Friday, September 28, 2007

DSK Has Landed

I suppose I should mark the occasion of DSK's formal appointment to head the IMF, since I made such a fuss about it when the idea was first proposed. At the time it seemed to me a good move for DSK, who would escape the bare-knuckled brawl that the PS calls "renovation" while gaining sufficient stature abroad to return as the party's standard-bearer in 2012. I no longer believe this will happen. For one thing, DSK pledged to serve out a five-year term at IMF. I am not so naive as to believe that such pledges are engraved in stone, and in fact I suspect for a variety of reasons that DSK and IMF will tire of each other well before the time is up and come to an amicable parting of the ways. Today, though, it just seems implausible to me that DSK's road to the Elysée will pass by K Street. If the party is to revive, it's going to need a young warrior, not a tired economist/bureaucrat who has always allowed his eye to rove from the prize more than a présidentiable can afford to do.

He will in any case be busy in Washington, coping with the spreading, metamorphosing, metastasizing subprime fallout and the not unrelated announcement by China yesterday that it will be investing some $200 billion of its dollar reserves outside the United States. There's useful work to be done here, and it is to be hoped that DSK has his head in the game.

Védrine on Iran

Former foreign minister Hubert Védrine makes a number of good points about the Iranian situation in an article at the Telos site. His most interesting observation concerns the present course of American policy toward Iran, which he judges not to be optimal. But President Bush has so thoroughly earned his reputation for obstinacy, Védrine believes, that other international players are reluctant to propose strategies that would require an American initiative that they cannot imagine Bush taking. "Rather than resign themselves to fate," he concludes, "France and the Europeans should try to persuade the United States to adopt a bold strategy of movement."

I agree and am consequently disappointed that, thus far at least, Sarkozy seems precisely to have resigned himself to fate.

Correction on Carbon Tax

In the previous post, I said that the issue of carbon tax had been sidestepped in this round of negotiations. I was wrong:

Mettre en place une Contribution Climat-Energie. Une large majorité du groupe est favorable à la mise en place d’une taxe intérieure sur les émissions de carbone, pour les secteurs qui ne sont pas couverts par le marché de quotas européen de CO2. Parmi les participants favorables à une contribution, il n’y a pas de consensus sur l’élargissement de cette taxe à une assiette incluant, outre le carbone, la consommation d’énergie. Un tel élargissement est demandé par les associations environnementales. D’autres participants, notamment la CGT, souhaitent une assiette carbone."

From report of Group 6. Thanks to Éloi Laurent for the pertinent pointer.

Alliances Contre Nature

A commenter takes me to task for being too exigent on the "environmental Grenelle." My critic writes:

Read again !

There are a lot of very tough propositions in this report . Just one example : bring back the level of emission of greenhouse gases in 2020 at their...1990 level.

Suddenly, you're greener than Greenpeace who do not have chained themselves to the gates of the commission. Yet.

I have read again, and I come away unpersuaded. General goals about greenhouse gas reduction are of course laudable, but what do we find when we look for measures with teeth to ensure that the goals are met? Very little. Indeed, we find potent and in some respects surprising alliances contre nature to thwart these goals. For instance, the CGT and MEDEF joined forces in Section 1 on energy to oppose setting a goal of 25 percent renewable energy sources by 2020. The CGT fears loss of jobs; the MEDEF fears increased costs, loss of competitivity, etc. The same article informs us that the farmers' organization FNSEA opposed the MEDEF, NGOs, and government on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

These issues, where major economic interests are at stake, are far more significant, to my mind, than "costless" measures such as the decision to serve more "healthy food" in school cafeterias. Progress, to be sure, but only at the margin. Other major issues, such as nuclear power and incinerators, seem not to have progressed at all. What I'm looking for, incidentally, is not a Greenpeace agenda, but evidence of a new framework for resolving the clash of competing goods that these discussions must involve: the moralistic approach to ecology, without consideration for the economic costs, holds little promise. If there is to be progress, it must come by demonstrating that there are economic opportunities as well as costs in green production. That said, costs must be tackled head on, and externalities must be internalized, perhaps by the imposition of a carbon tax, a crucial issue which this round of negotiations seems to have sidestepped.

Testimony on Immigration

Jean Quatremer has posted an interesting letter from a couple of scientific researchers, a French man married to a Ukrainian woman, detailing the difficulties they encountered with the French administration, difficulties so persistent and debilitating that ultimately they chose to move to the United States, which they say welcomed them far more readily. This is particularly interesting because this couple clearly represents l'immigration choisie that Sarkozy wants to substitute for the current system. In this case the immigrant met all the criteria considered desirable: highly educated, possessed an economically useful skill, knowledge of language, married to a Frenchman.

To be sure, the anecdotal evidence given here is hardly comprehensive and perhaps quite atypical. Nevertheless, it does suggest that a mere change in the law or administrative regulations will not be enough to resolve problems faced by immigrants at deeper levels of the bureaucracy.

I do want to take issue with one line inserted by the commentator, Jean Quatremer, Libé's EU correspondent:

je ne parle même pas des tests ADN qui montrent à quel point la société hexagonale est travaillée par l'idéologie d'extrême droite

This seems to me excessive and ill-judged. As I've said before, the proposed DNA tests were to be voluntary and administered at the request of a family member attempting to prove kinship for the purpose of obtaining a family visa to enter France. One might choose to oppose such tests in any case on a variety of grounds, but it seems absurd to me to make the equation "DNA testing = extreme-right ideology." In what sense? Does Quatremer imply that the measure is racist? Presumably the racial affinity of the applicant is already apparent to the examiner; the relationship established by the DNA test is of a far more intimate kind. It proves that within races there are highly distinct individuals and among individuals a range of genetic variation. If anything, this is the opposite of the ideology of the extreme right. Quatremer seems to be saying that any attempt to link biology to citizenship is a step toward fascism. This is an ill-considered view, a knee-jerk reaction.

LATE ADDENDUM: On opposition by Catholics in the UMP and Charles Pasqua, see here.