Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Recession Redux, Le Monde Doubles Down

INSEE announced today that France is back in recession, with another quarter of negative growth. Meanwhile, Le Monde has adopted the tone of those whom Paul Krugman calls Very Serious People. In an editorial today, the paper gravely clears its throat and calls for ... structural reform, while warning readers that--surprise--these take time to produce results. France has been talking about structural reform for twenty years. The editors might have aimed to be a little more specific.

But sometimes one has the impression that nothing ever changes in France. Is it so long ago that Sarkozy supposedly took care of the so-called special retirement regimes? Yet last night they were all back in the news, on France2's JT de 20h. Every one of them, including the SNCF's, whose reform was the centerpiece of Sarkozy's effort.

But of course as I wrote at the time, Sarkozy headed off more serious trouble with the unions by buying some (the train drivers) off with side deals, while delaying the effect of reform for others by many years. Austerity means that these arrangements have proved too costly, so Hollande will be forced to undo them. Now we will hear the Right criticizing the Left for redoing what the Right previously did badly under volleys of catcalls from the Left. Is it any wonder that people distrust politicians?


FrédéricLN said...

Well… no.

Mitch Guthman said...

Personally, I think anyone using the phrases “structural reform” or “European integration” without a comprehensive description of what the writer understands them to mean should be boiled in his own juices. The mistaking by the elites of popular buzz-phrases for actual ideas or plans is a large part of how we got into this mess in the first place.

“Structural reform,” for example, clearly means vastly different things to different people. For American and British conservatives it is a euphemism for the dismantling of the social welfare state and its replacement with a neoliberal program of laissez-faire economics. Sarkozy probably means a less slightly less brutal regime but rule by Davos man, nonetheless. Nobody really knows what the phrase means to Hollande except that his relationship with the masters of the universe who congregate each years at Davos is complicated and ambiguous (which is a fair description of the man himself).

And, of course, the editors of Le Monde might want to consider that Jean-Luc Mélenchon favors a set of “structural reforms” that are probably quite a bit different from the tinkering around the edges of the welfare state that they seem to favor.