Friday, September 21, 2007

Villepin Interprets the Constitution

Dominique de Villepin has offered unsolicited support to François Fillon: the prime minister was right to have "marked his territory," says the former PM (the image might be thought rather demeaning for the present PM, whom one pictures with one leg lifted against the fence of Matignon). He should be the decision-maker, not the secretary-general of the Elysée, Claude Guéant, whom Le Point characterizes on its cover this week as "the most powerful man in France." Guéant is a "mere emanation of the president of the Republic ... his advisor, his collaborator," says Villepin, using the word that Sarkozy used to describe--and in the eyes of some, diminish--the prime minister. One can almost hear him calling Guéant la créature du président, so determined is he to imply that Sarkozy is reigning as a monarch rather than governing as a president.

What one doesn't hear Villepin saying, however, is that Fillon owes his legitimacy to universal suffrage. Might that be because Villepin was an unelected prime minister? Une pure créature of the president he served? As illegitimate in his way as he implies Guéant is in his.

Villepin's waspish and perfidious commentaries on the present government are of course part of his determination to appear uncowed and defiant in the wake of his mise en examen in the Clearstream affair. He was no doubt stung himself by Sarkozy's pugnacity on the subject in last night's interview. I find his behavior as undignified as it is unwise, even if Sarkozy did perhaps exaggerate the indignity to which he was subjected. As for Villepin, il a manqué une bonne occasion de se taire.

Jean Tirole

Two nice portraits of the outstanding French economist Jean Tirole in Le Monde and Le Figaro. His "Financial Crises, Liquidity, and the International Monetary System," published in 2002, could hardly be more topical. He was just awarded the CNRS Gold Medal and is only the second economist to receive that award (after Maurice Allais).

Tirole teaches at my alma mater, MIT. In fact, a remarkably high proportion of the best French economists are right here in Cambridge, Mass.

A propos, there's an interesting comparison at Bruegel (thanks to Éloi Laurent for the pointer). If you look into this document, you'll find on p. 3 a comparison of the educational performance of various countries and states in the U.S. using an index calculated by the authors from the Shanghai university rankings. In this comparison, Germany, with a population of 83 million, scores 0 (looking at the "Top 50" column in the table); France, with a population of 60 million, scores 3 ; the UK, with a population of 60 million, scores 72; and the state of Massachusetts, with a population of 6 million, scores 449 (the US as a whole, with population 294 million, is taken as the basis of comparison, with index 100).

Yes, I know, a slightly absurd ranking, and if you broke it down by zip code, I have to wonder how 02139 (MIT) would do against 02138 (Harvard). But the Cambridge chauvinist in me can't resist the opportunity to relay these findings.