Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Shocking!

I learn this from Thierry Desjardins:

Que notre ministre des Affaires Etrangères et son compagnon (qui est, on ne le sait pas toujours et on se demande bien pourquoi, ministre des Relations avec le Parlement) aient célébré la nouvelle année chez Ben Ali aux frais d’un oligarque de ce régime corrompu qui leur a offert l’avion privé, le gite et le couvert nous explique enfin l’inexplicable.
Perhaps this wasn't the only reason why Alliot-Marie initially supported Ben Ali, but the news is still shocking. Story in Le Monde.

Revolution

Bernard Girard calls on me to comment on this:

J'étais hier avec quelques amis qui n'ont pas tous connu mai 1968 et qui me disaient : "Enfin le retour des années 60, ce goût de la liberté, de l'audace. On en a fini, grâce aux Tunisiens et aux Egyptiens avec ces années, que dis-je ces décennies des langues de bois!"

Ils ont pris du ventre et pensent, pour certains à leur retraite et à leurs petits-enfants, mais ils en ont envie de la révolution, d'une révolution douce faite par d'autres qui prennent les risques, bien sûr… mais révolution tout de même.

Je me demande et j'aimerais qu'Arthur Goldhammer, ce si fin observateur des opinions des deux rives de l'Atlantique, nous le dise : est-ce vraiment fantaisie française ou rencontre ailleurs, chez lui aussi, cette espèce de parfum de liberté que nous apporte la jeunesse arabe?
Let me begin by saying that there is surely every bit as much wonder and astonishment at the spectacle of Cairo, after that of Tunisia, in the U.S. as in France. The media are fixed on the spectacle, which is an event as the media like events: immediately legible as "important," "historic," "unprecedented." Television is particularly ecstatic: the power of the streets is visually palpable but, for now, joyful, orderly, mostly devoid of carnage. News anchors do not have to warn parents to send the children out of the room lest they see something "disturbing" (as they did after the massacre in Tucson). To be sure, the good news is pimenté with hints of menace: vigilantes patrolling Cairo neighborhoods with sabers and machetes, occasional police beatings of demonstrators (these have now vanished), and images of men identified as "radical Islamic clerics" or "Muslim brothers" (though for the most part we are not told what they are saying). Last night, Katie Couric, our Claire Chazal, interviewed a leading Muslim brother on the evening news. A secular democracy was all he wanted, he said, and Katie seemed pleased to be able to offer this good news to her anxious compatriots.

That said, I do think there is a difference between the mood here and the mood among Bernard's friends in Paris. For better or for worse, Americans have acquired the habit of viewing the world through the lenses of the geopolitical hegemon. Our Middle East policy may have been a shambles, but for three decades it has had two seemingly stable anchors: Israel and Egypt. Israel's refusal to compromise on West Bank settlements should have shaken this certitude much earlier, but it didn't. Now, overnight, everything has changed in Egypt. Jimmy Carter's one great achievement--the truce between Israel and Egypt--can no longer be taken for granted as the one fixed point in policy toward the region. So there is apprehension more than joy, even though it is hard even for imperial cynics not to share a certain kinship with an entire people declaring itself free.

France, for better or for worse, has acquired the habit of nombrilisme. No matter how great the event, it always leads back to some French lieu de mémoire, which provides a ready-made grille de lecture. It is telling that Bernard's friends invoke the memories of May '68. La révolution en liesse has become a screen memory, which filters out the complex history of France's many more significant revolutions. And even '68 has been strangely plucked from its context. The myth of a united people screens out remembrance of June and July '68, which followed May as night follows day. Counter-demonstrations, divisions, the return of politics ... for politics cannot be banished forever, no matter how tempting the thought.

Politics will return to Egypt as surely as it did to France, but I have no more idea than Bernard what kind of politics. He says that his ignorance of Egyptian social movements is "abyssal." Mine is then monumental. So I won't even speculate. But I will say that if Cairo reminds certain aging Frenchmen of May '68, it seems to remind many aging Americans of two very different but equally major and televisual events: Iran '79 and Philippines '86. Liberals like Paul Krugman, who was in the Philippines at the time, prefer the latter analogy: a revolution en douce, an on the whole peaceful transition. Conservatives like John Bolton raise the specter of theocracy and the birth of a rogue state. The dilemma seems particularly difficult to negotiate for neoconservatives, who once believed with Jeane Kirkpatrick that authoritarian governments were a bulwark against chaos; who later followed Bill Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, et cie. in the belief that democracy promotion would transform the world and end conflict on the (curious) theory that democracies do not go to war with one another; but who have more recently been chastened by the Hamas victory in Gaza, which forced them to recognize that "free people" will not always vote as they might wish. The Egyptian revolution may force neocons to choose between what is best for democracy and what is best for Israel, thereby exposing one of their core contradictions. Meanwhile, liberal internationalists/realists, the mainstays of both Clintonian and Obaman foreign policy, may be (and already have been) forced to choose between two of their cherished values, "stability" and "human rights."

More, perhaps, than Bernard wanted to hear.

Heures sup

Did the detaxation of overtime, a key Sarkozyan reform intended to implement the campaign slogan "travailler plus pour gagner plus," have the desired effect? Economists Pierre Cahuc and Stéphane Carcillo say no:

In order to evaluate the impact of the de-taxation, in recent research (Cahuc and Carcillo 2011) we compare the evolution of the paid overtime hours and the hours worked of two groups of individuals, one of which is affected by the reform and the other not. The treatment group is composed of employees who reside and work in France. The untreated group is composed of employees who reside in France but work abroad, in regions adjoining the French border. These transborder workers (travailleurs frontaliers) did not benefit from the de-taxation of overtime hours. Hence, if the reform really did have the effects anticipated, the overtime hours and hours worked of transborder workers ought to have decreased relative to other French employees living in the same region, as long as no other events have modified the relative hours of the two groups of employees. In order to ensure the pertinence of the results obtained, we take into account the differences in economic situation between countries, the evolution of regulatory frameworks on both sides of the borders, as well as the differences between the two groups of employees studied.
Ultimately, we find that the overtime hours of employees working in France rose, relative to those of the transborder employees, starting in the fourth quarter of 2007. This rise in overtime hours applies solely to highly-qualified employees, who have many ways to manipulate the overtime hours they declare in order to achieve tax optimisation, because their work hours are particularly difficult to verify. Conversely, we detect no difference in the evolution of hours worked, whatever category of employee is considered. These results suggest that the upshot of the de-taxation of overtime hours has essentially been tax optimisation, with no real impact on the length of time worked. These results are confirmed by comparing the evolution of the work duration by employees in very small firms and that of independent workers who have not been directly affected by the de-taxation of overtime hours.
Thus, the de-taxation of overtime hours appears not to have fully met its aim. While the wage-earners concerned have indeed benefited from a spike in their remuneration thanks to de-taxation, that has not, on average, come about through working more. De-taxation is costly to the public purse, without any ascertained impact on hours worked.