Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Snowball Effect

David Bell's comment on this blog has been picked up by others. Clive Davis at The Spectator remarks:

Goldhammer's style can be a bit dry, but let's face it, there's more than enough blood and guts and manic speculation flying around elsewhere on the Web.

A bit dry? Isn't that a compliment in British English? Well, indeed, let's face it, a little sobriety is in order when you're writing about a country run by a guy who's sleeping with an ex of Mick Jagger's. Anybody can play to the gallery with that kind of material. It takes a real wonk to keep his eye on the policy ball.

And then the Washington Monthly's excellent Kevin Drum was also kind enough to relay the Bell plug. As a regular reader of Drum's "Political Animal," I am particularly pleased to have been noticed there.

That Awful Mess at the Palais Bourbon

Le Monde has a headline this morning that reminds me of the title of a novel by Carlo Emilio Gadda, That Awful Mess on Via Merulana. "Payment of comp time turns into an awful mess," says the newspaper. Here's the story. It has been convenient for the right to pretend that nearly everything that is wrong with the French economy stems from the Socialists' decision years ago to cut the work week from 39 hours to 35 (with no corresponding cut in pay). But no right-wing government has been willing to take the risk of restoring the 39-hour week, since voters are believed to be inordinately fond of the shorter regimen (as Giscard drily observed in a speech at Harvard, "If I told you that you could take four hours a week off and be paid as if you were working, wouldn't you be pleased too?"). Instead, they've been nibbling away at the edges with a variety of schemes. Since Sarkozy's election, two tacks have been taken. The first, detaxing of overtime, passed in August. The second, allowing employers to buy back comp time (RTT--réduction du temps de travail awarded to employees who for one reason or another are required to work more than the legal work week), went into effect more recently.

The problem is that the two schemes are essentially both incentives to employers to offer work time beyond 35 hours per week, but the incentives are different in the two cases, and the RTT buyback is much more favorable to employers than the overtime tax exemption--anywhere from 16 to 50 percent cheaper per hour. I'll spare you the details of this calculation, which would require a spreadsheet and a tax attorney in any case. Suffice it to say that the result is perplexity, complexity, and a dawning sense that maybe these reforms haven't been thought through all that clearly in the haste to do something, anything, to prove that this government, unlike previous governments of the right, isn't simply fiddling while the MEDEF does a slow burn.

"The Sarkozyan method has reached its limit," Le Monde editorializes.