Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sarko, Eurosocialist?

Details here.

Fascinating Factoid

See here for details.

Rogoff Wants Less Eurocentric IMF

Harvard economist Ken Rogoff thinks that the IMF needs to be revamped to meet the needs of the current crisis. He wants a less eurocentric governance structure, one that would give more power to Asian and Middle East countries with current account surpluses, and he also believes that the IMF's role should shift toward monitoring and surveillance of third-party loans instead of direct lending to emerging market economies.

ECB Lowers Its Rate

The European Central Bank just lowered its basic rate to 3.25 percent. This has to be the most-telegraphed move in central banking history. Trichet all but wrote it out in flaming letters more than a week ago. But now it's done. Yet another step in the evolution of the crisis and the end of an era of economic thinking. La pensée unique (a phrase I never liked) is growing more diverse daily.

From the Sublime to the ... PS

America has been born again, but the post-Hollande Parti Socialiste, scheduled for delivery in a few hours, will probably be stillborn. Alas. The maneuvering of the various éléphants, gazelles, dinosaures, et hippopotames, ainsi que quelques ratons-laveurs et autres rongeurs, has been a regular theme of this blog. I had hoped that some clarity would emerge, some fil conducteur for the renewal of the left that would make sense not only to me but also to a plausible majority of voters in the next presidential election, which, after all, is the goal. Constructing a party is not an aesthetic or intellectual exercise; it is an enterprise with a purpose, which (in a system like the French) is to win elections. And at the moment nothing suggests that the PS is going to succeed in that effort, no matter whom it chooses.

Why the failure? To be sure, the clash of ambitions, the kaleidoscope of alliances of convenience, has not helped. The promiscuity has been so ubiquitous that at times it seems as though every potential leader has at one time or another been allied with every other. Fabius is now with Aubry, who once said, "je n'ai rien à dire à ce mec." Moscovici the Strauss-Kahnien is now with Delanoë, but his erstwhile partner Cambadélis is with Aubry. Montebourg has been with everybody, but for the moment he's with somebody, while his one-time co-author Hamon has become un cavalier seul, hoping to turn the party's left flank, supposedly in arms in the wake of the financial crisis. Hence there is no ideological clarity.

But is that really the fundamental problem? No mass party is ideologically pure, and without a mass party you can't win in a presidential system. To be sure, one narrative of the Socialist dilemma runs like this: the PS was proceeding smoothly toward renewal, toward embrace of the "social market economy" and long overdue accommodation with the niche of reality reserved for social liberalism, when the crisis stirred long-dormant militants supposedly yearning yet again for la rupture finale, thus throwing everything into disarray. I don't believe this. I don't think that a revolutionary column lurks within the PS awaiting its captain. I'm skeptical as well that a revolutionary column lurks outside the PS, warily eyeing Besancenot while secretly hoping that another Mitterrand will emerge to unify the diverse left and sweep it once again peacefully into power.

Here is a hypothesis. I don't know if I believe it and invite your comments, but here goes: What voters want, what militants want, is a leader who can credibly embody their hopes and aspirations. Like it or not--and for the most part I don't like it--a presidential system calls for political incarnation. A candidate is a personality more than an idea. The policies he or she embodies may be incoherent, incompatible, even in part repugnant to followers, but the personality must be clearly legible. America veered from Bush, who in 2004, despite already evident failures, still embodied the fears and vengeful fantasies born of 9/11, to Obama, who incarnated the atonement engendered by all that aggression. France in 2007 was content to move from the avuncular, familiar, fatigué et usé Chirac to the brash, punchy, energetic Sarkozy. Despite much continuity in policy, this change in the personality of the state was enough to simulate renewal, a promise of change.

The Socialists have yet to come up with an equally plausible embodiment of a set of policies that haven't really changed all that much since the Jospin of 1995-2002--and why should they have, since on the whole the record of achievement was not all that bad. The figures on comparative economic performance, which once spoke in favor of the need for fundamental changes, and in which I myself probably placed too much credence in the early days of this blog, are now to be taken with a grain of salt; we can no longer tell what part of relative growth and high employment was due to infusions of the growth hormones of creative finance and what was real.

Yes, I know: the American election of 2008 was decided by the economy, stupid, not by any nebuous notion of political incarnation. But let me indulge my fantasy. I'm still in the grip of euphoria.