Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lamont Laments

Michèle Lamont, the author of How Professors Think, explains what she thinks is wrongheaded in Sarkozy's approach to educational reform. The bottom line:

Academic evaluation is enabled by long-term exposure to a detailed classification system that allows one to understand what is new and significant. Until Sarkozy and the other French technocrats understand this, they will have a hard time proposing a policy that will gain the support of experts.

Will Jégo Blow the Whistle?

Yves Jégo, ousted yesterday as secretary of state for overseas territories, is said to be itching to leak documents showing that he was done in by the influence of "un certain patronat." Could be interesting.

Sarkozy's Gamble

Sarkozy rolled the dice at Versailles. The event was the culmination of his first cycle of reforms and made possible by one of them, the constitutional change that allowed the president to address the joint session of the Senate and Assembly. Essentially, when you bracket the attention-diverting anti-burqa paragraph, which has grabbed the spotlight outside France, the message was, "Not to worry." The crisis is over, he implied. Now we can start to think about long-term rebuilding, and for that we'll borrow money with un emprunt national. No rush. Plenty of time for consultations.

Any fallout from the crisis will be limited, the president insisted, to marginal categories. We'll handle it with the same old same old: RSA, aid to the elderly, crumbs for the suburbs. We'll take care of the "bad deficit" by cutting back the bureaucracy, as had been promised all along, and every penny of the "good deficit" will go to lovely new things: durable development, French Silicon Valley, etc. (The fishermen aren't clamoring for fuel subsidies at the moment, so we don't have to bother with irritating questions, such as, Are subsidies for declining industries "good" or "bad" contributions to the deficit.) Some parts of the old reform package have been quietly dropped: nothing has been heard for many moons about the French "ownership society," for example.

The program is thus basically "don't rock the boat, we're on course for re-election in 2012." This supposes that labor remains quiescent, that the number of unemployed won't skyrocket over the next few months, and that the opposition remains in disarray. Sarko has a good chance of winning his bet. But if he doesn't, I don't think he has a contingency plan. It's a rather passive program for a president whose stock-in-trade has always been dervish-like activity. Whether this is because he has no choice or no imagination is difficult to say.

The remaniement was of a piece with the speech. Commentators have been struck by the fact that its scope was larger than had been intimated. Does it matter? Foreign policy and the economy remain unchanged. The palace guard stays as it was. A few disgraced courtiers have been banished, a few ambitious young folks have been taken aboard. François Fillon remains smiling and glib.

At first sight I like Nora Berra. She is plain-spoken, modest, apparently competent, and doesn't wear Dior. But Dati's eviction means that there is no longer a minority in a regalian ministry. On the level of symbolism, that's a step backwards.