Sunday, March 30, 2008

"Subterfuge and Dissimulation"

François Hollande has denounced the government's "subterfuges and dissimulations" on retirements and the deficit. No surprise there. That's his job. He's rather more reticent when it comes to putting forward his own proposals. His complaints about the deficit suggest that he favors an increase in taxes and social contributions, while his complaints about slowing growth suggest that he would prefer a fiscal stimulus policy. Of course if pressed, he would probably say that the government's TEPA package, passed last year, put the fiscal stimulus in the wrong place, with which I would agree, but we'd still be facing the problem of a deficit creeping up toward the 3 pct SGP limit and a debt around 64 pct of GDP, already over the 60 pct limit, so the EU reprimand that Hollande foresees would have been just as likely had Royal been elected.

One government dissimulation that Hollande avoids has to do with purchasing power and unemployment. The government has been quick to take credit for declining unemployment and equally quick to shirk blame for falling purchasing power. But falling purchasing power is just another way of saying declining real wages, and, other things equal, declining real wages encourage higher employment. The success and the failure may not be unrelated. It would be inexpedient for Hollande to make this point, however. It's one thing to say that increasing the retirement age will not increase the workforce participation rate of "seniors" (over-55: can I really be a senior?) absent new job creation; it's another thing, particularly for a Socialist, to say that declining real wages might lead to the creation of new jobs. Or then again, maybe this won't lead to new jobs, to the extent that higher prices are the result of adverse supply shocks rather than increased demand. But what does the PS propose in that case?

Without an interpretation of the conjuncture, it's impossible to tell from Hollande's remarks what he's thinking. All we know is that he doesn't like what the government is doing. But as I said, this is part of his job description, so his sniping conveys no information. Voters recognize this instinctively, which probably explains why there is so little interest in what Socialists are saying, and won't be, until they commit themsleves to a program and a candidate--or throw in the towel and search instead for a way to captivate the media, which was the formula that Sarkozy exploited with such success in his run for the presidency.

Sarkozy and Mandel

I've written before about Sarkozy's interest in the deputy and résistant Georges Mandel. Le Contre-Journal has an interview with the author of a book about Sarkozy's book on Mandel, which claims that Sarko is guilty of plagiarism, misrepresentation, and glorification of Mandel to the detriment of de Gaulle.

A Pattern

In recent days, all of the following statements have appeared in the press:

Claude Bartolone n'exclut pas d'être 1er secrétaire du Parti Socialiste.
Marie-George Buffet n'exclut pas de rester à la tête du Parti Communiste.
François Hollande n'exclut pas d'être le candidat du Parti Socialiste en 2012.

N'exclut pas: This is an interesting variant of the rhetorical figure known as litotes:

A diminution or softening of statement for the sake of
avoiding censure or increasing the effect by contrast with
the moderation shown in the form of expression; a form of
understatement; as, " a citizen of no mean city," that is, of
an illustrious city; or, "not bad", meaning "good".

In the above examples, each politician is saying, "No one is giving me a snowball's chance in hell, but where there is ambition, there is hope." To be sure, Bartolone's statement can be distinguished slightly from the other two. Buffet and Hollande are both failed party leaders who blame their failures on circumstances rather than themselves and, seeing no greater talents in their immediate vicinity, hope that changed circumstances will somehow keep them afloat. Bartolone is an aspirant to leadership (if not a stalking horse for that other perennial aspirant, Laurent Fabius), who is throwing his hat into the ring without wishing to appear so ambitious as to arouse murderous envy (cf. "They say Caesar was an ambitious man"). He is not running because he wants to be primus inter pares, he tells us, but only to prevent the emergence of what he calls the "star sytem":

"Il faut que les socialistes évitent le star-system", ajoute-t-il. "Si nous devions tomber dans une compétition entre Ségolène Royal et Bertrand Delanoë, il n'y aurait pas de reconstruction possible, ni du PS ni de la gauche. De plus, je ne sais pas qui gagnerait mais l'un ferait 60 et l'autre 40, et on ne s'en sortirait pas. (...) Un tel scénario serait mortifère pour le PS".

Perhaps not as mortifère as the current system of collective misrule, in which any Socialist who sticks his or her neck out has it lopped off by the others. But that's not what Bartolone wants either. Rather, he looks forward to a conspiracy of starlets in which he, representing the Fabiusiens (remember, François Hollande estimated their strength at 10-15 pct of the party), joins forces with their nemeses the Strauss-Kahniens (another 10-15 pct) and the renegade ex-Royalistes of the NPS such as Arnaud Montebourg:

Lorsqu'on parle de cela avec Jean-Christophe Cambadélis (NDLR: proche de Dominique Strauss-Kahn) et Arnaud Montebourg (NDLR: supporter de Ségolène Royal en 2007), on se dit tous les trois en riant que rien ou presque ne nous sépare aujourd'hui et que, s'il fallait nous départager pour le poste de Premier secrétaire, on pourrait quasiment tirer entre nous à la courte-paille!

Nothing or next to nothing separates them other than their common ambition, that is.