. De la pub' à la comm', il n'y a qu'un pas.
Watch more Dailymotion videos on AOL Video
So if this is a chess game, why are the white pieces attacking one another? Because black has left the board entirely and gone off to play tiddlywinks in its own corner.
With the crotchety air of a dowager duchess sending a sub-standard amuse-bouche back to the kitchens, Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg prime minister and chair of the “eurogroup” of finance ministers from the single currency zone, added sniffily: “The 16 finance ministers agreed that recent American appeals insisting Europeans make an added budgetary effort were not to our liking.”
And the American stock market hasn't helped: the ten-percent rise in the Dow this past week can only fuel European suspicions that they're being hustled yet again by city-slickers (or should that be Citi-slickers?). Meanwhile, the Europeans seem to have "coordinated" on the one thing that won't cost them a dime, namely, regulation of errant financiers, especially those domiciled in "neoliberal" countries. The animus is so fierce that it's brought even Merkel and Sarkozy together:
Bashing unregulated financial capitalism in general and hedge funds in particular is sufficiently popular in continental Europe that this call even overcame the habitual froideur between Angela Merkel, Mr Steinbrück’s boss, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president. Later in the week, the two of them joined forces to argue that more rules rather than an open cheque book would be the way out of the financial crisis. Asked about the US push for stimulus, Ms Merkel pointedly responded: “This is the reason why we decided to speak with one voice today.”
Which is not to say that the financiers don't fully deserve the bashing. But when the pummeling falls incessantly on the "usual suspects," one begins to wonder who's escaping out the back door under cover of the fisticuffs:
One finance official characterises this attitude as akin to that of a pugilist in a bar brawl. “You wait until a fight breaks out and then take a swing at the guy you have always wanted to hit,” the official says. “Whether or not he had anything to do with starting the fight is not the point.”
So, that, dear readers is the current state of play in the staid chambers of international financial diplomacy at the moment: brawling wherever finance ministers gather, quiet in the streets (unless you happen to be in Iceland, Latvia, Hungary, Greece, Guadeloupe, etc.). Soon it may be the reverse.
Friday, March 13, 2009
“We have not set major infrastructure objectives and then organised our industry and supply chain to deliver them as has been done in France,” he said. “We are quite good at putting the regulatory system in place, but we have always assumed the supply side would take care of itself.
Mandelson seems to be focusing on new objects: economic collapse, like impending execution, concentrates the mind wonderfully.*
*"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."
Boswell: Life of Johnson
But saying "let's not turn into France" is a form of shorthand, not a rigorous comparison of systems: It's a way of saying "let's not dramatically change the relationship between the American state and American society," at a time when both short-term politics and long-term trends make a substantial change seem possible.
As Henry notes,
.... the claim is that America will become ‘France,’ not that America will become France. The ‘France’ of Cohen and Crook’s articles is less a country than a numinous state of being, consisting primarily of state-provided everything, laziness (both enjoyable and otherwise) and very good cheese. It has no actual inhabitants (excepting, perhaps, Peter Beagle’s imaginary Mr. Moscowitz who at the last became so French that France itself was no longer good enough for him).
Indeed. Let's hope that the editors at the Times will hold Douthat to a higher standard of argument. But given the enormities that they allowed Kristol to get away with, I doubt that much hope is warranted.
Perhaps. But it may well be simply the velleity of the moment. What has been striking about Sarkozy's tenure thus far is the investment in initiatives that make headlines for a few weeks and then vanish. Is there any steady direction to his policy, foreign or domestic? If so, it's not easy to discern. Over coffee yesterday a distinguished French visitor suggested to me that what Sarkozy lacks is any vision "even of the medium term, let alone the long term. He flies by the seat of the pants. He is the very incarnation of the pure politician." To which I remarked that the irony was that Sarko, who defined himself as the anti-Chirac, has lately been doing a tolerably good imitation of the late Chiracian style: a foray here, a foray there, a discreet retreat here, a wholesale abandonment of previous commitments there (whatever happened to the Attali Commission report, for instance?), occasional bursts of energy followed by spells of apparent torpor (disguised in Sarko's case by the appearance of perpetual motion).
Only the total absence of coherent opposition keeps these defects from becoming more troublesomely apparent.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
But it's an ill wind that blows no good: with the G20 looming and Obama pressing Europe for more stimulus, this news can only further galvanize the hitherto reluctant Germans to loosen their purse strings and, for Heaven's sake, do something before the sky falls. Perhaps they'll also whisper in the ears of their compatriots at the European Central Bank that the troops can be recalled from the Eastern Front (the war on inflation is over) and set to work in the West (the stimulus battle and the imminent threat of a landing by the forces of deflation), where all is definitely not quiet.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Younger French people may find it unimaginable but American forces were part of the landscape from 1944 to 1967, admired and envied, especially in the 29 base towns, where they cruised in exotic cars, lived luxuriously and taught local women to dance rock'n'roll. At Chateauroux 10 per cent of all marriages between 1951 and 1967 were between US servicemen and French women. The film star Gérard Depardieu has fond memories of a black American girlfriend of his teenage years.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
One European ambassador said last weekend that “in three weeks we’ll see whether the love affair with Mr. Obama can withstand our demand that the United States clean up its system fast, and his demand that we contribute more to Afghanistan, even faster.”
Monday, March 9, 2009
Yazid Sabeg, the new "diversity and equal opportunity commissar" (it sounds less sinister in French) is in favor of "measuring diversity" as long as it doesn't involve anyone's "origin" or "family name" but is rather based on "objective criteria" such as "membership in a community" or "the sentiment of belonging to a community" (le ressenti). Well, forgive me for being churlish here, since I approve of the collection of ethnic and racial statistics, which is where Sabeg is headed, but isn't this formulation patently contradictory? If anything is subjective rather than objective, it's "the sentiment of belonging to a community." And not to go all Sartrean or anything ("le Juif, c'est celui qui est juif pour l'Autre"), what counts here is how one is classified by others--prospective employers, teachers, bureaucrats, etc.--and not how one sees oneself. If my African patronymic prevents me from getting a job, it doesn't matter whether I think of myself as an apsotle of Negritude or un pur produit de l'école républicaine. That's why these data are needed: to determine where discrimination is closing off equal opportunity--which is after all the "commissar's" brief. So, by all means, let's gather the data, but let's be forthright about why we're doing it. And it's precisely to deal with what Sabeg says it isn't about at all, namely, the questions of "origin" and "family name."
There will, however, be no "leftist front." A large majority of the NPA rejected the overtures of Mélenchon's French Linkspartei and of the PCF.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Guaino says this can be done with "strong decisions that everybody can understand and that change everything," but not with "technical decisions ... which are complicated and merely adjust the present system at the margin."
Oooook! I can hardly wait to hear what Sarko proposes along these lines at the G20.
Mr. Obama rode to the White House partly on his savvy use of new technology, and he has a staff-written blog on his presidential Web site. Even so, he said he did not find blogs to be reliable, citing the economy as one example.“Part of the reason we don’t spend a lot of time looking at blogs,” he said, “is because if you haven’t looked at it very carefully, then you may be under the impression that somehow there’s a clean answer one way or another — well, you just nationalize all the banks, or you just leave them alone and they’ll be fine.”
Whatever happened to Sarko's Web master, the young fellow who was going to monitor all the blogs and report back to HQ? We haven't heard much from him lately. Perhaps he, too, decided that blogs were not only unreliable but also unlikely to topple the government or make much of a change in the president's approval rating one way or the other. Well, I may be unreliable, but I would never suggest that there's a "clean answer" to the problems that Obama faces, or Sarkozy either, for that matter.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
If you're in the Boston area, you might be interested in the following event at Harvard's Center for European Studies this Monday, March 9, in which I'll be participating:
Sponsor: CES Special Event co-sponsored by French Politics, Culture & Society, the journal of the Conference Group on French Politics & Society
Location: Lower Level Conference Room
Contact Name: Jason Beerman
Contact Email: email@example.com
Moderator: HERRICK CHAPMAN, Professor of History and French Studies, NYU
Directions can be found on the CES Web site.
Friday, March 6, 2009
Why? 93, rue Lauriston was Gestapo HQ during the Occupation, as all readers of Patrick Modiano know. The Franco-Arab Chamber of Commerce, which now occupies the site, doesn't like the association. Hence the request to change the name.
France has invaded the United States. Bernard-Henri Lévy has decided to spend six months a year here.
What did we do to deserve this? Oh, yeah--we fomented a banking crisis that has plunged the entire world into depression. Still, this retaliation seems to punish the innocent along with the guilty.
And how about that sign?
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Oddly, Védrine takes no account of the effects of the crisis on Russia, whose presence, largely unanalyzed, nevertheless looms in the background, as it must in any discussion of NATO. Economically, Russia has been hit hard. On the one hand, this weakness limits its room for maneuver. On the other hand, it may make the Russians more desperate to seek political/military advantage if the money pipeline is temporarily stopped up. If that is the calculation underlying Védrine's insistence on French independence, it would benefit from being spelled out more fully. As it is, it's not entirely clear what engrenage he fears being drawn into, or why France cannot be both a fully integrated member of NATO and a reasonably independent national actor. Other NATO powers seem to have no difficulty expressing their disagreement on any number of issues, and Article V, if ever put to the test at a time of real disarray in NATO (heaven forbid), would probably sprout escape clauses faster than an unwitnessed will at a convention of Philadelphia lawyers.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Le déficit de l'Etat devrait atteindre 103,8 milliards d'euros en 2009 et les déficits publics (Etat, collectivités, comptes sociaux) devraient s'élever à 5,6 % du PIB, selon les prévisions inscrites dans la loi de finances rectificative, a-t-on appris, mercredi 4 mars, de source gouvernementale. (AFP)
This deficit will bring French debt outstanding up to about 70% of GDP. Both figures are well in excess of the Maastricht limits of 3% and 60% respectively. The problem for Sarkozy is that he now has no room to maneuver. His targeted crisis responses cost about 2% of GDP, and the automatic stabilizers make up the rest. To go much farther than this would be more than is justified by the current level of unemployment. So it will be difficult to seize the opportunity to turn state spending in new directions, as Obama is trying to do in the US: "A crisis is a terrible thing to waste," as Rahm Emanuel has said. Perhaps that's why Sarkozy hasn't been proposing much beyond a bailout of the auto companies, which now, with Toyota joining the march to the trough, seems global. He knew he wouldn't have the money to spend.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
The J-B spread awaits its theorist. Let u(w, q, b, t, h) be the utility derived from consuming a sandwich with weight of ham w, quality of bread q, pats of butter b, cafe table rent t, and hours
A crazy country, or what? Does it get any better than this? Plus belle la vie indeed.
Monday, March 2, 2009
But the MU was to have been a French-dominated alternative to the EU, or perhaps a sort of consolation prize for the Turks, and with the EU itself in some disarray, and the Turks, in the person of their prime minister, having unleashed an angry outburst at Israel at Davos this year, the UfM is going nowhere fast.
We have markedly different takes on the situation in Europe from an American and a French newspaper this morning. The Times takes a decidedly downbeat view of this weekend's European summit, sees the east-west cleavage developing rapidly and threatening the Union itself, and is already imagining the collapse of Ukraine and possible Russian (I almost wrote "Soviet") intervention. Meanwhile, Libé, or at any rate Libé's EU correspondent and blogger Jean Quatremer, sees a "reaffirmation of European solidarity." Alas, that solidarity is illustrated by an image of Sarkozy and Berlusconi arm-in-arm (reproduced here). And then we have Sarko illustrating his idea of solidarity with this sibylline phrase: "Entre le protectionnisme et le libre-échangisme, il y a un équilibre." Indeed. In fact, I'd go farther and say that there are multiple equilibria. The question for Europe is whether it will choose among these the optimal or the less optimal, and the signs thus far are not encouraging.
UPDATE: Paul Krugman gives Europe an F.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Le maire de Lyon Gérard Collomb, grand baron du courant, a fustigé une "parodie de démocratie" comme au "comité central du PC d'URSS". M. Collomb est notamment furieux du parachutage d'un autre royaliste, Vincent Peillon, dans la région Sud-Est contre son candidat local.
Soviet tactics, eh? Well, that does seem a bit harsh to characterize le parachutage de Peillon, who is hardly Molotov, nor even Montebourg (and Peillon's not happy about it either!). But politics for a local political baron like Collomb begins and ends with pushing one's pawns into squares from which to control pieces of the chessboard, and the capture of a pawn can quickly degenerate into a slashing attack by the queen's knights, or knaves. And lurking in the background, always ready to pounce, are the bishops of Solférino and the rooks of the inner circle.
Meanwhile, poor Pierre Moscovici, who found himself dancing without a partner at Reims and who hastily threw in his lot with the Delanoïstes lest he be deemed a wallflower, has lately discovered, in all the inimitable stiffness of his wounded pride, that "le fonctionnement de cette motion [i.e., Delanoïstes] n'a pas été pleinement solidaire" dans la constitution des listes au Conseil national."
It's hard to know which of the two, Collomb or Moscovici, is more deluded about the PS: Collomb with his fantasies of the Stalin of Lille or Mosco with his image of "democratic socialism Solférino-style" as some sort of deliberative democracy of Rawlsian philosophes ratiocinating behind a veil of ignorance in order to select the best of their number to represent them--as if they could forget their own identities.
But such is French Socialism these days. I am to take part in a Festschrift in a few weeks in which my assigned task is to discourse learnedly for ten minutes on "the center-left in France in the face of global economic crisis." It's sometimes difficult to discern where the center-left is in France, however, since it has no center. It's a kaleidoscope of petulant personalities, each wounded by some recent remark or snub by one of the others. It's more like a junior high school class than a political party. At what level of abstraction does one attempt to relate such a roiling mess to that other roiling mess, the global meltdown? Stay tuned.