Saturday, June 30, 2007

Gay Pride and Doctored Imagery

There was a big gay pride rally in Paris today. One purpose of the march was to put pressure on the new government to extend marriage and adoption rights to gays, but few UMP dignitaries attended. For the Socialists, Bertrand Delanoë was there, as were Jack Lang and Anne Hidalgo, and the Communist senator Nicole Borvo and LCR's Alain Krivine. But MoDem didn't send anybody, and UMP conseiller régional Jean-Luc Romero attended only in an "unofficial" capacity.

A short while ago, Prime Minister Fillon made a campaign stop in the Nord, during which he was photgraphed with UMP deputy Christian Vanneste, who enjoys the distinction of being the first person in France to be sentenced under the law of 30 December 2004, which makes it a criminal offense to discriminate against homosexuals or make homophobic statements. This law was passed by the UMP majority. A photo of the prime minister in the company of Vanneste was actually posted on the prime minister's Web site, but when it drew protests, the photo was edited to remove the homophobic deputy from the scene. Allegations of "Soviet-style" rewriting of history were then raised.

The picture at the upper left is from the Act-Up Paris Web site. Click to enlarge for a clearer image of the state of play in this part of the political arena. The image speaks volumes. Nevertheless, Le Figaro reports that a good dialogue took place last week between the President's chief of staff, Emmanuelle Mignon, and representatives of Inter-LGBT, the gay-lesbian-bi association. Although Sarkozy opposes marriage and adoption rights, he has proposed granting a status of stepfather or stepmother to the partner of a parent in a same-sex couple, and ILGBT, while critical of the proposal for not going far enough, recognizes that it does offer the prospect of rapid progress.

Rocard Hospitalized

Michel Rocard has been hospitalized in India. He is reported to be in stable condition.* Today is not the time for a lengthy essay on Rocard, but maybe a reader or two would like to reflect on where the left might be today if it had followed Rocard instead of Mitterrand in 1978 or Delors instead of Jospin in 1995. Or on why these turns were not taken.

* LATER: He has been operated on for a cerebral hemorrhage and is "not out of danger," according to a doctor.
NEXT DAY: "Il a réclamé des mangues et entamé la lecture d'un bouquin de Jacques Attali: l'ancien Premier Ministre Michel Rocard semble bien se remettre de son hémorragie cérébrale de samedi." (Perhaps his judgment was affected by the stroke: if I survived a near-death experience, I might ask for a mango, but I would not pick up a book by Jacques Attali.)

A Period of Adjustment

One finds in the French press an emerging line of criticism of Sarkozy's presidency. This Libé article is a good example. "Has anyone told Nicolas Sarkozy that he's been elected President of the Republic?" is Alice Géraud's lead. It seems that Ms. Géraud is disconcerted by the Sarkozyan style, which she finds too informal, relaxed, accessible, and therefore "unpresidential." The President continues to behave as though he were on the campaign trail, she writes, "seeking to persuade each of his interlocutors that his projects are well thought out and making a great show of a relaxed and deliberately seductive style."

Of course it was a commonplace in presidencies past to remark on the ease with which republican equality could be buried beneath the trappings of regalian splendor. Leading historians such as Jacques Revel in Lieux de mémoire and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie in Saint-Simon et la cour de Louis XIV riffed on the all-too-evident parallels. It was even said that the French preferred the exaltation of monarchy and the grand style to the pettiness of political parties and the drabness of la vie quotidienne. De Gaulle's "je me suis toujours fait une certaine idée de la France" was thought to be a modern echo of Louis XIV's apocryphal "l'Etat, c'est moi." So it is not surprising to find Géraud commenting on the plainness of the décor at the construction site where Sarkozy spoke yesterday. The plainness is real, she implies, but the choice is contrived to reinforce the presidential desire to make himself out a man of the people. "I speak simply," Sarkozy says, but reportorial irony turns the simplicity into an artifice.

Similarly, countless articles have arraigned Sarko for his omnipresence. This, too, is said to be unpresidential. The President, the critics imply, is supposed to be like the Jansenists' Dieu caché, hidden so as to absolve himself of responsibility for this world and its inevitable sordid taint. "Where is Fillon?" one paper asked the other day. "Is there anything left for him to do?" Higher education minister Valérie Pécresse was asked if she didn't feel diminished by Sarkozy's intervention in her negotiations with university presidents and student union leaders. Shouldn't such matters be left to mortals while the President communes on Olympus?

It's a pity that these journalists appear not to be readers of Proust. If they were, they would know that the royal hauteur that they have come to take as the mark of presidential authenticity was a late development, a quite inauthentic ruse of the Sun King in his post-Fronde humbling of the aristocracy. Proust's Baron de Charlus, that relic of the old aristocracy, was always at his most natural with "his" peasants (not to mention his chauffeurs, but that's another story). Charlus reserved his hauteur for those he imagined might have the impudence to address him as citoyen.

The critique of Sarkozy's stage-managed simplicity and camera-hogging ubiquity misses the point. He isn't humbling the presidency or exposing it to blame for failure; he's rather positioning himself as the people's mediator, the indispensable intercessor. And this is the position in which monarchy always succeeds best. When it transforms itself into autocracy, failure looms. As the tertium quid, it frees itself to maneuver. Mitterrand was a sham monarch, almost a figure of comic opera; Sarkozy, lacking Mitterrand's historical cultivation, nevertheless has the true monarchical instinct. He knows how to make himself indispensable, not by humbling all around him but by raising them up, if only for the moment in which they feel his invigorating touch, the touch of le roi thaumaturge (if you don't know the reference, see under Marc Bloch).

A Little Background

sushi105 wrote:

PS some of us would love to comment more but now that you're back from greece you're putting up SO MANY posts it is hard to keep up.

Yeah, I feel your pain. Sometimes I do get wound up, and then, as Tony Blair noted in his comments on the media, once you insert yourself into the news cycle, a relentless rhythm takes hold. It has been a bit of a culture shock for me too to be wrested from my quiet study and thrust into the blogosphere. Since today is Saturday, I'll try to restrain myself, but who knows what news might break?

Being in the blogosphere is sometimes amusing. For example, this morning I received from the "Political Science Weblog" advance notice of the publication of a paper by my friend and colleague Peter Hall--a paper I had commented on long ago. It's a really excellent piece that will give younger readers an idea of some of the intellectual distance traveled by your elders, who came of age in the '60s and learned at the feet of scholars, many of them European, who came of age in the '30s. Henry at the Poli Sci Weblog evokes all of this. History and political science, he writes (paraphrasing and quoting Peter Hall),

may be swallowed up by an emerging intellectual hegemony that privileges a combination of economics and genetic science. More generally, there is a feeling of dispiritedness among liberals and leftists in the university - “the formative context for young scholars today is not the collapse of Weimar or the politics of the 1960s but the experience of life under neo-liberalism and globalization.” Radicalism has shifted towards cultural studies, but has been shorn of any tools for systematic investigation of social problems and identification of solutions as a result.”

This sense of a lost world of engagé scholarship is, I think, one of the anxieties that motivates my blogging activity. So if you want to know more about where I'm coming from, read Peter Hall's paper, which can be found here.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Pots and Kettles Department

Really I shouldn't post this, but I can't resist. Patrick Devedjian has brought down a torrent of deserved abuse on his head for referring to a certain former centrist deputy as cette salope. Now he has been rebuked by the President: "That's no way to talk to women," says Sarko. Of course one might be tempted to reply that the word racaille is just as out of place in the public lexicon. The difference between the one term of abuse and the other is that the former was actually employed in a private conversation accidentally caught on tape and released to the Internet. It was uncalculated, thoughtless, and therefore perhaps a revelation of something authentically misogynist and deeply unattractive in the new co-leader of the UMP (whose name figures in the list of "ten most-hated politicians" I posted earlier this morning). The latter, by contrast, was calculated, deliberate, and chosen for maximum televised effect.

In any event, Devedjian has apologized for his use of a naughty word and promised to wash his mouth out with soap. As for racaille, the author of that insult persiste et signe.

Mistral on Universities

On university reform, Jacques Mistral tackles the hard issues. Like everything Jacques writes, this is worth reading.

Private Equity in France

The New York Times today has an article on private equity in Europe. Here is the passage relevant to France:

In France, private equity has largely escaped the scrutiny it faces elsewhere; the country passed legislation in the last decade that offers stable tax treatment to private equity, and the conservative pro-business government of President Nicolas Sarkozy, who took office last month, is unlikely to change that.

In addition, Eddie Misrahi, director of Apax Partners in France and chairman of that country’s industry association, AFIC, said that private equity was continuing a lobbying campaign aimed at cultivating its image among union and government officials.

“We have been perhaps slightly more conscious of a possible backlash from these kinds of deals,” he said. “Apparently our British and European colleagues have only recently discovered this approach.”

Most Hated Politicians

Now here's a list nobody wants to be on: the most hated politicians in France.

1. Jean-Marie Le Pen
2. Marine Le Pen
3. Alain Carignon
4. Philippe de Villiers
5. Arno Klarsfeld
6. Laurent Fabius
7. Patrick Devedjian
8. Eric Besson
9. François Hollande
10. José Bové

What unites the people on this list? Now, here's a subject on which anyone is free to comment. No special expertise required. Just spill your guts. Let's hear it.

Sarko and FDR

Think the comparison implied by the title is far-fetched? Like FDR, Sarko in his first months in office has proved to be a whirling dervish of energy and activity. This article, by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., describes Roosevelt's first hundred days. I was struck by this passage:

Exactly half a century ago [the article was written in 1983], the Republic plunged into the Hundred Days - that time of tumultuous change when a flood of legislation swept away venerable market p ractices and gave the American economic system a new contour.

In the frenzied weeks from March to June 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt sent 15 messages to Congress and steered 15 major laws to enactment: among them, central planning for industry and for agriculture, new regulation for banking and for the securities exchanges, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Civilian Conservation Corps and a national system of unemployment relief.

''At the end of February,'' Walter Lippmann wrote when the special session adjourned, ''we were a con-geries of disorderly panicstricken mobs and factions. In the hundred days from March to June we became again an organized nation confident of our power to provide for our own security and to control our own destiny.''

The Hundred Days were only the start of a process that ended by transforming American society.

Of course one might say that FDR acted in the midst of a real crisis, one of the greatest in history, whereas Sarko assumes power in the midst of a rhetorical crisis, manufactured by déclinistes to create a sense of emergency justifying drastic action. That may be true, but Sarko and FDR, who differ so profoundly as to ideology, undoubtedly share the pragmatist's temperament:

The technique of the New Deal was improvisation and experiment. ''It is common sense to take a method and try it,'' F.D.R. said in the 1932 campaign: ''If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.''

"Above all, try something." That could be the motto on Sarkozy's desk.

Capital Flows, Wage Differentials, and Politics

In a comment the other day, Hervé argued that the French political class in general makes too much of délocalisations, or what we call in English foreign "outsourcing" or "offshoring," while neglecting France's high rank among countries receiving foreign direct investment, or FDI.

Hervé makes an excellent point, which reinforces Eloi Laurent's remarks about the low economic literacy of a certain class of French officials. Of course this confused discourse survives only because the economic literacy of the public at large is even lower, as Bryan Caplan attempts to demonstrate (for the US case) with empirical evidence in The Myth of the Rational Voter. (Caplan's definition of what it takes to be economically literate is rather too narrow and hamstrung by a certain orthodoxy for my taste, but I don't quarrel with his showing that vast numbers of people don't know things they ought to know to make sound political judgments.)

Nevertheless, although fear-mongering about outsourcing is to be resisted, so is complacency. As Hervé rightly observes, France ranks high among countries receiving FDI (which gives the lie, incidentally, to the notion that for any number of reasons, including high taxes, labor-market rigidities, rampant government meddling and regulation, widespread anti-market attitudes, and whatnot, capital shuns la France douce et fainéante like the plague). Indeed, incoming FDI rose to unprecedented levels in France in 2006. That said, it is also true that, according to Ernst & Young, France fell from the top ten receiving countries last year. French incoming FDI rose only 5 percent, compared with 57 percent for Germany and 44 percent for Spain. Poland and the Czech Republic also made big gains.

Two economists looking at the question of global capital flows from very different angles have recently made two other points relevant to the French political debate. Larry Summers notes the increasing inequality of income distribution:

While the most recent data available for performing these calculations come from 2004, it appears that the trend towards increased inequality is continuing and may even be accelerating, and will continue even in years when the price of stocks and other assets does not rise abnormally. It also appears that these trends reflect far more than increases in the financial return from education, as the top 1 per cent of the population has pulled away from the rest of the top 10 per cent and the top 0.1 per cent has pulled away from the rest of the top 1 per cent.*

This cautionary note from the mainstream of the profession can be set alongside a recent paper by heterodox economist James Galbraith. Usually we think of Europe, with its tradition of relatively generous welfare states, as comparatively egalitarian, and the United States, in the grip of unfettered free-market ideology, as highly inegalitarian. Galbraith, in a calculated effort to épater les bourgeois, argues that this stands reality on its head. Although remuneration within particular EU countries tends to be more equally distributed than US compensation, this is not the case if we compare the lowest-wage EU countries with the highest, and this despite the single market and unified currency. He goes on from there to argue that this highly inegalitarian European reward structure is responsible for a deficiency of aggregate demand in the EU and that this, rather than the more commonly cited culprit of labor-market rigidity, is the cause of persistent high unemployment in Europe.

In other words, if you want fewer unemployed in France, don't pay French cheminots less; rather, pay Polish plumbers more.

Of course this latter argument, for whatever it may be worth, will have to be adjusted to take account of the falling unemployment in both Germany and France, as announced yesterday. Indeed, French unemployment has now dropped back to a level last seen in 1983. The fact that this has happened before any Sarkozyan reforms have been implemented should be borne in mind as political debate evolves. The government, as governments are wont to do, will no doubt credit its economic philosophy for everything good that happens from May 6 onward. The usual deflator should be applied to such claims before embarking on empirical comparisons.

*LATE ADDENDUM: For evidence of growing inequality in France, see this article. For the full study by Camille Landais on which the Libé article is based, see here.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

DSK Is Not Amused

Like Laurent Fabius, Dominique Strauss-Kahn wants to make way for the young at the Bureau Politique of the PS. He hardly makes the job sound enticing, though: "Taking two hours to figure out where to put a comma in a communiqué that nobody will read no longer amuses me. I did it for two years. It's better to make room for younger members so that they can gain some political experience and prepare themselves to represent the PS tomorrow."

The combination of langue de bois, condescension, and contempt would be hard to match. So the way to prepare yourself to represent the PS tomorrow is to take on meaningless drudgery and hack work today? With such meticulous preparation, the Socialists will no doubt continue to do as well in the future as they've done in the recent past.

Soyons sérieux. Fabius and DSK are quitting the BP because that's no longer where the action is. Royal's circumvention of the party apparatus has persuaded the éléphants that the only route to power is to build a movement around their own persons. The battle is on.

Appel du 28 juin

Readership of this blog has been developing nicely. Less encouraging is the small number of comments. What comments have been made have been interesting and cogent, but it would be pleasant to hear from more of you--and I know from the statistical summaries (and private e-mails) that there are far more regular readers than there are regular commenters. The bashful can always avail themselves of the option to comment anonymously. But it would be far more interesting to know who you are and to learn something of your interests, judgments, and opinions, even if they disagree with mine. So, please, make yourselves known and heard.

On-Line with Patrick Weil

For the views of Patrick Weil, one of France's leading students of immigration, on the current state of the immigration issue in France, see this on-line chat at Le Nouvel Obs.

A Tocquevillean Reflection on the Media

Tocqueville had high hopes for the press under democracy. He believed that newspapers offered a remedy to what he feared most about democratic society, its atomization, its isolation of individuals in their separate private spheres. Newspapers, "by planting the same idea in a thousand minds at the same time," created solidarities and allowed individuals otherwise lost in the lonely crowd to recognize common interests. Thus the press, by countering the centrifugal tendencies of democracy, prevented the withering of the public sphere or its usurpation by a "soft despot" prepared to dispense bread and circuses in exchange for votes.

Tocqueville also imagined a natural affinity of political parties and the press. Although he deplored the "petty parties" that thrived on patronage, he believed that "great parties," organized around shared ideas, were indispensable for collective action. The requisite sharing of ideas was to be effected by the press. And mass democratic parties and mass-circulation newspapers did indeed rise in tandem.

The modern media continue in some respects to fulfill the function of maintaining a public sphere, as Tocqueville envisioned. But in other respects they serve the centrifugal tendencies that worried him. Television, in particular, by creating an ersatz intimacy between individual citizens and a necessarily small number of leaders--far smaller than the political class as a whole, leaves the citizen isolated while creating the illusion that he or she is at the center of political action. What is planted in a thousand minds at once is not an idea, ripe for criticism, discussion, modification, and elaboration, but a feeling, a sentiment--be it of identification or revulsion--that can only be reinforced by repetition and intensified by manipulation of the iconological rhetoric that the visual media have developed and refined over the past century. The need for this kind of emotion seems to grow more intense as more immediate forms of solidarity and sociability--in the neighborhood, the tavern, the cafe, the workplace, the family, the theater, the novel, the public meeting--wane. The politics of mediated intimacy creates a feeling of commitment without exacting a commensurate price in actual time or effort. "The problem with socialism," Oscar Wilde quipped, "is that it consumes too many evenings." Indeed. But one can watch a televised exercise in participatory democracy by proxy and feel that one's duty to the collectivity has been discharged. No more than an hour or two need be invested. This leveraging of the participatory investment slashes the opportunity cost and multiplies the return to the individual, if not to the society.

One striking thing about the recent presidential campaign in France is that both candidates were naturals at establishing the intimacy at a distance that democratic politics now seems to require. They worked in different registers, to be sure, but at a deeper level their two approaches had much in common. Neither sought the kind of differentiation from the common that has distinguished French presidential candidates in the past, whether in grandeur, cultivation, elegance, or strategic shrewdness. To be seen to be of the people now counts more than to be judged to be for the people if one wants to be elected by the people.

The Media, the Message, and the Management of Both

Libération today devotes considerable space (here, here, here, and here) to the question of interference in the media by Sarkozy. There is nothing new in the inuendo, in which I confess I have indulged at times myself (see the index under the head "media" for some examples). On the whole, I agree that it's better to be hypersensitive on this score than complacent. Yet there is a certain tiresome sameness to the charges. The president has cultivated friendships among media moguls and journalists. Certain articles have been spiked. Certain pressures have been brought to bear.

The problem with this kind of criticism is that it takes the place of serious analysis of the symbiotic relationship between media and politicians. Furthermore, its selectiveness is self-discrediting. Is Sarkozy too close to Elkabbach or Minc? Surely the Libé editorialists cannot be unaware that Mitterrand often used journalists who were covering him to write campaign speeches. That a well-known TV reporter was an intimate of Royal and Hollande. Or that the vie sentimentale that the former asked the latter to conduct henceforth outside the couple's domicile involved a journalist covering Socialist Party affairs for a major magazine. Did Rachida Dati threaten to sue if magazines published her baby pictures? Yes, but did not Hollande and Royal file suit for invasion of privacy against journalists who reported what one of them later acknowledged to be true and that is arguably not without a public dimension?

All of this would be too trivial and gossipaceous to recount were it not the staple of media self-reflection in France. Tony Blair, who is not without his faults, Lord knows, has nevertheless contributed a far more worthy piece to the debate. Blair is perfectly candid about the symbiosis of which I speak:

I first acknowledge my own complicity. We paid inordinate attention in the early days of New Labour to courting, assuaging, and persuading the media. In our defence, after 18 years of opposition and the at times ferocious hostility of parts of the media, it was hard to see any alternative. But such an attitude ran the risk of fuelling the trends that I am about to question.

"Courting, assuaging, and persuading": Blair pleads no contest to all the charges leveled against Sarkozy. He shrugs his shoulders, as if to say, "What else did you think politics was about?" But he then goes on to consider transformations in the media wrought by technology during his time in office. He notes the ways in which these changes complicated the business of governing, diminished time for internal reflection and thought, and, by threatening the financial viability of the media, heightened competition in ways that affected the content and tone of reporting. These are important points, and it would be good if the French media turned their attention away from the trivialities of the politico-media universe and addressed the more serious long-term issues.

Generation Gap

As the old warrior captains of the PS have succumbed to intestine warfare, young legionnaires are leaping to their feet and buckling on their shields all across France. A generational reckoning is on the agenda. Although Laurent Fabius yesterday declared himself an "active sage," sounding more philosophical than arthritic, today he announced his resignation from the Bureau Politique of the party in order to make way for the young. And the young have not been shy about declaring that it is time for the elder generation, who came into power as Mitterrand staffers as long ago as 1981, to go. As a member of the elder generation myself, I naturally have mixed feelings about this all too comprehensible announcement that the time for a certain "circulation of elites" is overdue. But one thing is perfectly clear: Royal did much better among younger voters than among older ones, yet the younger generation--and I don't mean the Drays and Montebourgs--is virtually absent from the front ranks of PS leadership. That has to change.

Shadow Cabinet

From now on, when Tony Blair vacations in France, he should feel more at home. La Grande Nation now has a Shadow Cabinet, just like the nation of shopkeepers. The men and women named by PS Assembly group leader Jean-Marc Ayrault are for the most part not well-known to the public. Some of them have expertise in particular policy areas, which should help to organize the opposition so as to be more "responsive" to the very active and energetic as well as fast-moving Sarkozy government. This is to the good, as so far the PS has been mainly responsive to itself, to the dismay of its voters. Nevertheless, the move has not gone uncriticized. Henri Emmanuelli, for one, thinks the party and not Ayrault should have chosen the shadow ministers. An anonymous PS deputy sees the long arm of Royal at work. The Shadow Cabinet is dominated by Royalistes, says this critic, and the nomination of Arnaud Montebourg as the SC's no. 2, a sort of non-minister without portfolio, would seem to confirm this suspicion.

Emmanuelli, Mitterrandiste de toujours, leading nay-sayer on the European constitutional referendum, and éminence grisonnante of the PS, was nevertheless formerly an associate of Montebourg's Nouveau Parti Socialiste. So we have eddies within the courants, perhaps. Ayrault appears to have responded to the criticisms and done a little rebalancing. At the very least he's given the first sign of some organization within the PS. This is much needed, as Sarkozy, seemingly in ceaseless motion, has thus far faced only scattered resistance from civil-society guerrillas. Of course Sarkozy's idea of governing depends greatly on the appearance of perpetual motion. His is a war of maneuver, not a war of position. His tactical retreats don't matter, so long as the army doesn't get bogged down.The danger of this kind of warfare is that at the end of the day one winds up having moved a great deal but advanced very little. But it is far too early to make that judgment about Sarkozy.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Peace Is at Hand

I borrow my title from the famous words of Henry Kissinger at the Paris Peace Conference. I don't know why these words sprang to mind when I learned that I was wrong yesterday to say that Bruno Julliard, the head of the student union UNEF, would be hard to please. In fact, he's pleased as punch. Perhaps it occurred to me that this increased the likelihood of peace in the streets of France this fall.

Under the reformed reform proposal submitted today by Valérie Pécresse, all universities will become autonomous within 5 years, and there is to be no selection, at least not immediately, at the bac+4 or master's entry stage. There will continue to be selection 2 years earlier and 1 year later, so why this concession should have mattered so much to UNEF is not entirely transparent. M. Julliard is unhappy about only one thing: that it took the intervention of the president himself to achieve this provisionally happy resolution. He thinks this demonstrates an unhealthy presidentialization of the regime. Back during the anti-CPE demonstrations, I seem to recall, the same M. Julliard was urging the then-president to intervene and deploring his aloofness. But a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

Perhaps I recall Kissinger's words for another reason as well. Peace in fact wasn't at hand when he made that announcement, and somehow I suspect that peace isn't really at hand now. But a first hurdle has been overcome. The UNEF is happy that its cries have been heard; the university presidents are happy that their reservations have been noted. Only the enseignants et chercheurs remain disconsolate for the moment, but they are merely the workers of the education industry. The managers and customers are satisfied, so the workers will have to adjust. Not a word has yet been said about curricular reform, which might be thought to be the heart of the matter. But one step at a time. Score another early victory for Sarkozy and the Sarkozyan method: du pragmatisme, encore du pragmatisme, toujours du pragmatisme. Or faire la part du feu pour sauver le bois. Handy of French to have such an apt apothegm for tactical retreat.

Humanitarian Intervention vs. Angélisme

Christophe Bickerton, in a guest post, observes that some humanitarian groups worry that Kouchner and Sarkozy will "use" humanitarian intervention to serve French political interests rather than the other way round. Such angélisme seems to me misplaced. Very little good would get done in the world if it didn't serve less than spotless interests. Since I invoked Shakespeare in a response to another commenter today, let me call again upon the Bard:

Besides, there is no king, be his cause never so
spotless, if it come to the arbitrement of swords, can try it out
with all unspotted soldiers: some peradventure have on them the
guilt of premeditated and contrived murder; some, of beguiling
virgins with the broken seals of perjury; some, making the wars
their bulwark, that have before gored the gentle bosom of peace
with pillage and robbery.
--Henry V, IV,1
Humanitarians had better worry that their good intentions yield perverse consequences than fret that politicos might make sordid use of their nobler purposes.

Radical Paganism in Brittany (Christophe Bickerton)

Guest post from Christophe Bickerton

For the truly bizarre, little beats a recent spate of attacks on sixteenth century chapels in Brittany (Finistere). For detailed accounts, read here, here and here. Before the four individuals were arrested, there was speculation that the attacks were the work of Satanists. Previous attacks on churches in the Morbihan (Southern Brittany) had been the work of Satanists. In fact, this time around, the four young people arrested had been acting in the name of the TABM: True Armorik Black Metal. They believed Christianity - in an early version of what today we might call 'cultural imperialism' - had unjustly imposed itself upon sites of significance for pagans and druids. Brittany is known for its pagan history, and for the attachment many of its population has with the past. This time round, there is probably an intriguing story to tell about bored Breton teenagers inventively combining the gothic nihilism of Marilyn Manson with the archaic anti-modernism of a region that has never fully accepted its absorption into the French Republic. John Stuart Mill once wrote something about how Bretons and Basques should stop sulking on their rocks and embrace the French nation. Sounds like a few still need convincing.

-- CB

What happened to the humanitarian corridors? (Christophe Bickerton)

A guest post from Christophe Bickerton:

When Bernard Kouchner was first appointed as foreign minister in Nicolas Sarkozy's government, there was speculation about whether he would be able to stand the diplomatic niceties and constraints that come with the post. Kouchner's career has been built upon appearing to go against the grain, telling governments and world leaders what they don't want to hear. That Kouchner has swum against the tide is dubious. His career has in fact matched the 'rise and rise of human rights', and its place in the diplomatic mainstream is now firmly assured. The difficulty is that acting in the name of human rights doesn't fit very well with the narrow raison d'état of national governments and foreign ministries. In the 1990s, humanitarian intervention was all the rage, but many on-the-ground humanitarian agencies have resented the actions of great powers, whose own human rights agendas have been tainted by the grubbiness of political opportunism.

With all of that in mind, it is interesting to follow Kouchner's recent efforts over Darfur. Up until now, nothing much has happened in terms of concerted Western intervention. The standard explanation is that China is torpedoing attempts to bully the Sudanese government, since Sudan is one of its chief oil suppliers. It's more likely that the war in the Iraq, and ongoing failures in Afghanistan, have sapped the will to intervene. Kouchner has brought to all of this his legendary optimism, and France appears to be taking up the mantle of humanitarianism. Kouchner initially proposed that an EU-led force establish a humanitarian corridor, operating from neighbouring Chad. This was deemed too dangerous. It is also possible that other EU member states didn't like the idea of putting the EU badge onto an operation that was obviously French-led, and smelt a bit too much like old-style French interventionism in its African backyard. Now, Kouchner is pushing for a joint UN-African Union force. Reports are that the Sudanese government has accepted this. However, already, a few groups are expressing their concern that Kouchner may hijack Darfur in order to score a French diplomatic victory, at the expense of doing anything useful on the ground. The French government convened in Paris this week a meeting of an 'enlarged' contact group, which brought together Condoleezza Rice, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the Chinese envoy to Sudan, and a host of others. France is clearly positioning itself as new kid on the humanitarian bloc. Watch this space.

-- CB

Rebuilding the Socialist Party 4

Yesterday I complained that the current generation of Socialist leaders is deficient in the art of politics and argued that education and experience had something to do with this. Today Libé reports that one prominent Socialist whose name I omitted, Martine Aubry, has made progress in developing a real rapport with the classes populaires of the city she leads as mayor, Lille. Aubry is an énarque and, as the daughter of Jacques Delors, to the manner born, yet one of her constituents says of her that she's becoming "more and more like Mauroy. You sense a kind of affection, you feel that she's from the region. At first she didn't come on that way, but little by little she's been making progress. Emotionally." Sur l'affectif. This is good to know. This is where the PS needs work. Aubry has been somewhat in eclipse at the national level, perhaps because she's been cultivating her garden in Lille. It may be that renewal will come from the local level, as the national leadership continues its fratricidal death spiral.*

*For an earlier and quite different view of her style as mayor of Lille, however, see this article from Le Figaro.

Correction from a Reader

The French economist Eloi Laurent, in a comment, offers the following corrective to one of yesterday's posts. I find his argument quite persuasive and thought it deserved to be moved out of the comments section and given prominence here as a guest post. This is precisely the kind of dialogue I hope the blog will stimulate.

Art, I strongly disagree with the teaming of DSK with the PS énarques under the motive that he once taught at ENA. These are two complelety different things (He also taught at HEC, and ENA, for most of the courses, employs contractual lecturers, not tenured professors). Mostly, it obscures a crucial difference between DSK and the others, which is that he comes from the academic world (like J. Lang), economics to be precise (he holds a Phd and the "agrégation" and currently teaches undergrads at Sciences-po). The reason why this is so important is because of the notorious lack of any serious economic formation at ENA (Michel Rocard, himself an Inspecteur des Finances, top-notch énarque has made this point forcefuly several times). This plays a major role in the favor given to ideological approaches of economic issues by énarques (all ideologies, including jumping from marxism-leninism into hayekism-friedmanism : as counter-intuitive as it may seem, ENA is an active foyer of neo-liberalism in France). The inability of most énarques to access pragmatic understanding of evidence-based, up-to-date economics (Attali being one of the most seriously handicapped of them all) is in my view the key to understanding why and how the PS has been unable to rebuild itself on sound intellectual bases for the last quarter of century. The deeply confused campaign of Ségolène Royal on economic and social issues (where I think she lost the election), not to mention the joke of the "Projet socialiste", shows that the PS is still far from a reality check. I don't know if DSK can bring about this change (as a matter of fact, I doubt it), but at least he is intellectually equipped and has a (short) more than decent record as a Minister of Economics and Finance under Jospin.

You can read more of Eloi here.

OECD Economic Survey of France

The OECD has just released its 2007 Economic Survey of France. The policy brief version is available here.

New Team at Le Monde

Tony Blair, shortly before leaving office, delivered himself of a blistering diatribe against the media, whose irresponsibility he sees as one of the gravest problems facing democratic societies today. Others would emphasize the ownership of the media above the irresponsibility, frivolity, and triviality of some journalists. That there is a serious problem here is nevertheless universally agreed. Hence it is of some moment when a country's newspaper of record overhauls its management significantly.

Le Monde has just made major changes in its top ranks. Eric Fottorino, currently directeur de la rédaction, will become directeur du journal. Pierre Jeantet will become directeur du groupe, but he is to step aside in three years in favor of the man who will become for now his deputy, Bruno Patino.

Fottorino, 47, was born in Nice and has degrees in law and political science, is a prize-winning novelist, and bicycles. Here is his comment on the conclusion of the recent electoral cycle. Le Monde's journalists' society, which rejected Jean-Marie Colombani in part because he was allegedly too close to "friends of Sarkozy," seems to be reasonably satisfied with his replacement: Fottorino received 62.8 percent of the "shares" voted.

An Active Sage

Laurent Fabius, in an interview with Le Monde, defines for himself a new role within the Socialist Party as "active sage." Party activists are furious with the leadership, he says, for occupying themselves with potshots at one another rather than with the renovation of the party. Hence he will refrain from participating in the daily sniping. Yet he couldn't restrain himself from slipping several daggers into Ségolène Royal, whom he finds guilty of having squandered a five-point lead at the time of her nomination and turning it into a three-point deficit by the date of the election. If only she had been as nimble as he in exposing the treacherous social TVA in his televised exchange with Fillon, she would have done so much better, he implies.

He goes on, sagely but actively, not to say aggressively, to accuse the candidate of combining three debilitating defects: she was neither presidential nor credible nor collegial. His response to a question about the controversial platform plank to increase the SMIC to 1500 euros raises doubts about his own credibility, however, since what he now defends in retrospect is the idea of a coup de pouce to the SMIC (for further explanation, see here), not an increase to any specific number. Evidently, the figure "1500" is now to be interpreted as merely symbolic. Still, he claims, Royal has now called into question her "sincerity" by retrospectively exposing this subterfuge. To an objective observer, however, it might seem that the sincerity of the party colleagues with whom she was allegedly so "uncollegial" is equally in question for having remained silent about the unreality of the figure throughout the campaign. (The figure was certainly unreal, because it would have granted a 50-percent wage increase to 17 percent of private sector workers overnight.)

In the course of his sagacious musings, the active sage also takes credit for the transformation of the European Constitution into a so-called simplified mini-treaty, which in reality he rightly finds quite complicated yet nevertheless an improvement over the rejected Constitution, to the defeat of which he contributed with his advocacy of a "no" vote against the wishes of a majority of his own party. Yet he is equivocal about whether he will actually support the "improved" product.

In all, a characteristically perfidious performance by Fabius, once a favorite of Mitterrand's and now apparently the heir to le Florentin's collection of daggers and stilettos. If this is what it means to be a "sage" in politics, it is no wonder that voters prefer the bare-knuckled, plain-spoken manner of the man they elected, who, unlike Laurent Fabius, admitted to dreaming of the presidency even when he wasn't shaving.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Supiot on Reforming the University

For an excellent overview of the condition of the French universities (82 in number and not 34 as I said in an earlier post), see this article by Alain Supiot.

Rebuilding the Socialist Party 3

The Socialist Party is better at governing than at winning elections. So says Daniel Cohen. Why? Consider an element common to the background of nearly all the party leadership, the Ecole Nationale d'Administration:

Laurent Fabius, ENA 1973
François Hollande, ENA promotion Voltaire
Lionel Jospin, ENA 1961
Michel Rocard, ENA promotion "18 juin"
Ségolène Royal, ENA promotion Voltaire
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, professor at ENA

Among the main "ténors," only Jack Lang, the thespian, stands out.

De Gaulle famously said that "if you want to build the French autoroutes, you have to give them poetry." The technical details of governance bore them. Enarques are long on technical details, short on poetry. For this generation of énarques, who came into the political mainstream under Mitterrand, le Florentin supplied the poetry. But they were not content to remain, as an earlier generation of technocrats had done, in the wings of power. In the rebuilding of postwar France, during the first twenty or so of les trente glorieuses, the ideal of public service had been austere and antipolitical. The war had discredited the parties, the Fourth Republic finished the job, and de Gaulle's otherworldly prestige provided democratic cover for a technocratic regime, in which devoted civil servants decided what was best.

By the time the current generation of socialist leaders was coming of age in the mid-60s to mid-70s, however, this austere ideal had run its course. The ENA might be the route to the kind of influence once exercised by grands commis de l'Etat such as Pisani, Nora, and Bloch-Lainé, but that kind of influence had lost some of its appeal for a generation caught up in the turbulence of the anticolonial struggle, the thirst for participation, the politics of the street, and change from the bottom up. Mitterrand's ascendancy offered a bridge from the cabinet ministériel to the circonscription (a route quite different from the pantouflage, or move from government into private industry, followed by so many other énarques). Who can forget the television footage of the young Ségolène Royal asking Mitterrand, during an inaugural reception at the Elysée and right in the middle of a receiving line, for a circonscription of her own? Though nonplussed by the impudence of such a request in such a setting, Mitterrand nevertheless granted his young collaborator's wish, launching her on the career that brought her where she is today.

On the whole, the énarques of the 60s and 70s have not proved to be gifted politicians. Royal, up to a point, is the exception that proves the rule. Mitterrand recognized this deficiency in many of his brainy collaborators and tried to expose them to the promiscuous acquaintance that builds political savvy. Like Sarkozy, he had a taste for a range of humanity extending well beyond la gauche caviare: think of Bernard Tapie (under Sarko we have the equivalent with the deferred nomination of another costaud, the sélectionneur of the XV de France, to a position in the sports ministry) or the ineffable Michel Charasse, tonton's bosom pal, who, incidentally, gave his endorsement to Sarkozy (O! the ingratitude!). But the lesson of the master went unlearned. And the socialist énarques seem to hope that the party can be repaired without politics, as if a clever technical fix, a rejiggering of internal procedures, a new proportional formula for apportioning power among the various courants, a tinkering with the calendar of meetings and congresses and summer universities, can do the trick.

Jacques Attali remarked the other day that ENA graduates are no longer drawn to government. There are greater opportunities in business, he averred in an attempt to explain why there are so few énarques in power under Sarkozy. This is an important observation, and Attali's argument deserves close scrutiny. One can see it as a version of a pattern Albert Hirschman described in Shifting Involvements. But it suggests that the Socialists' plight is even deeper than it might appear. Not only does the training of the current leadership deprive it of the political skills to fight its way out of the impasse in which it is currently trapped. Its formation also leaves it unprepared to comprehend the shift from an administered to an entrepreneurial economy. The forces vives today are not what they were in the 50s, when Nora and Bloch-Lainé governed as technocrats in sublime indifference to the parties; nor are they what they were in the 80s, when Rocard and Jospin governed as technocrats in symbiosis with their party. Sarkozy's intimates are buccaneer capitalists and ambitious lawyers, not énarques (for further comment on this, see here). The Socialist leadership is confused by the ascendancy of a group it disdained as intellectually inferior and dominated from within the apparatus of government. Now outside the apparatus and out of phase even with the younger generation of ENA graduates, it finds itself disarmed.

The Governator Approves le Présideur

Arnold Schwarzenegger is in Paris and says he really admires Sarkozy, especially for his "inclusiveness" and infusion of "new blood" into French political life.

Budgetary Oversight

Both Sarkozy and Royal promised to introduce a measure of parliamentary oversight into the budgetary process by making a member of the opposition chair of the Assembly's Finance Committee. The PS has now designated Didier Migaud, a Fabiusien who nevertheless served as Royal's advisor on the budget during the campaign, to assume this post. Is this a real reform? The editors of Libé and Le Figaro agree that it is.

Reforming the University

Sarkozy and Pécresse--I feel for them, I really do. Having witnessed attempts to reform one university at a time, I would not wish the ordeal of reforming 34 at once on anyone. Yet reform is necessary. Everyone knows that. Everyone has known it for 50 years. Et pourtant ...

Initial signs are that things are not going well. The minister herself is only "reasonably optimistic" about the chance of success. The president has already been obliged to step in and lend her a hand, postponing discussion of the bill by the Council of Ministers for at least a week. Bruno Julliard, the head of the national student union UNEF, who earned his arms as a leader of the anti-CPE demonstrations, is back in front of the cameras and micros and in the press, proclaiming the reform "totally unacceptable" and raising the prospect of a rentrée chaude or even--a thing most unusual for France--a "long hot summer" of demonstrations by students so incensed at the idea of selection to master's programs that they will consider interrupting their vacations to take to the streets. (As I write these words, blocks away from Harvard University, which this year rejected 93 percent of its applicants for undergraduate education, I am only too aware of the abyss that separates the American from its sister republic across the sea.) And yet--remarkable thing--Julliard is in favor of giving more power to university presidents as opposed to faculties, in order to "battle against corporatism and the mandarinate." His other bêtes noires include "the competitive Anglo-Saxon model, profoundly inegalitarian and elitist." Yet he also opposes the opt-out provision, which would allow individual universities to decline the opportunity to manage their budgets autonomously, on the grounds that this would lead to the channeling of the bulk of funds to a "handful of elite universities."

If M. Julliard is going to be hard to satisfy, the university presidents of the CPU (Conference of University Presidents) are also reticent. Indeed, it was their vote against the proposed bill--19 opposed, 12 for, 3 abstentions--that obliged Sarkozy to step in. As with university presidents everywhere, their chief concern is money: which will get it, which won't. Unlike M. Julliard, they are under no illusion that there is anything profoundly egalitarian and anti-elitist about the current system. What guarantees they want from the state is less clear, but one can easily imagine that the smaller and weaker institutions fear starvation of funds and ultimate extinction, while the stronger ones want assurances that with autonomy will come the necessary funds to compete, not just domestically but internationally, for the best faculty, up-to-date laboratories, libraries, and all the rest. Sarkozy, in his televised interview on TF1, waxed lyrical about the French universities of the future, able to rival the best in the world, with verdant campuses and well-stocked libraries and abundant staff and modern facilities, but he seemed to suggest that all that would be required to achieve this goal was the requisite will and not an endowment on the order of $28 billion per institution (to take Harvard's endowment as a touchstone).

Also untouched by the current reform is the separate but related issue of reform of research. A complete revamping of the CNRS is under discussion. Instead of a collection of labos, as at present, the CNRS would become a mere funding agency, akin to the National Science Foundation in the US. Personnel would be transferred to the faculties and perhaps--mirabile dictu!--even required to teach. This would affect the universities more profoundly than the structural reforms now under discussion, but the government's approach is to fix the administrative contours first before tackling the thorny personnel issues. Another unresolved question is the perennial one of the relation of the Grandes Ecoles to the universities. The elitism that M. Julliard deplores is so profoundly a part of the existing two-track system that he doesn't even mention it. But even Sarkozy recognizes that Rome wasn't built in a day, and nothing can be built or unbuilt in France against the opposition of an aroused phalanx of anciens élèves of Polytechnique and Normale Sup--an even more frightening prospect than a Boul' Mich' packed with followers of M. Julliard.

For a succinct summary of the primary points of the reform, see here.

Labor's Representatives

Labor unions have an important and legally-recognized place in the French institutional structure. As one of the "social partners," for example, they help to administer the various retirement regimes. Some of the reforms that loom large on Sarkozy's agenda will further enhance the unions' institutional role. For instance, the minimum service reform will, if adopted, require prior notice of a strike and formal negotiations aimed at avoiding a walkout. Hence the questions of exactly whom the unions represent and what their various interests may be takes on new importance.

Guy Groux addresses this question in a very interesting article here. As is well known, only 8 percent of French workers are members of unions, a very low figure compared to other European countries--and this despite the unions' powerful institutional role. Are the remaining 92 percent simply free riders, availing themselves of the benefits without paying the dues, or do their interests diverge from those of their supposed representatives? Groux notes that public-sector workers are overrepresented in unions compared with private-sector workers. More serious still, categories of workers most exposed to the vagaries of the market, such as women, younger workers, and foreign-born workers, are underrepresented.

More controversially, Groux contends that union militants often see themselves as the avant-garde of the working class and press for what they believe other workers ought to want rather than what they do want. Hence a certain tendency to radicalize conflicts rather than seek agreement. He cites European Social Survey data suggesting that union militants are more anti-market and anti-capitalist than other workers, and that this gap is wider in France than in other countries.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Reconciling with Globalization

Dani Rodrik cites a new paper claiming that "big government (measured by share of government spending in GDP)" makes risk-averse individuals more comfortable with free trade and globalization. This finding is based on survey data, but the underlying hypothesis is that government spending provides insurance against the risks of openness and thus helps to reconcile nervous people to the free market. "Our results provide microeconomic evidence consistent with the long-standing argument that the state and the market are in fact complementary," the authors assert.

This finding is hard to square with the fact that, according to the European Commission (see here), France has the highest level of government spending in the EU (53.2 percent of GDP). Yet any number of indicators, beginning with the "no" vote on the European referendum, suggest that French anxiety about economic openness is high.

Minimum Wage

Here's an astonishing statistic: 17% of French private sector workers earn the minimum wage, which the government has just announced will be raised from 985 euros per month to 1,000 euros, a 2.1 percent increase, just keeping pace with inflation (despite earlier hints that SMIC earners would receive a coup de pouce, or fillip to their purchasing power). Source: Le Monde.

Contrast this with the US, where only 2.5 percent of hourly workers receive the minimum wage or less (permissible because of legal exemptions). Source: BLS.

In France there are 2.5 million smicards. In the US, with 5 times the population, there are only 1.9 million workers in the bottom wage category. To be sure, the American minimum wage is lower than the European average, comparable with that of Greece (see here), despite the considerably higher US cost of living.

These figures suggest that Ségolène Royal was quite right to criticize the Socialist platform plank calling for an increase of the SMIC to 1,500 euros. It would quite simply be impossible to grant a 50 percent wage increase overnight to 17% of private sector workers. But the fact that so many work for the minimum wage is frankly scandalous, and it does lend weight to cjb's contention that a high wage bill is not the root cause of France's economic difficulties.

About Readers

I thought you might be interested to see some statistics on visits to this blog. Over the past two weeks, there have been 1,821 unique visitors from 48 countries (stats courtesy Google Analytics). More than 60 percent return for more than one visit. The average US visitor spends nearly 2 1/2 minutes reading per visit; the average French reader nearly 5 minutes. Is that because the French read English more slowly, or because they're more interested in French politics?! I leave it to political science to supply a model.

Country Visitors Percent of total Avg. Time on Site
United States 1059 58.15485997 144
France 362 19.87918726 296
Canada 121 6.644700714 148
United Kingdom 106 5.820977485 98
Australia 26 1.42778693 172
Netherlands 23 1.263042284 8
Greece 16 0.878638111 262
Belgium 11 0.604063701 1
Italy 10 0.549148819 257
Germany 8 0.439319055 29
Ireland 8 0.439319055 69
Spain 6 0.329489292 34
Portugal 6 0.329489292 18
India 5 0.27457441 0
Mali 5 0.27457441 105
Japan 4 0.219659528 4
Denmark 3 0.164744646 0
Austria 3 0.164744646 17
Singapore 3 0.164744646 47
Turkey 2 0.109829764 0
Czech Republic 2 0.109829764 0
Taiwan 2 0.109829764 149
New Zealand 2 0.109829764 66
China 2 0.109829764 27
Russia 2 0.109829764 0
Norway 2 0.109829764 144
Ukraine 1 0.054914882 907
Sri Lanka 1 0.054914882 0
Georgia 1 0.054914882 0
Luxembourg 1 0.054914882 17
Mexico 1 0.054914882 0
Cyprus 1 0.054914882 169
Pakistan 1 0.054914882 0
Finland 1 0.054914882 0
Reunion 1 0.054914882 0
Thailand 1 0.054914882 0
Switzerland 1 0.054914882 0
(not set) 1 0.054914882 55
Israel 1 0.054914882 85
Bosnia and Herzegovina 1 0.054914882 0
South Korea 1 0.054914882 0
Sweden 1 0.054914882 68
Nigeria 1 0.054914882 0
Brazil 1 0.054914882 0
Indonesia 1 0.054914882 0
Uruguay 1 0.054914882 0
Netherlands Antilles 1 0.054914882 0
Barbados 1 0.054914882 0