Saturday, February 9, 2008

Zeldin on the Attali Commission

Theodore Zeldin, the maverick British historian of French passions, has some choice words about the Attali Commission, of which he was a member, and some ideas of his own about how to reform France:

I ask him about the Attali commission, chaired by Jacques Attali, the socialist intellectual and former head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which last month submitted 316 recommendations to reform France to Sarkozy. Zeldin had particular responsibility for changing mentalities, which he says will be vital in pursuing fundamental reform.

He is enthusiastic about the possibilities for change but expresses frustration with the commission’s intensely technical discussions of subjects and the cobwebs of laws and regulations preventing new initiatives. “The tendency of experts is to fiddle around with their expertise rather than trying to find new solutions,” he says.

His solutions are far more radical: founding new towns with affordable housing near the coast that can draw food, energy and water from the sea; posting school teachers to foreign countries for a year to experience different cultures; inviting the world’s 100 richest people to the Elysee Palace and asking them to create a global university.

In reforming France, or any other country, Zeldin argues it is vital to avoid, rather than provoke, confrontation. It is better to allow old problems to wither while encouraging new possibilities to emerge alongside. “You have to accept that traditions exist, that people don’t change their minds very quickly, that people are scared,” he says.

“Sarkozy has to say: ‘Here’s a new vision, this is what we’ve got to do, let’s go and do it. In the 17th-century people said let’s go to America and establish Pennsylvania. I’m saying let’s go to south-west France and establish the equivalent of Pennsylvania.”

Thanks to pg for the tip.


Le Nouvel Obs has published verbatim SMS exchanges between Kerviel and his alleged accomplice Moussa Bakir. It takes one's breath away to think that these two thirty-somethings, who sound more like 14-year-olds, were gambling with 70 billion dollars worth of the bank's money.

The report indicates that the investigating magistrate (van Ruymbeke) is "intrigued" by the presence of a Koran in Kerviel's apartment. Definitely a sign of a dangerous person: I have several Korans in my library, along with many shelves of books on Islam. I'm not quite sure what relevance the good judge sees. And I note that Le Nouvel Obs now seems to be making a habit of publishing SMS exchanges (the reporter, Airy Routier, is the same in both cases). Sarkozy has sued them for publishing one purporting to be his. How does the magazine obtain these? I find it worrisome. A good deal of ire has been directed at Sarko for bringing a case against the magazine under criminal law rather than civil invasion of privacy, but few voices have been heard complaining about the ethical standards of the journalists involved in obtaining or fabricating messages that have no business being in the public eye and whose disclosure serves no public good.

Thanks to kjs for the tip.

For Data Lovers

Lots of good economic data here. Thanks for the lead to koztoujours, who offers an interesting breakdown of the cost of the tax reform package (TEPA). Instead of the much-bruited figure of 14 or 15 billion euros, he calculates the actual cost at 7 to 8 billion (after the decision of the Conseil Constitutionnel on the mortgage rebate--but I thought Sarkozy had promised to double the benefits to new mortgagees going forward after he was barred from granting retroactive tax breaks by the CC??? I haven't followed developments on this since).

A Disastrous Lack of Opposition

Bernard Girard, in another lucid post, says out loud what I have been thinking for some time: that the lack of a coherent opposition has been disastrous for Sarkozy. It has allowed opposition to develop within his own ranks, encouraged people who voted for him and journalists who favor him to grumble aloud rather than keep their disappointments to themselves, and obliged Sarkozy to respond to every attack and whisper, which has distracted his attention from more important things.

Accomplice? Whitewash? Malfeasance?

The New York Times has some good reporting on the current state of the SocGen investigation. There were several queries to the bank from Eurex on or about Nov. 30 regarding Kerviel's trading and his relationship with the bank's brokerage, Newedge (formerly called Fimat). These queries had been reported before, but the additional detail here adds further weight to the charge that the bank was remiss in not uncovering Kerviel's dealings sooner (or that it may have known about them all along and did not act to close out his positions until it seemed that they might plunge seriously into the red). And a possible accomplice of Kerviel's has been arrested.

The fact that none of this detail appeared in the Lagarde Report, on which I commented the other day, may be yet another grievance of Sarkozy against his minister of finance. Yesterday the radio station BFM reported that Lagarde had submitted her resignation and been refused. Other media then picked up the story and added the details--how they got them I do not know, nor can I say whether they are accurate--that Lagarde resigned after being reprimanded by Sarkozy at Wednesday's Council of Ministers meeting only to be told that she would not be allowed to resign until after the municipal elections.