Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Terra Nova Critique of Stimulus Package

Terra Nova, the left-leaning think tank, has published a short critique of Sarkozy's stimulus package. It revises the amount of short-term stimulus downward by about half and deplores the lack of effort to stimulate consumption directly, primarily by support of low-income households. It answers the objection that consumption stimulus will go primarily to imports and do nothing for employment at home by arguing that, unlike in 1981, France will not be the only country attempting to stimulate demand. This part of the argument is incomplete, to say the least. Nevertheless, the document is worth perusing, because its talking points will no doubt be taken up by the opposition.

New Progressive Space

Splintering? Crumbling? What is the right word for what's happening to the French Left? It isn't enough that the PS is split down the middle. It isn't enough that Besancenot's Trotskyists must now share their niche with Mélenchon's French version of Die Linke. Now Robert Hue, who as previously reported here, has quit the Communist Party he once led, is creating his own Nouvel Espace Progressiste. This is the "Field of Dreams" theory of politics: if you build it, they will come. As de Gaulle once remarked à propos of something or other, "Quelle mascarade!"

Yade Is Out

Libé is reporting that Rama Yade has been "excluded" from consideration to replace J.-P. Jouyet as secretary of state for European Affairs. Bruno Lemaire is now the favorite for the post. Apparently, Sarkozy was mightily displeased by Yade's refusal to head the UMP Ile-de-France ticket in upcoming European parliamentary elections. Once an ornament constantly at Sarkozy's side despite her junior position in the cabinet, Yade now bids fair to be banished from proximity to the prince. Life at court is full of such vicissitudes. The young aspirant can now spend her time reading the Memoirs of Saint-Simon.

Books by the Seine

Those bouquinistes who sell their wares from bins along the Seine in Paris are in trouble. Buyers of old books have gone on-line (guilty as charged, your honor!), and tourists don't read. But what really caught my eye in this article was the regulation of the Seine-side book trade:

The trade is strictly regulated. Each bouquiniste is allowed four boxes painted dark green: three must contain books, the fourth can sell items such as prints, collectors' postcards, stamps and souvenirs.

How very French! The boxes must be painted dark green! Positively medieval. (h/t Maîtresse).

The Golden Bowl

Sarkozy met yesterday with Gordon Brown and José Manuel Barroso. The French president reportedly finds it easier to work with Brown than with Angela Merkel, whose response to the crisis baffles her allies. Brown shares Sarko's urgency, although the two men's instincts are quite different:

The prime minister's response excludes an anti-capitalist "corralling of the Anglo-Saxon Wild West."

"What Sarkozy doesn't really seem to get," this British account says, "is that we're not for tearing up the system and shooting all the people in the hedge funds. We're not going to destroy vitality and energy. We want to regulate the system better, not destroy it."

Although John Vinocur, who wants to portray the French-British couple as a "marriage of convenience," puts little stress on this difference, it is bound to loom large in the not-too-distant future. It's not just different attitudes toward regualtion of the financial sector that are at issue. France and the UK may both be capitalist economies, but the very culture of capitalism is quite different on the two sides of the channel. France is comfortable with national champions, a high-degree of state influence, and a cozy partnership (think pantouflage) between government and even those businesses in which the state does not participate formally. Sarkozy was not out to change that culture even before the crisis. His aim was rather to weaken the implicit guarantees to labor that went along with state capitalism, so that the state and its partners could "rationalize" the management of their work force. Paradoxically, the crisis, by weakening labor's bargaining position still further, may assist in this restructuring.

Gordon Brown's challenge is quite different. Britain's economic situation may be worse even than that of the United States and at this point is certainly worse than that of France. According to the Lehrer Report, one in five British jobs were tied to the City. The collapse of the financial sector is therefore not merely a precipitant of trouble in the real economy, because it is hard to distinguish in Britain between a Wall Street and a Main Street. Too many people are dependent on incomes from the rapidly shrinking financial sector. Sarkozy will be only too glad to see the City reduced to a shadow of its former self, not least because he hopes that some of its brokerage activities will be repatriated. What he wants to regulate out of existence, Gordon Brown wants to regulate in order to perpetuate.

There is a structural flaw in this marriage. I would like to work this into an extended metaphor by analogy with Henry James' Golden Bowl, in which a continental charmer and a naive anglophone are united in doomed matrimony symbolized by a cracked golden vessel. It doesn't quite flow naturally, however, as James' heroine is an American. But if Brown and Sarkozy are supposed to represent Europe with Barroso in the role of Charlotte (or is it Adam Verver?), there is a flawed vessel at the heart of this tale.