Thursday, March 13, 2008

Flaubert's Parrot

Politics is not the whole of life, so I will allow myself another off-topic link to Julian Barnes' diverting review of the last volume of Flaubert's correspondence. Here is the first paragraph:

The instrument case of Eugène Delamare, a health officer based in the Normandy village of Ry in the 1840s, was doubtless of standard issue: so was Delamare himself. An inept if conscientious fellow, he failed his medical exams, and only attained his modest professional status through the benign intervention of the Rouen surgeon under whom he trained. Two things, however, distinguished him, both unfortunate. The first was his wife Delphine. She had dreams above her status: her range of lovers and expensive tastes – yellow-and-black striped curtains were particularly remarked upon – led in 1848 to financial and social catastrophe; her exit strategy was suicide. Delamare himself, imprisoned by grief, killed himself the following year. His second misfortune lay in the name of the surgeon who had trained him: Achille-Cléophas Flaubert, father of a literary son. Thus Delphine Delamare became Emma Bovary, a local fait divers became a great novel, and by the law of unintended consequence Delamare’s instrument case – that is to say, a real item whose only value lay in its theoretical connection to a fictional character – was offered for sale in November 2007 by a Parisian bookseller for ¤6,500. A sum which, had it been available to Mme Delamare, might have saved her from shame and thus obliged Gustave Flaubert to look elsewhere for the subject of his first novel.


Off topic, but ... since it's Montaigne's image (upper right corner) that presides over this blog, I feel obliged to point out the interview with the literary scholar Antoine Compagnon in Le Monde, where he talks about his long relationship with the writer of Les Essais. As Nietzsche said, "The joy of living on this earth is greater because a man such as he chose to write."

Demographic Pressures

Although this discussion of demographic pressures on social security expenditures is framed in terms of the United States, the critique at the end is applicable to France as well:

A second issue is that Social Security is not the entitlement problem we should worry about, that title belongs to Medicare where costs are expected to increase rapidly in the future. And the problem with Medicare costs brings up the third issue, demographic change is not the driving force behind rising healthcare costs (e.g., see this article from the CBO, "The rate at which health care costs grow relative to national income—rather than the aging of the population—will be the most important determinant of future federal spending.").

The pending and future reforms of the special and general retirement regimes in France reflect the principle that "the aging of the population" is "the most important determinant of future [government] spending." There has been very little discussion in France of how to reduce the rate of growth of health care costs. The increased copays that have now gone into effect are little more than a band-aid. Once universal coverage is achieved, as it has been achieved in France, the problem of cost control becomes paramount.

Republican Discipline

"Republican discipline"--the withdrawal of the less well-placed candidate of a given "political family" in the second round of an election--seems to be breaking down on the left. In Aubervilliers, the Socialist deputy mayor, who finished 358 votes behind the PCF mayor, is staying in the race, forcing a quadrangular contest. Meanwhile, Razzy Hammadi, parachuté into Orly where he was supposed to represent the the new more diverse face of the PS, claims that he was done in by a PCF that failed to honor its pre-election list-merger agreement.

Local flare-ups or signs of still more trouble on the left? The left that remains closed to l'ouverture is in many ways now frozen out of national politics and confined to the local and regional, so it's not surprising that competition for these prizes has intensified.

Miliband on Europe

British foreign secretary David Miliband has given an interview on Europe to La Tribune. He says that Europe is now in a position to shift its priorities from inward-looking (the construction of the Union itself) to outward-looking. He ranks the new priorities in the following order: the terrorist threat, climate change, immigration, and global trade. This is interesting both for the choice of issues and the order in which they are ranked. I am surprised, in the light of the current crisis, that tighter regulation of international credit is not among Miliband's priorities. What would his father Ralph Miliband, the influential socialist theorist, have thought?