Friday, July 31, 2009

IMF Pessimistic on France

The IMF's outlook for France is more pessimistic than the French government's. Growth above 2% will not return until 2013, according to the IMF. That could complicate Sarkozy's 2012 re-election campaign. Of course, since his opponent could well be the head of the IMF, one might want to look at these numbers with a skeptical eye.

The IMF staff report is available here.

New Fabris Action Is Over

The workers at New Fabris have voted overwhelmingly to suspend their movement and end their threat to blow up the plant if they didn't get the indemnity of 30,000 euros they were asking for. They did get 12,000, up from the government's initial offer of 11,000. This is in addition to the legally mandated severance pay of 17,500 to 19,000 euros.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Great Transhumance

This weekend is the Great Transhumance,* in which the French population redistributes itself to greener pastures. Le Bison futé, the canny bison who understands the peculiar migratory habits of the French, predicts godawful traffic jams:

Un week-end qui s’annonce chargé sur les routes de France dans le sens des départs comme celui des retours. Pas de vert à l’horizon.

Vendredi, les départs sont classés rouge au niveau national et les retours restent classés orange.

Samedi, bison futé voit noir pour les départs du 1er août sur l’ensemble des routes de France. Dans le sens des retours ce sera orange au niveau national et rouge dans le sud-est France.

Dimanche sera orange d’un point de vue national et rouge dans le sud-est de la France. Les retours resteront orange sur l’ensemble du territoire.

So it has been forever, and so it will be until kingdom come. Sarko himself is off to Cap Nègre, where he will find medically prescribed repose in the bosom of the Bruni-Tedeschi family.

*Transhumance:
The seasonal transfer of grazing animals to different pastures, often over substantial distances.
1911 M. I. NEWBIGGIN Mod. Geogr. vii. 179 The summer drought makes it difficult for even these hardy animals to obtain food, and necessitates in many regions a curious form of nomadism, to which the name of transhumance is given. Transhumance, still well developed in Spain, is the periodic and alternating displacement of flocks and herds between two regions of different climate. 1931 C. F. JONES South America 366 Government concessions to permanent ranchers, who do not desire the migrating flocks,..are reducing transhumance. 1954 M. BERESFORD Lost Villages vi. 204 Sheep which knew transhumance were not averse to being shepherded a score of miles over to a new pasture. 1975 J. G. EVANS Environment Early Man Brit. Isles vi. 133 We do not know to what extent these Bronze Age people were nomadic, or were practising transhumance, or were settled farmers.

Fear Itself

Christopher Caldwell, an editor of the neoconservative Weekly Standard and writer for the Financial Times, has written a book entitled Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West, in which he worries about the supposed "Islamicization" of Europe. Matt Carr offers a detailed refutation. (h/t Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber)

Open the Borders?

Bernard Girard calls for a radical change in immigration policy:

Reste, en fait, une seule solution raisonnable : restaurer la liberté de circuler qui permettrait aux étrangers qui veulent venir travailler chez nous de le faire mais qui permettrait aussi à ceux qui ne trouvent pas de travail de tenter leur chance ailleurs. En d’autres mots, il faut laisser le marché du travail fonctionner sans contrainte. C’est la meilleure régulation que l’on puisse imaginer. C’est ce qui se passe en Europe et on n’a pas vu d’afflux de travailleurs des pays les plus pauvres (la Grèce, le Portugal…) chez les plus riches. Il n’y a pas de motif qu’il en aille autrement avec le reste du monde.

Le Sarkozy du Pauvre?

Gérard Collomb is the mayor of Lyon and a powerful Socialist baron. One of his constituents has it in for him. This blogger, the author of Le Blog du Canut, has baptized Collomb "the poor man's Sarkozy."

Knowledge Transfer and European Universities

From VoxEU:

In an increasingly knowledge-based economy, it is widely believed that the quality of university-industry linkages is important for growth. On several occasions, the European Commission has argued that while European research institutions are good at producing academic research outputs, they are not successful in transferring these outputs to the economy – the so called ‘European Paradox’ (European Commission 2007). Reforms in the organisation of technology transfer are thus needed to improve knowledge transfer from public research institutions to firms.

Stimulus and Crisis Duration

Menzie Chinn quotes from the conclusion to a new study of the effectiveness of fiscal policy in systemic banking crises. Here are the passages relevant to France's situation:

Initial fiscal conditions matter for fiscal performance during shocks. In countries with high precrisis ratios of public sector debt to GDP, lack of fiscal space not only constraints the government's ability to implement countercyclical policies, but also undermines the effectiveness of fiscal stimulus and the quality of fiscal performance. In countries with high debt, crises lasted almost one year longer. The effect of high public debt on duration completely offset the benefits of expansionary fiscal policies in these countries.

...

The composition of fiscal expansions matters for crisis length -- a point that has not been studied in the literature. Stimulus packages that rely mostly on measures to support government consumption are more effective in shortening the crisis duration than those based on public investment. A 10 percentage point increase in the share of public consumption in the budget reduces the crisis length by three to four months. Reducing the share of income taxes is less effective than consumption taxes in shortening the length of a banking crisis. These results suggest that tailoring the composition of fiscal response packages is important for enhancing the effectiveness of countercyclical fiscal measures in both advanced and emerging market economies
...
Fiscal expansions do not have a significant impact on output recovery after the crisis though. Crises can have long-term negative effects, damaging human and physical capital with negative implications for productivity and potential output growth. Early recovery from a crisis is therefore important, to minimize output losses in the short term and enhance medium-term growth prospects. This calls for timely fiscal responses during downturns. However, fiscal policy responses may not be effective when initial fiscal conditions are poor and fiscal space is limited. High public debt levels and past macroeconomic instability limit the scope for countercyclical deficit expansions and hamper the effectiveness of fiscal stimulus measures as markets perceive the higher future fiscal risks entailed by larger deficits.


The paper is "How Effective is Fiscal Policy Response in Systemic Banking Crises?", by E. Baldacci, S. Gupta, and C. Mulas-Granados

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Piketty on the Carbon Tax

Here.

La burqa chiffrée

According to the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur, 367 women wear the burqa in France. Most wear it voluntarily, for reasons of "militantism" or "provocation," according to this source. One-quarter are converts to Islam.

Awfully precise information, considering how little was supposedly known about the burqa when controversy erupted a few weeks ago. But if the number 367 is anywhere near accurate (does it include the investigative journalist for Rue89 about whom I reported a few days ago?), I think that France will survive even if women are permitted to wear the burqa in the street. And since most are said to wear it voluntarily, the supposed justification for a ban--that it is a symbol of the oppression of women by men--would seem weakened.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Surprise: Saving the Planet Costs Money

It was always so predictable: everyone was in favor of saving the planet in the heady days of the "Environmental Grenelle." France would show Europe the way; Europe would show America. Virtue would be its own reward.

Now that it turns out virtue has a cost--the carbon tax is, horrors! a tax!--the bandwagon has fewer passengers. Cohn-Bendit called the tax "revolutionary," and he's right. But not everyone wants to make the revolution. Michel Rocard, vieux routier, is taking it all philosophically. This is the stage at which Sarkozy gets to show what he's made of. Is reducing greenhouse gas emissions as important to him as stopping kids from downloading the latest Orelsan?

John Bowen on the Burqa Controversy

Here. Bowen is the author of the excellent Why the French Don't Like Headscarves (highly recommended) and of the forthcoming Can Islam Be French?

Globalization and the Market for Wine

Discussed here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Presidential Swoon

Le Monde:

Au moment de sa sortie, l'Elysée publiait un communiqué expliquant qu'avait été diagnostiqué "un malaise lipothymique d'effort soutenu par grande chaleur et sans perte de connaissance, dans un contexte de fatigue liée à une charge de travail importante".


Uh, pardon me, Elysée press flacks, but "lipothymia?" Isn't that something straight out of Molière? Remember la vertu dormitive? Well, here we have "the fainting spirit." Sarkozy fainted because he was suffering from the fainting spirit:

OED:

[ad. and a. mod.L. lipoth{ymac}mia, ad. Gr.

{lambda}{iota}{pi}{omicron}{theta}{gumac}{mu}{giacu}{alpha}, f. {lambda}{iota}{pi}-, weak stem of {lambda}{epsilon}{giacu}{pi}{epsilon}{iota}{nu} to leave, fail, be lacking + {theta}{gumac}{mu}{goacu}{fsigma} animation, spirit. Cf. F. lipothymie (16th c.).]

Fainting, swooning, syncope; an instance of this. {dag}Also fig.

1603 F. HERRING Cert. Rules Contagion (1625) Biijb, The wearers of these Amulets haue fallen into sodaine Lypothimies and soundings. 1654 H. L'ESTRANGE Chas. I (1655) 5 This lipothymie, this faint-heartednesse, lost him [James] the reputation and respects of his people. 1660 JER. TAYLOR Duct. Dubit. (1676) 807 When nature is in a lipothymie. 1665-6 BOYLE Let. to Stubbe 9 Mar., Wks. 1772 I. Life 82 Others are freed from lypothymias by being pinched, or having cold water thrown in their faces. 1681 tr. Willis' Rem. Med. Wks. Vocab., Leipothymy. 1761 PULTENEY in Phil. Trans. LII. 351 A faint weak voice, an aptitude to fall into lipothymies from slight causes. 1787 W. FALCONER Influence Passions (1791) 90 note, He himself was affected with Lipothymia at seeing a criminal broken on the wheel. 1835-6 TODD Cycl. Anat. I. 796/1 Syncope occurs without any antecedence of pain or leipothymia.

So lipo{sm}thymial, lipo{sm}thymic, {dag}lipothymous adjs., of or pertaining to lipothymy; characterized by or tending to lipothymy.

1665 G. HARVEY Advice agst. Plague 26 If the patient is surprised with a Lipothymous anguor, jactitation, or great oppression about the stomach or Hypochonders, expect no relief from Cordials. 1689 {emem} Curing Dis. by Expect. iv. 28 Bleeding very oft..doth upon the stopping of the Blood throw them into a long and deep swooning or Leipothymick fit. 1836 I. TAYLOR Phys. Theory Another Life 319 All the facts connected with..paralysis and leipothymic states of the system,..will, if fairly considered, either confirm or exclude the theory we adopt. 1898 Allbutt's Syst. Med. V. 371 The lipothymial symptoms soon predominate.

Come on, fellas. Yesterday's "vasovagal syncope" was much better than today's "travailler plus pour s'évanouir plus."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sarko Hospitalized

The president is in hospital after suffering a "malaise" while engaged in "sport." That's all that's known for the moment.

UPDATE: Nicolas Sarkozy appears to have suffered a vasovagal syncope. There is "no danger and no treatment," according to Libération.

Teleology

Steven Erlanger, who has been known to read this blog from time to time, gives his version of the transformation of Sarkozy in today's New York Times. The change, if there is one, is ascribed almost entirely to Carla Bruni, who "grew up rich and well educated, at ease with the kind of cultural references the French regard as central to civilization." Civilization, if it includes Fellini, also includes Leonard Cohen, Dennis Hopper, Marianne Faithfull, Michel Houellebecq, a new watch from Patek Philippe, and English shirts from Hilditch & Key.

Plus ça change ... Cécilia, in her day, also dressed her man and was said to be a civilizing influence. Which intellectuals, exactly, is Sarko supposedly wooing with this eclectic mix? Houellebecq will drive away more than Dennis Hopper entices, and Patek Philippe and Hilditch & Key merely raise the level of bling to that of, say, the Financial Times Weekend supplement rather than stargazing fan magazines. BHL and Glucksmann already dined with Sarko the Vulgar, while a raft of economists supported him the first time around and, though somewhat disappointed with the way things have turned out, aren't likely to abandon him in Round Two. But it's the summer silly season (blog traffic hit an annual low yesterday), so we are reduced to filling newsprint and bandwidth with Sarko makeover stories.

There is one delicious anecdote in the piece, however:

[The president] dragged out a copy of Jean-Paul Sartre’s autobiography with passages underlined, including, “Progress, this long arduous path that leads to me.” He read the passage to several journalists, L’Express said, and he commented: “Someone who is capable of writing that. ... It’s impressive, no?” It was not clear that the president caught the irony in Sartre, though it is just possible that L’Express did.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

PS Finistère: Great Leap Forward

The Finistère federation of the PS has voted to eliminated the cumul des mandats and impose full parity on its lists. It is the first PS federation in the country to do so.

A party short of innovative policy prescriptions can still distinguish itself by proposing internal reforms. There has long been anti-cumul and pro-parité sentiment in the PS, and the Finistère federation has finally acted on it. Is this a Great Leap Forward? I think not, though less multiple office holding and more women on the ticket would both be healthy developments. Still, in today's PS, we have to take signs of life where we find them.

(For the record, I think the cumul des mandats should be ruled out as a matter of law, whereas I have always been opposed to legally mandated gender parité, even in the limited form that now exists. The parties should actively seek to promote candidacies by women and minorities, but not under legal mandate.)

Friday, July 24, 2009

New Buttons

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Please feel free to share our content with all your friends!

"The City," Gallic Style

Sarkozy may want to "moralize finance" and rein in fat cats, but he also wants to turn La Défense into a Gallic version of London's "City"--a capital of world finance. The FT scopes out the threat for the benefit of its core readership.

Copé's Paycheck

How much is Jean-François Copé being paid by Gide Loyrette Nouel for "using his influence to mediate between French companies and foreign governments?" Nobody knows for sure, and the interested parties aren't saying, but this article puts the figure at 200,000 euros per year.

Laurent the Fabulous

Bernard G. spins out a plausible scenario for Fabius to claw his way back to the top. If I liked Fabius better, I might be cheered. Still, the possibility cannot be ruled out, and there are perhaps worse fates that could befall the Socialist Party (and, indeed, it seems to be trying them out one at a time). And a screenwriter might find the journey from power to desert and back an irresistible plot line with a most pleasant arc.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Contagion of Radical Labor Tactics

Those fellows at New Fabris definitely struck a nerve with their mediagenic bonbonnes de gaz and their threat to blow up the plant. Now there's talk of taking the same tack at yet another company, SKF in Fontenay-le-Comte (Vendée). This despite the fact that the workers at New Fabris came away disappointed from their meeting with Christian Estrosi.

The government's ploy seems to be to sit quietly and hope the movement goes pschitt. But radicalization (of a sort) seems to be spreading about as fast as the swine flu. To be sure, nothing has actually blown up yet (although there has been some machine-breaking). But if and when it does, the government will undoubtedly come down hard, and then--on verra.

As Raymond Aron said in 1978, "Ce peuple, apparemment tranquille, est encore dangereux." [quoted in this article by Perry Anderson]

The Long Agony Continues

Bakchich opines that the PS has become a "federation of baronies" and that Martine Aubry has been forced to allow the local barons a free hand in selecting their own lists for upcoming regional elections, ignoring the usual balance of courants. And the Socialists may well lose many of the regions they now control (20 of 22), further increasing the pressure on Aubry.

Despite this, a close advisor of Martine Aubry informs me directly and unequivocally that "Martine is a rock" and "will win in the end." Pay no attention to all those "wretched French journalists" who "understand nothing about politics." You read it here first, folks.

La Revue du MAUSS on the University Crisis

A special issue of La Revue du MAUSS is devoted to the university crisis. An editorial signed by Alain Caillé (the editor, whom I had the pleasure of meeting recently in Grenoble) and François Vatin sets forth 11 propositions, including:

Réorganiser les cursus pour, notamment, placer l'université au centre de l'enseignement supérieur, réorganiser les disciplines dont le nombre serait restreint, avancer vers un statut commun aux chercheurs et enseignants-chercheurs, revoir l'organisation et le financement universitaire forment un corpus modérément original. Mais c'est sur ce socle qu'ont été rédigés un manifeste puis un appel largement contresignés, qui représentent, dans la morosité ambiante, l'une des rares démarches constructives aujourd'hui proposées pour bâtir l'avenir de l'université

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Le Tout Technologique"

Gen. Vincent Desportes is worried that France's rejoining NATO will lead to adoption of standards of "interoperability" with American military technology and that this apparently technical decision will lead to political subservience to the United States.

Si, malgré des budgets de défense très inférieurs aux budgets américains, les armées européennes persistent à se doter d'équipement de norme technologique américaine, il y a fort à parier que, dans peu d'années, les forces européennes dans leur ensemble devront abandonner des pans entiers de leurs capacités militaires. La cohérence d'ensemble ne pourra donc être rétablie que sous parapluie et leadership américain.


For a previous comment on Gen. Desportes's ideas, see here.

Lagarde Takes on Goldman Sachs

Christine Lagarde blasted banks that have reverted to their old ways, paying huge bonuses to go-go bankers. To be sure, the French finance minister hopes that France will gain some competitive advantage from its reputation for tougher banking regulation, but she apparently intends to make an issue of the U.S. government's unwillingness to rein in banks like Goldman Sachs:

"We have the rules now. It is not a question of -re-inventing the wheel or procrastinating about them. It is a question of applying a set of rules that have now been agreed by the Financial Stability Board. The utmost priority should be given to their implementation," she said. "If operators are not prepared to play by those rules, then make sure we have prudential rules that strongly encourage them to do so."

Ms Lagarde acknowledged that it was "tough" imposing higher standards on French banks in terms of pay that could put them at a competitive disadvantage in recruitment.

"It is not fair that some players are playing by the rules and that some players - especially when they are highly subsidised - are simply ignoring the rules."

But she said Paris as a financial centre stood to benefit from the enhanced reputation of its universal bank business model - combining investment banking with retail operations - and of its regulatory system, and from London's tarnished image. "I don't think we have been guilty of the same excess, not to say that we have been paragons of virtue," she said.

More Criticism of OpinionWay

Here. And here.

Rocard Proposes Carbon Tax

Michel Rocard, speaking as the chair of a committee looking into energy use, has proposed a carbon tax of 32 euros per ton, which would amount to 7.7 centimes per liter of unleaded gasoline.

An Astonishing Regulatory Decision

A company named Voltalis has developed innovative technology for "distributive load shedding," which automatically turns off subscribers' appliances such as air conditioners during peak-consumption hours in order to avoid heavy user charges. Yet this energy-conserving technology has run afoul of French regulators. Amazing.

A half-hearted and unconvincing attempt at an explanation here.

Maurice Grimaud Dies

Préfet de police in Paris during May '68, Maurice Grimaud was one of the cooler heads at a time when hotheads on the side of both the government and the protesters could have made things a lot worse. Daniel Cohn-Bendit remembered him as “the archetypal honest cop.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Risk Aversion and the Euro-Dollar Exchange Rate

A bit wonkish, but nevertheless an interesting discussion of movements in the euro-dollar exchange rate over the past 2 years.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ad Men Gone Wild

I've heard of flogging the lizard, but this ...

Maybe this was what Rufus Thomas had in mind.

That Didn't Take Long

Rachida Dati is rumored to be considering a run for mayor of Paris.

All the News That's Fit to Print

From today's Times:

It was a briskly paced concert of songs with messages — protests, exhortations, laments, rallying cries — and a few pop love songs on the side. Top billing went to American musicians, who also included Alicia Keys, Josh Groban, Will.i.am, Gloria Gaynor, Queen Latifah, the improbable duo of Cyndi Lauper and Lil’ Kim, and Jesse McCartney, a 22-year-old would-be Justin Timberlake, who proposed “Body Language” as a path to multicultural entente. Europeans were also on hand, including the chanteuse who’s now the first lady of France, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy — breathily singing “Blowin’ in the Wind” with the English rocker Dave Stewart — and the Italian rocker Zucchero.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sarko Flips on Fish

Back in 2008, Nicolas Sarkozy told angry fishermen that he would do something about the quotas that were threatening their livelihood. This Thursday he said that "the time has come to base all our decisions on the management of marine resources on reliable, independent, and generally accepted scientific opinion."

It's hard to fault the president for making the right call in the end, but it would have been better if he'd avoided the need to renege on an impossible promise.

Investigative Report: Wearing a Niqab in the Streets of Paris

Not sure what, if anything, this proves, but the journalist gets an E for Enterprise.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Socialist Bloodletting Continues

The latest salvo is from Julien Dray, who may have reasons of his own for resenting Martine Aubry but who is nevertheless right about the fiasco of her first few months as leader.

More on the Polling Controversy

An interesting discussion of the "representativity" of OpinionWay's survey methods.

Contagious Threats of Violence

After workers at New Fabris threatened to blow up their factory if their severance pay wasn't increased, workers in similar situations elsewhere have adopted the same tactic. Workers at JLG successfully pressed a demand for 30,000 euros in severance pay by threatening to blow up cranes worth ten times that amount. As far as I know, we've heard nothing from Sarkozy on this tactic. Has le premier flic de France taken his kinder, gentler new image to heart and gone soft on machine-breaking?

One can understand the lads losing their jobs going after a bigger severance package by any means available, but hasn't it occurred to their union leaders that the threat of midsummer bonfires isn't likely to prove enticing to new capital?

Dispatch from the front. And from Le Monde. And this on the Nortel plant, another site of threatened violence.

Law and Religion

The Cardozo Law Review has a special issue on "Constitutionalism and Secularism in an Age of Religious Revival," including articles by noted scholars on laïcité, the veil, religious symbols in public space, etc. (h/t Patrick Weil)

Friday, July 17, 2009

French Soldiers Posed as Journalists

Two French military officers, in Somalia to train Somali troops, were kidnapped by rebels and are being held for ransom. The two officers had been posing as journalists. Reporters without Borders has expressed anger that the French military used journalism as a cover for its activities in Somalia--a practice that puts real journalists at risk.

I would say that I'm shocked, shocked to discover that this sort of thing is going on, but it happens that when I served in the U.S. Army, many moons ago, the military intelligence outfit I was with had placed a spy undercover among American journalists in Saigon. It took about a week before our rather inept secret agent managed to give himself away (he didn't know the journalists' secret handshake). The French agents seem to have been captured by renegades within the very military unit they were training. The secret agent's life is full of hazards.

Manipulating Opinion?

It seems that the Elysée has been paying for opinion polls whose results may or may not have been published in the press. The Socialists are alleging that Sarko financed the polls and then made them available to Le Figaro in order to show that he was doing well. The polling firm OpinonWay denies the charges and says that the published polls were not the ones it did for the Elysée.

So, to sum up, the PS alleges that Sarko was polling the public in order to persuade the same public that it liked him better than it actually did like him, whereas OpinionWay is claiming that the polls it did for the media weren't necessarily telling the same story as the polls it did for the Elysée.

I guess it's a good thing I don't put much stock in the polls.

Sarkozy in the Big Apple

Ah, it seems so long ago, that first summer at Lake Winnepasaukee, Carla Cécilia at this side, Rachida to keep him company, George Bush waiting at the grill, l'angine blanche, the jogging in the woods, the impromptu news conferences, the love handles lovingly airbrushed out of the photo spread in Match ...

The president is back in the US, but instead of chowing down on hot dogs with the Bushes he's having a "political lunch" with Ban Ki-Moon at the consulate. Carla will be joining Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin in a memorial concert for Nelson Mandela. It's all so very international. What happened to "Sarkozy l'Américain?" And no meeting with Obama? Truly, there seem to be no atomes crochus between these two, although Matt Drudge and Gawker did try to make it seem as if they shared at least one passionate interest in common. The film of the occasion proved, however, that Obama got a bum rap (forgive the pun). Sarko's interest appears to have been genuine, however (sorry, you'll have to bear with the commercial before getting to the point).

"Franchouillardisé"

Marcel Gauchet on le nouveau Sarkozy:

"Il s'est franchouillardisé."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Gauchet on "Crisis of Mediation"

Marcel Gauchet looks at the crisis of the media as a symptom of a more general "crisis of mediation." In an interesting remark, he notes that the flourishing of numerous associations dedicated to defending particular interests, often seen as an antidote to the decline of more general representative groups such as parties and unions, is in fact a symptom of that decline, since one function of general representation is to thrash out a hierarchy among competing interests. It is the difficulty of establishing priorities that is at the heart of the problem.

Gauchet, it seems to me, has articulated a real problem with Tocqueville's much-discussed admiration of "association" as a palliative to some of the inherent flaws of democratic society. Tocqueville believed that associative skills were learned and that a society that had many associations could foster the sorts of traits (readiness to compromise, reciprocity, long-term thinking) that successful democracy required. But perhaps there can be too much of a good thing: a penchant for association encourages the "exit" option over "voice" and "loyalty," to borrow Albert Hirschman's terms and thus corrodes the very traits it is supposed to foster. This is a problem that Tocqueville failed to foresee.

The New Dramaturgy


Given the almost total abidcation of the opposition, the French media have been finding it difficult to cover politics in recent months. Sarkozy is no longer the whirling dervish of the first presidential summer, so there are fewer supreme interventions to cover. The day-to-day business of dealing with the economic crisis is soporific to most readers.

L'Express, it seems, has hit on a new ploy. According to the latest dramaturgy, Sarkozy has assembled the "team of rivals" made famous by Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book about Lincoln, which has already served the American media in their coverage of Obama's presidency. At the bottom of our drama remains the supposed distance between Sarko and his prime minister, Fillon. Fillon is typecast as the dour and recessive fiscal conservative. His hothead foil of the hour is no longer the president, however, but his "special advisor" Henri Guaino. Once a speechwriter, notoriously described by Sarko as un fêlé (according to Yasmina Reza), Guaino has supposedly expanded his role to that of Rasputin, the energumen behind the throne, whose feverish brain the chief finds useful to exploit but constantly in need of careful surveillance, lest it run amok.

Enter Xavier Musca (pictured), the new deputy secretary general of the Elysée. Conveniently, Musca participated in the drafting of the Maastricht Treaty way back when, and Guaino strenuously opposed it, so we have that essential ingredient of all good "team of rivals"-type drama, the festering grudge. Yet hovering above this seething cauldron of passions is the ingenious head of state, calmly manipulating his pawns for the greater good of the Republic. Here is the way L'Express describes the action:

Dans l'équipe, Henri Guaino côtoie Xavier Musca, le nouveau secrétaire général adjoint: le premier a fait campagne contre le traité de Maastricht, le second, alors haut fonctionnaire au Trésor, a participé à sa rédaction. Le chef de l'Etat joue de ces sensibilités comme des touches d'un piano : il instrumentalise ses conseillers pour composer sa petite musique.


Well, I suppose political journalists, like political bloggers, have to find their copy where they can. But I find this new dramaturgy rather thin gruel. Note, by the way, that Musca is an énarque. An early theme of this blog was the relative absence of énarques in Sarkozy's government. That is less true than it used to be. Les grands commis de l'État have been finding their way back in for some time and have been displacing the lawyers and political cronies in the process. L'Express makes a point of noting Guaino's increased presence in the media in defense of his emprunt national. Indeed, publicity is essential in what is, after all, fundamentally a publicity stunt. Far from the klieg lights the sausage will be sliced, and it won't be Guaino who wields the knife.

Aubry v. Valls, Round Two

There are some rumblings from deep within the bowels of the Socialist Party against Aubry's threatened purge of Valls. Some of the local barons (Collomb, Guérini, Mignard) are unhappy, as are some of the "quadras," the party's young Turks. Here is yet another sign that the party's crisis is multidimensional, at once a quarrel of personalities, a struggle for the presidential nomination, an ideological split, but also a structural crisis, in which the central organization has repeatedly been shown to be an autonomous but ineffectual head atop an increasingly independent body. The local powers that have been shut out of national influence, and the younger generation that has found its ambitions blocked, are growing increasingly restive.

Other signs. Laurent Bouvet's take.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rimbaud?

Frédéric Mitterrand compares Orelsan to Rimbaud and thinks the Francofolies polemic is ridiculous. You decide:

The Last Refuge of a Scoundrel

Martine Aubry has lost it. Stunned by her party's loss in the European elections, unable to unite warring factions, she is now threatening to expel those most impatient of her leadership and ambitious to strike out in a new direction. She sent a letter to Manuel Valls, in which she invited him to "draw the full conclusions" from his criticisms and either step back in line or leave the party.

The stupidity of this move cannot be overstated. It is a confession of impotence by the party leader and yet another sign that the much-awaited "renovation" of the party is never going to happen. Perhaps Aubry is right, though: maybe it is time for the party to admit defeat and see if something new emerges from the rubble.

For Econ Geeks

Those of you who follow debates in economics are no doubt aware of the raging controversy about the so-called "Keynesian multiplier" associated with various economic policy alternatives. Whether or not it is wise to attempt to stimulate the economy, and how best to do it, has been the subject of an enormous amount of discussion--and blather--ever since the crisis began. Now (via Menzie Chinn) we at least have a survey of estimates of multipliers under various assumptions and according to a wide range of models. A contribution to more informed blather ...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Vive la France! Vive la République!

For Bastille Day (h/t David Bell):

Labor Tensions Escalate at Fabris

Workers have threatened to blow up the Fabris factory in Châtellerault if PSA and Citroën, the failed company's biggest clients, don't pony up $42,000 for each worker facing unemployment.

UPDATE: For a caustic comment on the unions in all this, see Marc Cohen.

Is Canonization Ahead?

With hagiography like this, we should expect that the Honorary Canon of Saint John Lateran can look forward to rapid canonization, should he ever pass on to a better world--though it's hard to imagine anything better than France under Sarkozy if one watches this program. Charles Bremner says all that needs to be said.

Sarko and the Military

On this Bastille Day, with its customary parades, it's only fitting that we should be told by Libé that Sarko has patched things up with his generals. Yes, he's struck a new tone about the military and is no longer scolding his troops for their lack of professionalism. But there's more than sentiment at work: France's return to NATO, much desired by chief of staff Jean-Louis Georgelin, has given the armies of the Republic grown-up games to play and a much-enlarged sandbox to play in. No wonder they're happy.

Banking Problems

The focus of this Times article is Germany--the new Japan, Paul Taylor speculates--but there is this about France:

Italy, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and, to a lesser extent, Spain are all in denial about the extent of their banking problems, although the Dutch, Belgians and French have had to spend billions of euros of taxpayers’ money to save Fortis, ABN Amro, ING and Dexia.


But there is a puzzle here. Germany is said to be concealing the extent of its banking problems for fear of spooking voters before the upcoming September elections. What is France's excuse? And if the denial of banking problems is such common knowledge that the Times can print it as fact, why aren't French journalists probing more deeply into the alleged difficulties of the country's banks? Why isn't the opposition raising the issue?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Two Anti-Semitisms?

An extraordinary thing: Philippe Bilger, the prosecutor in the "Gang of Barbarians" case, has reacted publicly, on his blog, to the latest developments in the affair. As you undoubtedly know, Michèle Alliot-Marie, has ordered an appeal of all the verdicts in the cases of defendants who received sentences inferior to those requested by the avocat général. But the family of Ilan Halimi, the victim, had already protested, through its attorney, Me Szpiner, that the sentences sought by Bilger were too lenient for the accomplices. Bilger further provoked the ire of la partie civile by distinguishing between two types of anti-Semitism, one associated with "violence, torture, and death," the other "banal, ordinary, widespread, and worrisome but in no way comparable (sans commune mesure)" with the former. Bilger, in additional comments to the press, expressed his belief that the outcome of the case was "balanced" and succeeded in sanctioning the great evil of the crime while respecting the individuality and humanity of each defendant.

I don't know the facts of the case well enough to comment on the severity of the sentences, but Bilger's remarks do raise an important issue. The point, in my mind, is not whether "banal" anti-Semitism is "comparable" to the lethal variety but rather whether it is an enabling condition. Fofana apparently found any number of people in his neighborhood sufficiently persuaded of the truth of the "banal" prejudice that "all Jews are wealthy" that they were willing to go along with his kidnap-for-ransom scheme. Some number of the defendants knew where the victim was being sequestered and what was being done to him yet did nothing to stop it. Perhaps it wasn't "lethal" anti-Semitism that made them indifferent to his suffering but "merely" a generalized moral callousness. Call it what you will. Its prevalence in at least one Paris suburb seems to me to warrant an adjective slightly more censorious than Bilger's préoccupant.

If the prosecutor hadn't offered his distinction between two kinds of anti-Semitism, many people would probably still have been disturbed by the sentences in the case. It may indeed be true that the sentences requested by the prosecutor were appropriate, but to justify leniency by introducing an invidious distinction between two kinds of anti-Semitism seems to me to beg all sorts of questions that would better be posed in some place other than a court of law.

Heeeeeeeeeeere's Johnny!

The new minister of culture, fresh from overseeing the glory that was Rome, will have as his first mission--or perhaps his second, after overseeing the resurrection of the HADOPI Law--the apotheosis of Johnny Hallyday, of whose person Sarko has decided to make a gift to the French on Bastille Day. Of course, Johnny, who moved to Belgium and Switzerland to avoid paying French taxes, is the sort of patriot who will donate his talents gratis to a national occasion like this--or, actually, not quite gratis, but he's doing this concert for 700,000 people for the mere pittance of 30,000 euros. What a handsome gesture to la patrie. Perhaps Johnny was feeling a little jealous of all the hoopla surrounding the death of Michael Jackson.

M. Mitterrand has thrown himself into the task with gusto, apparently. His eagerness to cater to the whims of his master shows that he was, truly, the man for the job. Christine Albanel had demonstrated some reluctance to go along with the ukase from the palace. Not Mitterrand. And anyway, the cleanup costs will be deferred to the city of Paris, which happens to be run by a Socialist, while Sarko gets to demonstrate the wisdom of his enlargement of the tax shield, which was generous enough to lure Johnny back from his vacation in tax-shelter country. Win-win.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Militants Abandoning the NPA?

So we are told, perhaps as many as 4,000 lost over the past few months. As the crisis deepens, industrial production falls, and the social climate becomes more tense, one might have thought that a party of the extreme left would be picking up rather than losing support. It would be interesting to have an inside account. Any takers? Brent, are you still in touch with les gars de Montparnasse?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Corrective: The CAS in a Better Light

The report lampooned in the previous post is not typical of the CAS, which has done some very good work, a correspondent tells me: for example, this on urban violence (h/t Justin).

Où sommes-nous? Où allons-nous?

A mention in Le Monde of a report by the prime minister's Centre d'Analyse Stratégique sent me to the CAS Web site. I didn't find the report I was looking for, which apparently argues that the French fear a loss of class status by their children more than the statistics warrant. I did find another report, however, whose method astonishes me more than its results. This one, entitled "La crise d'après les mots, les mots de l'après-crise," attempts to evaluate French attitudes toward the crisis by asking respondents to state their feelings toward a corpus of 210 key words. This so-called "semiometric analysis" is then used to create a typology of responses to the crisis: "fighters," "retreaters," "train wrecks" (sinistrés), "reformers," and "rebuilders."

To take just one of these categories, "rebuilders" are people with "voluntaristic" and "dynamic" personalities, as exemplified by their positive evaluation of words such as "construct," "effort," "ambition," and "commerce," while they tend to distance themselves from "anxiety-generating threats so as to construct a serene and reassuring framework," signified by their favorable rating of words such as "tenderness," "feminine," "blue," "intimate," and "sublime."

May I venture to suggest that France's First Rebuilder is its president, who has always been voluntaristic and dynamic and who, since his remarriage, is in closer touch with his previously suppressed tender, feminine, blue, intimate, and sublime instincts?

If this were the United States, I would nominate this study for the late Sen. Proxmire's "Golden Fleece" Award. But this is France, so I will simply suggest that the work is probably an employment support scheme for jobless sociologists. It's a good example of the way in which crises not only make it profitable to dig holes in order to fill them up again, as Keynes suggested, but also provide their own holes, there for the filling by anyone with a personality dynamic enough, or shameless enough, to seize the day.

Misoverestimated

Mon pauvre Bernard! Kouchner seems to have pronunciation problems of George W. Bush magnitude. Here he refers to Uighurs as "Yoghourts." Danone should sue. Well, at least he didn't call the Hans "Huns" (though the Uighurs might). There are times when I think Kouchner has been "misoverestimated," to adapt a well-known Bushism.

The European Social Model and the Long Run

Mark Thoma thinks Ken Rogoff has Europe's future wrong because he has Europe's past wrong.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ranked

To see how this blog stacks up against other blogs that take some aspect of French life as their subject, see these rankings. We're no. 54 out of 75 in the overall sweepstakes, but since the competition includes Le Monde, L'Equipe, and Le Figaro (1, 2, and 3 respectively), that's not bad for a 1-man operation! And in some of the subrankings, we're doing even better.

McDo Sponsors the Bac

Get your bac results on-line, courtesy of McDonald's. Polly-Vous Français (to whom I tip my hat for this reference) doesn't know whether to be more astonished by the French propensity to strip citizens of their right to be humiliated in private or by McDonald's readiness to help in the stripping.

Maybe this can help us understand attitudes toward the burqa. In America we can cover our faces in public and keep our SAT scores to ourselves, if we so choose. In France, both your face and your scores must be available for public scrutiny. (Insert smiley face here.)

The Oil Market

Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy have jointly called for government supervision of the petroleum futures markets. And the Obama administration is calling for limits on the ability of financial companies to speculate on oil futures. This ain't your father's neoliberalism. We await China's reaction to these moves.

A400M

Should EADS pull the plug on the troubled A400M military transport? The New York Times thinks so. Indeed, if the A400M goes down, Europe can simply buy its heavy-lifting capability from the US, and in return Congress and John McCain might, in their infinite wisdom, relent in their opposition to buying aerial tankers from the Europeans. Win-win. But if, as the Times notes, the A400M was "always a political airplane," that hardly distinguishes it from every other military aircraft project on record, so caution is in order. Still, Europe's bargaining position is weak: the A400M doesn't fly (yet), and without more money to fix its problems, it probably never will.

And as everyone knows, the only thing stopping Europe from getting right in there and mixing it up with bad guys around the world is the lack of a heavy-lifting capability ... right? Of course depriving oneself of capabilities with the potential to make trouble down the road is also "always a political" matter. Remember Ulysses and the Sirens? Europe has perhaps tied itself to the mast lest the Sirens tempt it into unleashing the dogs of war.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hénin-Beaumont

In the end, the Front National did not win in Hénin-Beaumont, but it came close. This narrow escape has emboldened some in the Front Républicain ("ripou-blicain" according to FN ticket leader Steeve Briois, who shares Le Pen's liking for puns in bad taste) to see a continuation of the party's decline. I prefer to see a warning of the kind of electoral trouble that could arise in other places if the economic downturn continues to worsen.

Business Failures

The rate of failure of small and medium businesses in France is skyrocketing.

Jon Stewart & Kristen Schaal on the Burqa

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Burka Ban
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Political HumorJason Jones in Iran

Carbon Tax

Some thoughts on the carbon tax and France's role in setting an example for the world, from Jacques Le Cacheux and Eloi Laurent.

Stimulated Yet?

Patrick Devedjian, who was given the make-work job of stimulus czar as consolation for being booted out of his previous position as head of the UMP, has apparently persuaded a gullible NY Times reporter that France is racing ahead in its economic stimulus program by sprucing up le patrimoine culturel, etc.

She apparently missed this item, which appeared a couple of months ago:
"The latest industrial production figures were dragged lower by a weak Italian, Spanish and French performance."

And this one:

The French economy may lose 350,000 jobs in 2009 as it faces the worst recession since World War II. The number of unemployed seeking a full-time, permanent contract increased by 90,200 in January to 2.2 million, the biggest gain since the start of available data in 1991 and the ninth straight monthly increase, the government said on Feb. 25.


Mark Thoma takes a somewhat more positive view than I do:

While the scale, $37 billion versus close to $800 billion, is a bit different and probably ought to be accounted for in the comparison, there does seem to be a difference not just in the speed of deployment, but also in the focus of the policy. It will be interesting to see how that difference, which seems to place somewhat more emphasis on boosting employment and aggregate demand immediately than on long-run growth in France as compared to the U.S., translates into a differential response to the fiscal policy boosts in the two countries.



And an interesting comparative comment from Matt Yglesias.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Racial Profiling in Paris

An interesting report on racial profiling by the police at several locations in Paris. Note: the English version of the report gives errors in my Adobe Reader, but the French version appears to be clean. (h/t Eloi)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Island Respite

I'm on an island for a few days' respite, hence the blog holiday.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Interest Groups and Carbon Taxes

An article at Telos on the feasibility of a carbon tax is interesting more for what it says about the power of interest groups and lobbies in France than for what it says about the carbon tax:

... les gouvernements européens et le gouvernement français en particulier ont l’habitude de céder à des groupes de pression bien organisés tels que les pêcheurs et les camionneurs, les agriculteurs n’étant pas loin derrière.

...En dernière analyse, on peut donc s’attendre à une application très sélective de la taxe, en fonction de la puissance des groupes de pression. Le consommateur moyen, non membre d’une organisation importante, risque d’en faire les frais. En d’autres termes, l’effet d’une telle taxe sera probablement minime à cause des exemptions qui pousseront à la consommation et favorisera les grands groupes et les lobbies les plus puissants.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Extreme Right

A new book on the extreme right in postwar France is reviewed here.

Popular Front

The NPA and Parti de Gauche may join forces for the regionals. Talks are under way. The question then would be what line this popular front would take toward alliance with the PS in the second round.

Could this alliance force the PS to clarify its thinking? Are there more votes to be gained in the center (as I believe) than on the left? In any case, the European elections seem to have galvanized the left of the left. The left front turned out to be little more than the rump of the Communist Party with a trickle of new votes from Mélenchon and friends. And the NPA didn't break out of the LCR ghetto. My guess is that combining forces won't win them many votes over their combined total and may even lose a few (what will the hard-core Trots in the NPA make of an alliance with the PCF?). This is electoralist politics of the sort that Mélenchon et cie. left the Socialists in order to leave behind them. Its only virtue is to strengthen the hand of the extreme left in negotiations with the PS. And who in the extreme left really thinks that's a goal worth winning?

The NO Interview

The president apparently asked Le Nouvel Obs to interview him. Denis Olivennes, the director, and Michel Labro, the editor, accepted the request but did not consult with the magazine's staff. There was a fuss. The result is excerpted here (I don't have the print magazine). All I can say is, I understand why the NO journalists were miffed to have been bypassed. This is supposed to be Sarko's assessment of his first two years as president? These are his confessions of error? The questions are softballs, the errors are venial (Today I wouldn't have lost it with Joffrin, I respect the fellow, I had to grow into the job, etc.) Well, maybe they saved the good stuff for print.