Wednesday, June 27, 2007

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.


Anonymous said...

It may be right to want to differentiate DSK from other PS enarques on the basis of his academic background and training. But I am sceptical of the idea that expertise is what the PS lacks. That seems to imply that experts should be running the country. Even with the best evidence-based policies, choices have to be made. And on what basis can we make those choices other than on one which somehow ties together a set of values into a coherent world view? Call it ideology if you like; I would just call it politics. Most of the choices made are not Pareto-optimizing (where everyone ends up better off). They need be justified in terms that go beyond individual self-interests, and make reference to some kind of wider, collective, social project. It is precisely the *absence* of this, not an excess, which the PS suffers from.

Unknown said...

Dear cjb,
I agree with your general point, that expertise is not what the PS lacks. Nevertheless, expertise can be a useful corrective and guide to what you call "politics." For instance, an expert might point out the infeasibility of a SMIC increase to 1500, or, even more helpfully, not that the ratio of SMIC to median income is higher for France than for any other EU country. Just for starters.

Anonymous said...

Dear cjb, thanks for your comment. Believe me, I could not be more opposed to the idea that "experts should be running the country"...

That said, I don't think I am calling ideology what you are calling politics. What I mean by an ideological approach of economics is the turn of mind that reduces all economic issues to moral ones. Politics is what happens when people of different ideological backgrounds meet and make some choices, ideally democratically, even more ideally for the common good. If, from the very start of this process, you have people around the table trying to convince everybody that economics is just moral with numbers, moving what they ignore into the territory of what they know, then your "choices" will be systematic. I think, like Eric Besson wrote when he resigned as the head of the PS expertise (, that the Royal campaign seriously under-used academic expertise (of all disciplines) and wrongfully over-used mediatic "expertise" (for instance Alain Mergier and "Wei", see the Bacqué/Chemin book "La femme fatale").

Pollsters are truly the experts that run the country...

Anonymous said...

That ENA does not have economic classes in its cursus is to me a revelation. French, leaving in England and having pursued post grad studies with a strong focus on economics, I can see that this country leaves and breathes the economic principles, unlike France. As an example, I never heard conversation amongst friends and rarely on the major media on the base rate of the Banque de France or ECB (I left quite awhile ago :) ) when I lived in my home country. Here, the changes are making headline titles.

This lack of ecomic training in the so called "elite" demonstrates, I think, an issue that extends further than the PS but to a certain extent the entire political class, right and left and of course, the journalists who have very little awareness of basic concepts and can not in turn challenge "les hommes et femmes politiques". This was blatantly visible in Sarkozy latest TV interview where style took over substance. I would only mention lightly the taxation of imports he suggested (is France going towards more protection? and will French consumers happily pay more for their T-shirt?), the fact that "delocalisations" are still used as an argument by NS (and by the entire political spectrum) when it is economically proven that they have very little impact and are, for the few example, necessary (with France running in the top quartet for FDI which is a more interesting subject than a few low value manufacture going East) and the detaxation of "interet d'emprunt" where it has been economically proven that higher home ownership leads to less incentive to move geographically and therefore more unemployement.


Anonymous said...

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