Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Deflation in the Eurozone

For the first time in the history of the euro, the Eurozone is experiencing deflation. Some attribute this to the severity of the slump and the timidity of the collective European response. Others, including the influential tandem of Merkel and Trichet, see it as a passing phenomenon and argue that exploding government indebtedness means that combating inflation should remain the primary goal of monetary policy.

The stakes are high. Should deflation prove persistent, it will add to the burden of the indebted, both public and private, and make recovery from the crisis increasingly difficult. But les jeux sont faits. The ECB seems highly unlikely to reverse its current diagnosis anytime soon. So we simply must wait and see what happens. (Note that the prices of key commodities, like oil, are rising again, so this deflation cannot be explained by falling prices of primary goods.)

Guaino Stoned

Henri Guaino, President Sarkozy's special advisor and speechwriter, was out riding with the cops in Montfermeil at 1 A.M. when the car he was in was stoned by persons unknown. An interesting way for M. Guaino to spend his evenings ...

Compare and Contrast

In 1914, Henry Ford fired 900 workers for observing Eastern Orthodox Christmas. "If these men are to make their home in America," a Ford official said, "they should observe American holidays." (T. Jackson Lears, The Rebirth of a Nation, p. 263).

"Je veux le dire solennellement, elle [la burqa] ne sera pas la bienvenue sur le territoire de la République française. Nous ne pouvons pas accepter dans notre pays des femmes prisonnières derrière un grillage, coupées de toute vie sociale, privées de toute identité. Ce n’est pas l’idée que la République française se fait de la dignité de la femme."
(Nicolas Sarkozy, address to le Congrès, 22 June 2009)

Discuss amongst yourselves.

UPDATE: A lawyer defends the burqa. A Muslim woman opposes it.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Maître Eolas finds cause to pay homage to Rachida Dati after she leaves office: it seems that she corrected a judicial error that no one else seemed to know how to fix.

A Little Cynicism

Cynicism is an occupational hazard of the political commentator. I try to avoid it, but sometimes events force my hand. A case in point is today's news of the abrupt dismissal of 30,000 EVS, or emplois vie scolaire. Schoolhouse helpers, I guess one might translate. What did they do?

Ces EVS ont été embauchés en 2006 pour faire de l'encadrement, via notamment les contrats aidés mis en œuvre par Jean-Louis Borloo, alors ministre de la cohésion sociale, et destinés aux allocataires du RMI et aux chômeurs en fin de droits percevant l'allocation spécifique de solidarité.

What an idea! You take the long-term unemployed, about to run out of benefits, and save them from destitution by putting them into the schools for the purpose of encadrement (a word lovely for its ambiguity as well as for its faint reek of the military). Well, that's one way to get the unemployment numbers down (and to hide the social cost of unemployment in the budget of l'Education nationale), but it isn't likely to have produced much bang for the buck in educating the children or preparing the formerly unemployed for reinsertion into the work force in a real as opposed to a make-work position. No wonder the suddenly dismissed feel betrayed. No wonder the ministry of education was eager to rid itself of this burden. No wonder people feel cynical about politics.

Le dégraissage du mammouth ain't pretty.

Moreau on Translating Political Thought

This post will probably interest few readers (Mel and Steve, this one's for you), but it's of great interest to me in my work as a translator of many political thinkers. Pierre-François Moreau, the editor of a new edition of Spinoza, offers these remarkably cogent thoughts about translation:

La vie des idées : Qu’en est-il maintenant des principes de la traduction ?

Pierre-François Moreau : Ils sont très simples. On part du principe que Spinoza, comme tout philosophe, s’exprime dans un lexique relativement stable. Cela ne veut pas dire que tous les textes spinoziens sont de la même intensité lexicale. Il y a deux pôles : un pôle systématique avec une série de termes qui renvoient à un champ sémantique dans lequel est prise une expression de sa pensée. Substantia, imperium, libertas, etc. ont une signification forte, qui n’est peut-être pas constante, mais qui varie dans des limites conceptuelles. À côté de cela, il y a la langue ordinaire. Ce serait trop simple, bien entendu, si l’on pouvait diviser le texte en ces deux catégories : il y a toute une série de degrés. Le rôle du traducteur est de jouer sur ces degrés et d’arriver à rendre au maximum une équivalence. C’est pourquoi le vieil axiome selon lequel le traducteur est un traître est parfaitement faux. C’est là une vision spiritualiste de la traduction. En réalité on peut très bien traduire sans trahir. Le degré de fidélité du traducteur renvoie à son degré de réflexion sur la conceptualité du texte. Celle-ci ne consiste certainement pas à rendre un mot latin par un mot français, car le mot latin peut correspondre à plusieurs mots, par exemple, le mot imperium renvoie à deux champs sémantiques classiques : le champ militaire (le commandement), et un domaine juridico-politique. Il est parfaitement légitime d’utiliser deux termes. Ensuite à l’intérieur d’un même champ sémantique, ce serait une erreur de le traduire par un très grand nombre de mots différents ; mais d’un autre côté ce serait une erreur de le traduire toujours par le même terme, ce qui reviendrait à tordre la langue d’arrivée. Il faut alors choisir un petit nombre de termes et les indiquer au lecteur. Par exemple, imperium au sens juridico-politique peut être traduit par « État » et « souveraineté ». Et ensuite il faudra éviter de traduire par un même mot français plusieurs mots latins. Sinon le lecteur risque de reconstruire une cohérence fausse en s’appuyant sur une permanence lexicale qui n’existe pas dans le texte latin. À cela s’ajoute la nécessité de constituer un glossaire qui permet d’exposer les choix que le traducteur a faits. Donner au lecteur les clefs et les conditions de sa lecture, c’est lui donner les possibilités d’une lecture scientifique.

This pragmatic and reasonable approach to the problem of conceptual translation is a refreshing antidote to Straussian dogma.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Sarko on Avigdor Lieberman

Via Judah Grunstein.

When "Free" is not Free

Something for HADOPI adversaries to chew on.

Dati's Cumul

Rachida Dati will be pulling down a salary from the international law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher in addition to her 7,661 euros per month as MEP, according to Jean Quatremer, who amusingly mangles the name of the firm as "Willkie Fart & Gallagher," sure to make adolescent Anglophones everywhere smile (and sure to rank in the annals of law firms alongside Click and Clack's Dewey Cheatham & Howe).

IMF Backs France's Economic Policy

A new report issued today:

France has taken decisive actions to address the domestic impact of the financial crisis and the unprecedented global contraction. Crisis management needs to remain a cornerstone of near term policies, but a renewed focus on medium-term fiscal sustainability and a deepening of the country’s ambitious structural reform agenda will help to minimize the longer-term costs of the current downturn.

Hmm. That's a rather more optimistic read than I would have expected. And what does it say about the likelihood of a Sarko-DSK face-off in 2012? "You criticize me now," Sarko could say, "but back in 2009 your staff gave my policies its blessing."

Chérèque Says No

The government's big push over the coming months will be to work toward an increase in the legal age of retirement. Among the unions, the CFDT has generally been the most favorable toward retirement reform as a necessary if somewhat painful step toward preserving the "French social model." The CFDT supported Juppé's abortive 1995 reform effort, Fillon's successful 2003 reform, and, in the main, Sarkozy's reform of the special regimes in 2007. So it is noteworthy--and, to me, somewhat surprising--that Chérèque now seems to be putting his foot down. Of the alternatives on offer--reduced benefits, higher payroll taxes and deductions, and higher retirement age--I would think that the last would be most palatable to labor, given the increase in longevity. France is out of line with most other countries in this respect as well. To be sure, adjustments would be required to deal with those lines of work in which the ability to perform beyond the age of 55 is in question--the so-called pénibilité issue. I'm not sure what Chérèque, who has until now been a realist on retirement issues, has in mind. But the signal to the government is an ominous one.

Holy Toledo!

I hadn't realized that there were allegations that the Karachi bomb affair is tied up with alleged illegal kickbacks to the Balladur presidential campaign (managed by Nicolas Sarkozy). Charles Bremner puts the pieces together. This takes the Sarkozy-Villepin rivalry/mutual vendetta to an entirely new level.

Front National 39 Percent

In the first round of the municipal election at Hénin-Beaumont yesterday, the Front National, with Marine Le Pen in the no. 2 spot on the ticket, scored 39.34%. The excellent reportage by David Servenay and Audrey Cerdan suggests that the FN has taken a new turn in its approach to campaigning, dropping controversial historical references and attempting to appeal to voters as the incarnation of a new generation of "nationalist" (and not xenophobic or racist) sentiment. The FN had seemed to be on the decline. Will it find a new lease on life in the Nord? And if the account here is correct, why is the PS apparently taking the threat so lightly?

More here and here.

The Dray Affair

I've been following the Julien Dray affair without comment, and now I'm dispensed from the need to write anything myself by Bernard Girard's post this morning, which sums up what I would have said.

From the same post I also learned a new usage of a familiar French word: cavalerie. From the dictionary:

II.− [P. anal. de fonction; p. réf. aux pièces d'or anglaises où Saint-George figure en cavalier] La cavalerie de Saint-Georges. L'or dépensé par la diplomatie anglaise pour acheter les adversaires de sa politique :
4. Le « chef du Foreign Office français » avait envoyé les tirailleurs de Marchand opérer au loin contre l'Angleterre : le chef du véritable Foreign Office répondait en envoyant la cavalerie de Saint-Georges manœuvrer dans nos villes contre le cabinet français et les soldats français.
Maurras, Kiel et Tanger, 1914, p. 51.
III.− Arg. Opération fictive entre commerçants simulant une affaire pour se procurer de l'argent auprès d'une banque. [Les autres] complices (...) qu'Elam avait mis dans son bain avec des traites de cavalerie (A. Simonin, J. Bazin, Voilà taxi! 1935, p. 168).

On Efficiency and the Moralization of Capitalism

Since the crisis, Nicolas Sarkozy has shed any neoliberal trappings he once wore and become a great "moralizer of capitalism," an apostle of new, but most often unspecified, regulations to rid the economy of financiarisation (bad) and return us to the halcyon days of yore. Guillermo Calvo and Rudy Loo-Kung take a different view: that deregulation is "socially efficient" even if it yields bubbles that subsequently collapse in crisis. Politicians (and central bankers?) instinctively recognize this, they say, which is why they don't try harder to prick bubbles.

I don't think I buy this argument, but it's intriguing enough to warrant a cogent refutation. Not that I'm about to supply one. It's too early in the morning. Just sayin' ... something to think about. Being a pessimistic sort myself, I can see why society collectively might require periodic infusions of optimism, riskophilic stimuli, as it were. Bubbles might be just the thing ... And what if the good that bubbles do were interred with their sticky residue, while the evil, perpetuated in endless rehashing of the collapse and the "irrationality" of the boom years, cast a pall over enterprise for decades? The moralization of capitalism, Sarko's latest hobby horse, might then be seen less as a virtue than as the tribute paid by vice--Dr. Johnson's definition of hypocrisy.

ADDENDUM: Of course there's also the "Rahm Emanuel dictum": "A crisis is too important to waste." In other words, the possibility of fundamental reform in a political system choked by a surfeit of veto points depends on periodic crises and the clamor for effective action that they generate. Collapsing bubbles are thus a catalyst for necessary change. On the other hand, simply standing Calvo and Loo-Kung on their head ignores, as they do, the distribution of the costs of bubbles. Even if the social benefit exceeds the social cost, the distribution of benefits in both the expansive and contractive phases may militate against accepting a positive balance as optimal.

Bien Dit!

C.H., at Rationalité Limitée, discusses l'emprunt national:

François Fillon, à propos du “grand emprunt national” qui non, “n’est pas un plan de relance” :

Pour moi, il est absolument essentiel que pas un euro ne soit utilisé à des dépenses qui ne seraient pas des dépenses utiles“.

Hum, que faut-il comprendre ? Qu’en temps normal (i.e. quand on ne fait pas tout un bazar autour de ce qui, pour tout Etat, est quelque chose de tout à fait banal : emprunter), les ressources sont dépensées n’importe comment ? Mine de rien, le premier ministre laisse quand même entendre qu’il arrive à l’Etat français de faire des dépenses inutiles. C’est pas un scoop vous me direz…

On the same subject, Arthur Charpentier offers a lovely saying that he attributes to Edgar Faure: "Ce n'est pas la girouette qui tourne, c'est le vent,"along with a pertinent comment on the lack of government pedagogy about the changes in economic policy.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Eurozone Divergence

Wolfgang Munchau fears that the diverging economic philosophies of France and Germany will prove problematic in the future.

Lellouche, Turkey, Israel, and Europe

Political life is complicated. As I've noted before, Pierre Lellouche, whom Sarko has just put in charge of European affairs, strongly favors the admission of Turkey to the EU, which Sarko opposes. Now, Egemen Bagis, Lellouche's Turkish counterpart, expresses his pleasure at the appointment, which he believes may send a signal about a change in France's position regarding Turkey.

It should also be noted that Lellouche is a strong supporter of Israel, and Israel's relations with Turkey have been deteriorating over the past year. Of course Bagis is a Turkish liberal, who may find himself out of step with his home government, just as Lellouche, who has been called a "neoconservative à la française," sometimes finds himself out of step with his government.

In international relations, however, networks of transactional actors sometimes exert influence disproportionate to their strength within their own parties, governing coalitions, or national polities. Lellouche at last has a portfolio that he has coveted for a good long time, and it would be surprising if he didn't try to make a good deal of his opportunity while he has it. And Sarkozy must have had his own good reason for moving Bruno Le Maire out of the European affairs post, which he had occupied for only six months, during which brief tenure he drew generally good reviews, in particular for his efforts to patch up the Franco-German "special relationship," for which task his training as a Germanist no doubt prepared him well. But now he has been shifted to agriculture, and Lellouche, whose priorities and background are utterly different, has been given his chance. It will be interesting to see what he makes of it.

Valls Shocks Teachers' Unions

Manuel Valls, Socialist presidential hopeful, participated in a debate organized by two leaders of the right, Raffarin and Copé, and proposed school reforms that the unions aren't happy about: no additional funding for schools but extra pay for teachers in "difficult" schools, assignment of experienced teachers to underperforming schools, and a complete transformation of teacher training to deal with today's "social realities."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

NPA Troubles

The NPA's poor showing in the European elections seems to be giving some recent adherents doubts about the wisdom of the party's strategy. One of them doesn't mince words:

Jean-Claude Labranche était une grosse prise : membre de la direction de l'union départementale CGT, ce militant aguerri n'a pas digéré l'isolement dans lequel son parti s'est enfermé en partant seul aux européennes. "Le score obtenu n'est pas digne du projet qui était celui du NPA : faire un grand parti de masse et de classe. La direction n'a tiré aucune leçon et va recommencer les mêmes conneries aux régionales", explique-t-il. Il ajoute qu'il est las d'entendre ses camarades dénoncer "la trahison des bureaucrates syndicaux" comme la volonté de la direction de "doubler" les syndicats en appelant à organiser des "marches régionales contre les licenciements".

"L'alliance entre le mouvement social et le politique à laquelle avait appelé Olivier Besancenot a volé en éclats pour une affirmation identitaire et sectaire", ajoute ce militant de 52 ans. Ses critiques ont trouvé un écho dans la fédération, où trois autres militants l'ont suivi.

Goldberg on the Burqa

Michelle Goldberg has a good piece on the burqa. (Full disclosure: I was interviewed for this article and pointed her toward Joan Scott and Cécile Laborde, whom she quotes at length.)

Sarko Stays Out of Trouble in the Caribbean

Nicholas Sarkozy avoided trouble in the Caribbean by mainly confining his visit to well-guarded airports. I imagine that local prefects were taking no chances with the security details after reading about what happened to colleagues who allowed jeers to reach the president's ears. With his usual charm, the president dripped with sarcasm toward Jacques Chirac and Ségolène Royal, who he intimated had curried favor with islanders by dispensing warm sentiments unbacked by concrete actions. Not wrong, mais inélégant quand même. He offered the Martiniquais a referendum on autonomy, which should win him some points.

Credit Derivatives and Catastrophe

For a lucid and gentle introduction to the credit derivatives at the heart of the financial crisis, see Donald McKenzie's review of Gillian Tett's book here. Tett is an FT journalist who has done excellent reporting on troublesome financial innovations, and McKenzie is a sociologist of knowledge from whose papers I have learned a great deal about how some very bright people were able to delude themselves about the risks involved in complex financial proudcts (h/t Harry Marks, Peter Gourevitch).

Friday, June 26, 2009

Le Monde Gets It Right

Le Monde, after paying ritual obeisance to the principle of laïcité, gets to the heart of the matter in its editorial this morning on the burqa. Is there a principle on the basis of which adult women can be denied the right to wear what they choose on French soil? Defending the equality of the sexes is problematic: Is the Catholic Church to be told that it must ordain women? The problem of the burqa is one that must be solved by persuasion, not legislation:

Prohiber par la loi le port de la burqa ou du niqab soulèverait, en effet, deux questions plus qu'épineuses. D'une part, au nom de quel argument ou de quel principe interdire à des femmes majeures une tenue vestimentaire, quelle qu'elle soit, dans l'espace public, sauf à confondre le législateur français avec une assemblée d'oulémas ? Ce qui a été décidé pour les établissements scolaires, précisément parce qu'il s'agissait des jeunes et de l'école, trouve, là, sa limite. D'autre part, sauf à imaginer une détestable ou ridicule police des moeurs, comment appliquer une telle interdiction, si le choix en était fait ? Beaucoup plaident avec énergie pour un islam moderne et tolérant. Ils ont raison. Il faut convaincre plutôt que légiférer.

Meanwhile,the president of the CFCM, the organization representing French Muslims, says that Muslims are not asking France to accept the burqa, which the Koran does not require.

L'Emprunt Public: How the Decision Was Made

Via Marianne.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lamont Laments

Michèle Lamont, the author of How Professors Think, explains what she thinks is wrongheaded in Sarkozy's approach to educational reform. The bottom line:

Academic evaluation is enabled by long-term exposure to a detailed classification system that allows one to understand what is new and significant. Until Sarkozy and the other French technocrats understand this, they will have a hard time proposing a policy that will gain the support of experts.

Will Jégo Blow the Whistle?

Yves Jégo, ousted yesterday as secretary of state for overseas territories, is said to be itching to leak documents showing that he was done in by the influence of "un certain patronat." Could be interesting.

Sarkozy's Gamble

Sarkozy rolled the dice at Versailles. The event was the culmination of his first cycle of reforms and made possible by one of them, the constitutional change that allowed the president to address the joint session of the Senate and Assembly. Essentially, when you bracket the attention-diverting anti-burqa paragraph, which has grabbed the spotlight outside France, the message was, "Not to worry." The crisis is over, he implied. Now we can start to think about long-term rebuilding, and for that we'll borrow money with un emprunt national. No rush. Plenty of time for consultations.

Any fallout from the crisis will be limited, the president insisted, to marginal categories. We'll handle it with the same old same old: RSA, aid to the elderly, crumbs for the suburbs. We'll take care of the "bad deficit" by cutting back the bureaucracy, as had been promised all along, and every penny of the "good deficit" will go to lovely new things: durable development, French Silicon Valley, etc. (The fishermen aren't clamoring for fuel subsidies at the moment, so we don't have to bother with irritating questions, such as, Are subsidies for declining industries "good" or "bad" contributions to the deficit.) Some parts of the old reform package have been quietly dropped: nothing has been heard for many moons about the French "ownership society," for example.

The program is thus basically "don't rock the boat, we're on course for re-election in 2012." This supposes that labor remains quiescent, that the number of unemployed won't skyrocket over the next few months, and that the opposition remains in disarray. Sarko has a good chance of winning his bet. But if he doesn't, I don't think he has a contingency plan. It's a rather passive program for a president whose stock-in-trade has always been dervish-like activity. Whether this is because he has no choice or no imagination is difficult to say.

The remaniement was of a piece with the speech. Commentators have been struck by the fact that its scope was larger than had been intimated. Does it matter? Foreign policy and the economy remain unchanged. The palace guard stays as it was. A few disgraced courtiers have been banished, a few ambitious young folks have been taken aboard. François Fillon remains smiling and glib.

At first sight I like Nora Berra. She is plain-spoken, modest, apparently competent, and doesn't wear Dior. But Dati's eviction means that there is no longer a minority in a regalian ministry. On the level of symbolism, that's a step backwards.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Stuart Jeffries on Sarko, Hegel, and the Burqa

Here. The article begins:

Nicolas Sarkozy's problem is that he hasn't read enough Hegel. Let me rephrase that: one of his problems is that he hasn't read enough Hegel. When the French president told a special session of parliament in Versailles earlier this week, "We cannot accept to have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity", he would have done better to hold his tongue, and instead reflect on that passage in the Philosophy of Right in which Hegel distinguishes between abstract and concrete freedom.


L'Institut Montaigne has just published a study of a suburban ghetto (quartier Les Bosquets, Montfermeil), which offers an excellent description of the accumulation of problems that must be simultaneously tackled if there is to be any hope of "de-ghettoization." Well worth reading.

L'Emprunt Public

Why borrow, as Sarkozy has proposed, 80-100 billion euros from the public rather than the bond market? The government will probably have to pay slightly more to induce individual savers to part with their cash than it would have had to pay the professionals, but, as Jacques Mistral says here, the move is also a sort of referendum on the government's economic policy. It's also a way of ensuring that interest payments remain within the Hexagon rather than leak out to foreign bondholders (who currently hold 65% of France's debt). The government may also want to hedge against the possibility that French sovereign debt will fare less well than other debt on what is fast becoming a crowded marketplace: the US, UK, and Germany are all floating large amounts of debt that foreign buyers may prefer to French bonds.

With current interest rates at historic lows and the ECB digging in its heels at going any lower, this is as good a moment as any to fill the state coffers in anticipation of what may yet need to be done to drag the country out of crisis. And the public may well want to increase its savings. Of course such an increase will come, in the short run at least, at the expense of consumption, and low consumption discourages investment, which the government needs to stimulate. So the increased borrowing and decreased consumer spending will have to be compensated by more government expenditure, which until now Sarko, Lagarde, and Woerth have been saying was unnecessary or even counterproductive.

Very little has been said about what this money will be spent on. We are to have the famous "consultations" with the public on national priorities, but no doubt Bercy already has its contingency plans drawn up, and who knows what grands desseins have been hatched at the Elysée. To some extent, therefore, bond buyers are being asked to take a pig in a poke. Will economic patriotism be enough to spur the disinterment of cash-filled coffee tins buried in the sacred soil of the Nation?

Muslim headgear

In case you're not up on your Muslim headgear nomenclature, here's a helpful pictorial primer.

Allègre, ma non troppo

So what happened to Claude Allègre's cabinet nomination? Allègre himself had been boasting about it for weeks. Pierre Moscovici had it from the horse's mouth in a Parisian bistro. Well, rumor has it that the big Green vote in the European elections may be to blame. Allègre is of course a global-warming-denier. To have appointed him to anything, even the MITI-like industrial czardom that he coveted, would have been a slap in the face to ecovoters.

Is this truth or fiction? Who knows? But I like the story line, and the notion that, even today, the will of the voter counts for something, even if it's only to effect a slight mid-course correction in the pilot's reckoning of the winds aloft en route to destination 2012.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

FT: Eurozone Recovery in Trouble


The New Government

Complete list here. Hortefeux at Interior--loyalty counts for something, I guess. And Pierre Lellouche can finally put away his jar of vaseline and break out the champagne: he's got European Affairs. One oddity: Lellouche favors Turkey's entry into the EU. Sarko of course doesn't.

I guess Bruno Le Maire has been pro(de)moted with the move to "Food, Agriculture and Fishing," which may carry a minister's portfolio but isn't quite up there in my mind. Payback for Villepin's latest digs against Sarko? Loyalty can count against you, too (Le Maire is a Villepin protégé). On the other hand, Minister of Agriculture can be a good career-builder for a French pol, particular one from Normandy.

More here.

UPDATE: Jean Quatremer agrees with me on Le Maire/Lellouche.

"Chauds déchets"

When I saw the title of Le Monde's editorial, "Chauds déchets," my first thought was that it was going to be about Sarko's speech yesterday at Versailles. But no, it's about nuclear waste.

Cabinet Leaks

OK, part 2 of Sarkoweek begins: the first leaks about the new government are out. Darcos moves up to a regalian ministry, replacing Dati. Etc. There's nothing particularly exciting here: no new ouvertures to right, left, up, down, or extreme; no new representatives of visible minorities; Yade isn't being kicked out but may move from the Quai d'Orsay to Sports, which looks like a demotion any way you slice it. Frédéric Mitterrand is returning from Rome, where he'd barely unpacked his bags, to take over Culture.

ADDENDUM: Actually, it's Alliot-Marie to Justice, Darcos to Labor. Does it matter?

Yawn. (No need to change my bottom line.)

Burqa 2

Marianne points out that Jacques Myard (UMP) proposed a law to ban the burqa in 2006 (resubmitted in 2008). It attracted little attention at the time and was never passed. The text of the proposed law reads that "any person coming and going on the territory of the Republic must have the face uncovered to permit easy recognition and identification." Nothing there about defending women from oppression or equality between the sexes. "Recognition and identification."

Dwarfed by Versailles

Sarkozy may have thought that speaking to a joint session of the Assembly and Senate--"the Congress"--at Versailles would magnify his omnipotence, raising him to the level of the Sun King. Instead it had the effect of dwarfing him. As he ambled with his distinctive gait down the long haie d'honneur of Republican Guards, he seemed oddly small, and incongruous in his business suit, not quite the attire for a 17th-c. palace of grandiosity.

The speech itself combined a whimper with a bang. The whimper was the plaintive cry, "Je me pose la question de savoir pourquoi il est si difficile de réformer notre pays. Pourquoi il est si difficile de résoudre les problèmes structurels que tout le monde connaît?" Here we have the characteristic Guaino anaphoric construction (the repeated "Pourquoi il est si difficile") but in an uncharacteristic Job-like lamentation: "Oh, Lord, here I am, your humble servant, endeavoring for two years now to do what you have put me on this Earth to accomplish, to bring everlasting peace to the Gentiles and reform to the French, and yet these hard-hearted and stiff-necked people refuse to hear my message. Why, oh why, Lord, is it so difficult to reform our country?"

Well, for starters, my Son, let's consider centralization, your original sin. When every university in the country must be "reformed" at once, with a national plan promising equality for all and excellence for each, the task becomes unnecessarily difficult. But it would be prosaic to descend to such quibbles in analyzing a State of the Union address, which is pitched at the level of aspiration rather than politics, so let us move on.

As for the bang, Sarko launched the War on the Burqa (which is spelled burka in the official text). "Let us debate the matter," he said, but only after having pronounced that this instrument of "oppression" of women is "not welcome in France." A pronouncement that would seem to leave little room for debate. This unnecessary and pointless diversion will no doubt prove to be good politics for Sarkozy. This is "not a religious problem," the president says, "it is a problem of the liberty and dignity of woman." Neither was the slitting of sheep's throats in bathtubs a religious problem. But raising either issue--surely minor ones among the problmes besetting the Republic--does direct the nation's attention in one direction rather than others. In that choice there are certain ancillary political benefits, but it would be cynical to dwell on the use of a state occasion of great pomp and circumstance for squalid political gain.

For the rest, the speech was a great grab-bag of vapidity. The neoliberal Sarko is gone. Now we have the Colbertian Sarko, proposing a great national debate to choose those sectors of the economy worthy of the state's largesse. And if the state's largesse is inhibited by the "empty coffers" so pointedly mentioned in an earlier speech, why, that small problem will be remedied by appealing to the People for un emprunt national, a quaint absurdity from another era, which I'm sure will make bond dealers on Wall Street and in the City quake with fear at the prospect of losing out on the prospect of underwriting a share of French sovereign debt to be invested in some hypothetical Vallée de Silicon between the Durance and the Rhône. Oh, and "Europe must change. It can no longer function after the crisis as it did before." Noted.

For further details, I refer you the newspaper of record. and the newspaper of cheek. For rhetorical analysis, see here and here. The NY Times takes a broader view of "Sarkozy Black Label."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Collomb not feeling dovish

Gérard Collomb, the mayor of Lyon and a prominent local baron of the PS, has threatened, apparently, to "dynamite" his own party in order to shake things up, lest it "suffer the fate of the PCF." This "after a few glasses of wine" in "an Italian restaurant" in Japan! Perhaps, back home and in a more sober moment, this remark would have been couched in more diplomatic terms. Still, it says a great deal about the party's current state of mind.

The Speech

I will be away from my computer today and therefore won't be blogging about Sarkozy's major address to "le Congrès" until late tonight or tomorrow. In the meantime, I'm sure some of you will want to comment, so feel free to indulge by appending your remarks to this post. This speech will of course set the tone for the remainder of Sarkozy's mandate.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Verrrr-y Interrrr-esting

So, it seems that the Palace wants to kick a troublesome procureur général over to the Cour de cassation, and Rachida Dati, who for a little while still remains minister of justice, blocked the move. The president's representative then took the floor at the meeting of the Conseil Supérieur de la Magistrature that was considering the motion and said that the president had not withdrawn it. But Dati insisted that since the president wasn't there, she was the presiding official, and she did withdraw the motion.

Looks a lot like Dati, who isn't happy about the way she's been treated, has no qualms about making her pique known to the world. She may be off to the European Parliament (though Daniel Cohn-Bendit doesn't expect to see much of her there), but she's not going quietly. ... A dangerous game to be playing ...

PS Labo des idées

One of the secrets of Sarkozy's election victory in 2007 was the work of an advisory group of intellectuals organized by Emmanuelle Mignon, who coordinated and distilled advice to the candidate from a wide range of political analysts and thinkers. Martine Aubry appears to be creating a similar organization within the PS. There's an extended discussion here.

Woerth: Deficit Between 7 and 7.5 percent

Eric Woerth, budget minister, says the deficit will be between 7 and 7.5 percent in 2009 and probably the same in 2010. The Maastricht target of 3 percent seems like a fading dream, but there's no one left to lecture the French on fiscal discipline: the liberal Anglo-Saxons are in even worse shape, with the UK at 10 pct and the US at 12. Alan Blinder explains why we shouldn't worry about this--too much.

And from Wolfgang Munchau:

This general [German] level of debt-aversion is bizarre. Many ordinary Germans regard debt as morally objectionable, even if it is put to proper use. They see the financial crisis primarily as a moral crisis of Anglo-Saxon capitalism. The balanced budget constitutional law is therefore not about economics. It is a moral crusade, and it is the last thing, Germany, the eurozone and the world need right now.

German BND Report on Geopolitics

18-19 juin 2009 - Les services secrets allemands prévoient des bouleversements géopolitiques majeurs
La revue Internationale Politik consacre son numéro de juin aux conséquences géopolitiques de la crise économique et financière. Andreas Rinke, correspondant à Berlin du Handelsblatt, y présente en particulier le contenu d'une étude des services secrets allemands, le BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst) qui élabore trois scénarios possibles, centrés sur la Chine.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Question primaire, question fondamentale

Arnaud Montebourg, the smooth and photogenic deputy, and Olivier Ferrand, the director of the think tank Terra Nova, are in charge of a working group of the PS whose mission is to figure out how to accomplish the famous "renovation" for which party militants have been waiting since 2002. They've just submitted a report to Martine Aubry advocating an open primary as the route to salvation. It worked for the American Democrats, they suggest: Obama was able to sweep away the tarnished older generation. Montebourg would no doubt like to be the sweeper, if his proposal is accepted, but he'll have stiff competition. This interesting note considers le profil beau gosse as one element of a tripartite typology of présidentiables:

Sur ce registre, les candidats ne manquent pas et la liste s’allongera à mesure que le PS restera éloigné du pouvoir : Vincent Peillon (52 ans en 2012) Arnaud Montebourg (50 ans) Manuel Valls (50 ans) Benoit Hamon (45 ans) sont les principaux, mais on peut en imaginer bien d’autres puisque l’essentiel est d’être jeune et neuf. On pourrait même aller à faire comme en Allemagne et organiser un jeu de télé réalité pour dénicher la nouvelle star qui saura séduire les foules, cet « Obama français » que toute la classe politico-médiatique attend depuis un an. Après tout pourquoi pas, si c’est ce que la politique est devenue ! Il y a certainement des talents cachés qui ne demandent qu’à éclore, et même peut-être au sein du PS !

But in the end this writer believes that the best candidate to head a "republican front" opposition to Sarkozy would be Hubert Védrine. A suggestion I hadn't heard before. What do readers say?

New Blog of Interest

There's a new blog whose author appears to be a Ph.D. student working on the political consequences in France of the use of torture during the Algerian War. Here's a post on that subject. And here's another on the burqa controversy, which refers to my previous post (that's how I learned about the blog).

The Burqa

The burqa is back in the news. Is it because Obama, while in Cairo and again in France, ruffled some republican sensibilities by suggesting that a free society oughtn't to tell individuals what they ought to wear? Be that as it may, the current line of argument turns not on the defense of laïcité but rather on the defense of womanhood. In one petition, the burqa is described as une prison ambulante--a description ratified by 4 Communists, 7 Socialists, and 43 elected officials of the UMP. On France2 last night, the objection to the burqa was expressed as an opposition between compulsion and free choice: this garb is subi, it was asserted. But the reportage then shifted to England, where any number of burqa-wearing women were interviewed, and all described their dress as a conscious choice, personal preference, and form of self-expression.

I'm not sure that any of us is entirely "free" in the way we dress. In Washington yesterday to talk with people in government, I wore a tie; at Harvard I occasionally do, but mostly not; in ordinary life, never. Why do I make these choices? Are they subis or libres? Am I the prisoner of (perhaps imagined) traditions or a free individual responding to perceived situations? Such questions are badly framed, I think, and simply avoid the real issue, which is, Why do societies choose to regulate some types of behavior and not others? Which such regulations are legitimate and which are not?

A number of officials have commented on the burqa in "personal" as opposed to "legal" terms. They find it particularly "troubling," moreso than other types of "traditional" garb. Xavier Darcos is one, and he has said that it would be "a horror" if a woman were to arrive at school wearing a burqa. Well, I'm personally horrified by men who cover their bodies with tattoos, but I would be equally horrified if they were to be banned from school for that reason. Darcos finds the burqa a symbol of oppression even if worn in the streets. Perhaps, but then one might ask if the woman who, rather than cover her body, bares much of it is a victim of the culture's repressive tolerance or a beacon of the liberated Occident. Since we would likely find a range of answers to that question, we tend not to legislate the issue. If we listened carefully, I suspect we would also find a range of answers on the burqa question and choose not to legislate, or at least legislate only very cautiously. No doubt the current mini-furor will dissipate, but the recurrence of this theme is symptomatic of an underlying disquiet that needs to be discussed with an open mind. A member of the Stasi commission recommends a similar caution.

Or am I guilty of proffering "propos de salon alambiqués face à des intégristes prêts à tout" (Jacques Myard, UMP).?

A jurist's view.

Some background.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Short Break

There will be a brief hiatus in blogging. I'm off to Washington, DC. The U. S. Government, in its wisdom, has decided to consult me on the subject of French domestic politics. Imagine: now they'll know what you know, and they're paying for what you get for free. Back Friday night.

Copé Defends Valls

Jean-François Copé has crossed the left-right divide to defend Manuel Valls for his contested remark about the absence of whites at a flea market in Evry. But this is the kind of defense Valls doesn't need. Copé enlists Valls as a champion of "French identity": "Behind [his words], there is a reality, that of French identity." Which, Copé implies, is of course white-skinned. As Coluche used to say, "Ouais, tu sais, je suis un type normal, un Blanc quoi."

Of course if Valls ever does realize his wish of becoming the candidate of the Left, Copé might well be the man he faces on the Right. So Copé's "generous" defense of his potential rival is worth parsing. Valls, as I pointed out yesterday, tried to defend himself by donning republican garb. Copé takes a page out of Sarkozy's playbook: You're no more republican than I am, he says, and for me the Republic is synonymous with "French identity," tu sais, normal, et blanc, quoi.


I try not to do much Bruni-blogging. Respect for la vie privée and all, not to mention distaste for la pipolisation de la politique. But this! Woody Allen wants to make a film with Carla. Since Woody is the new Jerry Lewis--the American export whose appeal to the French is a tad difficult to explain--this might give Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis a run for its money. How can Sarko resist?

Maybe Woody is drawn to the saga of an older guy, not all that physically prepossessing, stealing off with a fetching younger woman. Sarko could be pretty convincing as a nebbishy Allen proxy.

Le Bac

Questions from this year's bac en philo:

Les sujets complets

Série L (littéraire), coefficient 7

- L'objectivité de l'histoire suppose-t-elle l'impartialité de l'historien ?

- Le langage trahit-il la pensée ?

- Expliquer un extrait de Le Monde comme volonté et comme représentation, de Schopenhauer.

Série S (scientifique), coefficient 3

- Est-il absurde de désirer l'impossible ?

- Y a-t-il des questions auxquelles aucune science ne répond ?

- Expliquer un extrait de De la démocratie en Amérique, d'Alexis de Tocqueville.

Série ES (économique et social) coefficient 4

- Que gagne-t-on à échanger ?

- Le développement technique transforme-t-il les hommes ?

- Expliquer un extrait de l'Essai sur l'entendement humain, de John Locke.

Crikey! Is it absurd to desire the impossible? A question from the philosophy bac in the science track!!? No wonder the students are on strike. This sounds more like a May '68 slogan than a subject for the philosophy of science to my no doubt coarse Yankee ears (coarsened by a B.S. and Ph.D. from MIT to be sure, so I have learned a little science in my time, and in my spare time a little philo as well). Cultivating paradox is one thing, philosophy of science is another.

Could it be that Sarko has a point about La Princesse de Clèves?

ADDENDUM: Charles Bremner's son takes the bac en philo.

This is chouette, if you go for beaux vieux purveyors of the higher bullshit.
Or if you'd rather get it from the left than the right, here's Enthoven.

Matt Yglesias has the correct answers (in a literal American sort of way).

Has Anti-Sarkozysme Run Its Course?

Bernard Girard thinks so. But then there's also this.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Greens and the Right

Judah Grunstein notes the emergence of cooperation between the Greens and the Right in Belgium and Germany. How long before Sarko invites Dany, Eva, and José to lunch?

Valls' Brass Balls

OK, so Manuel Valls is running for president. On France2 last night he showed himself to have one of the requisite qualities: brass balls. David Pujadas asked him about the much-discussed clip in which he says that what Evry, the city of which he is mayor, needs is "quelques blancs, quelques whites, quelques blancos." Valls' response: "I take full responsibility for the remark because I'm a republican and I am against all forms of communautarisme. ... I'm against ghettos. What is a ghetto? It's when you put the poorest of the poor--often immigrants, but not only--in the same cities, the same neighborhoods, the same apartment buildings, the same schools."

Right. Except Valls failed to explain, and Pujadas failed to ask, what he meant by the comment that came before the quelques blancs remark. There he was, walking through the flea market, and what he said was, "Look at that. What an image that gives of Evry. Give me some whites ..." (italics mine).

Would whites shopping in a flea market really improve the image of Evry? Even upscale towns have their brocantes, their itinerant street markets, their open-air stalls. Shopping in them, you don't usually find the upper crust, though we tourists often find them charming. Republicanism isn't going to eliminate the need for places where the less affluent can buy things secondhand.

I like Valls. I don't think he's a racist. I don't think politicians should be vilified for every politically incorrect slip of the tongue. But his comment does trouble me. I can't quite be sure what lies behind it. And his slick reversal--the attempt to pass off a gaffe as the battle cry of a crusader for republican equality--rubs me the wrong way.

Local Government Reform

What will local government reform look like? A few hints.

Gloom on the Left

Need any more pessimistic analyses of the left's prospects for 2012? Try this and this.

Buiter on Eurozone

Bad news, and we can't even tell how bad because they're covering up:

The Euro Area has performed remarably badly in this downturn. This is partly due to the ECB, whose policy stance has been less expansionary than that of the Fed and the Bank of England. Its official policy rate still stands at 1.00 percent, around 100 basis points above the level it should be at, and the Eurosystem has expanded its balance sheet less than the Fed and the Bank of England. A more serious problem is that addressing the solvency of the banking system in the Euro Area has not yet begun in earnest. There have been government capital injections (or announcement of such) when banks were about to fall over (Commerzbank and assorted Landesbanken in Germany, ABN-Amro and ING in the Netherlands, and many other banks in Belgium, Ireland, France, Italy and now Spain), but it has been even less systematic and on a smaller scale than in the US.

In addition, the Euro Area banks have managed to keep the problem assets they have on their balance sheets under wrap. No stress tests whose methodology and/or outcomes are in the public domain have been performed. The European Commission now wants a uniform set of EU-wide stress tests, but only to give it and supervisors/regulators a sense of what the risk-map is, not as a prelude to mandatory capital raising and/or a restructuring of funding strategies.

The Euro Area banks have used every accounting trick in the book to avoid revealing the existence of troubled or toxic assets and marking them to market. The ECB recently estimated the additional capital required by the Euro Area bans at between €212 and €283 bn. People close to the industry assure me that the true figure is at least twice that amount. So Euro Area banks are likely to be or become zombie banks to a much greater degree than their US and UK counterparts. They have revealed little, recognised less and are, to an unknown degree, still subject to material insolvency risk because of undeclared horrors on their balance sheets. Their high degree of leverage also makes them extremely vulnerable to further balance sheet deterioration and conventional household, industrial and commercial loans go belly-up in increasing numbers as the recessions deepens and lengthens.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Second Act

At the end of last year I wrote an article for ENA Hors les Murs, the ENA alumni magazine, in which I suggested that Sarkozy's problem was that he had written his presidency as a one-act play and, when the crisis struck, he had no second act. I think we are about to witness the unveiling of the second act. Sarko will soon speak, as he is now permitted to do under the constitutional reform, to a joint session of the Assembly and Senate at Versailles. The Greens have announced that they will not attend: Noël Mamère finds the setting too monarchical and the promised post-speech debate an empty sham. The Socialists will attend but won't take part in the debate, thus continuing their string of uninterpretable strategic moves. Does attendance connote acceptance of the reforms, while refusal to debate is meant to suggest adherence to some other principle of government? Who knows? Who cares? Les chiens aboient; les caravanes passent.

Attention will therefore focus on what Sarkozy says. There have been leaks, most notably from Claude Guéant: the second half of the quinquennat will be devoted to social issues (because the economic ones have all been dealt with, or because the crisis has limited the room for maneuver?). The elderly will be promised assistance. Local government reforms will be laid out. There will be more "moralization of capitalism," as the French like to say: fulminations against "speculation" (bad), praise for "entrepreneurs" (good). But is a banker or hedge-fund manager who takes a flyer on a high-tech startup a speculator or an investor?

Such Jesuitical questions are best left to others; the president speaks ex cathedra. "Green" is in, so there will be lenifying words about the environment. Cohn-Bendit was useful for thwarting Bayrou, and Nicolas Hulot might be useful for taking votes from whichever of its 27 presidential hopefuls the PS finally settles on in 2012, but in the end a substantial number of Green voters must be made to feel at home in the UMP (Borloo is the government's most popular minister). Etc.

Act 2 will then continue in the form of un remaniement ministériel, the last refuge of presidents who think they're ahead of the competition and don't see opportunities for any big policy initiatives. The new faces, promotions, and demotions will give the press (and bloggers) material to write about for three or four weeks, merging nicely into the presidential vacation season. Then for the rentrée there can be a renewed assault on a few of the sticky wickets left over from Act 1: lycées and universities, perhaps, hiking the retirement age, closing some hospitals and courthouses, shrinking the odd government department.

And afterwards, as Napoleon said, on s'engage, puis on voit. The troops will have been deployed, and it will remain to be seen whether the sleeping enemy can rouse itself for un baroud d'honneur or must slumber on in the hope of a revivifying kiss from some still unnamed Prince or (Princess) Charming. Unemployment will likely be much higher by then. Some people might be feeling rather desperate. Things could heat up. The president might feel a twitching in muscles that haven't been used for a while; old instincts might revive.

But he'd prefer, I think, to muddle through Act 2 without riling Nemesis. Then, if re-elected, there might be time for an Act 3, more ambitious than Act 1, if the hero hasn't tired by then and begun to think of cosseted retirement. Though the thought of retirement might also trouble him a bit: he can't really expect Mme Sarkozy to stick around when he no longer has at his disposal the world's most potent aphrodisiac, as power has been called.


La Vie des idées has compiled a series of recent essays on the evolution of the justice system.

Nailed Him

The Socialists, always in search of la rénovation, have at last found the issue with which they can beat Sarkozy! And what might that be? you ask. Answer: the cost of the annual Élysée garden party. Yes, folks, the famous Dosière Report is out, and you won't believe the waste and misrepresentation that the good professor has discovered. Here is the scoop in his own words:

Un exemple précis, qui concerne le coût de la garden party du 14 juillet, illustre à quel point la communication permet de dissimuler la réalité budgétaire.

Que dit le commentaire : « les mises en concurrence ont ainsi permis de baisse le coût unitaire de la garden party du 14 juillet, par exemple, ne serait ce qu’en l’appliquant aux traiteurs. »

Le lecteur en conclut donc que la garden-party coûte moins cher, et qu’il y a bien eu économie.
La réalité est exactement contraire puisque la garden-party a coûté plus cher : 475 523 euros en 2008 contre 419 213 euros en 2007, soit +13,4% . Ce que ne dit pas le rapport, c’est que le nombre d’invités est passé de 5 500 à 7 050

Yes, the shocking truth is that while the palace boasts of reducing the "unit cost" of the presidential bash by applying liberal economic principles (competition among caterers!), the eagle-eyed Socialists have discovered that so many more guests were invited to partake of the pared-down comestibles that the price actually increased by 13.4%. Yet another case of hyperprésidentialisme. Sad, sad, sad. Can it be long before Martine Aubry outstrips Daniel Cohn-Bendit in the polls? Now that the PS is exercising its contre-pouvoir to the max, surely the voters will see the error of their ways and come back to the fold. We wait with bated breath.

Maastricht was sooooo 1990s

In case you had any doubts, the Stability and Growth Pact gives new meaning to the phrase "more honored in the breach than in the observance."

Sarko and Chirac Bury Bongo ...

... and hope he takes his secrets with him to the grave. Sarko was booed by the crowd on his arrival at the presidential palace.

Le Fait du Prince

The president mucks about with the local sewers at Cap Nègre, the prefect resists, and ...


Yesterday, some Socialist (hard to tell them apart anymore) said that the party was more and more reminiscent of the SFIO. La preuve: here.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sarko and Global Economic Reform

Following up on an earlier note, Sarkozy wants to make ILO "norms" regarding labor practices obligatory by imposing sanctions through the IMF and WTO for non-compliance. The American right, which lionized Sarko l'Américain when he spoke before Congress a while back, will no doubt be less than pleased to discover that their best-loved Frenchman is proposing a step toward what they ritually disparage as "world government."

ADDENDUM: Sarko borrows from ATTAC.

Mélenchon Needs a Proofreader

He visits the Élysée as "party chief" and lets Sarko know what's on his mind, but I think he meant to write "Questions existentielles" and "Barroso." I'm sure Sarko was delighted to learn of the many points in which the position of the UMP during the campaign contradicted the Lisbon Treaty.

New French Econ Blogs

The French economics blogosphere is beginning to be as crowded as the American. An established econ blog lists some new ones.

Cohn-Bendit Surge

Daniel Cohn-Bendit is now the most popular opposition leader in the latest beauty contest poll (meaningless, I know). Oddly, no score is given for Olivier Besancenot, who had been rising rapidly earlier this year. It's an odd juxtaposition. Cohn-Bendit sounds tough, aggressive, and uncompromising but offers relatively moderate policy prescriptions. Besancenot sounds affable and engaging but calls for a radical break with the capitalist system. The French seem to have shifted their affections from the sweet firebrand to the acidulous moderate. Meanwhile, Bayrou has plummeted (-15 points). Avuncular is out, disheveled is in.

Lang on Valls

What's wrong with the Socialist Party, chapter 247:

Jack Lang complains that the PS has systematically "cut off the head" of anyone in its ranks who showed presidential ambitions, "including myself." Then, when asked about Manuel Valls' presidential ambitions, he proceeds to cut off his head:

C'est "un garçon qui a du talent" mais "le vrai sujet pour le moment c'est de redonner à ce parti une vigueur, une force, un souffle, un élan qu'il a perdus" et cela réclame "une véritable révolution intérieure", a-t-il dit.

Un garçon qui a du talent indeed. Imagine the outcry if Hillary Clinton had said of Barack Obama's presidential ambitions, "He's a talented boy."

Meanwhile, Valls is doing a pretty good job of cutting off his own head by making indiscreet comments while forgetting that he's wired for sound--a growing professional hazard among politicians these days. There are calls for the party to censure him.

Bridling Capitalism

President Sarkozy will today tell the International Labor Organization that unbridled capitalism has had its day. Specifically, he will relay a demand from French labor unions that future IMF aid to developing countries "be conditioned not only on economic results but also on social results." Interesting: Sarko as le porte-parole of labor, surely an unaccustomed role, and a far cry from the Sarko who was going to end "rigidities" in the French labor market and thus make a dent in France's chronically high unemployment. Now it seems that the remedy is to introduce rigidities elsewhere, although the vagueness of the proposition will no doubt make it difficult to tell exactly what it means.

It was also announced last week that Pascal Lamy would be heading up an international trade watchdog group to keep an eye out for governments introducing covert protectionist measures of one sort or another. Will Lamy flag Sarko and the French unions?

ADDENDUM: Philippe Askenazy suggests that the idea of a rigid French labor market is quite wrong:

Si l'effondrement catastrophique de l'emploi au premier semestre et les multiples annonces de coupes dans l'intéressement ou dans les primes des salariés se prolongent, l'année 2009 pourrait donc ébranler la vision idéologique d'une France "rigide". L'absence de déformation du partage des richesses en faveur du travail devra bien nous faire admettre que l'emploi et les salaires sont, dans les faits, aussi flexibles en France que dans les pays anglo-saxons.


Two interesting posts this morning on the media coverage of the crash of Air France 447, here and here. The latter is particularly interesting on the way in which news anchors have repeatedly pressed cautious investigators to go beyond the new factoid of the day and embrace some highly speculative theory as to the cause of the crash. I have my own familial corrective to this sort of hyperbole: my brother is an aeronautical engineer. Whenever I report to him the latest breathless speculation about the incident, he calmly debunks it, often adding the comment that I shouldn't spend so much time reading blogs.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Le Grand Paris

Plans for le Grand Paris are the subject of an article in today's Times Magazine. The piece suffers a bit from its saturation in architectural megalospeak: these architects seem to think of themselves as designers of "social systems" in the mold of Marshal Lyautey rather than as draftsmen. The rhetorical inflation and evacuation of politics from the planning process are alarming. No wonder there is an elective affinity between these planners and the current president of the Republic. I am reminded of the scene in Zola's La Curée where Aristide Saccard looks down on the city from the heights of Montmartre and cuts symbolic gashes in its flesh with gestures of his arm. Still, worth reading.

Two comments to this post are important enough to lift to the main thread, along with my reply:

Jeremy Kargon: Although I agree with the general point of this post, I'm somewhat surprised by the comment "...rather than as draftsmen." Does Mr. Goldhammer really believe that all an architect does or should do is draw up schemes at others' direction?

That's usually what folks think here in the US, and as a consequence we suffer (usually) from a wretched level of attention to our environmental/urban design. In France, at least, my impression was that folks expect architects to contribute *ideas*.

That those ideas are bombastic and divorced from any real collaborative/community-based process is a different -- and, I agree, troubling -- issue...

Craig Purcell: Someone has to think about the big idea of what the City can be and we can hardly leave it up to the mission focused traffic engineers nor the state employed bureaucrats who are not in touch with the real economic forces of the street and hardly help with their complex sets of rules and regulations.

The architect as urban designer/theorist, planner, landscape architect & civil engineer + traffic engineer all rolled into one visionary decision maker can serve a useful role in giving life to an imagined future.

We realize decisions need to be made in a multifacted and integrated manner to achieve the best result. We architects do after all hire many consultants and balance the design of buildings and the spaces between buildings in an artful way that considers the city as "all of a piece".

Who else would we have to do this in a visual, realistic and tactile way with feeling and passion.

Certainly not the self interested developer who creates a pleasing image and then value (devalue) engineers it away & hollows it out for fun and profit -- nor the politican who balances constituent forces off against each other while they all grab for a bigger piece of the commonweal -- and then who generally responds to cultures of complaint and self interest.

Who cares enough for the built environment balanced with the natural world to set it all aside and make the final decision as to what is best for the City?

I would put forth the architect as artist is well positioned to care for the overall result in a way pleasing to all.

Me: Yes, I chose the word "draftsman" to be slightly provocative. I don't, however, mean to denigrate architecture as art. What I am questioning is the pretension that "artistic vision" can somehow substitute for political process. The architect as autocrat is no more to be trusted than the politician as autocrat. The symbiosis of political ambition with artistic pretension is an undemocratic way to proceed with what will, as I have said before, be one of the most important projects of the Sarkozy presidency.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining

A little inside baseball for academics: the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales will not be moving to rue du Pré. It seems that the crisis has depressed Paris real estate values to the point where better prospects exist elsewhere.

Minc on Bayrou

Alain Minc accuses Bayrou of being an unconscious ultra of the moralist, traditionalist, Catholic Right. There must be personal animosity behind such an attack. Anybody know the source?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Debate on Constitutional Reform

Bastien François responds to a review of his book by Sébastien Bénétullière.

Kahn's Paradox

Jean-François Kahn, erstwhile editor turned centrist politician, sees a cruel paradox in Sunday's election results. The combined parties of the right scored only 40 percent, yet Sarkozy emerges stronger than ever because his two principal rivals, the Socialists and le cavalier seul Bayrou, were weakened if not destroyed. Yet he sees hope in the idea that "the old cleavages" have been transcended and, with the PS now accounting for less than a third of the "opposition" vote, there is room for a new coalition to emerge.

Room, yes, but coalitions don't emerge without leadership, and where that might come from remains a mystery.

Tax and Spend

Willem Buiter writes:

These figures should not come as a surprise. Obama’s plans for public expenditure are conventional, middle-of-the road social democratic spending plans. You cannot have social democratic spending ambitions if you are not able to impose social democratic tax burdens.

My fears about the sustainability of the US public finances is based on my belief that the US public believes there is a Santa Claus: that you can have the higher benefit levels and higher-quality provision of public goods and services without paying the price in the form of higher taxes or user charges.

The admonition holds in reverse for France. The French enjoy a high level of public provision (though to hear the complaints, they don't seem to enjoy it as much as they should). Sarkozy was elected on a Santa Claus platform: taxes would be cut, but the social-democratic benefits would be maintained (to be paid for easily, as always in campaign platforms, by "cutting out the fat").

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Stéphane Guillon Sums Up

Is there anything else to say about the PS? (h/t Patrick Weil via Facebook)

Old Soldiers Never Die

I'm not sure how many of you were around when Jacques Chirac "betrayed" Valéry Giscard d'Estaing by running against him in the first round of the 1981 presidential election and then offering only token support in the second round, thus allowing Mitterrand to be elected. There has not been much love lost between the two since that time. The old enmity flared up this week when Giscard, musing on the death of Omar Bongo, alleged that Bongo had secretly funded Chirac's 1981 campaign. Now, Charles Pasqua, who was a strong Chirac backer at the time, has rushed to Chirac's defense: "How can he say that? If he has any proof, let him show it."

Pasqua may not be the best possible character witness when it comes to political corruption. Still, it's pleasant to be reminded of the days when the right was the basket of crabs and the left une force tranquille.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

HADOPI Defanged

The Conseil Constitutionnel has quashed the provision of the HADOPI Law that allowed the government to strip repeat offenders of Internet access, which the CC has now enshrined as "a component of free expression and consumption."

Interesting Figures

Via Gérard Grunberg:

Si l’on observe les sondages, il apparaît qu’à peine la moitié des électeurs de Ségolène Royal du premier tour de l’élection présidentielle de 2007 ont voté pour les listes socialistes le 7 juin dernier tandis que près du quart d’entre eux ont préféré les listes vertes. Selon CSA, 15% des cadres ont voté pour les listes socialistes contre 25% pour les listes vertes et seulement 6% pour les listes lepénistes ou villiéristes. En revanche, 24% des ouvriers ont voté pour les socialistes et seulement 14% pour les écologistes mais 19% pour les listes villiéristes ou frontistes. Les électeurs les plus diplômés ont été 27% à voter pour les listes vertes et seulement 17% pour les listes socialistes, tandis que les moins diplômés ont été 10% seulement à voter pour les listes vertes contre 18% pour les listes socialistes.

Grunberg's analysis is worth reading in full.

The Long and the Short of It

Charles Bremner takes on a sensitive subject.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Future of the Socialist Party

When I began this blog, shortly after the election of Sarkozy, one of my reasons was that I expected to follow the "renovation" of the Socialist Party, which, it seemed to me, had no choice but to change its approach to politics. The past two years have proved disappointing in this respect.

Sunday's results suggest that voters were also disappointed. And now two more indications that the Socialists have come to a decisive moment. In an interesting comment, Bernard Girard suggests that the PS has ceased to be a party of opposition and is now little more than un vivier. By "party of opposition" Bernard means a party that is out of power but is nevertheless able to impose its themes and concerns on the party in power. The PS can no longer do that, and this role has passed, for better or worse, to the Greens, despite the fact that the latter are no less riven by contradiction than the former: Cohn-Bendit + Bové adds up to what, exactly? The fact remains: the governing party cannot ignore the Greens, as exemplified by a post yesterday on Alain Juppé's blog. It can and does ignore the Socialists.

A second indication of the dilemma of the PS came in the form of a g-chat yesterday with a young man from the French provinces who follows this blog. He has been a staunch supporter of Ségolène Royal and even maintains a Web site promoting her candidacy in 2012. But on Sunday, he tells me, he voted for Europe Écologie, as did his parents, who have voted Socialist all their lives. Why? Nothing specific. Just a general ras le bol. When a political party reaches this point with its core supporters, it is in very serious trouble.

ADDENDUM: Vincent Peillon increases the pressure on Aubry to respond to Sunday's results. In particular, he is calling for open primaries to choose the presidential candidate, a discussion of alliances before the regional elections, and a new party line (was there an old one?) to take account of the fact that the Greens are now the major rival on the left.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Is the Green Vote a Bobo Vote?

That is the suggestion here. See also Greg Brown's comment to my previous post on the European elections.

Blanchard Lecture on Crisis

I just came across this link to a (lucid but non-technical) lecture (and slides) by IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard on the causes of the economic meltdown and appropriate policy responses. It's from last November but still worth viewing.


Wolfgang Münchau has an extremely pessimistic but plausible view of Europe's future, based on an expectation that Germany's export-led economy will remain prostrate for years to come owing to a collapse of exports, a sharply rising euro, a severe banking crisis, and "politicians who panic about domestic inflation."

Other comment on Germany by Joschka Fischer and Henry Farrell.

Can this be true?

Is it really the case that one can now be prosecuted in France for referring to a minister as une connasse?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

European Elections

I've been in New Jersey this weekend, but I returned to find that the European elections have reshaped the political landscape a bit more than I expected. The Socialists' terrible showing will put terrific pressure on Martine Aubry to do something, anything, to revive the party. With the Greens and MoDem nibbling at the PS electorate--vindicating the prognostication I made in my Montreal lecture that the next presidential election would be won in the center--the PS now has a choice: define a credible platform that can appeal to the center or fade into the dust of parties on the left. The gauchiste option--Besancenot's NPA and Mélenchon's Die Linke française--together obtained only 11%, well behind les Verts, who now rival the Socialists as the chief opposition party--quite a remarkable showing.

But the big winner is the UMP. While incumbent parties elsewhere in Europe were generally sanctioned (although Merkel also did reasonably well), Sarkozy has shown that he is still the only French leader who is truly présidentiable. His performance as EU president evidently did not disappoint. And both the FN and the sovereignists fared badly, leaving the UMP largely uncontested on the right. And Bayrou, who had made anti-Sarkozysm the centerpiece of his campaign, was soundly thrashed.

Bernard Girard's comment sums up the reasons for the Greens excellent showing.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Arlette Insults les Banlieues

From Jean-Paul Chapon, commenting on moderator Arlette Chabot's commentary on the Bayrou-Cohn-Bendit imbroglio, at which she "officiated":

Non, ce qui est étonnant c’est ce commentaire d’Arlette Chabot à propos de la tournure que son débat a pris, « Je n’ai jamais vu ça. C’est la culture banlieue qui entre dans le débat politique. Tous les coups sont permis. »

Pauvre Arlette, une vieille routière de la politique qui n’a jamais vu ça ! Et visiblement notre grande journaliste professionnelle n’a pas vu grand chose et n’est jamais beaucoup sortie de son microcosme politico-parisien. A moins qu’Arlette Chabot n’ait pris comme archétype de la “culture de banlieue” le désormais célèbre “Casse toi, pauv’ con” proféré par un ancien élu de ladite banlieue ? Les clichés ont vraiment la peau dure

Friday, June 5, 2009

Trade and the Crisis

In a comment to an earlier post, reader Leo remarked on the importance of trade in understanding the present crisis. This graph, from Eichengreen and O'Rourke, via Ezra Klein, speaks volumes.

The US, Europe, and France

A personal remembrance by Justin Vaisse.

Muppets take Paris?

Will the former CEO of the Jim Henson Company be the next ambassador to France? Polly-Vous Français has the story.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Trouble Ahead

Obama criticized Western countries that prohibit Muslims from wearing the veil. Mr. President, you have no idea what a hornet's nest you've just stepped into.

Is the Allègre Nomination Dead?

Claude Allègre was sure he was about to be named the minister of a French version of Japan's MITI, which would put him in charge of the very dirigisme the FT professed today to admire. But it seems that his loose talk has spurred his enemies of both the left and the right to action and may have scotched his nomination.

Strikes Affected Only Half of Universities

The university strikes affected only 45 of 83 French universities. Even more interesting, 16 of those suffered lengthy distruptions covering all courses, while 19 were affected by a movement limited to the social and human sciences. The 10 other affected universities were hit for short periods of time only. All of this according to Valérie Pécresse, the secretary of state for higher ed, who of course has an interest in minimizing the extent of the damage. But I suspect that she's giving the straight story here.


Libé wants to tax Internet service providers to finance the press. Interesting move. Did the paper propose taxing ISPs to compensate artists for downloaded works when it opposed the HADOPI law? Still, the idea is worthy of examination.