I saw the Met's Don Giovanni this weekend, so I have fresh in my mind the dangers of specifying performance with undue mathematical precision. François Hollande has promised to add 60,000 teachers to the payroll of l'Éducation nationale if elected, and the UMP is not letting him forget it. My informal soundings among French voters (N=2) suggest that skepticism about this promise abounds. But will it matter?
Frankly, I'm not sure that anyone believes Hollande's promise, but I am fairly confident that a) most voters believe that making exaggerated promises is SOP for politicians and b) for Sarkozy, who made a few unkept promises of his own in 2007, to claim that his opponent won't keep his promises will not necessarily persuade voters that he is the better choice if promise-keeping potential is the voter's deciding criterion. Nevertheless, Hollande will be hurt by the obvious contradiction between his desire to present himself as a rigorous manager of national finances and his profligate approach to educational improvement (he defends his promise in the all too obvious way, calling it an "investment in France's future").
Left out of this dialog of the deaf is any consideration of whether adding 60,000 teachers is the proper remedy for France's educational woes. One might propose other, potentially more cost-effective measures, such as adding more teacher's aides and restoring funds for classroom apprenticeship training. But these won't bring as much joy to teachers unions, on which Hollande counts as one of his staunchest bases of support. As rash promises go, this was not a particularly smart one to make, but voters will quickly tire of it, and Sarkozy will recognize the danger of an "Is that all you've got?" reaction, so I expect we will hear less of it after a while, at least until the final debates, when it will again be raised as a last-minute reminder that the Socialists are going to debauch the currency--assuming France still has a currency by next April.