Saturday, November 1, 2008

Rocard-Besancenot, Même Combat

Michel Rocard seems determined to turn the confusion on the left into chaos. I mentioned the other day his recent proclamation that if Milton Friedman were alive, he ought to be tried for crimes against humanity. Today he is back at it, drawing a distinction between "liberalism" (good) and "ultraliberalism," "that criminal school of thought founded by Milton Friedman," which he holds responsible for the debacle and all its antecedents.

This is unfortunate. The part of the left that Rocard represents cannot succeed unless it can persuade its electoral base to adopt a less Manichaean view of the market economy. Rocard, with his defense of liberalism, continues to pay lip-service to this vital necessity, yet he has now chosen to mobilize Manichaean rhetoric for the sake of the cause. So we hear only of the evils of ultraliberalism and nothing of the errors of, say, the futile pursuit of fine-tuned full employment via the Phillips curve, to which the critique of Friedman, Phelps, et al. put paid.

The sad thing about this rhetorical excess is that it obscures the valuable point that Rocard makes along the way: that rising inequality and declining labor share in output are among the antecedents of the crisis. But the case that has to be made here is roundabout and subtle, and Rocard hasn't fully thought it through. His purpose in these recent interviews is far from clear. He seems to be venting his spleen rather than aiming toward some political goal. He is too old for personal ambitions, but he might nevertheless think of the younger comrades who once supported him and might still look to him for leadership. The lack of nuance and sheer demagoguery of his recent pronouncements would have appalled the politician he took as a model for his own career: Pierre Mendès-France.

UPDATE: Econoclaste's comment.


Unknown said...

Rocard seems to be preparing to retire as he announced recently that he would not be seeking a mandate in European Parliament.

It could be the case, as he is now getting really old, that he is sort of reminiscing and, likely, the first he heard of Friedman may well have been in conjunction with Chile in the seventies. There were not that many American economists willing to openly help a blood-thirsty South American dictator at that time, and Friedman was one of the few collaborators.

Chile was very high on the agenda of the left in France at that time and Rocard was then the leader of a small leftist party.

It could alternatively be the last pathetic effort of Rocard to matter in the Parti Socialiste where conferences have been known to be won on the left, something Rocard never seemed to grasp until now, where his almost pathological hatred for Royal (I wish I knew what exactly happened between those two, there must be something) leads him to loath any centrist position in the party.

Anonymous said...

Art, you are certainly right on the academic front in your defense of Milton Friedman and reference to the Philips curve.

But Rocard is not talking about academics, he is just a politician, and I am somewhat surprised that you fall so hard on him. In some way he is the kind of Socialist you have been looking for on the French left : a Socialist who is not ashamed to call himself a social-democrat, who dares to publicly endorse economic liberalism ( you will not find many of those on the French left) and far from being the manichean you see in him he has always personified the "second left" ,branded by the party majority as " socio-liberal"..

What he calls " ultra liberalism" is just a blanket name for all the excesses of a financial industry running amok, from golden parachutes for failing CEOs to suprimes etc..Who wants more of that ?

As for Bernard, I think you are making a complete contre-sens. Rocard is not trying to win on the left, far from it. His endorsement of Sarkozy's handling of the crisis is proof enough of that.

I think he knows he has nothing to gain or to loose now, enjoying the role of the man who can speak his mind freely, without too much regard for the party line, but the party didn't show much regard to him either.

And yes, if he can kick SRoyal on the way, all the better !

Anonymous said...

And, if I may add, writing " Rocard-Besancenot même combat" is not better than : " Obama - Ben Laden même combat" just because they're both against the war in Iraq !

Unknown said...

I know quite well what Rocard means by ultraliberalism, and I know why he wants to link Friedman to it, but it's still repugnant to me to call the work of an economist, even work some of whose implications you may deplore, "a crime against humanity." The French Revolution was not la faute à Voltaire ou la faute à Rousseau, and subprime mortgages were not Friedman's doing, even if he, like Greenspan, might have expected self-interested players to correct the problem on their own. As for his counsel to Pinochet, Bernard, yes, one can be critical, but that isn't what Rocard has in mind, and even if it was a long time ago, we can expect him to be a little more clear-headed than that. Finally, although he is a politician, as you say Alain, he has tried to be a different kind of politician, and that is the standard to which I'm holding him. While it's true he's the sort of politician I would have liked to see more of in the PS, and I have supported him in the past, I think this tactic is just wrong, both as politics and as intellectual history.