Monday, October 1, 2007

New French Book Review

Readers will be interested in a new on-line book review that appears for the first time tonight. aspires to become France's equivalent of the New York Review of Books. I play a small part in this vast undertaking as Boston correspondent and member of the "US & Canada Cluster." As the title suggests, the review is entirely devoted to nonfiction works. Check it out.


The fickle French: the bad news hasn't even started yet, and already Sarko is down in the beauty contest polls from 72 to 55 percent approval, while Fillon has slipped below the midfield marker to 47.

Maybe the Socialists ought to withdraw their petition to the CSA asking that Sarko's airtime be curtailed. He doesn't seem to be doing himself any good by talking so much.

Not So Perfidious Albion

Charles Bremner, France correspondent for the Times of London, details British influences on the style of Sarkozy and his collaborators.

University Reform

A new study by Philippe Aghion Mathias Dewatripont Caroline Hoxby Andreu Mas-Colell André Sapir finds that European universities lag American universities in performance at the top level but that variance in performance is higher in the US and that many European universities are concentrated in the middle tier. They have specific policy recommendations to improve European performance:

  • Money helps performance. Specifically, there is a strong positive correlation between the university budget per student and its Shanghai research performance.
  • Autonomy is good for research performance. Among our different indicators of autonomy, the variable that ‘wins’ in our regressions is budget autonomy, that is, whether or not the university requires Government approval.
  • Autonomy and funding are complementary inputs to performance; budget autonomy doubles the effect of additional research funding on the Shanghai research performance.

Note that budgetary autonomy is the centerpiece of Sarkozy's university reform program. Whether additional funding will be forthcoming remains to be seen. It is nevertheless highly doubtful that the increase in funding will come anywhere near to compensating the current funding gap between the US and Europe (3.3% of GDP for universities in US compared to 1.3% percent in Europe).

On a related note, the Ecole des Mines has prepared a riposte to the famous Shanghai rankings of world universities. French institutions do much better in the EdM rating than in the Shanghai.

Civil Service

As François Fillon launches an effort to reform la fonction publique, a new SOFRES poll suggests that while 66% of the French believe that such reform is "urgent," 77% believe that France's state servants do a "good" job, 90% believe that their work is "useful, and 64% believe that they "respond" to the demands of users. Nevertheless, 61% say that their cost is "high."

The vast majority of civil servants also support a reform of their own status.

I'm fairly confident that the American civil service would not receive such high grades, despite the "heck of a good job" that "Brownie" (pictured above left receiving the Medal of Freedom from George Bush) did down in New Orleans.

Heures Sup-Jour J

Today is the day that overtime--heures supplémentaires--ceases to be taxed in France. It remains to be seen whether or not this costly experiment will succeed. Will firms offer more overtime hours to workers? Will workers agree to take them? Everyone will be watching.

That said, I find that Lionel Jospin's scattershot critique hits many targets he shouldn't be aiming at. Social VAT, increased social contributions, medical copays, higher wages--Jospin might well have things to say on all these matters, but he just confuses the issue of overtime taxation by failing to explain how one thing relates to another. In part this is a problem of format: in a brief radio interview, he lacks the time that the president has in more extended appearances to explain his thinking. But Jospin and other Socialists do not lack for other forums where they might explain themselves more fully. Yet they don't. What the Socialists need is a coherent alternative economic plan. Instead of repeating ad nauseam that they are now "reconciled to the market economy," they ought to prove it. (In fairness, François Hollande sticks more to the point.)