Monday, September 24, 2012

EDF Invades Britain

The London Review of Books has a fascinating piece by James Meek about the privatization of the British electrical power system. It seems that the big winner is EDF, the French electrical power giant, which now supplies a large share of Britain's electricity. Meek's piece is relentlessly, mercilessly critical. He despises neoliberalism and sees nothing but harm coming from loss of local control over power generation by a host of antiquated plants. Any efficiency gains that may have resulted from privatization are not ignored precisely, but disparaged as cheese-paring economies by a Leviathan multinational bent only on fattening its own profits. But the story that Meek tells is fascinating in its detail, despite his biases. He shows how the single market has created opportunities for investors and even brought benefits to British labor: the CGT, which is EDF's union, insisted on unionizing workers at British plants the company acquired and created a sort of European Works Council at one of them. No doubt there are unintended and perverse consequences to the phenomenon but as far as I can see nothing to justify the dark tones in which the picture is painted here. But the piece is worth reading nonetheless for a glimpse behind the scenes of a major industry.

Hollande's (Dis)Approval Rating

A president should of course ignore his or her approval rating. The public is fickle, and short-term thinking is a sure recipe for failure. But France2 reported last night that Hollande's approval had fallen 11 points in the month of August, from 54% positive to 43%. His fall from his post-election high of 67% positive is the fastest on record. Sarkozy at this point in his presidency was still above 50, and he did not drop to 43 until after the "casse-toi pauvre con" incident, almost 9 months into his term (after which, to be sure, he never recovered).

Clearly, "normality" is not enough, and not being Sarkozy is not enough. There is a danger to winning an election because the electorate is disenchanted with the incumbent, as first Obama and now Hollande have discovered. There is an expectation of improvement that comes simply from the fact that the thorn has been removed. But when the thorn has caused an infection, positive action needs to be taken, and if it isn't, the hurt only grows worse, and is magnified by disappointment.