Monday, January 24, 2011

Yet Another New Editor for Le Monde

The three principal stockholders of Le Monde will propose to the board that Erik Izraelewicz be named managing editor, to replace Eric Fottorino. Izraelewicz, an HEC graduate, has a degree in international economics and came up through the ranks as a business journalist at L'Expansion, Les Échos and La Tribune. He has also held numerous posts at Le Monde previously, including editor-in-chief. Beyond that, I don't know much about him or have any sense of his political sensibilities. Anybody?

The situation at Le Monde continues to be unsettled. As we head into the presidential season, the choice of editor is more than usually significant. Bergé has been a supporter of Ségolène Royal in the past, but there have been signs more recently that his support for her has cooled. Whether this has any bearing on the choice of Izraelewicz is of course impossible to say from where I sit.

Hard Numbers

In case you think that presidential polls at this stage mean anything, Le Monde offers a sobering reminder of just how wrong they were 18 months before the last three presidential elections. The problems are numerous: too many candidates, aleatory press coverage, and, perhaps most interesting, misleading comparisons demonstrating Arrow's impossibility theorem at work. All right, so the application of Arrow's theorem isn't rigorous: different polls involve different groups, different questions, and different combinations of candidates. But the principle remains: person A may prefer Valls to Royal to Besancenot in poll X and wind up voting for Sarkozy over Montebourg in round 2 of 2012. Voters are hard pressed to sort out their preferences when there are too many candidates to choose from, and there is no consistent way of aggregating the preferences over the broad field to arrive at a consistent group choice in a binary confrontation. For the same reason, we tend to overinterpret "presidential mandates." The ultimate binary choice required in a presidential system of the French type yields the illusion that "the nation" has made a consistent choice between two competing sets of preferences. But underlying that choice is a chaotic sea of individual preferences that cannot be consistently combined.

Tunisia

After Alliot-Marie and Frédéric Mitterrand, President Sarkozy offers an apology of sorts to the Tunisian people while praising his government for its "reserve":

Sur la Tunisie, Nicolas Sarkozy a esquissé un timide mea culpa, reconnaissant que la France n'avait "pas pris la juste mesure" de la contestation du peuple tunisien, auquel il a réitéré la "solidarité du peuple français", promettant l'avénement d'une "ère nouvelle" entre les deux pays. Mais selon lui, "dire que nous sommes restés silencieux devant les morts est un peu exagéré". Le gouvernement va par ailleurs proposer une "série de mesures" pour aider la Tunisie.
Quant à l'attitude de la France, qui a très longtemps soutenu l'ex-président tunisien Ben Ali, le chef de l'Etat s'est abrité derrière le passé colonial de la France et les "blessures de l'histoire" pour mieux vanter une "réserve" française vis-à-vis des pays étrangers. "Plus nous voudrons faire de l'ingérence et moins nous serons influents."
Nicolas Sarkozy a estimé que "la puissance coloniale est toujours illégitime à prononcer un jugement sur les affaires intérieures d'une ancienne colonie". Il a par ailleurs mis en avant le fait que la France ait abrité des membres de l'opposition tunisienne, et évoqué les relations passées de ses prédécesseurs avec Ben Ali ou Bourguiba.
Interrogé sur la prise de position malheureuse de Michèle Alliot-Marie, qui avait proposé, quelques jours avant la chute de Ben Ali, l'aide de la France au maintien de l'ordre en Tunisie, Nicolas Sarkozy a préféré botter en touche, asssurant que la ministre souhaitait simplement "éviter qu'il y ait plus de drames".

For the American attitude toward Tunisia and reflections on the proper future course of the West in promoting democracy in the Arab world, see this article by Steve Coll.

Cambadélis: We're going to lose the electiion

Jean-Christophe Cambadélis sees the contingent of 10 Socialist candidates as a circular firing squad, with Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the center with a Gatling gun mowing them all down. A bit histrionic, perhaps, but not altogether inaccurate as a portrait of the current state of the Left.

Sarko Embraces the Tobin Tax

Once an idea associated with the "radical crazies" of antimondialisme, the Tobin tax (on financial transactions) has now been embraced by Nicolas Sarkozy, whose election was supposed to have signified the triumph of globalization and neoliberalism in France. Politics works in mysterious ways (les crises du capitalisme aidant):

À propos de la taxe sur les transactions financières, il s'agit, selon lui, de la "meilleure des formules" pour trouver "de nouvelles ressources pour le développement", même s'il a admis qu'elle avait à cette heure de "grands ennemis". "La France considère que cette taxe est morale compte tenu de la crise financière que nous venons de traverser, utile pour dissuader la spéculation et efficace pour trouver de nouvelles ressources pour le développement", a dit Nicolas Sarkozy en présentant ses voeux à la presse.
I've always been a fan of the Tobin tax and was sorry to see its virtues compromised by association with a lot of less savory ideas floated by various social movements. It remains to be seen just how Sarkozy, as head of the G20, will propose that it be implemented. It is sure to be resisted tooth and nail by American and British banking interests. Opposition from French banks will inevitably be more discreet. In the early days of the crisis, one heard bold talk of Paris's ambitions to replace London as a global financial center. Such talk is rare these days, particularly since the French government placed itself, rhetorically at least, on the side of regulation and taxation. But the devil is in the details.