Friday, May 28, 2010

"Care"

More on the "care" debate. Americans will be reminded of the famous Bush I "note to self": "Message: I care." Proving that he didn't. The PS should beware of a similar fate.

A Deliberate Provocation?

Thierry Desjardins believes that the president of the Republic wanted a "test of strength" and got it by provoking the Left with a gratuitous attack on Mitterrand ("if he hadn't reduced the legal age of retirement to 60, we wouldn't be having all these problems today"--an attack that conveniently forgets Sarko's own statement in 1993 that "the UMP has always supported 60 as the legal age of retirement"). It's a plausible enough thesis: the president has lost control of the public discourse, and putting the unions on his back gives him an opportunity to adopt the posture of fighting cock that he used to favor.

But I think it hardly matters. In the matter of retirement reform, successive French governments have proceeded in the same clumsy way decade after decade. Feigning consultation, they come to the table with a sound plan firmly fixed in their minds. They are well prepared to fend off all anticipated objections. But in the end they prefer to avoid direct confrontation, and there is always enough flexibility in the plan to throw a bone to each potential opponent.

Since the opponents do not agree among themselves, such a second- or third-best solution is the best they can hope for, and they take what is offered after putting up token resistance. So we will see many compromises around the question of pénibilité, a word that evokes images of bagnards breaking stones, but which in fact authorizes myriad inequalities in the name of compassion: Is the caissière on her feet eight hours a day and exposed to repetitive stress injury worthy of a shorter period of cotisation than a construction worker who spends his eight hours seated in the cab of a bulldozer?

If agreements are by sector or branch, how does one distinguish between the heavy equipment operator and the ditchdigger? Between compassionate abstraction and contractual nitty-gritty, the gap is huge, but public debate skips lightly over the real issues. My prediction: this n-ième retirement reform will no more be the la der des ders than its predecessors but a motley backroom compromise designed mainly to improve the short-term budget picture.

Politics and Markets

The views of Éloi Laurent and Karim Emile Bitar here and Uwe Reinhardt here.

"It isn’t coordinated stimulus, it is coordinated depression, which looks like coordinated stupidity,” says Mr. Laurent.

Headscratching

Paul Krugman and Martin Wolf are both flabbergasted by the OECD's recommendation that monetary tightening should begin no later than the fourth quarter of this year.