Friday, December 21, 2007

Scooping Time

Looks like I scooped Time magazine, which has switched its epithets from "Sarko l'Américain" to "the bling-bling President" (blanc bonnet et bonnet blanc?).

Une République Une, Indivisible ... et Laïque?

Did we need this? It's not enough to have to deal with the problems of the 21st century? Do we have to refight the church-state battles of the 19th and 20th? As an American pluralist at heart, I've come to despair of ever persuading my French republican friends that, really, the citizen needn't come naked to the public square; democracy can tolerate differences; the salad bowl rather than the melting pot is the contemporary ideal. Indeed, as a good card-carrying pluralist, I accept their militant laïcité as an expression of their droit à la différence. But inwardly I think it would be better if it were otherwise ... until, that is, somebody like Sarkozy goes and pours gasoline on the fire by giving the speech he gave yesterday at Saint John Lateran. It's not that there's anything really terrible about the content of the speech, which was little more than a rather aggressive statement of the persistence of different attitudes on this issue. But did he have to make this point from a Catholic pulpit in Rome? Did he have to emphasize France's "Christian roots?" (One almost expected him to wax lyrical about France's position as "the eldest daughter of the Church.") Did he have to accuse secularists of "fanaticism?"

Are there really that many votes to be had in appeals to les talas (ceux qui vonT-A-LA-messe)? Sarko gave the Pope a copy of his book, which Ron Tiersky reviewed in this space a while ago. At Saint John Sarko repeated a thought he expressed in the book, that the well-spring of religion is hope. But hope is also the well-spring of politics, which looks for a better life here and now rather than in the hereafter, and as Sarko in the throes of spiritual transport may have forgotten, the deferred hope proffered by religion has often been used to encourage passivity and resignation here below. He would do better to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and leave otherworldly hope to the professionals. Indeed, France's latter-day Caesar has a surer hand when it comes to dispensing bread and circuses to the masses in the form of photo spreads in Match and Closer of his excursion to Disneyland in the company of a decidedly uncloistered Italian.

Creative Destruction

Le Monde has a lengthy article today on the creation and destruction of jobs. Unfortunately, that is not the title of the article, which is "Délocalisations: le temps des réponses" (Outsourcing/offshoring: The Time for Answers). The article claims that France is losing jobs at the rate of 15,000 a year to low-wage countries. But it also states that France is creating 90,000 jobs a year as a result of foreign direct investment and gains from trade. I haven't verified either figure, but the precise numbers are not the issue, which is rather how to present to readers the nature of the flux in the economy. Threat or promise? Well, why not both, since this is clearly the reality of the situation?

It is odd that the leading theorist of "Schumpeterian growth," Philippe Aghion, who is French, is not cited in an article that might have been entitled "creative destruction," to borrow Schumpeter's phrase, instead of "Délocalisations." A small change of emphasis connotes an important difference of outlook. A number of economists are cited in the article. Pierre Cahuc emphasizes the importance of career-long job training. Nicolas Véron points to the value of France's human capital as its trump card in international competition. The headline belies their measured judgments.

On the other hand, see this post by Paul Krugman, implying negative effect of trade on US wages. His forthcoming paper should be interesting and spark some controversy.

Selective Immigration

Sarkozy's "selective immigration" policy--employment-based national quotas--will favor higher-skilled immigrants from Africa and Asia and lower-skilled immigrants from Eastern Europe. Today Le Figaro reminds its readers that there are already European countries (UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Germany) with substantial numbers of low-skilled immigrants from the east that have not found their labor-shortage problems miraculously solved. In France, "immigration from East Europe" is coded to mean "people who will do what we need to have done for less money and not cause trouble or alter our national identity." In England, the code is different: it means "people who will do our jobs for half what we make." Hence Gordon Brown, that well-meaning preacher's son, has been obliged to sound like a British version of Le Pen: "British jobs for British workers." Yesterday's expansion of the Schengen region in which European citizens may travel freely without passports should have made clear the need for reflection on the implications of the massive shifts in Europe's populations that can be expected over the coming decade.

Cohen on Le Monde Crisis

Adding abundant detail to the story I sketched yesterday, Philippe Cohen explains the background of the continuing crisis at Le Monde.


"Il ne faut pas désespérer Billancourt." For those younger than I, this sentence may not carry quite the same nostalgic weight, but in case you're curious about its origin and significance, Le Monde's proofreaders recall the history in a post today on their blog. There's also a nice picture of Sartre standing on a "55-gal drum," as we call it in the US (what is the French equivalent?), to make his famous harangue outside the factory gates in his later gauchiste incarnation.

I once took a trip out to Billancourt to view the Renault victory just because of this sentence. It had already closed, but the buildings still loomed, low and forbidding, on their island. Somehow the factory and its setting reminded me of Alcatraz. That this should be the center of French capitalism seemed an important clue to the nature of French attitudes. More recently, François Pinault planned to turn the island into an arts complex. I'm sure Marx would have savored the irony of such a transformation, but the plans fell through, alas, and the museum will now be built in Venice.