Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dati Photo Doctored

This is incredible. The excuse that "deadline pressures" resulted in the doctoring of the photo is even more so. Surely it takes less time to leave a picture alone than to tamper with it. Now "the rock" will be the talk of the town. 15,600 euros. Financial collapse. Vulgarity or political tone-deafness? Shocking in any case.

Guardian Profiles Dati

The Guardian publishes a gossipy but interesting profile of embattled justice minister Rachida Dati. The money quote, however, comes not from Dati but from Fadela Amara:

Fadela Amara, another woman of Algerian parentage whom Sarkozy appointed as a junior minister, says an Obama would have got nowhere in France. "It couldn't happen in France unless Sarkozy turned emperor and appointed a black president himself," she says.

Hat tip to Vertigo.

Porte de la Chapelle-Mairie d'Issy

Ségolène Royal likes the idea of selling PS HQ rue de Solférino and moving the party seat into un quartier plus populaire, provided it's on a line with direct access by Métro to the National Assembly. François Miclo studies the maps and decides it's got to be Ligne No 12, Porte de la Chapelle-Mairie d'Issy. If property values along the line spike suddenly today, we'll know that the fix is in and the voting for party leader has been rigged.

Syrian Confusion

An interesting note from Boz on the growing confusion surrounding overtures to Syria, with the UK now getting into the act.

Politics of Civilization Bis

It seems that Sarko's summit-that-is-not-a-summit, his little étrenne to himself and Tony Blair (co-host of the meeting), will be in a way the reincarnation of his seemingly forgotten "politics of civilization" idea, now recast to suit the crisis atmosphere of the moment. You will recall that, earlier this year, when optimism was still the watchword in Paris and growth was still being sought with the teeth, Sarko launched the idea of a politics of civilization that was supposed to reconcile matter and spirit, or, on a more mundane level, two of Sarko's not altogether compatible obsessions, GDP and religion. He was under assault at the time for failing to increase the purchasing power of the French, so he seized on the notion that cold numerical gauges such as GDP were no guide to either true happiness in this world or eternal bliss in the next. To help him in his reflections, he enlisted Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen. We haven't heard much about the results of their reflections in the interim, but these two economists are on the guest list for the Sarko-Blair post-New Year's fest. Bush is not, presumably because, at the time of the meeting (scheduled for Jan. 8-9), he'll be busy packing his trunks in his last fortnight in the White House. In current circumstances, of course, it would be unseemly to tell us that we're really happier than our declining stock market indices (and soon-to-be declining GDP) tell us, so Stiglitz and Sen will no doubt be put to other purposes. But the point of this meeting remains somewhat obscure.

Why the European Sovereign Wealth Fund Is a Bad Idea (or Maybe Not)

Kavaljit Singh dismantles Sarkozy's idea of a European sovereign wealth fund. Unlike the developing countries that have established SWFs, Europe does not have a large trade or budget surplus. Other SWFs invest primarily outside the territory of the states that run them. Their purpose is not to protect against foreign takeovers but to diversify investment portfolios, recycle trade surpluses, and perhaps--a point not mentioned by Singh--to obtain access to foreign technologies. Indeed, Singh may be rather too sanguine in concluding that SWFs have not been used for political or strategic purposes to date or that, even where this is the case, they cannot or will not be used for such purposes in the future. Nevertheless, he is quite correct to point out that the French have released no details about what their SWF will look like, how it is funded, what its investment strategy will be, or how it differs from the existing Caisse des Dépôts.*

Singh sees a certain European "paranoia" about SWFs. This is probably a bit harsh. As with other forms of "economic patriotism," the European SWF idea is simply the expression, or exploitation, of generalized fears about decline and failure. Sarkozy's gift as a politician is an ability to repackage fear as optimism. He takes a fashionable buzz word--"sovereign wealth funds" were all the rage in the financial press earlier this year--and puts it to a new and characteristically voluntarist purpose: Europe will not stand idly by as foreign money pours in, it will emulate with its own money (the source of which is left mysteriously shrouded) what the frightening foreigner is doing with his. De l'audace, encore de l'audace, toujours de l'audace. Well, why not? It worked for Danton -- for a while.

* Whoops: spoke too soon. Here are the first details.

ADDENDUM: Dani Rodrik offers a possible defense of the French SWF and economic patriotism as a reasonable response to a stock-market overshoot on the down side, the opposite of irrational exuberance: irrational cafardisme, perhaps?