Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Socialists Split Again

The Bureau National of the Socialist Party has voted to approve the Lisbon treaty. Benoît Hamon promptly resigned from the Bureau. Henry Emanuelli stated his intention to vote against his own party. Jean-Pierre Chevènement has deplored Ségolène Royal's inconsistency on the question of a referendum. Six months since the election, and c'est toujours le bordel chez les Socialistes. Increasingly, the Socialists remind me of the Federalists after the election of Thomas Jefferson. They remember that they used to be a political party, but they seem unable to recognize that the environment has changed and they are doomed unless they adapt.

Social VAT

A complex argument in favor of replacing the existing payroll taxes by a social value-added tax.

Student Unrest

Numerous publications are reporting this morning Valérie Pécresse's assurance that she is a keeping a close eye on student unrest at various universities. "It's paradoxical," she says, "that just as the state is once again involved [in the universities], just as it decides to lend a hand to make the universities more powerful, to assist them in better preparing students for the job market ... there is discontent, which seems to me unjustified."

This same statement is reported here, here, here, and here. Yet none of these distinguished publications sees fit to tell us much about what the students are protesting, other than general discontent with "reform" and Sarkozy. Does anyone have any more useful information?

Government Wants Strike?

François Chérèque, the head of the CFDT, suggests that the government wants workers to strike before making concessions on the special regimes reform. It's not a bad supposition. I had been assuming that the government would want to head off a strike, if possible, by negotiating in earnest up to the deadline. But the CFDT head claims to have made proposals 3 weeks ago, to which he has received no response.

Why would the government choose a collision course with the unions? Well, one possibility is that it has concluded, probably correctly, that the more militant unions will strike no matter what offer is put on the table. They need to show muscle. So any concessions made in advance would be wasted ammunition. Why not hold in reserve what you're willing to give up and allow the strikers to claim they've wrung bonuses from you at the point of a bayonet?

Sarko instinctively understands the language of macho. Watch the images of him with the fishermen today or with the railway mechanics last week. "If you've got something to say to me, come over here and say it," he says to one of the fishermen who heckles him, using tu as aggressively as any flic. So he also knows that the union leaders who have promised their rank-and-file a last-ditch stand aren't going to be satisfied with concessions made at the negotiating table. They need to go toe-to-toe with him. But in the end, he can afford to give a little. It will be the statesmanlike thing to do. Because he is playing several different chess games at once; the union game is simpler, and it isn't chess.

Sarko aime les fruits de mer

As I wake this morning, a bulletin informs me that Sarkozy, in Guivinec, Brittany, has just told fishermen that he is granting them dispensation not to pay employer or employee cotisations for the next six months. The fishermen are suffering from the spike in fuel prices, and the president is going to save them. As simple as that. Who says government is not responsive to the needs of the people? How refreshing to find a country in which the plaint of the populace does not go unheard, in which the granting of largesse is not encumbered by the clumsy mechanisms of parliamentary deliberation, in which favors can be dispensed (and presumably withdrawn) at the pleasure of the executive. The special retirement regimes are being reformed in the name of equality, but the fishermen are exempt in recognition of the special hardships and dangers of their work. And now they are exempt from contributing to the retirements of their comrades as well.

Who will be next to offer the president an opportunity to demonstrate his compassion and generosity? The fishermen have set their own boats afire (scrapped boats, to be sure, but, ah, the symbolism! the lovely glow of the televised flames!). Will truckers, also affected by high fuel prices, block the autoroutes with their rigs? Will motorists march on the Élysée while banging on empty gas cans in a charivari of protest against big oil? Will homeowners demand relief from the high cost of heating?

Is this any way to govern? From the Chadian desert to the gulls of Guivinec, wherever there is a fire, Sarko le pompier is there to put it out. But where is the coherence? You can't back a carbon tax in principle, as Sarkozy has done, while offering immediate tax relief to businesses most sensitive to rising fuel costs. If the idea is to encourage efficiency, then the consequences of regulation by rising prices (which can be driven up just as effectively by the market as by a tax imposed in the name of ecological virtue) have to be suffered. Energy policy should not be made on the fly by an impetuous president eager to please a crowd of angry fishermen.

Details here.

Arthur G. et Bernard G. sont sur la même longueur d'onde ce matin.