Friday, January 31, 2014

The Visible Minorities and the Extreme Right

Médiapart has a fascinating story about Farida Belghoul, une transfuge from the Left to the Extreme Right. In 1983, she was one of the organizers of the Marche des Beurs, but in recent years she has become an ally of Alain Soral and Dieudonné:
Toute la presse tente de percer l’énigme de cette figure oubliée de la mal nommée Marche des beurs de 1983, militante des droits des immigrés, passée avec armes et bagages à l’extrême droite. Mais la dame qui a longtemps hurlé sa rage dans le désert ne répond plus aux médias, « tous vendus ».
Sur Internet, Farida Belghoul est en revanche des plus prolixes. Aux côtés de l’essayiste antisémite Alain Soral, compagnon de route de Dieudonné, elle a appris l’impact déflagratoire de ces vidéos vite montées, vite postées et diffusées sous le label « télé libre » – entendre indépendante des médias « dominants et menteurs ». Depuis plusieurs mois, elle y déverse sa bile sur ses sujets fétiches : la faillite de l’éducation nationale, le parti socialiste « allié aux homosexuels » ou les complots des étudiants juifs de France derrière SOS Racisme. L’extrême droite lui a offert une tribune inespérée. Elle y a pris goût. Comme une renaissance pour cette fille d’immigrés algériens, venue de l’extrême gauche, qui n’a jamais digéré la récupération socialiste de Convergence 1984, la deuxième marche pour l’égalité et contre le racisme, un an après celle de 1983.
...
À écouter ses élucubrations sur le rôle des étudiants juifs de France, responsables selon elle d’avoir importé le rap en banlieue « dans une opération de destruction de la jeunesse » ou sa folklorique promotion d’une « année de la robe » sur Radio Courtoisie, « puisque la théorie du genre veut de manière définitive nous faire porter le pantalon ! », aucun doute n’est permis. Celle qui fut la porte-drapeau de la Marche pour l’égalité en 1983, étudiante communiste, est aujourd’hui totalement en phase avec sa nouvelle famille. Dans la nébuleuse d’extrême droite, qui a toujours prisé les transfuges, on jubile. Il faut voir avec quelle gourmandise Alain Soral, dont le mouvement Égalité et réconciliation a été créé pour jeter des ponts entre l’extrême droite et les Français issus de l’immigration, présente sa prise de guerre, bien conscient de la prouesse d’avoir rallié cette militante de l’égalité des années 80 dans une alliance contre nature.
The article suggests that the Left, and in particular the Socialist Party, failed to avail itself of the opportunity to integrate minority militants in the 1980s and 1990s, creating resentments that have now erupted in a movement of protest that has joined hands with elements of the extreme right. A worrisome development.

German reform

It's interesting to note that Germany, where Angela Merkel and the Right won a smashing re-election victory but not quite enough to rule without a Grand Coalition, is the one country that has managed a reform that might actually offer a bit of relief to its neighbors--but only a bit:
But not all is bad. If you look at the domestic agenda of the new government, it becomes clear that there will be some significant help towards the rebalancing of the Eurozone. It is, however, yet another sign of the systematic misunderstanding of the Eurozone crisis that the positive European impact of these domestic polices are largely left unmentioned. It is therefore worth pointing this out.
The introduction of Germany’s first statutory minimum wage of 8.50 Euro per hour is likely to have a significant macroeconomic impact and help address Germany’s chronic shortage of domestic demand. According to statistics published by DIE ZEIT, the introduction of the minimum wage will result in a pay rise for almost 7 million German workers. This means 32.2% of workers in former Eastern Germany and 18.0% in the former West will see a pay rise as a result of this policy.
The lesson: policy is not simply a matter of political will; there are real economic constraints. Germany's relative economic success weakens the constraints, while the advent of a new coalition pushed the "political will" component slightly to the left. This is not nearly the stimulus Europe needs, but it should help a little.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Piketty on the Responsibility Pact

Thomas Piketty is fairly close to what I've been arguing these past few weeks, although his criticism of Hollande's dithering is more blunt:
Soyons clairs. Le poids des cotisations patronales pesant sur les salaires est excessif en France, et il est urgent de les alléger. Non pas pour faire un cadeau aux patrons, mais parce qu’il n’est ni juste ni efficace de faire reposer à l’excès le financement de notre modèle social sur la masse salariale du secteur privé.
Le problème de la politique menée par Hollande est double. Tout d’abord, après toutes ces hésitations, on ne sait toujours pas comment vont évoluer les taux de cotisations dans les années qui viennent. Comment vont s’articuler les allègements de charges sur les bas salaires, la fin évoquée - mais loin d’être confirmée - du CICE, la suppression envisagée des cotisations de la branche famille ? Personne n’en sait rien.

Moscovici Explains Social Democracy to the Germans

Here:

SPIEGEL: Mr. Moscovici, can you please explain to us the difference between a Socialist and a Social Democrat?
Moscovici: To be a Social Democrat means for one to accept entirely reformist goals. And it means to count on social dialogue and on compromises to achieve them. But in their search for equality and justice, the Social Democrats still belong to the Socialist movement.
SPIEGEL: In his speech on reforms, François Hollande described himself as a Social Democrat for the first time. It was seen as a sort of coming out. Why do you think that caused such a sensation?
Moscovici: Every country wants to protect its own model, its identity. If an SPD government minister in Germany were to suddenly describe him or herself as a Socialist, it would be tantamount to that person trying to reverse the historical (SPD) party program from Bad Godesberg (in 1959, when the party disavowed itself from its previous Marxist ideology). What we have in France is a Socialist tradition. And if we now commit ourselves to Social Democracy, then we are recognizing the importance of reforms and social dialogue. It's an evolution in words, which also shows a political and ideological direction.

BBC on Dieudonné

Here. (h/t KP)

Paris Polling

Latest handicapping of the Paris mayoral contest:

Selon un sondage IFOP pour LCI et Le Parisien, Anne Hidalgo arriverait aujourd'hui en tête au second tour, avec 54 % d'adhésion des personnes interrogées, contre 46 % pour NKM. Au premier tour, la candidate socialiste réunirait 39,5 % des personnes interrogées, devant sa concurrente de l'UMP (36,5 %). Le Front national se placerait en troisième place, avec 8 % des voix, en recul d'un point ; la liste du Parti de gauche recueillerait 6 % des votes, en hausse d'un point ; et la liste Europe Ecologie-Les Verts, 5,5 % (contre 6 % au début de janvier).

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Gender Theory Has French Knickers in a Twist



The extreme right in France seems to have learned some lessons from Fox News. Alain Soral, a business partner of Dieudonné, the anti-Semitic "comedian" who invented the "quenelle," has been stirring up trouble. Yesterday, an associate of Soral's, Farida Belghoul, launched a rumor to the effect that the government had mandated the teaching of "gender theory" in French elementary schools. The lessons would include genital exploration, demonstrations of homosexual acts, explicit illustrations, etc. You can see some of their propaganda here:

The message was spread via texting aimed in particular at minority groups, especially Turks and North Africans, who were warned that "Jews" were going to come into the schools to inspect the children's genitals. Many parents pulled their kids out of school, especially after the warning was endorsed, who knows why, by Christine Boutin, a former minister under Sarkozy and honorary head of the Christian Democratic Party. The minister of education was forced to deny the rumor in the National Assembly:
video here: http://dai.ly/x1ahbdk

Apparently, the extreme right has decided that it can mobilize groups that ought to detest its xenophobic politics by exploiting these issues of sexual politics, which have become explosive in France since Hollande's support for the gay marriage law provoked surprisingly vocal opposition. In any case, this ploy seems to have worked. When coupled with the Dieudonné affair, which has also aligned minority groups with the extreme right, this gender theory eruption has to be taken seriously

French politics has taken an ugly turn of late. Long-buried demons are rising to the surface. Walpurgisnacht in Paris.

Meanwhile, Mediapart investigates deputy Marion Maréchal Le Pen's ties to extreme right groups.

Alain Minc: Hollande's Bad Godesberg

Alain Minc congratulates François Hollande for ridding France of socialism:
Vous êtes-vous trompé sur François Hollande?
Comme tout le monde ! Je n'imaginais pas qu'il ferait un Bad Godesberg [commune où le SPD se rallia à l'économie de marché, en 1959], car c'est de cela qu'il s'agit. Les gens disent : Bad Godesberg, c'est un congrès des socialistes allemands. Certes, mais l'Allemagne est un pays parlementaire. Dans une monarchie comme la France, c'est le monarque qui impose Bad Godesberg à son camp. A mes yeux, quelle que soit l'intensité des mesures que Hollande va prendre, l'essentiel a été fait.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Morin Rejects Responsibility Pact

François Hollande may be attempting a centrist triangulation, but the Nouveau Centre is not buying. Hervé Morin thinks that what France needs is a "competitiveness shock," which is another way of putting across-the-board wage cuts: "39 hours paid 35," as he puts it. This comes on the heels of the news that François Hollande met with Peter Hartz, the architect of the Hartz reforms in Germany, which some credit for Germany's strong economic performance today. The Elysée denies that Hartz is an "advisor" to Hollande but acknowledges that the president did meet with him "at Hartz's request."

The Hartz reforms included among other things a requirement that wage increases be matched to productivity increases and a reduction of unemployment benefits.

Another Analysis of French Left and Right Centrist Political Culture

Here. Compare with what I wrote yesterday.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Bruni Supports NKM

Carla Bruni has made an appearance "en tant qu'artiste" in support of Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet's troubled candidacy for the office of mayor of Paris. This is interesting for two reasons. First, before her marriage to Nicolas Sarkozy, Bruni was a friend and supporter of the current mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, who is backing NKM's rival, Anne Hidalgo. Second, there is a full-blown fronde against NKM within the Paris UMP, so Bruni's appearance should probably be taken as a tacit endorsement by Sarkozy of NKM and a rebuke to her detractors.

In the contest for the 2017 presidential nomination, NKM, whose own hat will probably be in the ring (if she wins in Paris) but who is unlikely to win the nomination, will therefore owe a debt to Sarko. But perhaps just as significant, NKM's enemies will have an ax to grind against the former president.

On balance, Sarko probably comes out ahead, but I wonder what the advisors who want him to continue his veer to the hard right would say, since NKM is anathema to the FN. Of course, sending his wife out as his proxy would be a way of splitting the difference. Unless, of course, Carla went out on her own, without the approval of "mon mari," in which case we'd have to wonder about the state of yet another high political marriage.

More on the Responsibility Pact in Response to George and Jeremiah

I thank my good friend George Ross and Jeremiah Riemer for their comments on the previous message, which have provoked a few further thoughts. Indeed, George is quite right that we know very little about the timing of either prong of the responsibility pact (elimination of cotisations familiales and reduction of public spending), and we can't be sure that there is agreement within the government about any of this. The opposite is almost surely true: that there is sharp dissension.

Hence to my mind the principal reason for Hollande's announcement was to signal a position in advance of the hard bargaining ahead, bargaining with both the social partners and the various ministries. Hollande is in a deep hole, and he's intelligent enough to know just how impossible his predicament has become. He's going to take a shellacking in the upcoming European and municipal elections, and he's maneuvering now to turn tactical defeat into strategic advantage (I don't say victory, which remains far too uncertain--all he wants is to improve his strategic position for the difficult year ahead). The extreme right is going to emerge from these elections as a threat to be reckoned with--a real danger, and a danger more immediate and pressing even than the crisis. Hollande sees this, and so do the unions--which sense the ominous rejection of the existing regime and even defections to the FN within their own ranks--as well as the patronat. Hence there is just possibly a small window available to make some serious structural changes--structural changes that eluded the Right during all its time in power and on which the Left has never been able to agree.

But the part of the Left from which Hollande springs has wanted to change the financial basis of the social security system for a generation. It rightly sees the tax wedge between the worker's wage and the employer's labor cost as an impediment to job creation and proposes to broaden the base on which part of the social security system rests. The responsibility pact is a signal to the patronat that Hollande is now prepared to stake his presidency on commitment to such a structural change. Until now, employers did not trust Hollande's professions of good will, not only because the good will sometimes seemed to be lacking (although I think many were prepared to see the expression of animosity toward finance and the 75% marginal tax on top incomes as the words of a politician doing what politicians do) but because they believed that when the battle was finally joined in earnest, Hollande would retreat, as Sarkozy retreated before him.

But now he has something more to fear than the ire of workers unconvinced that social liberalism has their best interests at heart, namely, the implacable enmity of the strange alliance of reactionary forces of all stripes (Front National, Catholics, anti-Semites, xenophobes, neo-Poujadists, regionalists, corporatists, nationalists, sovereignists, and ras-le-bol populists), who contest not just the wisdom of this or that policy but the very legitimacy of centrist government, be it of the left of center or the right of center. Hollande is therefore signaling his readiness to join in une union sacrée against this new threat. Les patrons can trust him because he has nowhere to go but into their arms, and les ouvriers can trust him because the only alternative is to trust Mélenchon, Besancenot, et cie., whose ability to fend off the extreme right has been demonstrated in numerous local election contests to be nil. (Anticipating Brent's objection here: you can argue all you want that Mélenchon has better solutions than the center left, though I wouldn't agree; you can't, however, argue that he has ever persuaded a majority anywhere that that is the case. So it's either democracy--and a coalition with elements of the patronat, of which Pierre Gattaz and Louis Gallois represent relatively palatable factions--or a putsch, and if shove came to putsch, I don't see Mélenchon remaining in the vanguard for very long. It's not his style.)

Hollande's Hail Mary pass also has the advantage of splitting the Right. The UMP is already in a tizzy about whether or not to support the responsibility pact, and the pressure from the patronat not to upset the applecart must be intense. Sarkozy is very cannily keeping a low profile so that he can sweep back in when the time is right and pick up the pieces remaining after the current principals knock one another off.

In short, what matters in the end is not the economic logic of this plan--pace Gourinchas and Martin. It's the political logic. Until now, no Socialist has dared to stake the party's future on building a coalition in the center of the political spectrum. The logic has always been "run to the left to win the nomination, then tack to the right once in power." Hollande followed this Mitterrandian formula as far as he could, but the left of the left has disintegrated into a populist nebula that offers no support, and the only terra firma remaining is in the center, if it is anywhere. So that is where Hollande is trying to find his footing. He's been so inept up to now, however, that it's hard to see him pulling this off.

Nevertheless, failure is too bleak a prospect to contemplate. We are witnessing an attempt to found a party of the center left in France, which explains why Hollande was so eager to embrace the label "social democrat" in his press conference. That eagerness is really an ironic tribute to the persistence in France of the archaic and perverse equation of social democracy with social treachery, etc. The old Stalinist amalgams never quite died in France, even after "social democracy" ceased to have any clear referent. What Hollande's embrace of the term really means is that he's searching desperately for an alternative to the Mitterrandian concept of the Socialist Party on which he was raised. He doesn't quite know what this party will look like or whether it will be electorally viable, but his responsibility pact will have been its founding document--if it isn't stillborn.

Economists at Daggers Drawn: Gourinchas and Martin Support Hollande's Responsibility Pact against Krugman

Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas and Philippe Martin claim that their calculations suggest that Hollande's cost-shifting from payrolls to the state budget will increase exports by 3% and raise aggregate demand by 0.75%. Hence the responsibility pact is not, as critics such as Paul Krugman (and I, in one of my moods) have charged, a contribution to austerity policy but rather a Keynesian policy in austerian drag (as I argued in a different mood).

Frankly, I don't know who's right. Gourinchas, Martin, and Krugman are all reputable economists, and I, at best a disreputable economist, don't even agree with myself. A lot depends on the details of timing, about which Gourinchas and Martin don't tell us much.

Antisemitism in the Day of Wrath

A commenter on this blog said yesterday that he saw no sign of antisemitism in the Day of Wrath march. This video would seem to provide contradictory evidence. After Dieudonné supporters march past singing the comedian's hilarious little ditty, "Shoah-nanas," the marchers make it clear that their intentions are not pristinely jocular by chanting "Juif, la France n'est pas à toi," as if it were 1934 (h/t AK):


Day of Wrath in Pictures

My confrère Arun Kapil attended the Day of Wrath march yesterday, strictly as an observer, and offers two posts with commentary and numerous pictures here and here. Thanks, Arun!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

French Day of Wrath

The mood appears to have been rather ugly as the extreme right took to the streets in Paris today:




A sample slogan:
L’antisémitisme n’est jamais loin, comme ces manifestants qui crient « juif, juif » à des détracteurs, selon un journaliste sur le parcours. Ou ces autres qui crient : « Faurisson a raison, la Shoah c’est bidon. »

Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen continues to lead the polls for the European elections.

It's a very poor moment for le vide du pouvoir that exists right now in France thanks to Hollande's extremely low favorability ratings and the distraction of the presidential love life. It's an odd thing, but I have been asked several times in recent days to give interviews regarding the president's affair. I did a few when the story first broke but felt rather smarmy afterwards. The questions are always the same. "What does America think of our president? Would US media have covered the story differently? Has France's image abroad been harmed?" Etc. etc. As if I could speak for the US or the world outside France or have any more insight into Hollande's behavior than anyone else.

Meanwhile, you have "the Day of Wrath," and the media are for some reason less interested in "the US view." Not that "the US" has a view about this event any more than it does about Hollande's love life. As always, most Americans will remain at best peripherally aware of what is happening in France or Europe or most other places in the world until the irreparable occurs. And then they will look back at premonitory signs like the Day of Wrath, the Dieudonné Affair, the Bonnets Rouges, the anti-Gay Marriage mobilization, etc. and ask, "Why didn't we see this coming?"

Saturday, January 25, 2014

It Ain't Over Till It's Over, but then It's Over

François Hollande officialise sa séparation avec Valérie Trierweiler

L'Elysée a annoncé samedi la séparation du couple présidentiel. Cette nouvelle était attendue après la révélation d'une liaison entre le chef de l'Etat et l'actrice Julie Gayet. (AFP)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Raconter la Vie: Pierre Rosanvallon and Pauline Peretz Launch a New Book Collection

This, I think, is a much needed contribution to the contemporary literature on France:

 La Croix :  À quel moment et pour quelle raison avez-vous ressenti la nécessité de lancer cette initiative ? 
  PIERRE ROSANVALLON :  C’est plutôt à la suite d’une succession de déclics. Le niveau de délitement, de méfiance, de décomposition, de racisme, enregistré par les sondages, ne cesse de monter dans la société française. Il en résulte des phénomènes de violence, la construction d’un lien social tissé par la haine, ou des phénomènes comme la fuite devant l’impôt. Plus généralement, le monde politique s’est coupé de la société parce qu’il s’est professionnalisé.
(h/t EJ)

The Front National: The Window and the Backroom

Le Monde reports that the Front National has lost several recent recruits, attracted by Marine Le Pen's efforts to de-demonize the party but then repelled upon discovering that the demons still flourished underground. One distinguished between the shop window, in which shiny new wares are prominently on display, and the back room in which the old racism, xenophobia, and homophobia still hold sway.

I may be misreading Le Monde, but it seems to me that the article is intended to express a sort of wan hope that despite polls showing growing popularity for the FN, the party has been less successful than might appear at first glance in recruiting the young cadres on whom its future depends. But the evidence of defections concerns only a handful of cases. We don't know how many other new cadres are delighted by what they find once they lift the veil on the party's base. And in any case, what the article makes quite clear, is that racism, xenophobia, and homophobia are indeed rampant among the rank-and-file, whose numbers are also growing, apparently at an increasing rate. So most new recruits are not dismayed by the attitudes they discover among party veterans, whose suspect humor did not need a Marine Le Pen to become décomplexé.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Truly Alarming Poll

This (from IPSOS) will get everyone's attention:

2/ Confirmation du rejet du système politique et médiatique. Le lien de confiance entre les Français et un grand nombre d’institutions politiques s’est durablement brisé. 72% des Français n’ont pas confiance dans l’Assemblée nationale, 73% dans le Sénat. Pour 88% des personnes interrogées, les hommes et les femmes politiques ne s’occupent pas de ce que pensent les gens. Les médias sont très vivement critiqués : 77% des personnes interrogées ne leur font pas confiance. Pour 74% des Français, les journalistes ne parlent pas des vrais problèmes des Français.
3/ Confirmation de l’hostilité parfois massive à l’égard des étrangers. 66% des Français sont d’accord avec l’idée selon laquelle il y a trop d’étrangers en France. 47% pensent que pour réduire le nombre de chômeurs en France, il faut réduire le nombre d’immigrés. Bien qu’en recul, le rejet de l’Islam est toujours majoritaire : 63% (-11) des Français considèrent que cette religion n’est pas compatible avec les valeurs de la société française (-15 à gauche à 46% et -10 à l’UMP à 72%).

Monday, January 20, 2014

China Will Take a 14% Stake in Peugeot

PSA, the struggling automaker, will take a 14% stake in Peugeot, with the French gov't and the Peugeot family holding equal shares.

Reactions vary. Here is Bruno Le Maire of the UMP:
Cela n'empêche pas l'opposition de s'inquiéter. « Tout ce qui permettra à PSA de s'en sortir va dans le bon sens, mais le soutien de l'Etat ne peut être que temporaire. Je ne pense pas que la place de l'Etat soit d'être dans des grandes entreprises industrielles », relève Bruno Le Maire, de l'UMP sur BFM TV.
 Marine Le Pen is less circumspect:
Marine Le Pen, la présidente du Front national, assure être« inquiète » : « On peut imaginer que les Chinois auront tendance à pousser aux délocalisations et (…) aux transferts de la recherche et du développement, ce qui aspirera l'intégralité de la richesse de PSA. »\
Meanwhile, Médiapart chooses this moment to feature a book by a PSA worker, Gigi, recounting her travails:
Ce qui l'inquiète le plus, ce sont les accords de compétitivité signés en octobre dernier par quatre des six organisations syndicales du groupe automobile, sans la CGT et la CFDT. En échange d'un maintien de la production autour d'un million de véhicules, des efforts importants sont demandés aux salariés. Gel des salaires, flexibilité accrue, primes divisées par deux, quinze samedi obligatoires par an alors que jusque là, ils relevaient du volontariat, et mobilité imposée dans tout le groupe sinon licenciement... Gigi voit là « une épreuve dans l'épreuve ».
« A Mulhouse, c'est de la folie, raconte-t-elle. Les ouvriers n'en peuvent déjà plus. A Poissy, ils vont pouvoir nous imposer de l'overtime, quinze, vingt minutes de plus en cas d'arrêts de chaîne, de panne. Nous ne serons pas rémunérées à la fin du mois comme des heures supplémentaires mais à la fin de l'année. Ce temps ira dans un compteur « h+ », les jours chômés dans un compteur « h- » et ils s'arrangeront pour que nous chômions suffisamment pour avoir un compteur « H+ » vide à la fin de l'année ».

The Backlash Begins

Noël Mamère (!!) launches a blistering attack on François Hollande:
A cette gauche là, il vient d’offrir une nouvelle anaphore :
Moi, Président, je ferai le contraire de ce que j’ai annoncé dans ma campagne présidentielle ;
moi, Président, au lieu de combattre la finance, je favoriserai le capital contre le travail ;
moi, Président, je mettrai l’écologie au rancart et la Sécu au placard ;
moi, Président, je deviendrai le président des patrons, en mettant en place la politique que le Medef avait rêvé sans que jamais la droite ne puisse l’imposer.
...
Il peut même être tenté d’aller encore plus loin, en ouvrant l’espace de la recomposition politique à des fractions du centre. La proportionnelle pourrait être l’occasion à saisir pour mettre en place cette « troisième voie » qui a toujours tenté une partie des socialistes.
Mais pour ce faire, il faudrait que sa politique économique et sociale donne des signes d’efficacité. Or, en mettant fin au salaire différé que sont les cotisations familiales, il a joué un coup de poker.
Ce sont la Sécurité sociale, les allocations familiales, l’ensemble des prestations sociales qui sont en sursis. En France on ne touche pas impunément à ces symboles de la cohésion sociale. Le 14 janvier 2014, François Hollande a abandonné la gauche et les écologistes. A ces derniers de sortir de leur cure de sommeil.

Le soap opera continue

Valérie Trierweiler has left the Salpêtrière for the "presidential residence" La Lanterne near the park of Versailles. The monarchical presidency takes on a new dimension: an official residence for the discarded mistress, at a comfortable distance from the Elysée and the rue du Cirque.

Meanwhile, I think Sylvie Kauffmann gets her priorities about right:
Don’t blame the French for giving economic reforms priority over their politicians’ pathetic private travails.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

US vs France

David Remnick in The New Yorker:
They got in the car and headed for town. Obama’s limousine, a Cadillac said to weigh as much as fifteen thousand pounds, is known as the Beast. It is armored with ceramic, titanium, aluminum, and steel to withstand bomb blasts, and it is sealed in case of biochemical attack. The doors are as heavy as those on a Boeing 757. The tires are gigantic “run-flats,” reinforced with Kevlar. A supply of blood matching the President’s type is kept in the trunk.
President Hollande goes to see Julie Gayet on a motor scooter with a bag of croissants in the saddle bag.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Neoliberal Coup or Political Genius? The Two Sides of Françoise Fressoz (and François Hollande)

In her blog, Françoise Fressoz, Le Monde's political correspondent, is the scourge of neoliberalism:
De fait, lui [Hollande] et son gouvernement mettent en place tous les instruments de la régulation, mais avec un tel retard à l’allumage, une telle faiblesse syndicale, que la partie est loin d’être gagnée. Seule l’invocation patriotique, l’appel à l’union pour le redressement national pouvaient masquer dans les mots la victoire par K.-O. du libéralisme.
In the paper, however, she is an effective spin doctor for the powers-that-be, presenting the "responsibility pact" as a great leap forward:
Avec sa politique de l'offre qui rejoint toutes les thématiques du couple Bayrou-Borloo, le coup de la triangulation est quasi parfait. Le centre est remis en selle tandis que les dirigeants de l'UMP se divisent en deux camps : Alain Juppé, Bruno Le Maire, Jean-Pierre Raffarin et les libéraux-centristes prêtent une oreille attentive, les sarko-copéistes campent sur leur position d'opposition ferme.
So, which is it? A "victory by knockout for liberalism" or a brilliant exercise in political triangulation which has won over the center and split the UMP?

Of course, the answer is surely "both." If you read the second piece in its entirety, you have the impression that Fressoz and her co-writer David Revault  d'Allonnes have drunk the kool-aid, or at least the "deep background" briefings obviously given to them by Pierre Moscovici and François Rebsamen, and have decided to concentrate not on the economic substance of the pact but rather on the political strategy behind it. And their portrait of that strategy is rather convincing. Hollande has been persuaded that he cannot count on political support from the Front de Gauche for anything he does. He must therefore build a new coalition, different from the one that elected him. The Bayrou-Borloo rapprochement and the growing fissures in the UMP have given him an opening to do that. In addition, ongoing negotiations with Pierre Gattaz and the Medef have convinced him that he has more room for maneuver there than with Mélenchon, who despises him and won't give him the time of day. So he cut a deal. The deal is described as "risky," but the word is carefully chosen to fit the rhetorical strategy of the Fressoz-d'Allonnes article, which is to portray the hitherto hapless Hollande as a suddenly reborn "leader," a bold general in command of his troops.

Indeed, he is said to have quelled rumors of a Valls-led palace coup, put his ministers back in line, and "reoriented" Ayrault, who tried to go "too far, too fast" with his announced "complete overhaul" of the tax system. Here, of course, we see the Moscovici spin: Mosco resented Ayrault's attempted coup, which cut him out of the loop, and he is now kvelling about having imposed a Strauss-Kahnian line instead, while elbowing another rival, Valls, out of the limelight.

Yes, it all makes for thrilling reading, but the literary genre here is fantasy, not hard-core realism. The narrative fails to reckon with any reactions outside the walls of the National Assembly. The government will risk a no-confidence vote on the responsibility pact, daring the Front de Gauche to vote against it and counting on centrist votes to keep it in power if that happens. Brilliant.

But the narrative also implicitly assumes that results will soon be tangible: unemployment will decrease at an accelerating rate, wages will rise, firms will invest, and all because the payroll tax has been reduced a bit. Nothing is said about the consequences of the promised public-sector cuts and the consequent reduction in demand. Not a word is breathed about what might happen if employers are seen to drag their feet on the famous contreparties while sitting on the piles of cash that begin to accumulate when the cotisations familiales are eliminated. And surely the brilliant strategists at the finance ministry have given a moment or two's thought to what might lie in store if workers take a dim view of this latest "triangulation" and decide to express their lack of confidence in the administration outside the walls of parliament. How long before the positive gloss that Fressoz and d'Allonnes have put on "le tournant 2014" turns to "I told you so, unvarnished neoliberal welfare state retrenchment is a no-go in France?"

Friday, January 17, 2014

Saint-Just Back in Paris

No, not that Saint-Just:


This one:



Wallerand de Saint-Just, lawyer and Front National candidate for mayor. He is also the FN's treasurer.

Hollande en prend pour son grade

Wherever you turn in the US these days, there's somebody who thinks François Hollande hasn't been very presidential. Stephen Colbert tackles his private life. The New York Times editorial page does the same, with fewer winks and nudges. And Paul Krugman still can't get over Hollande's resurrection of Say's Law.

Oddly enough, Krugman dismisses the affair:
I am not, of course, talking about his alleged affair with an actress, which, even if true, is neither surprising (hey, it’s France) nor disturbing.
while his editors see it as the heart of the matter:
But Mr. Hollande may have subjected national tolerance to one too many tests. In his campaign to succeed Nicolas Sarkozy, who irritated the French with his bling-bling lifestyle, Mr. Hollande projected himself as Mr. Normal, who would bring decorum back to the Élysée Palace (despite the fact that he had left Ségolène Royal, the mother of his four children, for another woman, Valérie Trierweiler, and made her his official consort).
For Krugman, the criticism is no less stinging, but the target is "spinelessness" rather than "self-indulgence":
Yes, callous, wrongheaded conservatives have been driving policy, but they have been abetted and enabled by spineless, muddleheaded politicians on the moderate left.
Tough talk, but characteristically one-sided. Like many economists, Paul Krugman believes that if you have the correct economic analysis, the politics will take care of itself. There should be no need to cajole, negotiate, or placate. Yet Krugman knows that such tactics don't play in the real world: the reason he gave for not wanting the job when his name was proposed for Treasury secretary was that he wouldn't be good at it.

I don't intend this criticism of Krugman to be a defense of Hollande, although I don't entirely agree with Krugman's economic analysis either. To be sure, he's absolutely right to call Hollande on his invocation of Say's Law, but who knows what Hollande really thinks about supply and demand? The essence of Hollande's "responsibility pact" is to broaden the base of the tax that pays part of the cost of the social security system, and that much of his policy can be defended (see my earlier posts). Still, Krugman is right to prod him on the demand side of the equation, although his aggressive language isn't going to get him more of a hearing now than he has had thus far in Europe (and no doubt his frustration is the reason for his aggression).

But there is a problem that none of these American commentators touches on. The French journalist Jean Quatremer hits the target squarely:
Ensuite, la vie privée n’a pas le même sens selon que l’on soit un quidam quelconque ou le plus haut personnage de l’État : par nature, ce dernier est la personne la plus exposée de la République, la plus observée, la plus surveillée. ... Autrement dit, la vie privée d’un Président de la République ou même d’une star est forcément plus limitée que celle d’un citoyen lambda puisque la fonction est par nature exposée.
Here is the heart of the matter. It's foolish to snicker about Hollande's sex life, as Colbert does, or moralize about it, as the Times does, or dismiss it as unimportant compared to getting Say's Law right, as Krugman does. The president's role is not to do economic analysis, but it is to persuade people that he's devoting the full measure of his talent and resources to understanding what experts are telling him, to gathering the views of his European partners, and to working his way out of the morass in which the country is mired. If you aspire to the supreme post, then you can be expected to put most personal gratifications aside for the duration of your term. Even Sarkozy recognized this when he said, immediately after his election, that he would retire to a monastery for an ascetic interlude in preparation for assuming his functions. Of course, in the event, he betrayed that understanding by accepting the gift of a yacht in lieu of a monastery and disporting himself in the Mediterranean with his soon-to-be-estranged wife. Hollande promised to be a different kind of president, and he has disappointed those of us who hoped he would be.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

More Bad Economic News

Les mauvaises rentrées fiscales font déraper le budget de l'Etat

L'Etat a enregistré des recettes fiscales moins bonnes que prévu en 2013, avec 3,7 milliards d'euros de moindres rentrées par rapport aux prévisions. Les dépenses, elles, ont baissé de 0,6 milliard d'euros. ("Le Monde")


Paul Krugman Counters French Pessimsim

Things are just not that bad, he insists.

Perry Anderson's Paean to Nantes

Perry Anderson isn't always an enthusiast of France. One recalls his brilliant "Dégringolage" of some years back (my critique is here). But now he is back in the pages of the London Review with a paean to Nantes and its Institut d'Études Avancées, the work of Alain Supiot, one of the French intellectuals Anderson most admires. The essay is written with Anderson's characteristic grace and richness of detail and makes a nice counter to the recent spate of French bashing in American and British publications.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Kevin O'Rourke on Hollande's Reival of Say's Law and the Hara-Kiri of the European Left

Thanks to James Conran for this link.

Statist Liberalism vs. Social Democracy

From the horse's mouth:
Pour définir sa politique, le chef de l'Etat est en revanche un peu plus disert. A ses yeux, le qualificatif « libéral » est inapproprié dans la mesure où « la France, même quand elle fait du libéralisme, le fait par l'Etat », comme ce fut le cas avec Jacques Chirac en 1986 ou Nicolas Sarkozy en 2007. Sa démarche, assure-t-il, est tout autre. Elle est celle de la négociation avec et entre les partenaires sociaux. Ce qui lui fait dire que « nous sommes entrés, sans doute, en France, dans une phase sociale-démocrate ».
 Clear?

On the Publicity of the President's Private Life

As I said the other day, if you want your private life to be private, you shouldn't involve your private partners in your public role. Julie Gayet will no longer serve on the jury of the Villa Médicis, to which she was about to be named by the Minister of Culture, who serves under the president of the Republic, with the support of the president's friend Eric de Chassey, who heads the VM.

And Médiapart expresses some regret that it respected the president's private life when it first heard rumors of his affair with Gayet several months ago (if Médiapart knew, are we really to believe that Mme Trierweiler learned of the affair only on Friday, from Closer?). It is now clear that several matters of public interest were hidden from view by the principle of respect for private life, ranging from the president's security to his appointments policy to the role and staff assigned to the "first lady."

In any case, when a candidate announces that:
"Moi président de la République, je ferai en sorte que mon comportement soit en chaque instant exemplaire"
one is entitled to ask whether chaque instant includes every second of the day, or just time on camera.

Roma Evictions Accelerate

Scott Sayare in the Times:

French authorities sharply accelerated the eviction of migrant Roma squatters in 2013, razing the unauthorized encampments of nearly 20,000 Roma, according to a report by rights groups on Tuesday. The evictions were double those of 2012, according to the French Human Rights League and the European Roma Rights Center. President François Hollande took office in 2012 pledging to break with the strict policies of his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy. But Mr. Hollande has reinforced those policies, demolishing at least 165 Roma camps last year, according to the report. French officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Interesting, since most estimates put the number of migrant Roma in France at 20,000. Has Valls evicted them all, or is he playing whack-a-mole, razing one camp, then razing the next camp to which the inhabitants have fled. No matter: no publicity is bad publicity, as the saying goes.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hollande's News Conference 3

What is the best argument that can be made in support of Hollande's new economic policy? I accept the point that removing the burden of cotisations familiales from firms may lead to some additional hiring. One might further argue that what Hollande has in mind is not a supply-side move but a stimulus-by-stealth, in which he cuts taxes on industry immediately but dithers on the promised spending cuts for a year or two, yielding a stimulus of a point and a half or so of GDP over 12 to 24 months. The budget deficit will also rise, but Brussels will have been appeased by the structural reform and will therefore let it pass. Let's say the maneuver cuts unemployment by 1 percent, so the president can claim that the inversion of the curve he has been promising for nearly two years is finally occurring. He may even squeeze out a half a point of growth before interest rates rise owing to the rising debt/GDP ratio. So there could be method to this madness.

On the other hand, what then? €30 billion is a big trou de sécu to make up. Arun (see comments on previous message) thinks that a little territorial reform and tinkering with allocations and proverbial fat-cutting will start the ball rolling. I think this is a pipe dream. For one thing, territorial reform never seems to happen. Sarkozy tried it and was shot down by his own party. Hollande won't even be given the courtesy of a face-saving compromise. The Socialists are powerful at the local and regional level, more powerful than Hollande at the moment. The local barons owe him nothing: he's hurt them more than he's helped. You could see the impatience in François Rebsamen's proposal today that France do away with the post of first lady--a warning shot across Hollande's bow. They will resist the dismantling of their fiefdoms, and Hollande will lose this battle.

Is Hollande serious about €50 billion in spending cuts? Frédéric thinks not. I tend to agree. If you were serious, you wouldn't make such an announcement out of the blue. You would have had extensive consultations beforehand and a list of proposed cuts to use as cudgels on the aggrieved parties. You have to make them fear worse in order to get them to accept the merely grievous. Today's opening gambit only encourages all the other players to call the president's bluff.

Finally, this strategy, if it is one, even on the best interpretation that can be given to it, fails to offer anything by way of compensation to le peuple de gauche. Nothing, that is, but a vague promise of jobs. L'emploi, the president said, is the only thing he cares about. But many who voted for Hollande did so because they don't trust firms to use their tax breaks to do new hires, even with the lamentably named observatoire des contreparties, which is supposed to ensure that only firms that toe the line get the breaks. But what is the line they are supposed to toe? Are there any criteria for an adequate number of new hires? No, the details are to be negotiated "branch by branch." But what branch of industry these days doesn't have a sob story to tell about how it must cut costs before it can hire, how it must restructure in order to grow, how it must await the revival of demand before it can invest? And I don't mean to say that these sob stories lack truth. They're all too accurate. Hollande's social liberalism with contreparties is neither fish nor fowl: it aims to micromanage what firms do without means to assess conditions in the industries it purports to direct. Meanwhile, the promised reductions in state spending imply a retreat from earlier promises to foster long-term growth by funding new research and development, investing in education, etc.

I see this new policy as yet another exercise in temporizing, hoping that something will turn up while trying this and that without much analysis of how the parts are supposed to fit together.

Hollande's News Conference 2

The major announcement that Hollande made today was what he called a "responsibility pact" among the "social partners." What might "responsibility pact" mean, and why did its announcement cause Laurence Parisot to tweet joyously that enfin employer charges for cotisations familiales would be reduced by €30 billion over the next three years?

The answer is clear: the "responsibility pact" is the ingenious name conjured up by Hollande's spin doctors for a second wave of austerity. Employers are delighted to be relieved of €30 billion in charges. "Households," presuming that households have feelings, might feel somewhat less delirious with joy at the announcement that the €30 billion will not be shifted onto their shoulders. So, how will the cut be financed? By a massive reduction of state expenditure. Not just €30 billion but actually €50 billion by 2017. How? Hollande didn't say. But of course budget-cutting talk is cheap. One can always worry about the details later, or count, as Hollande is no doubt counting, on that elusive "expansionary contraction" that is supposed to follow declarations of virtue by formerly sinful politicians. "The Lord helps those who help themselves." Perhaps, but He has been remarkably unhelpful to Greece, Italy, and Spain. The UK's somewhat improved recent economic performance in the wake of draconian austerity is probably Hollande's actual inspiration, but France lacks Britain's financial sector, where most of the gains have been concentrated. So Hollande is probably investing in vain hopes, hoping that their vanity will not become fully apparent until another 18 months of inaction have passed, by which time his approval rating will have sunk into the single digits. But there is always consolation in la vie privée, about which the less said the better--or so we are told (see below).

This is a proposal that the American Tea Party would love. John Boehner would be falling all over himself to praise it. But how in the world can it be implemented in France? What does Hollande propose to cut? He didn't say, but the glum faces on any number of his ministers at various points in the proceedings suggest that discussions are already under way. The only one who didn't look glum was Montebourg, who seemed excruciatingly bored, perhaps because he is already planning his exit from the government and his repositioning as the anti-Hollande for a 2017 presidential bid. Of course, he will have to prepare for Valls, who will challenge him as Sarkozy-bis. Hollande is a dead letter. He is finished in French politics, and I don't care about the polls, reported in the Guardian, that suggest his extra-non-conjugal escapade with Julie Gayet has actually increased his approval rating ("Oh, those French!" clucks the English writer).

And while I'm on the subject of la vie privée, it's rather amusing that, when asked whether Mme Trierweiler is still la première dame de France, Hollande said he would take up the question at a later date but before his scheduled trip to Washington. The French, who profess to have no interest in the private lives of politicians but can talk about nothing else whenever a scandal hits the press (like people everywhere), have nevertheless adopted the habit of their much-reviled puritanical American cousins in creating an official position of "first lady," whose occupant is chosen not by the people but in consequence of the sexual choice of their elected leader. The people nevertheless pay for her staff of 4, she has an office in the Elysée, performs official functions, etc. So private life and public life constantly interpenetrate in this day and age, and yet this interpenetration is not to be discussed in public. Perhaps it would be more honest and aboveboard to concede that a president's private life is not and cannot be private in the conventional sense and then consider what implications that might have for a president who, as a candidate, promised that his behavior would always be exemplary. If a president wants his private life to remain private, then his partner should behave as Yvonne de Gaulle behaved and stay out of the public eye.

Hollande's News Conference

I'm watching Hollande as he speaks. I may have something to say about the substance later--if any substance emerges. I haven't heard much yet worth writing about. But I wanted to say a word about the form. Hollande has never been a great orator, but there's something very odd today about the rhythm of his speaking. His phrases are broken off in strange places, and at times he seems to hesitate as if he can't quite find the word he wants. His mind seems detached from his performance. This would be comprehensible, given the events of the past few days, but given the importance of this press conference for the remainder of his presidency, it's a strangely abstracted performance. One more disappointment in a long series?

UPDATE: He's better in the question session--again on form, not on substance.

The Structural Weakness of the Front National

For months we've been hearing that the Front National is France's "leading party," largely on the basis of one poll and a by-election victory in Brignoles. Now Marine Le Pen is trying to lower expectations. She expects her party to be on the lists in only 500 of some 36,000 French communes in the March 23-30 municipal elections.

Is this a tactical lowering of expectations in order to trumpet later a "victory" by beating the forecast? Or does it represent a real structural weakness of the party? Le Monde points out that even allowing for considerable progress since the party reached its nadir in 2008, the FN will still be present on only 16.6% of the lists in communes of more than 3,500 people. The party is plagued, still, despite ample recruitment of younger cadres in recent years, by a shortage of qualified candidates and organizational weaknesses at every level. So it is a bit premature, perhaps, to envision a rerun of 2002 in the next presidential election.

One does have to worry, however, about the state of the two major parties. Hollande has done his best to run the Socialists into the ground, first by an absence of strong leadership and now by betraying his promise to maintain "exemplary behavior" if elected. Meanwhile, the UMP rank-and-file seem to be banking on a return of Sarkozy, yet Sarkozy, according to recent polling, remains unpopular with a substantial segment of the population (though less unpopular by far than Hollande and only slightly ahead of Marine Le Pen).

Monday, January 13, 2014

Christopher Caldwell on Free Speech in France

The conservative columnist Christopher Caldwell has an excellent op-ed on the perversity of French restrictions on free speech in the Financial Times. Unfortunately, I can't quote from it, because the Financial Times imposes its own restrictions on the free use of copyrighted material. But you can read it here if you have a subscription to the FT.

Jack Lang: The Misuse of the Concept of "Human Dignity" to Enforce a New "Moral Order" and Suppress Speech

Jack Lang expresses well my misgivings about the recent decision of the Conseil d'État in the Dieudonné affair:

Pour vous, l'ordre public n'était donc pas menacé par le spectacle de Dieudonné ?
Honnêtement, je ne le crois pas. Aucun élément sérieux ne donnait à penser que la menace était irrésistible. Le Conseil d'Etat aurait donc dû, sur ce point, donner raison au tribunal administratif de Nantes.
Plus grave encore, en évoquant l'atteinte à la dignité humaine, il a fragilisé sa décision en mettant en balance la liberté d'expression avec un autre principe, le respect de la dignité de la personne humaine, qui peut faire penser que, désormais, un ordre public moral s'ajoute à l'ordre public matériel.
Pourquoi employez-vous le mot « fragiliser » ?
L'atteinte à l'ordre public, c'est quelque chose de matériel, on est sur un terrain balisé. L'atteinte à la dignité humaine, c'est une notion beaucoup plus floue : on navigue ici dans des eaux plus incertaines où s'entremêlent des considérations philosophiques et politiques beaucoup plus que juridiques.
Que vient faire dans le raisonnement, par exemple, la notion de « cohésion nationale » ? Le Conseil d'Etat nous a habitués à une langue plus rigoureuse, à des concepts plus limpides, à des démonstrations moins alambiquées.

The concept of "respect for human dignity" is too elastic to use as a justification for the suppression of free speech. It could easily have been invoked to justify a ban on publication of caricatures of Mohammed. Freedom of speech, even offensive speech, is a fundamental principle of a liberal society. One should be wary of creating new "rights" that can serve as trumps to defeat old ones.

Melle?

In Le Monde this morning I read this:
François Hollande, d'après l'Elysée, n'a jamais eu connaissance des liens entre la locataire de l'appartement, MelleHauck, et certaines personnes réputées proches du banditisme corse. Ainsi, fait observer l'entourage de M.Hollande, le nom de Ferraci n'apparaît pas sur l'interphone de l'appartement. Le président n'avait connaissance que de l'identité de la locataire du logement, MelleHauck, amie de longue date de Julie Gayet.
Now, what interests me here is not the alleged but probably fortuitous link between the president of the Republic and the Corsican Mafia. Nothing any longer surprises me about the recklessness of the French elite. What interests me is rather the abbreviation Melle. When did Mlle go out of favor? I must have missed this momentous change in French nomenclature. Could someone please enlighten me?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

More trouble for Hollande

More trouble for Hollande: it seems that the apartment he used for his rendezvous with Julie Gayet belongs to an actor who not only plays a gangster in a film about the Corsican mafia but has actual ties to the mafia and received an 18-month suspended sentence for his role in managing the Cercle Wagram, a notorious Parisian gambling den mixed up in several sports corruption affairs.

Charles de Gaulle must be turning over in his grave.

The US and France Compared

Frédéric Martel here and me here.

Valérie Trierweiler Hospitalized

Valérie Trierweiler hospitalisée

L'Elysée confirme les informations du "Parisien" selon lesquelles la première dame est hospitalisée. La compagne de François Hollande a été admise à l'hôpital vendredi après-midi pour un "gros coup de blues" après la révélation dans le magazine "Closer" d'une liaison entre le chef de l'Etat et la comédienne Julie Gayet.

Suddenly, Hollande's amorous escapades are no longer a joking matter. It's hard to see how this can do the president any good. Even the Sarkozy soap opera never descended to such tragic depths. In a quasi-royal presidential system like the French, the health of the body politic itself suffers when the president is damaged to such a degree. I shake my head in sadness.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Kapil on the Dieudonné (non)-Affair

Arun Kapil has a very long post on the Dieudonné business here. He makes many good points, including, perhaps, one hopes at any rate, his smackdown of my expression of alarm at what lies ahead. He may well be right. He is closer to the situation than I am. Nevertheless, I think he underestimates the potential harm of what he concedes is a widespread and increasingly uninhibited antisemitism in certain segments of French society. For Arun, these people are not alarming because they operate at "the degree zero of politics" and are products of a degraded popular culture. One can agree on the last two points and still worry about the potential for disruption and contagion. I've also been struck over the past few days by the crowds gathered at sites where Dieudonné performances have now been banned. Quite a few of the people interviewed on the TV news did not appear to be young denizens of the Paris suburbs or excluded visible minorities. Most seemed closer to 30 than to 20 in age, were well-dressed, and evidently had no difficulty coming up with the minimum 38 euros necessary (as Arun notes) for a ticket. Yet they were eager to tell the national TV audience that they believed their hero was being suppressed by "the Zionist lobby" through its immense and occult influence on the government.

Élie Semoun on Dieudonné

Élie Semoun, the comedian of Moroccan Jewish parentage who was Dieudonné's partner at the beginning of his career, reflects on recent events in a recent sketch that is half-comedy, half-lament:


Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo

Friday, January 10, 2014

Histoire de la vie privée

I suppose, for completeness sake, I ought to mention that the gossip rag Closer has published pictures purporting to confirm rumors of an affair between the president of the Republic and the actress Julie Gayet. By now, I imagine, France is accustomed to the idea that the private lives of politicians are fodder for the media. The pathetic effort to justify titillation by asking such deep questions as "Does this affect his job performance?" or "Is there a security risk in these nightly scooter rides to the love nest?" is really no longer necessary. Elysologists can speculate openly on the likely response of Mme Trierweiler, and the British tabloids can publish photos of Mme Gayet in the buff, just as they did for Carla Bruni. I believe it was Yasmina Reza who reported Sarkozy's remark to (I think) Brice Hortefeux to the effect that "nous autres politiques, nous sommes des bêtes sexuelles." Indeed. One can only marvel at the display of appetite.

Edward Baron Turk on Dieudonné

The American scholar and theater critic Edward Baron Turk has an extensive firsthand account of several of Dieudonné's performances in his French Theater Today: The View from New York, Paris, and Avignon 


About bending that unemployment curve ...

Dieudonné Before Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial

Dieudonné began his career in comedy as the partner of Élie Semoun, of Moroccan Jewish descent. The two pioneered a distinctive brand of edgy, anti-racist comedy. In those days, Dieudonné was an opponent of the Front National and ran as a left-wing candidate in the 1997 legislative elections. In that same year, Dieudonné and Semoun split, with Semoun accusing Dieudonné, who managed the financial aspects of their joint act, of cheating him on the proceeds. By 2006, Dieudonné appears to have changed camps. He attended the annual festival of the Front National and met with Jean-Marie Le Pen in a well-publicized encounter. It was at that point that his evolution began, although in the 2007 presidential election he supported José Bové in the first round and Ségolène Royal in the second. Dieudonné eventually introduced the Holocaust negationist Robert Faurisson at one of his shows, and according to one court document joined with Faurisson and Youssouf Fofana, the leader of the "gang of barbarians" convicted of the kidnap and murder of Ilan Halimi, to attack Alain Jakubowicz, the head of the LICRA (Ligue international contre le racisme et l'anti-sémitisme) for slander.

As I ponder this history, I'm also reviewing a book that devotes several chapters to a number of prominent figures in France in the early part of the 20th Century. The ideological confusion, the mobilization of racial hatred, the mixture of artistic talent and fitful ambition to make a loud and "shockingly radical" "anti-Establishment" political statement to some obscure end--for all of these things one can find precedents in any number of figures of the 1920s and 1930s, from Léon Daudet to Pierre Drieu la Rochelle, Robert Brasillach, and Ramon Fernandez, from Maurice Bardèche to Jacques Chardonne. Any attempt to explain these bizarre and complex trajectories and shifting allegiances is bound to be inadequate. Perhaps every era, when looked at closely enough, is deeply confused ideologically and replete with such strange characters. But perhaps some eras are more likely than others to produce these chimerical creatures. I'm not sure. I think I understand something about the strangeness of the 1920s and 1930s. I'm less sure about the teratogenic character of my own times. But the case of Dieudonné may be trying to tell us something.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Judicial Error

The Conseil d'Etat, I'm afraid, has just played into the hands of Dieudonné by quashing the order to the administrative tribunal in Nantes to allow his show there to go on. This only lends credence to the claim of the comedian and his supporters that their voices are being suppressed. The pretext that the public order might be disturbed if Dieudonné is allowed to perform is foolish and pusillanimous, and the appearance that the separation of powers has been violated by government pressure on the Conseil d'Etat makes France look like a country in which governmental expediency will always trump the law when it comes to political speech. I think it's an unfortunate decision.

What this series of lamentable episodes--from Anelka to Dieudonné to the Conseil d'État--has revealed is that France is on the verge of another explosion of rage by people who feel they have no political voice. It's a pity that there is no civil rights movement worthy of the name and that no leader of stature has emerged to channel this anger into more productive channels. I shudder to think of what lies ahead.

The War of the Two Quais

The Quai d'Orsay has taken the initiative in flogging French exports, according to Le Monde, and has thus irritated the upstream Quai de Bercy. Hence the War of the Two Quais. But why not a Bridge over the River Quai instead (forgive me!)? Would it be too much to expect the two ministries to work together in the national interest?

The devil, I suppose, is in the details, and this is an area about which I don't have much detailed knowledge. But if I were an American businessman looking to do business in France, I might not even know the name of the Quai Bercy, but I would be able to find the phone number of the nearest consulate in my phone book. Hence it seems to me perfectly reasonable for Fabius to seek to gin up his ministry's capabilities on this front.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Gopnik on the Roma

Be sure to read Adam Gopnik's excellent article on the Roma in The New Yorker.

Leftists Who Support Dieudonné

An interesting reportage in Le Monde. I won't attempt to psychoanalyze the remarks of these young fans of Dieudonné who describe themselves variously as left republicans, pro-free speech, anti-communitarian, etc. Some of them echo remarks made by commenters on this blog. Clearly they are not impressed by the argument that Dieudonné is a dangerous bigot, and just as clearly the repression of the comedian's performances promised by Manuel Valls will not put an end to the critique of the status quo offered by his fans. It will only conceal their complaints, which to my mind is more dangerous than airing them. To the extent that one of the chief complaints of the Dieudonné cult is the (I believe false) allegation that their views have been suppressed (rather than refuted as they deserve to be), the best response is to air them fully. I think Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. had it right: "The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye. The more light you shine on it, the more it will contract."

A Progressive Labor Market or a Partnership in Doom?

Bernadette Ségol among others questions the concept of "structural rigidities" in European labor markets:
A closer look at the plentiful literature claiming that structural unemployment (in economic terms: the NAIRU or non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment) is caused by ‘rigid’ labour market institutions reveals that the evidence is pretty weak, or even non-existent.
Indeed, in 2005 a group of economists undertook a critical analysis of the economic literature on flexible labour markets, examining all the major mainstream studies since the beginning of the nineties (Howell 2005). Their conclusion was that there were many problems with the studies under review. In particular, econometric regressions were found to be ‘non-robust’. This means that, using the same data, modest changes in the measurements of institutions, countries or the time period covered led to zero, statistically insignificant or even changed coefficients. In the case of one paper that was very influential in opening this discussion on structural unemployment and labour market institutions, results could not be replicated when using the same specification but with a data set that had been improved by the author himself (a bit similar to the recent Reinhard/Rogoff incident concerning their paper on the 90% of GDP public debt threshold). Another conclusion was that, whereas the link between unemployment and factors such as job protection, unemployment benefits and trade union density was highly questionable, positive or regulatory practices such as coordinated collective bargaining and active labour market policies were scoring much better in explaining different outcomes in unemployment.
I agree that the prescribed medicine of more flexible labor markets will not cure Europe's--and more particularly France's--economic problems. In the French case, however, I think the problem is more subtle than a simple market-oriented analysis suggests. It is not an economic problem but a political-economic problem. Labor's understandable attachment to job protections and management's understandable aversion to production disruptions both reinforce government's devotion to political stability. The upshot is universal timidity: management is reluctant to take risks necessary to maintain competitiveness if the consequent reorganization of production is likely to alarm labor even temporarily; labor, distrustful of management's motives, is unwilling to tolerate any change in the production regime; and government is only too eager to subsidize compromise that keeps both labor and management quiescent in the short run, even if the short-term compromise threatens long-term viability. The result is a vicious circle of non-adaptive behavior. The illusion of stability is purchased at the very steep price of ultimate extinction.

French is fond of the phrase partenaires sociaux, the meaning of which is scarcely captured by the English "social partners." What I'm describing is a "partnership in doom," cemented by the intrinsic conservatism of French industrial relations--a conservatism masked by the occasional eruptions of "bossnapping" (as we see at the moment in Amiens) and industrial sabotage. At bottom, both management and labor abhor change and prefer the status quo even if the status quo spells doom in the face of accelerating global transformation. For too long government has abetted this conservatism of the social partners, but now that the unsustainability of the existing industrial relations regime is daily more apparent, government is beginning to panic, while populists are pushing the aversion to change into the phantasmagoric realm of nationalist retreat and complete withdrawal from global competition.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

More Eurogloom

The Times, too, takes a rather pessimistic view of the Eurozone. In regard to comments on the previous post, I agree with Jurnan that Frédéric's point regarding improved current account balances is to be treated cautiously, since the improvement mainly reflects decreased demand due to budgetary austerity and internal deflation rather than an actual rebalancing of competitiveness. To Siegfried I simply say that I do not believe economic nationalism is a solution for France or any other European country. Rather, it is a formula for steady decline. It is also likely to exacerbate internal political tensions within Europe. And, needless to say, I do not admire either of your two political options, the DLR or the FN.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Euro Crisis in 2014

Wolfgang Munchau looks ahead to the evolution of the euro crisis in 2014. In his view, the policy debate is over. There will be no debt mutualization and no common backstop for failing banks. All adjustment will be made through austerity and "internal devaluation" (read enforced wage cuts). The European parliament elections in the spring will reveal just how terrible the political backlash against this harsh set of policy choices will be. Euroskeptic parties could capture a third or more of the seats. Worse, their growing influence in many countries is beginning to erode support for the EU in center-right parties. Couple this with the rising xenophobia and racism evident across Europe and likely to be exacerbated by an influx of immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria, no longer restricted from entry into countries to the west, and the potential for all sorts of ugly politics is clear.

Are there any bright spots on the horizon? Economies in several countries seem to be doing somewhat better than in recent years. France, unfortunately, is not one of them.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Taubira Statement on Dieudonné

This blog has been inundated in recent days by hundreds of inhabitual readers directed here by a mention of my previous post in The New York Times. Many of these new readers have left comments, most of them in defense of Dieudonné and derogatory of my characterization of him. Quite a few have suggested that I am quite ignorant of French realities and presume to grace me with their intimate and visceral understanding as members of an oppressed "people" subject to an all-powerful "elite" in control of the media and other forms of public expression.

From long experience of the Internet, I know that it's useless to respond to trolls, so I won't. In their own minds their logic is ironclad, and I'm quite sure that no argument from me is likely to penetrate. Since Dieudonné is a comedian, I think it might be more profitable to respond with humor, for example, as a friend of mine suggested, by organizing a "quenelle cooking contest." Nevertheless, I think it's worthwhile to cite the response of the minister of justice, Mme Christiane Taubira, to the Dieudonné affair. Since Mme Taubira has herself been the object of very public attacks that the elite Establishment allegedly in control of the media in France has been powerless to suppress, perhaps her testimony will have some value, though I suspect its import will be lost on Dieudonné's defenders. Her statement can be read in full here. I single out the following passage for your edification (h/t KJS):

Il est triste, infiniment triste, d'achever une année sur les pitreries obscènes d'un antisémite multirécidiviste. Faut-il que son talent soit stérile pour qu'il n'ait d'autres motifs pour faire s'esclaffer des esprits irresponsables ou incultes ou pervers, qu'une tragédie, un génocide, un indicible drame, de ceux dont on sait qu'on ne guérira pas, car rien ne nous consolera jamais des enfants dont la destinée s'est interrompue, brusquement ; et avant même cette violence de la mort industrielle, qui ne distingue pas, frappe sans rien connaître de ses victimes, la violence de l'arrachement, de la malnutrition, de la maladie, du désarroi, de cet inconnu irrationnellement hostile, la violence de la révélation de parents démunis qui ne peuvent protéger que par l'amour. Faut-il frayer avec les monstres pour trouver quelque plaisir à se faire complice, après coup, de ce crime contre l'humanité ?