Monday, September 22, 2008

Locker Room Talk

If the Carla Bruni video didn't ruin your day, you can try this one of PPDA and Thomas Hugues discussing the performance of Laurence Ferrari, the replacement of the former and ex-wife of the latter. Save it for the locker room, fellas.

French Repercussions of the Financial Crisis

From the FT: France, a beacon of progressive reform:

The economics team at one (surviving) US investment bank recently concluded that France now boasted the most pro-reform government of the G7. Even if he is opposed to “liberal” trade and competition policies at a European Union level, Mr Sarkozy supports further market liberalisation within France.

And this:

Christian de Boissieu, chairman of the Council of Economic Analysis, the government’s economic think-tank, argues the EU should press for the redesigning of the global financial institutions established by the Bretton Woods agreement of 1944. In particular, he suggests the International Monetary Fund should switch its focus from dealing with monetary issues to global financial market challenges.

“My personal view is that France – and the EU – should push forward the idea of a financial Bretton Woods,” Mr de Boissieu says. “The IMF has no more customers today and we should reinvent its role.”

This repurposed IMF, he says, could develop smarter rules governing the transparency and operation of credit ratings agencies, accounting standards, and liquidity requirements for global financial institutions. “But to be fully credible on the global stage the EU must make better progress in improving our own economic and political governance,” he says.

Marcel Gauchet on French Elite


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Let Them Eat Bagels!

Interesting note from Boz on Sarko's indefatigable support from certain elements of the American Jewish community. Note, however, that I am careful to write "certain elements of the American Jewish community" rather than "the American Jewish community" tout court, because I have no idea how representative these organizations are. The American Jewish community is certainly not as unified on American policy in the Middle East as it is sometimes made out to be, and I suspect the same is true of American Jews' assessments of Sarkozy--to the extent that they are aware of him at all, or any more aware of him than their non-Jewish compatriots. Indeed, I imagine that Sarkozy's main contribution in this area is to have restored the status quo ante, prior to the surge in anti-French sentiment that accompanied the run-up to the war in Iraq. That anti-French sentiment was particularly powerful among conservative Jews, who see in Sarkozy a more "reliable" ally in Middle Eastern affairs. I doubt, however, that he has dented their underlying--and incorrect--belief that France is a particularly anti-Semitic country.

Senate Elections

Yes, there were senatorial elections in France yesterday, and the left picked up 23 seats, more than the 15 it was expecting. There will be a new president of the Senate, one of three UMP candidates: Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Gérard Larcher, or Philippe Marini.

Why, then, did this election attract so little attention? For one thing, the UMP's control of the institution was never in doubt, owing to the (unfair) way in which Senators are chosen. For another, the legislative branch in France, of which the Senate is the less significant part, is not really a legislative branch but a sort of electoral college and glorified watchdog agency. It doesn't really legislate: projets de loi begin with the government and ministries. It rather influences the choice of government and tinkers with the legislation laid before it. Ambitious men become députés, a job with so little responsibility that they have plenty of time to pursue their ambitions by becoming mayors, presidents of regions, or even working as lawyers: Jean-François Copé, whose middle name is I-Want-to-be-President, practices law on the weekends. Men who used to have ambitions become senators, a job with even less responsibility than the député's, which leaves them plenty of time to write their memoirs or entertain their constituents with blogs.

Why are things done this way in France? Many learned tomes have been written about the subject, but I would single out several factors. Things were different in the Third and Fourth Republics, and the legislative branch did not cover itself with glory. Corruption was rampant, much as it is in the U. S. Congress. The parliament of the Third Republic voted les pleins pouvoirs to Pétain. To be sure, the parliament of the Fourth Republic muddled through the early stages of postwar recovery, largely by abdicating much power to a superbly competent civil service, but it could not cope with war in Algeria. When de Gaulle returned to power, he brought with him a contempt for quotidian politics, bickering parties, and the horse-trading that is the stuff of legislative business. The Constitution of the Fifth Republic expresses this contempt, and the Senate suffers not only from it but also from the distrust of an "upper house" or "aristocratic chamber" that has run through all French history since the Revolution.