Monday, April 30, 2012

Pandering to Labor

Last time around it was "la France qui se lève tôt," and the panderer was Nicolas Sarkozy. This time it's François Hollande, who is assuring workers of his "attachment to the values and principles of May 1," by which he means, presumably, not the Haymarket Massacre whose anniversary will actually be celebrated tomorrow but the principle that labor needs to be organized and fairly represented in order to achieve an equitable balance of power with capital. Unfortunately, rather than elaborate on precisely what his attachment to the values of labor might entail in the way of policy, he contents himself with a remarkably bland restatement of what he has already said about the inadequacy of a pure austerity policy as a means of resolving the problems of the euro:
François Hollande affirme vouloir "créer très tôt les conditions d'un retour à la confiance, notamment en renégociant le Mécanisme européen de stabilité pour y introduire un volet de croissance et d'emploi. Rien ne serait pire que de nous lier à une logique d'austérité",
For a man who is within a week of--possibly, even very likely--becoming the next president of France, such a mantra, intended to be soothing, has the opposite effect, at least on me. Because after May 6, it will no longer be enough to intone this reassuring formula. He will actually have to do something, and to be responsible for the success or failure of his proposals. I would like to believe that Hollande's studied vagueness is merely a campaign tactic, but I find myself worrying that he has actually given very little thought to what comes next.

That said, I'm not naive enough to think that any national leader is actually master of the current economic agenda. All of them, Merkel included, are playthings of the gods, and events will surely upset the best-laid plans. So I'm not really looking for a program; I'm looking instead for some sign of intellectual life, for a flicker of intelligent thought about the various contingencies and possible responses to whatever comes to pass. Sarkozy has long accustomed us to governing by the seat of one's pants: what he says today has no bearing on what he may do tomorrow. His inconstancy is characterological. Hollande's is different, or, rather, it's undetectable, because he never pins himself down firmly enough to know when he's changed his mind. Keeping options open is a fine idea until it isn't. Hollande has made a career of indecisiveness, but a week from today, unless the polls are seriously wrong, he becomes "the Decider," to borrow a phrase from George W. Bush (une fois n'est pas coutume). Hollande's slogan is le changement, but somehow I keep coming back to that old saw, "Plus ça change ..."

Pisani-Ferry on the Euro Crisis

A sensible point of view, especially this:
Second, the eurozone still shies away from a comprehensive approach to its internal rebalancing. Price competitiveness is a relative concept, not an absolute value, yet the policy discussion still ignores this basic fact. This is paradoxical, because the ECB’s policy framework provides clear guidance. The ECB is committed to 2% inflation in the eurozone as a whole, which implies that lower wage and price increases in southern Europe arithmetically mean higher wage and price increases in northern Europe. The wider the gap between the two, the sooner the rebalancing will be achieved.
CommentsIt is time to say loud and clear that the ECB will fight hard to keep average inflation on target, and that northern Europe – especially Germany – will not attempt to counter higher domestic inflation as long as price stability is maintained in the eurozone as a whole. This would help significantly in mapping out a sensible rebalancing strategy.

"Une soirée de cons"

Given that a sex scandal nearly doomed the Socialists this year, you'd think that Julien Dray would have known better than to invite some of the top brass of Hollande's campaign to a birthday party in a former sex shop on the rue Saint-Denis, a bar known as "J'ose." And you'd think that DSK, the original sin himself, would have had the sense to stay away. But to think these things would be to underestimate the PS's gift for shooting itself in the foot, head, and less mentionable parts of the anatomy. Ségolène Royal, who came with her daughter, fled as soon as she heard that DSK would be among the guests, as did several other luminaries. But the damage was done.

And sure enough, with a new IPSOS poll out showing Sarko picking up a point (mere statistical noise to a mathematician), Rupert Murdoch's WSJ is trumpeting a shift in "momentum" and a last-minute surge by the incumbent. Somehow I doubt it, but if the PS manages to lose this election, the "J'ose" Affair will surely figure in all the retrospectives. Quels cons!

Mayday

Sarko celebrates "le vrai travail," whatever that is, and of course it's in the 16th arrdt. (h/t Arun Kapil for the photo):


Political Cartoons from the Campaign

Here.

Opinions Will Vary

The Financial Times' columnists seem to like the Socialist: Wolfgang Munchau outright endorses him as the start of a "progressive insurrection." Larry Summers, staying above the fray, nevertheless calls for a shift from austerity to growth in Europe. However, Christopher Caldwell, a sometime FT columnist, writes in another publication, the American neoconservative paper The Weekly Standard, "Hollande’s platform is nugatory. Next to it, Bill Clinton’s 1996 “micro-initiatives” look like the Sermon on the Mount. Hollande wants to cut ministers’ salaries." Arun Kapil takes Caldwell on here. Meanwhile, the Economist has a leader this week (and a cover headline) calling Hollande "a rather dangerous man." Stuff and nonsense. Or, as Henry Farrell puts it:

I’ve no idea what Hollande is going to be like (except that he’s certainly going to be disappointing). But I do know that this [the Economist leader] is one of the most exquisitely refined examples of globollocks that I’ve ever seen. It’s as beautifully resistant to the intellect as an Andropov era Pravda editorial.