Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A similar Analysis

Thierry Desjardins offers an analysis of the current situation similar to mine. First, he wonders why Sarkozy is putting off the cabinet reshuffle until October:

Seulement voilà, Sarkozy n’est pas pressé. Ce remaniement, a-t-il précisé, aura lieu en… octobre prochain. Pourquoi ? On ne comprend pas. Il y a le feu dans la baraque et il est évident que chaque jour, vacances ou pas, on va continuer à nous sortir des affaires, des scandales car il y en a, paraît-il, encore plein les tiroirs et même des placards entiers.

He notes and dismisses the idea that Woerth is indispensable for retirement reform:

A l’Elysée, on répond qu’il faut en terminer avec la réforme des retraites et qu’il est impossible que Woerth ne conduise pas à son terme cette réforme qui sera, dit-on toujours à l’Elysée, « la grande œuvre » du quinquennat. Mais on oublie, d’abord, que cette réforme avait été confiée à Xavier Darcos et que Sarkozy ne s’est pas gêné pour le déboulonner sèchement au lendemain de la catastrophe des régionales et, ensuite, que ce malheureux Woerth est maintenant mort politiquement. Il ne pourra plus jamais mener des discussions avec les syndicalistes ni persuader l’opinion que quoi que ce soit.

And then he wonders about bringing in Juppé, suggesting that Juppé may recognize the possibility of a trap:

Certains disent que Sarkozy cherchent des « volontaires » et qu’on ne se bouscule pas en ce moment pour monter dans sa galère. Même Juppé ne serait plus très chaud. Et Borloo non plus.
En fait, il semble bien que Sarkozy s’imagine qu’avec l’été, les choses vont se calmer, s’oublier. Il a tort. Il n’a pas entendu les trompes sonner l’hallali. Il est aux abois et ne s’en rend pas compte.

Another Way to Bury the Affair

OK, now François Baroin, current minister of the budget, has announced that the Inspection des Finances will investigate the Woerth affair. Obviously they think this will prick the blister. The strategy is now clear: announce a ministerial shakeup for October, back Woerth publicly, launch an internal investigation, and try to keep the lid on:

Invité du journal télévisé de France 2, mercredi 30 juin, le ministre du budget, François Baroin, a annoncé qu'il allait saisir l'Inspection générale des finances afin qu'elle mène une enquête sur l'affaire Woerth-Bettencourt et qu'elle mette "tout sur la place publique". Le rapport devrait être disponible dans "une dizaine de jours", selon le ministre. (France 2)

It might even work. This isn't the United States. No special prosecutors. No out-of-control cable news networks. No more caustic comedians on the radio. Generally docile media. If MediaPart had any more in its recordings, we'd know it by now, right?  If Le Canard enchaîné had the goods, they'd be out there. Etc. etc. So Sarko has concluded that all he's got on his hands is a perception problem, to be handled by the usual methods. I'm not so sure.

Sarko Cracks

As I predicted, mounting pressure on Sarkozy, primarily owing to proliferating scandals and growing resistance to retirement reform, has finally forced him to act--or at any rate, to consider acting, according to this flash:
Nicolas Sarkozy prévoirait un remaniement ministériel pour octobre
Nicolas Sarkozy "réorganisera le gouvernement en octobre et tirera sévèrement les conséquences du comportement de ministres", a affirmé mercredi sur Twitter l'UMP Yannick Favennec, qui participait à la réception des députés UMP par le chef de l'Etat à l'Elysée.
Now we'll see if my prediction of yesterday comes true: Fillon demoted to replace Woerth, Juppé to become PM. But whatever happened to super-Sarko? October? This is June. When he came into office he was jogging, jetting, and jitterbugging around the clock, but now his government is falling apart and he gives himself until October to do something about it. Strangely lethargic. He's beginning to resemble Chirac more and more, which must astonish him when he looks in the mirror while shaving and thinking about 2012.

Ségo Quotes Montesquieu

Ségolène Royal was on TF1 last night attacking Sarkozy's government as "corrupt." To prove her case, she cited Montesquieu's definition of corruption, glancing down at her notes to make sure she had it right. Vive les classiques!

Bilan Globalement Négatif

Frédéric LN asks whether any part of Sarkozy's record is positive. His answer:

La 1ère réponse qui me vient à l'esprit est : le fait que la principale mesure du pseudo-"plan de relance" ait été une accélération des remboursements de l'Etat aux entreprises (alors que les années précédentes, la règle était que l'Etat se fasse de la trésorerie sur le dos de ses créanciers). Cela a sans doute évité des faillites d'entreprises structurellement viables, mais que les conditions de paiement de l'Etat fragilisaient. Au-delà de cette 1ère réponse : le caractère bidon du "plan de relance" était une très bonne chose. On a évité, malgré la pression médiatique, de creuser le trou plus profond par des dépenses aléatoires ou clientélistes (disons : cela s'est bien produit, mais peu).
2- L'instauration du RSA me semblait partir d'un bon principe. Je ne saurai pas dire aujourd'hui si les résultats sont plus positifs que négatifs ou l'inverse. En tout cas, s'ils étaient tragiques, je pense que ça se serait su.
3- Il y a peut-être des points positifs dans ce qui est resté du Grenelle de l'environnement. Bâtir de façon plus économe en énergie me semble un bon investissement de long terme (c'était déjà programmé, mais si j'ai bien compris, la "loi Grenelle" a accéléré le calendrier).
Bon ... j'ai passé en revue tous les grands sujets et je ne trouve rien d'autre.
Mais peut-être le sarkozysme, si dévastateur pour les sujets qu'il touche (ceux dont parlent les médias), permet-il derrière le rideau aux Ministres ou directeurs d'agence, de travailler efficacement dans la discrétion ? Je veux l'espérer - bien que les témoignages que j'aie sur différents sujets aillent tous dans le sens opposé - l'absence de sens sarkozystes (dite "mouvement brownien") semble créer de la paralysie de centres de décision à toutes les échelles. Ce qui ne répond certes pas, cette fois-ci, à la question de départ.

I like the image of Sarkozysm as "Brownian motion." That captures something essential about this presidency.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fissures in the Great Wall of China

As everyone now knows, Eric Woerth has insisted that he knew nothing of Mme Bettencourt's alleged tax evasions because une muraille de Chine existed between him and his wife and him and staff at the Budget and Finance Ministries. In solidarity, the president and the government threw up une muraille de Chine around Woerth, to stave off the baying hounds sent out by the malevolent opposition, bent on a chasse à l'homme. But the walls have begun to crack. Former finance ministers have spoken out to say that it is scarcely conceivable that dealings with "France's largest taxpayer" would not have been communicated to the ministerial level. Alain Juppé is not so sure that Woerth's role as treasurer of the UMP is compatible with his role as minister. Even Mme Woerth has acknowledged that she "underestimated" the potential for conflict of interest in her job (which implies that she thought about the possibility that there might be one and ignored it). And now Christine Lagarde, whose legal background no doubt sensitized her to the need to pass up certain opportunities to avoid potential conflicts of interest, has called for a clarification of regulations on the matter.

Sarkozy may still decide to tough it out with Woerth, who has already disproven my prediction that he would not last out the weekend. But the main reason for keeping Woerth--negotiations over retirement reform are at a critical phase, and nobody else in the government is up to speed--may be moot. It's quite possible that Woerth is more of a liability than an asset at this point. Worse still, the attempt to rein in ministerial spending and slow the government's train de vie--a ludicrous stab at "austerity through exemplarity" that includes cancellation of the Bastille Day garden party--only serves to reinforce the sense that the government is corrupt through and through while trimming virtually nothing from the national deficit. Sarko is now in a bind: if he leaves the government in place, with so many tarnished ministers, he looks helpless; if he cashiers the ministers and attempts to form a new government (with what talent?), he looks panicky and weak.

Of course he could attempt an Obama-esque coup. Obama replaced the tarnished McChrystal with the teflon-like Petraeus. Sarko could replace Woerth with Fillon, whose name is already associated with retirement reform and who could credibly fill the role. To be sure, this would be a demotion, as in the case of Petraeus, but better a demotion, Fillon might reason, than a defeat. Hence he could--I emphasize the conditional--possibly be persuaded to take the job. And then, for prime minister, in a Mitterrand-esque move, Sarko could bring in Juppé. Just as Rocard was a potential rival to Mitterrand in case of a collapse in presidential popularity and credibility, so Juppé sits in the wings, awaiting a miracle. What better way to defuse this potential bomb than to associate him with responsibility for failure? Would Juppé take the job? I think so. It would be his route to national rehabilitation. Of course the scandal that brought him down would be revived by the opposition, since it resembles current scandals (Estrosi's appartements de fonction, for instance). But the effect of surprise would likely overwhelm the criticism. By bringing in a tough and independent outsider, Sarkozy would make himself look stronger, while avoiding the wholesale remaniement that would make him look desperate and clueless.

If any of this happens, you heard it here first.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Blowback?

Bernard Girard sees the lopsided vote at Le Monde in favor of the Bergé-Niel-Pigasse offer as a possible blowback against Sarkozy's ham-handed attempt to intervene in the ownership battle. What we don't know, Girard points out, is how either group in the bidding war proposes to restore the newspaper to profitability.

One might learn something from Pierre Lescure, a member of the conseil de surveillance of Le Monde, who will be interviewed tonight on Frédéric Martel's "Masse critique," France Culture, 19h.

UPDATE: Thierry Desjardins says that "Sarkozy porte la poisse."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ed Miliband Proposes "Graduate Tax" in UK

Here's a novel idea: Ed Miliband, contender for the Labour Party leadership in the UK, has proposed replacing college tuition with a "graduate tax," allowing students to amortize their educational expenses over a lifetime of higher earnings. Given the hostility in France to university tuition and the emphasis on equality, this might be a way to increase funding of French universities without unduly burdening the families of students while reducing the growing inequality due to increasing returns to education.

Friday, June 25, 2010

P.S.: Internal Tensions over Retirement Reform

Martine Aubry was in the streets yesterday with the unions protesting the proposal to increase the legal age of retirement to 62, but DSK (reiterating his previous dissent by way of an IMF white paper on France), Gérard Collomb, Michel Rocard, and Didier Migaud (president of the Cour des Comptes) are not on the same page. OK, old story, usual suspects. But what is the PS position on reform? Aubry says she's for reform, don't get her wrong, but just not this one. It's time to lay something on the table.

The Sorrows of Young Woerth

Le parquet de Nanterre avait alerté l'administration fiscale en janvier 2009 sur de possibles fraudes fiscales de la milliardaire Liliane Bettencourt, a déclaré vendredi le procureur Philippe Courroye. A cette époque, Eric Woerth, dont l'épouse travaillait dans une société gérant la fortune de Mme Bettencourt, était ministre du budget. (AFP)
I think he's got to go. In my estimation he won't last out the weekend.

More on Le Monde

A key vote in the Le Monde saga has gone in favor of the group led by Claude Perdriel, reports Le Nouvel Obs, owned by Perdriel.

UPDATE: On the other hand, the Bergé-Niel-Pigasse group has been endorsed by the Société des Rédacteurs and managing editor Eric Fottorino.

For the record, the latter is the group that Sarkozy opposes.

LATER UPDATELe résultat est sans appel : entre 80% et 90% des suffrages se sont portés sur l'offre du trio l'honne d'affaires Pierre Bergé, le fondateur de Free Xavier Niel et le banquier d'affaires Matthieu Pigasse (dit le trio BNP) considérée comme l'une des mieux «structurée et solide financièrement». Il faut dire que ce trio a particulièrement soigné son offre en faveur des salariés, en leur promettant de leur offrir une partie du capital. Seuls les représentants de l'Association Hubert Beuve-Méry, du nom de l'illustre fondateur du journal, «devraient voter en faveur du projet emmené par Claude Perdriel», indiquait-on vendredi en interne.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Whoops!

A slight miscalculation on the proposed Greater Paris metro, it seems.

Meanwhile ...

As for non-football-related news, unemployment spiked sharply upward, but Herr Schäuble remains convinced that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

France-America 2

Well, Gen. McChrystal may not think much of France (see previous post), but Gen. Petraeus's wife majored in French lit:

A senior at Dickinson College, Holly was fluent in French and finishing her honors dissertation on the novelist François Mauriac. It was a whirlwind romance. 

France-America

What's wrong with France's reaction to its football debacle at the World Cup? Dan Drezner will tell you.

And what's wrong with France according to Gen. Stanley McChrystal? Its restaurants are "too Gucci," its ministers "too gay," and, on the whole, the country is just too civilized for the former "Boss" of "Team America." McChrystal's background is in Special Forces, guys who like to style themselves "snake-eaters," so you can imagine they might find all the forks and knives on a Parisian table a little bewildering. So what does Team America do when stuck in Paris because volcanic ash has grounded all flights? It celebrates the general's wedding anniversary at Kitty O'Shea's Irish Bar.

So, to Dan Drezner I say, to every Alain Finkielkraut there is a Stanley McChrystal. France should not be reduced to its overwrought intellectuals, nor America to its uncouth warriors.

As for the Steven Erlanger article to which Drezner refers, which cites Fadela Amara's complaint that the vituperation directed against the French team, largely composed of blacks, is "opening a superhighway for the National Front," let's not forget that much of the anger is directed at both the coach, Domenech, who is white (as well as "the most detested man in France"), and the French Football Federation, which is dominated by (near-)dead white males. Of course the new coach is named Laurent Blanc, perhaps a sign that the backlash has already set in, and on France2 last night it was suggested that Blanc might build his new team around Yann Gourcuff, the white Adonis who may or may not have been ostracized by his teammates.

Sorbonne University

Yet another reorganization/plan of cooperation/quasi-integration of several Parisian institutions of higher learning. I wish them luck. Really, Paris ought to have a great university. But I don't think it can be achieved by signing conventions. If I'm wrong, I'll not only eat my hat, I'll wear a "University of Sorbonne" sweatshirt the next time I'm in Paris, just as the French tourists I see in Harvard Square wear "University of Harvard" T-shirts that reveal that they're greenhorns fresh off the boat.

As for what needs to be done beyond signing conventions, I don't have the time even to begin a recitation of the familiar litany. I imagine, in any case, that those who are signing the conventions know these things as well as, if not better than, I do. But they don't say so out loud. It would be impolitic. So nothing happens. Five years from now we will hear that the name has been changed yet again: Sorbonne Université, ex Paris Universitas, will have become, oh, I don't know, l'Université Victor Cousin, professors will still be without offices and students without libraries or laboratories, and roofs will still be leaking. Call me a pessimist.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

First Things First

Better a soccer scandal than a Bettencourt Affair. Sarkozy has granted Thierry Henry an audience, at Henry's request, apparently, and Roselyne Bachelot spoke to the Assemblée Nationale today and managed to make the World Cup sound like the Fall of France in World War II. Meanwhile, sports minister Rama Yade, in an interview on France 2, promised to clean house and come up with "un nouveau plan footballistique," for which she wins this year's Prix de Bravitude.

UPDATE: Better and better: Sarko has called for an Estates General of Football. "Ce n'est pas une révolte, Sire, c'est une révolution."

Proust Would Have Liked This

A delicious detail out of the Bettencourt-Woerth saga:

Une révélation du Point.fr risque de mettre à mal cet édifice : Eric Woerth a remis la légion d'honneur à Patrice de Maistre [NB: Mme Bettencourt's tax advisor], le 23 janvier 2008 à Bercy. Pis, toujours selon le magazine, "la cérémonie officielle de remise de la décoration avait été initialement fixée au 19 novembre 2007, soit au moment même où Florence Woerth faisait son entrée au sein de la société Clymène [NB: Maistre's firm]". Elle a ensuite dû être reportée.

Meanwhile, Eolas offers a legal opinion (obvious conflict of interest but no duty to inform):

Pour Maître Eolas, même si la fraude fiscale était avérée, et même si Florence Woerth était au courant, elle n’avait pas le droit de dénoncer ce délit à son mari, puisqu’elle était soumise au secret professionnel. "Les obligations de dénonciation ne portent que sur les crimes et certains délits, et la fraude fiscale n'en fait pas partie, selon l’avocat blogueur. D’un point de vue déontologique, c’est une autre histoire. On serait là précisément en plein coeur du conflit d'intérêt".

No Garden Party

Times are really tough: there will be no garden party this year at the Élysée to celebrate Bastille Day. La rigueur, quoi! The draconian Tory budget announced yesterday in the UK must be catching.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Class Act to the End

Crédit Agricole Hit by Greece

Crédit Agricole may have pulled its TV ad featuring Les Bleus just in time to avoid further embarrassment, but its Greek subsidiary is losing more money than it previously thought on bad Greek loans.

Retirement Reform

A review of the issues by Pierre Concialdi.

The Guillon Affair

Sarkozy may be running into trouble on retirement reform as a result of the Bettencourt affair (see previous post), but in another long-running affair he seems to be coming out on top. The humorist Stéphane Guillon has been a thorn in his side for some time, and it appears that Guillon is about to lose his morning slot on France Inter. But the wounded beast will be free to roam the media jungle, and one can only imagine the ferocity of the attacks to which this foolish and inconclusive skirmish will entitle the presidential hunter and his native guide Philippe Val during the 2012 campaign.

The Bettencourt Affair

But for Les Bleus, the Bettencourt affair would be the top story of the past few days, and I've not yet said anything about it. Why not? Perhaps because the unsavory behavior of everyone involved prevents me from adopting the posture of outraged virtue that has suddenly become so popular. In the end, yes, it's clear that it's wrong to cheat the treasury by hiding untold sums in Swiss bank accounts and concealing ownership of an island in the Seychelles. The matter-of-fact tone in which Mme Bettencourt's financial advisor tells her--orders her--to contribute to the campaign of Valérie Pécresse speaks volumes: she will lose, he says, but you must contribute anyway, because these days one needs friends in high places. The resignation of Eric Woerth's wife from the company that handles Mme Bettencourt's finances will not, alas, and despite Woerth's confidence, restore belief that Caesar's wife is beyond reproach. "They're trying to destabilize me," Woerth sagely observes, without identifying his nemeses.

Still, one shouldn't forget that we know about all this unsavoriness only thanks to the violation of privacy by a butler whose motives are unlikely to have been unalloyed, and to the complicity of Mme Bettencourt's daughter--sharper than a serpent's tooth--who is involved in litigation to secure her portion of the Oréal fortune from Mme Bettencourt's companion, a man of  "extravagant fantasies," by Mme Bettencourt's own description.

All this should be good for half a dozen made-for-TV docufictions, but in the meantime it should not be forgotten that Eric Woerth is indeed the point man for the last remaining straw among Sarkozy's original sheaf of reforms. It is he who is negotiating with the social partners over the parameters of retirement reform. And he has indeed been "destabilized." Sarkozy would probably do better to replace him at once rather than allow him to "twist slowly, slowly in the wind" as what some are now calling Woerth-gate unfolds. The problem, I imagine, is that no one else knows the dossiers as well as Woerth. That is why he was shifted from budget to labor to serve as point man in these negotiations. After all, Sarkozy can't put a fellow like Christian Estrosi into a job like this. Mme Lagarde has the requisite intelligence but still isn't right for the job. There is perhaps François Baroin, but he can't be trusted: he is close to Chirac and in any case has that lean and hungry look of a Cassius in the making (sleek and hungry might be more like it). The front bench of the UMP is short on talent--a point that is not noticed often enough.

So Sarkozy's last reform might be in jeopardy as a result of this imbroglio out of "Dallas" by way of "Dynasty." How fitting, if things go this way, that he will have been done in by his own kind: the glitzy nouveaux riches. And what ingratitude: despite his broadening of the tax shield and offer of amnesty to cheats with funds in tax havens abroad, Mme Bettencourt never until yesterday thought of repatriating her fortune, despite--or was it because of?--advice from Mme Woerth.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Update on Le Monde's Situation

Here.

BNP Paribas Downgraded

Fitch has downgraded BNP Paribas from AA to AA-.

Double Talk

Rigor talk is still out at home, officially speaking, but it's OK in the City. Claude Guéant told the Financial Times that France is going to do "much more" than it already has to cut spending. This is what the City wants to hear. It's sort of reminiscent of those officials in the Middle East who say one thing in Arabic or Hebrew and another in English.

Bank Bails on Les Bleus

You know that your reputation has suffered when even a bank feels it's better off without your endorsement.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

New PCF Head

The PCF has a new leader. Younger readers may wonder why I bother to mention this, but once upon a time, the Communists were a force to be reckoned with: "Between us [the Gaullists] and the Communists, there is nothing," said André Malraux. When I first started paying attention to French politics, back in the '60s, the party was still capable of drawing 16% of the vote, and alliance with the Communists was the stroke of tactical ingenuity that enabled Mitterrand to break the Gaullist lock on the Fifth Republic. So it's with some nostalgia that I report that the new PCF leader, Pierre Laurent, is an apparatchik whose roots can be traced to those halcyon days: his father was Paul Laurent, a collaborator of Georges Marchais's. Laurent has climbed the ranks of the organization, serving most recently as editor of L'Humanité. What does his elevation to the top job signify? Perhaps that the party apparatus remains as firmly in control of its dwindling rank-and-file as ever. Apparently young Laurent isn't too popular with the masses, who preferred someone else for the regionals until outgoing leader M.-G. Buffet put her foot down. Plus ça change ... Let's see how he fares with Mélenchon.

La République solidaire

Dominique de Villepin is calling his new party République Solidaire, but its launch yesterday received less press than it might have because of the implosion of the French football team at the World Cup. Things have only gotten worse since. The team, widely criticized for not playing like one, has suddenly developed off the field the solidarity it could not manage on it: the sélection de France refused with a single voice to practice. This prompted an official representing the Federation to quit in disgust. Sarkozy yesterday pronounced the Anelka situation "unacceptable." This latest rebellion--or collective tantrum--has to be characterized as inqualifiable. I'm not sure that international sports has ever seen anything like it. The French sporting world would appear to have reached a nadir: the Tour de France has become an orgy of drug abuse, and now there are even accusations that one cyclist may be using an electric motor hidden in the frame of his bike. And soccer has become an almost unbelievable sitcom: overpaid players, underage girls, uncouth fans, an astrology-besotted coach, a rejection of one player by his teammates, allegedly because he is too good-looking, tearful officials--what next?

Chinese Protest in Belleville

What is said to be the largest demonstration of Chinese ever organized in France took place in Belleville to protest violence against the Chinese community.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Times of London Raises the Drawbridge

The Times of London is becoming a pay site. This wouldn't matter much to me, since I don't read the paper, but Charles Bremner's excellent blog on things French, to which I frequently link, is disappearing behind the pay wall as well. This is a shame. I'm all for paying a fair price for news on the Web, but there are only so many newspapers I can support, and the Times of London is not one of them. In any case, on principle I'm not keen to contribute to the Murdoch empire, given the ravages wrought by Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page in my own country. Which is not to say that Murdoch doesn't employ some excellent journalists. Bremner, the Times' Paris correspondent, is one of them. But 2 pounds a week is more than I care to pay to read his blog. A fairer formula must be found: I would pay a reasonable amount to read selected articles or blog posts, but I'm not going to pay for an entire paper for which I have no use. So, adieu, Charles.

Book Chat on the Web

Fabrice Rozié, who used to be the French embassy's book attaché in New York, is launching a Web-based book discussion venture, "Amateur Thursdays," with Giovanna Calvino, the daughter of Italo Calvino. They're attempting to raise money for their launch. You can see a video about it here and discussion here and here.

Villepin Launches

"Classe, sérénité, stature d'homme d'État ..." Not perhaps the words I would choose.

Cup of Bitters

Remember when France won the World Cup? Commentators fell all over themselves congratulating la grande Nation on its successful integration: the national colors were henceforth Beur, Black, Blanc, everyone embraced, and La Marseillaise was on the lips of all. That was then. Everyone loves a winner, victory has a thousand fathers, etc. The ecumenical hopes to which the '98 cup gave rise were dashed in the first round of the 2002 presidential election. So let us hope that the hatred unleashed by France's Cup collapse of 2010 augurs a better outcome in the 2012 presidentials.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sarkogaffe

From Le Monde's proofreaders:

Monsieur le président,

Quand vous serez de retour de Londres, après la commémoration de l’appel du 18 juin, courez vite acheter le Bescherelle – ce manuel de conjugaison ne constitue pas une bien lourde dépense pour l’Etat – et allez directement à la page concernant le verbe “battre” (ce petit livre est très commode à utiliser : les dernières pages comportant une liste des verbes par ordre alphabétique, vous y trouverez donc facilement celui-là).

Puis, en tenant fermement le livre ouvert à la page dite, laissez glisser vos yeux et votre doigt vers la colonne “Passé simple” de ce verbe. Puis, laissant vos lèvres suivre le doux mouvement des sons, sans crispation, vous prononcerez alors en détachant bien les syllabes : “Ils ba-tti-rent”.

Bien grammaticalement,

Les correcteurs du Monde.fr

The error occurs at about 0:58 of the video.

Bank Exposure to PIGS

From Mark Copelovitch, via Econbrowser:

"French and German banks were most exposed to residents of Spain ($248 billion and $202 billion, respectively), although the sectoral compositions of their claims differed substantially. French banks were particularly exposed to the Spanish non-bank private sector ($97 billion), while more than half of German banks' foreign claims on the country were on Spanish banks ($109 billion). German banks also had large exposures to residents of Ireland ($177 billion), more than two thirds ($126 billion) of which were to the non-bank private sector"

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Saucisson et Pinard

Everybody wants a piece of the symbolic day June 18. Sarkozy is going to London. Dominique de Villepin is launching his "movement." And the extreme right wanted to organize an apéro géant saucisson et pinard in the Goutte d'Or.

This may require some unpacking for Anglophone readers. What is an apéro géant? It's a relatively recent phenomenon, a sort of open-air happy hour organized via Facebook, a flash mob fueled by alcohol. Hordes converge on some designated spot at some designated hour and make whoopee, with all the consequences one might anticipate. The twist in this case was the combination of the theme ("sausage and cheap wine") with the venue, the Goutte d'Or, a section of Paris in which many Muslims reside. Bringing pork and alcohol to the Goutte d'Or isn't quite the same as neo-Nazis marching through Skokie, Illinois, though the organizers evidently hoped to achieve similar notoriety. The prefect has banned the event, however.

I had barely noticed this little tempest until I was called this morning by France24 to discuss it in a debate. I had to decline, because I knew too little about it. Now I am better informed, but it seems to me little more than the latest skirmish in the escalating French culture war. I think the best response would have been the one planned by some residents of the Goutte d'Or: un apéro géant hallal et thé à la menthe.

The Evolution of the Retirement System and the Macroeconomy

Bernard Girard argues that the proposed reform of the system will lead to a lower level of replacement income for everyone, simply because it will not be possible for most people to meet the requirements for full benefits. This is because we enter the work force later and leave earlier (even though we live longer), and nothing can be done to reverse these tendencies (despite the common rhetorical suggestion that the ultimate departure from the work force is generally voluntary). The result will be a gradual shift to various supplementary sources of pension income such as investments, annuities, etc. Where such programs exist, they tend to favor those higher up in the workplace hierarchy.

The prospect of such a dual system may shock French sensibilities, but in the United States we are used to it, for better and for worse. Social Security income is supplemented for most people by a private (employer-, union-, or association-administered) pension, an IRA, a 401k, etc. The tax concessions that help to sustain this dual system also help to disguise the cost to the government and the actual amounts of transfer from one social group to another.

There has been much discussion lately (by behavioral economists in particular) of perverse incentives in the US system and of how to change those incentives in order to encourage people to take advantage of opportunities to provide for their future. There has been less discussion of the macroeconomic effects of the large private pension system. For example, one source of the demand for AAA-rated securities (which encouraged banks to fabricate such securities out of less secure mortgages, thus setting the stage for the collapse) was the requirement of many pension funds to hold only such securities. Government pensions are countercyclical: they act as automatic stabilizers in a downturn. Private pension investments, as we have seen, are procylical: everyone with investments feels poorer in a recession, and the wealth effect of a negative shock to GDP is multiplied by the widespread ownership of corporate equities.

Perversely, the Great Recession is driving France, in a panic over the size of its public deficit, toward a more procyclical pension system. Hence "the fire next time?" This is a question that no one wants to ask.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Envisioning Real Utopias

Erik Olin Wright promises to put the social back in social democracy in his new book, Envisioning Real Utopias.

The Daily Texan Recognizes the French Enlightenment

Philosopher David Williams takes the Texas State Board of Education at its word (h/t Chris Bertram). The Board, which recently expressed its displeasure with the teaching of evolution ("only a theory") and slavery (more than a theory, alas, but henceforth to be taught in a "fair and balanced" way as part of  "the Atlantic triangular trade"), nevertheless continues to promote dangerous French radicals:

On May 22, the State Board of Education voted 9-5 to reform its secondary-school social studies curriculum, emphasizing that the content of these guidelines serves to enable students to “appreciate the basic democratic values of our state and nation.” While these reforms have been broadly condemned by liberals across the country, it is important that both liberals and conservatives together become more broadly familiar with the texts now firmly in the curriculum. Specifically, we should take a closer look at Charles de Montesquieu, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Aquinas. The board has requested that students now be able to “explain the impact” of their work on contemporary government. Their lessons are perhaps more apt for our times than the board has acknowledged.
...
Then there is Voltaire (1694-1778). The board is especially right to emphasize the role of Voltaire, particularly in Texas, as Sam Houston himself was known to be an admirer and had access to a 41-volume set of his work. Although more a friend of enlightened despotism than democracy, Voltaire might find great supporters among those seeking to inject more Christianity into the curriculum. “Either Christianity should be renounced completely, or observed,” he wrote in his “Rights of Man” (1768). Of course, observing Christianity, as Voltaire understood it, was to recognize that it was a religion founded “entirely on poverty, on equality, on a hatred of riches and of the rich.” So without a strict equality, there can be no Christianity. There is no place for extreme wealth in a Christian republic, Voltaire concludes.
Finally, we have Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), perhaps the most famous and influential of all those philosophers the board cites as crucial for the development of “democratic-republican government.” Rousseau is surely someone the board can celebrate as a precursor to contemporary Texan ideologies. He speaks of property rights as “the true foundation of civil society” and writes, “work is always necessary and never useless.” At the same time, however, he recognizes the ancient wisdom of Thomas Aquinas and Plato, in arguing on behalf of a “moral and legitimate equality,” by which he means the following: “Under bad governments ... equality is only apparent and illusory. It serves merely to maintain the poor man in his misery and the rich man is his usurpation. In actuality, laws are always useful to those who have possessions and harmful to those who have nothing. Whence it follows that the social state is advantageous to men only insofar as they all have something and none of them have too much.” In other words, it is not enough to proclaim all is equal; the government must strive to make that equality real in its deeds, which means evening out the distribution of wealth.

De, Duh, D'oh

As a Tocqueville scholar, I wince when he is referred to as "de Tocqueville." Pascal Riché ponders the grave question of the particule. The story is told that when de Gaulle (note the lower case "de") went to meet Giraud in Africa, Giraud, using the last name as generals do, addressed him as "Gaulle." De Gaulle corrected him ("De Gaulle, s'il vous plaît"), but not on the grounds cited by Riché and Grévisse, that the particule must remain with a name of one syllable (or of more than one syllable if it begins with a vowel: d'Ormesson). The "de" in de Gaulle was not an aristocratic particule at all, said the general. It was simply his name. Perhaps. Or perhaps his destiny: Charles de Gaul, as it were: "je me suis toujours fait une certaine idée de la France". This being June 16, the 70th anniversary of the infamous armistice, it seems worth remembering.

Details of Proposed Retirement Reform

Here. Will it satisfy the bond rating agencies? See here. Or Brussels.

Luc Chatel, Sarko's New Favorite

It's a dangerous position to be in: Luc Chatel is apparently Sarkozy's new favorite among his ministers:

Luc Chatel ne cherche rien d'autre qu'à suivre à la lettre la feuille de route que lui a fixée le chef de l'Etat ? Il bénéficie d'une conjoncture où le président préfère désormais le sérieux au clinquant, les profils rassurants type Eric Woerth plutôt que Rachida Dati ?

His ascent, described by Les Échos as "sans-faute," is characterized by a sort of negative politology: there are no students or teachers in the streets and fewer of the latter in the schools.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Foot(ball) in Mouth

Poor Rama Yade. She thought to score a few points off the hapless French national soccer team (why not? everyone else is) by denouncing their expensive hotel rooms as a needless luxury in a time of rigor lowered expectations. Alas, her own room had already been booked, and it turned out to be more expensive than the rooms of Les Bleus. What to do? She took a room at the French consulate, but it was too late: the room reserved for her had been prepaid and was non-refundable. Now she has to put up not only with the team's ire but also with the ridicule of Le Canard enchaîné. That's what you get for taking cheap shots on goal.

And let us get real, dear readers: luxury jets and hotels for ministers and football players are no doubt wasteful and unnecessary expenditures, but eliminating them will not fill le trou de la sécu. In any case, the footballers' expenses are covered by private funds. Not so those of the minister and her entourage. Très mal joué, Mme Yade. Worse than Henry's handball, but for which both FIFA and the state could have saved a lot of money by avoiding French participation in the World Cup altogether. Football, as Marcel Mauss could have explained to Mme Yade, belongs to the realm of le don, and rulers who pinch pennies so stingily chip away at their own authority.

Prix Busiris Awarded

By Eolas:

C’est fièrement que l’actuel Garde des Sceaux a repris le flambeau de sa fonction, qui a vocation à la propulser au pinacle des primés du Busiris.
Rappelons que le prix Busiris récompense un mésusage éhonté et intentionnel du droit dans un discours politique, et se définit comme un propos juridiquement aberrant, si possible contradictoire, et prononcé de mauvaise foi dans un but d’opportunité politique. En somme, invoquer le cache sexe du droit pour cacher les parties honteuses de la politique.

Le prix Busiris porte sur la question de la suppression du juge d’instruction. Voici le verbatim, dressé par le greffier en chef de l’Académie Busiris. Les propos en italiques entre parenthèses sont des commentaires de votre serviteur.

Nicolas Demorand : Est-ce que le juge d’instruction sera supprimé ?
Michèle Alliot-Marie : Oui, parce que là, nous sommes dans une obligation européenne. Je vous le disais tout à l’heure, l’obligation européenne, c’est d’avoir un procès équitable (Sur ce point, c’est tout à fait exact : c’est l’article 6 de la Convention de sauvegarde des droits de l’homme et des libertés fondamentales, dite convention européenne des droits de l’homme, CSDH). Le principe du procès équitable, c’est notamment que celui qui mène l’enquête n’est pas celui qui porte un jugement sur cette enquête. Et aujourd’hui, avec le juge d’instruction, nous avons un juge qui à la fois mène l’enquête et est juge de l’enquête. Donc même si ça ne concerne aujourd’hui que 3 ou 4% des enquêtes, nous ne sommes pas en conformité avec le droit européen.

Les bruit que vous entendez, ce sont les mâchoires des juges d’instruction et conseillers de chambres de l’instruction qui me lisent qui viennent de tomber sur leur clavier avant de rouler par terre.
Si je puis me permettre de souffler un conseil à madame le garde des Sceaux, avant de réformer le Code de procédure pénale, il peut être judicieux de le lire.

Controlling the Media

Taken individually, each of these incidents might not be worth dwelling on. Taken together, they paint a troubling picture. Nothing new here, of course. And then there is the perpetual saga of Stéphane Guillon, to which has now been added the Didier Porte episode.

More.

More Eurogloom

Via Yves Smith:

As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reports in the Telegraph (hat tip reader Swedish Lex), the French financial group AXA believes the €750 billion rescue package is a mere band-aid:

Ms Zemek [head of global fixed income at AXA] said the rescue had bought a “maximum” of 18 months respite before deeper structural damage hits home, with a “probable” default by Greece setting off a chain reaction across Southern Europe. “It would be the end of the euro as we know it. The long-term implications are at best a split in the eurozone, at worst the destruction of the euro. It is not going to end happily however you slice it,” she said…

Axa said there was “no chance” that the EU’s €750bn “shock and awe” shield will succeed since it treats Club Med’s debt trap as a short-term liquidity crisis…

A number of ex-IMF officials have said the policy is doomed to failure since there is no devaluation or debt relief to offset the ferocious fiscal squeeze, and may endanger the credibility of the Fund itself. The IMF had floated the idea of a debt restructuring but this was blocked by the Brussels.
Smith also links to this story:

"Worse, a UPI story by Martin Walker (hat tip Marshall Auerback) demonstrates not only how firm Trichet’s commitment to this misguided program is, but also how it is creating a rift with the US:
Well-placed European sources say last weekend’s meeting of Group of 20 finance ministers saw a strident row between U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Jean-Claude Trichet, head of the European Central Bank.
It began when Geithner made his appeal for the Europeans to go easy on their austerity program….emergent economies were doing well and the United States was recovering; but both could be derailed if the Europeans slammed on the collective brakes. (One source says that Geithner went on to say that massive European spending cuts would be like adding the deflationary crash of 1931 to the stock market collapse of 1929.)
Trichet, his face red and his voice raised in anger, turned on Geithner. How dare the Americans speak this way, when the whole crisis was the fault of the Americans? It was the U.S. sub-prime mortgage crisis and the bonus-crazed culture of Wall Street that had got the world into this mess. But the Americans were taking no responsibility and very little of the burden….
Trichet made a point of stressing that European spending cuts would actually help the global economy by restoring market confidence, shaken by Greece’s sovereign debt problem and concerns about other members of the euro currency…
Perhaps Geithner was too polite to turn the tables on Trichet and point out that it was the eurozone and its policies that had let Greece drift steadily into such trouble…had also allowed France and Germany to flout the core rule that budget deficits shouldn’t go to more than 3 percent of gross domestic product. The eurozone, by trying to marry a single currency with more than a dozen separate national economic policies, had brought this problem upon itself. Many eminent economists, including the 1989 report for EU Commission President Jacques Delors, had warned specifically that this would be a critical problem.
Yves here. While the blame game makes for good theater, the central point is crucial: the eurozone is adopting disastrous policies to restore market confidence, and appears determined to adhere to them in the face of outright rejection."

Monday, June 14, 2010

Democratic Deficit and Then Some!

A flash out of Berlin:


Angela Merkel et Nicolas Sarkozy ont appelé lundi à Berlin au renforcement du pacte de stabilité européen, se prononçant pour le retrait du droit de vote des pays "laxistes" au Conseil européen. Les deux dirigeants se sont également mis d'accord pour proposer une taxe sur les transactions financières et les bénéfices des banques à la prochaine réunion du G20. (Reuters)



This will not go down well, I predict. Now we have not only a democratic deficit but a plain threat to eliminate democratic governance altogether. And since France has been in the past one of the "lax" countries in the Union (as has Germany to a lesser extent), protest is sure to erupt. This is effectively blackmail: OK, we promised to bail you out, now we will deprive you of your vote if you accept (what can the definition of "lax" be if not the need to use emergency funds, given that everyone has been "lax"?).

If the EU founders, today will be seen as marking the beginning of the end.

Does the Eurozone Have a Future?

Jacques Le Cacheux and Éloi Laurent ponder the question.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Le Monde

Le Monde's fate will be decided this week. Apparently Sarkozy has taken a hand in the negotiations, according to Philippe Cohen:

Mais si la solution existe, elle est aujourd'hui rendue périlleuse par le comportement de Nicolas Sarkozy lui-même. Selon diverses sources internes au Monde, Eric Fottorino se serait entretenu avec le président en compagnie de son conseiller social Raymond Soubie. Il aurait laissé entendre au patron du Monde, comme l'a rapporté Emmanuel Beretta du point.fr, que Xavier Niel n'était pas une bonne solution pour le quotidien à cause de son passé dans « le business érotique ».

The business about "le business érotique" got my attention, so I checked it out: more information here. I don't vouch for its reliability. (h/t FM) We've come a long way from the days of Hubert Beuve-Méry. More on Niel.

Jouyet the German

Jean-Pierre Jouyet, formerly Sarko's Mr. Europe (and before that, Jospin's), now the top stock market regulator, is all for Germany's austerity plan and wishes France could follow suit--if only it weren't already "at the limit." But he's willing to make a gesture: he would accept a cut in his own salary. As for increasing the VAT, as the Germans have done, France can't squeeze any more out of the lower brackets and needs to go where the money is. He doesn't mention the tax shield but does speak of an increase in the income tax. As for the risks of contagious contraction, he says simply: "When you clean up your finances, you enhance the value of your assets."

Paul Krugman has been railing in recent days against economists who favor pain for pain's sake and who make recommendations based on no discernible economic model. This rapidly spreading epidemic seems to have spread to France. Perhaps some of those unused vials of flu vaccine ought to be rolled out now to inoculate the political class against the German influenza. Seriously, this is shockingly one-sided advice from such a seasoned official.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Goujaterie

It's one thing to cancel dinner with a friend because you've had a spat. It's another to put out the word that the friend canceled on you. Sarkozy appears to be guilty of such goujaterie:

The circumstances of the last-minute cancellation of a dinner between Angela Merkel, German chancellor, and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France on Monday threaten to become a minor diplomatic incident, with French concerns about German budget cuts emerging as the real cause.
,,,
"The appointment was postponed at France's initiative, with mutual agreement," Ulrich Wilhelm, the chancellor's spokesman, said on Wednesday. There was no disagreement between the governments and nothing political about the reasons for postponement, he said.

Ms Merkel has gone further by insisting that the Franco-German relationship "is not stuttering".
However, Mr Sarkozy told his cabinet on Wednesday that he wanted to delay the meeting because he would not have been sufficiently well briefed about Germany's austerity package to be able to discuss it with his German counterpart.

The real difficulty, however, is not the dinner but the disagreement. Merkel seems to be determined to retrench her way out of the crisis. Sarkozy thinks this is folly. The euro, and Europe, hang in the balance. That is not an overstatement, alas.

My (World) Cup Runneth Over

I'm a sports curmudgeon, so "frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" whether France beats Uruguay. But America's leading poll analyst, Nate Silver, has calculated the odds, for those who are interested. For those who aren't, here are some choice words from another sports curmudgeon:



Bref, soyez heureux dans les bidonvilles d’Uruguay (ou d’Afrique du Sud !), vous aurez toujours de quoi bricoler une baballe pour passer le temps. Pourtant, les études sociologiques dignes de ce nom montrent bien que le foot est un vecteur de haine dès qu’il s’institutionnalise, les clubs se formant avant tout sur les appartenances ethniques ou sociales (voir en guise d’introduction Racism and Xenophobia in European Football, sous la direction d’Udo Merkel et Walter Tokarski, Meyer&Meyer, 1996). Rien là-dessus dans ce très modeste texte introductif, encore moins dans les extraits de la deuxième partie.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Dutch Elections

The disruptive potential of anti-Islamist politics has been demonstrated in the Netherlands. Further discussion here.

Europe, Language, Identity

Books by Peter Kraus and Neil Fligstein are reviewed here.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

O'Rourke on the European Economy

Here.

Rodrik on Europe's Fate

Here.

Kerviel Trial

The defense has successfully demonstrated that SocGen knew what Kerviel was up to and didn't care:

And his team is doing a good job at presenting him as a victim who was egged on tacitly to ever more reckless gambling as long as he made a profit. In December 2007 -- a month before his downfall --  the bank was pleased when it found that he had earned it 1.4 billion euros in concealed trades. Part of the evidence is a transciption of a recording then in which Kerviel's immediate boss tells him: "If you have earned 1.4 billion, you're bloody good. What you have done is a pain, but it's not serious." A month later, he was found to be holding a position of 50 billion euros -- more than the bank's worth.  Some 30 witnesses over the next three weeks may of course change the picture. And Kerviel, who now earns 2,300 euros a month as an IT consultant,  may be ordered to pay the damages demanded by SocGen: five billion euros.  

Krugman: "European Masochism"

Here:

Some thoughts on the fiscal austerity mania now sweeping Europe: is anyone thinking seriously about how this affects the rest of the world, the US included?
We do have a framework for thinking about this issue: the Mundell-Fleming model. And according to that model (does anyone still learn this stuff?), fiscal contraction in one country under floating exchange rates is in fact contractionary for the world as a whole. The reason is that fiscal contraction leads to lower interest rates, which leads to currency depreciation, which improves the trade balance of the contracting country — partly offsetting the fiscal contraction, but also imposing a contraction on the rest of the world. (Rudi Dornbusch’s 1976 Brookings Paper went through all this.)
Now, the situation is complicated by the fact that monetary policy is up against the zero lower bound. Nonetheless, something much like this transmission mechanism seems to be happening right now, with the weakness of the euro turning eurozone fiscal contraction into a global problem.
Folks, this is getting ugly. And the US needs to be thinking about how to insulate itself from European masochism.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The French Exception

The recession has hit higher education hard across Europe, but France is an exception, according to the European University Association:

France and Germany, continental Europe's dominant economies, are notable exceptions. Both countries have announced major new commitments to higher education and research, although Mr. Estermann emphasized that they represent two very different scenarios. In Germany's federal system, higher education is more the preserve of the 16 states than the national government. The states are facing a "diverse" economic picture, but the federal government has increased its support of higher education and research institutions, Mr. Estermann noted. In France, the government's pledge to commit billions of euros more to higher education predated the onset of the economic crisis, and "it is one of the countries that has actually kept its promise," said Mr. Estermann. "It is more the exception than the rule."

"Mainstream"

A rare thing: an untranslated French book has been noticed in Newsweek. It's Mainstream, by Frédéric Martel, an expert on the "global culture industry" that is the book's subject. The book has been a bestseller in France and is currently being translated into a number of other languages.

The Way Forward

"Prediction is hard, especially about the future." The well-known wisdom of Yogi Berra is once again right on the money. A year ago, Keynes was back. Today, Jeff Sachs is attempting to drive the last nail into his coffin, and the Germans, never very keen for stimulus, are now debating their Sparpaket, or austerity with a happy face. Germany and France are so out of step on la rigueur (a word that French ministers are not allowed to use) that Merkel postponed a scheduled dinner with Sarkozy for a week in the hope that a way might be found to paper over profound differences. It's true that Brad De Long thinks that Sachs has gone off the deep end, but despite support from Paul Krugman, Mark Thoma, and other heavyweight econ bloggers, the Keynesians seem to be in retreat for the moment, as governments weigh the theoretical benefits of future deficits against the palpable woe of mounting debt.

Sachs, though wrong about the irrelevance of Keynes, isn't quite as benighted as De Long makes him out to be, however. What he's recommending is not a return to monetarism and deregulation but a long-term transformative policy based on green rather than greenback economics:

The talk of a green recovery, in which the fall in consumer spending would be offset by investments in sustainable energy, made sense and still does. Yet it was quickly undermined by the politicians' insistence on "shovel-ready" projects. The shift to sustainable energy systems is a vital but long-term task. It could never be a short-term jobs programme.

Indeed, this could be the basis of an effective Left-Green alliance in France. The emphasis in the panicky post-crash days was on quick and timely spending, but what is needed ultimately is a push toward a new global equilibrium. China has taken the first steps by permitting substantial wage increases. Higher wages in China will mean more domestic consumption, lower exports, and a reduced current account surplus. Green industrial policy in the advanced economies could mean reduced oil imports and therefore lower current account deficits. A sustainable equilibrium will clearly not come tomorrow, but it is good for the soul to think about the long run from time to time, even if, as Keynes of course said, we are all dead by the time we get there. But as Yogi Berra also reminded us, "The reason why we go to other people's funerals is so that they will come to ours." Between the long run of the moralists and the short-to-medium run of the unrepentant Keynesian theorists, there is room for some creative politicking. If the Socialists and the Greens don't pick up on Sachs' advice, there is a good chance that Sarkozy will. There is always rhetorical potential in les lendemains qui chantent, but there are also useful things to be done, as shrewd politicians should recognize.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Correction

Concerning the post below about Boone and Johnson's contention that "the big news is France," a skeptical reader did some data-checking which suggests that B&J may be exaggerating market concerns about French debt as well as any link between concerns about Hungary and concerns about France. See the graph of CDS rates for similar maturities below:

Friday, June 4, 2010

"The Big News is France" and It's Not Good

Peter Boone and Simon Johnson:

The big news is France.  With sentiment worsening across Europe, France has lost its relative safe haven status – credit default swap spreads on French government debt were up sharply today.

The trigger – oddly enough – was Hungary’s announcement that its budget is worse than expected (blaming the previous government; this is starting to become the European pattern) and in the current fragile environment discussed yesterday, this relatively small piece of news spooked investors.  But these developments only reinforced a trend that was already in place.

Incidentally, Boone and Johnson are wrong about the statement by Fillon. They translate:

Earlier today the French Prime Minister came out with a quote for the ages:
“I only see good news in parity between euro and dollar”.
But then they say:


Update: the exact quote from the French PM is “”Je n’ai pas d’inquiétude quant à l’actuelle parité entre l’euro et le dollar”.  He may be referring to the current euro-dollar rate but there is some potential ambiguity here.

"l'actuelle parité" makes it perfectly clear that he is referring to the current "parity," that is, the current exchange rate, and not to some future hypothetical "parity" of $1 = 1 euro. Nevertheless, such parity is where some observers expect that the current decline of the euro is headed.

What Is Literature?

As you probably know by now, another of those squalid little cultural spats for which France is famous has erupted this week. America has culture wars, France has cultural food fights. This time the object is de Gaulle's memoirs, which 1,500 members of SNES, the teachers' union, feel gained its place on this year's Bac L syllabus only because the bureaucrats sought to curry favor with Sarkozy, de Gaulle the Small, who will attempt to step into the general's shoes later this month when he travels to London to re-enact l'Appel du 18 juin. For the teachers, de Gaulle doesn't belong with the likes of Homer, Samuel Beckett, and Pascal Quignard. Or, even if he does, he shouldn't have been put there under Sarkozy. Or something.

Meanwhile, parents are squawking (in a France2 reportage) that the way in which literature is taught these days--fraught with forbidding technical terms such as la structure actantielle and anaphore--turns their kids off of reading real literature--you know, the likes of Homer, Beckett, Quignard ... and de Gaulle. Of course, everyone in France these days needs to learn about anaphora, the favorite rhetorical device of Henri Guaino and therefore of Nicolas Sarkozy. In any case, I think a compromise can be worked out: one volume of de Gaulle in exchange for La Princesse de Clèves, anaphora, and two tropes to be named later.

Hortefeux Fined for Racial Insult

Le ministre de l'intérieur a été condamné, vendredi 4 juin, à 750 euros d'amende pour injure raciale par le tribunal correctionnel de Paris, pour des propos tenus à l'université d'été de l'UMP en septembre. M. Hortefeux s'adressait à un jeune militant d'origine arabe. Ses propos avaient été révélés dans une vidéo sur Le Monde.fr. (AFP)
 
And yet he remains minister of the interior. Imagine the equivalent in the US! 


No Confidence

As you know, I generally avoid reporting popularity polls, the degré zéro of political reportage. But it's worth noting that the latest TNS-Sofres poll shows that Sarkozy, after a brief recovery, has slipped again to 28 percent approval, matching his nadir of last March. What is perhaps more interesting is that the loss of support has occurred mainly in the upper middle class. The detailed results show that support for Sarko among cadres (26%) is only slightly higher than among employees (24) and workers (16). His most faithful contingent remains the over-65 group (39) and the inactive/retirees (33). What's more, his decline has been more or less steady since his election, when 65 percent of the French approved.

Among parties, the Greens have the highest approval rating (+55), the FN the lowest (12). The PS is at 43, the UMP at 30. Surprisingly, the PCF stands at 25, the Left Party (21) is slightly ahead of NPA (18), and MoDem (21) enjoys a comfortable lead over Nouveau Centre (14).

French Jews Divide on Palestine

JCall, an organization of French Jews critical of Israeli government policy, resembles its American counterpart JStreet. The emergence of organized opposition to existing Jewish representative institutions in both countries is an interesting sign of shifting opinion as well as growing divergence between public opinion in the diaspora and public opinion in Israel, where support for the Netanyahu government remains strong. See this post by Spencer Ackerman for a discussion of political developments within Israel that may explain the growing division of Jewish opinion abroad.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Grunberg: PS Relapses

For Gérard Grunberg, the Socialist Party is relapsing into its "old unanimist culture" by insisting on party unity and a common program before staging a primary to choose its candidate.

Piketty: Monetize the Debt

Thomas Piketty calls upon the ECB to monetize the European debt, that is, to exchange cash sonnant et trébuchant for sovereign debt in order to increase the money supply. He also holds up the US as an example to Europe: the US, he says, has not prematurely moved to austerity, which is "always disastrous" for countries attempting to move out of recession. In short, Piketty agrees with Paul Krugman about what ought to be done, but he seems unaware of Krugman's fear that the US isn't doing it: that even the American stimulus is too small and that the "deficit hawks" are winning the public debate and even beginning to win the debate inside the Federal Reserve (three of whose governors voted at its last meeting in favor of increasing the federal funds rate). Economists, apparently, find coordination as difficult as governments.

Kids Say the Darnedest Things

Here.

Statistical Sleights of Hand

How can the government cut the number of teachers while at the same time promising to improve educational results? By claiming that class size does not significantly affect outcomes, which is what Luc Chatel has just done. Here, econometrician Arthur Charpentier explains what the minister left out of his convenient analysis. And here, a discussion of what is at stake.

And here is a discussion of the latest DARES statistics concerning les heures sup.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Not by bread alone ...

Off topic, but here's what looks to be a pretty good Paris dining guide in English (h/t Lauren Elkin).

Has Sarkozy Changed His Method of Governing?

Cécile Cornudet asks the question and finds that, despite a change in style of communication, little has changed in the substance of governance, still overcentralized in the Élysée.