Monday, August 31, 2009

L'Immigration choisie

A new book looks at the realities of the policy of immigration choisie.

Reactions to PS Summer School

Reactions to the PS Summer School are pouring in from all sides. I have to agree (une fois n'est pas coûtume) with Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Xavier Bertrand: the simulacrum of party unity was all façade, and even then the Socialists couldn't stay on message, with Ségolène Royal on France2 last night trying to brand the Right's carbon tax as a "bad tax increase" while promising that the Left would some time come up with the "good carbon tax" that the world needs--a position that Daniel Cohn-Bendit denounced as "ridiculous."

Slow Start for RSA

The Revenue de Solidarité Active is off to a slow start, with only 195,000 "working poor" added to its rolls after a year in operation. Some 2 million working poor are thought to be eligible for payments, and 2 million have actually completed eligibility tests, but only 195,000 have been accepted to date.

The total number of French below the poverty line of 880 euros per month is a remarkable 7.9 million, and, of these, some 1.3 million have received the RSA (which replaces the RMI) at one point or another. Not all of these are "working poor," however. There is also concern that the RSA may lead formerly full-time employees to go part-time, which would be considered a perverse effect.

Slightly different numbers here.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Un truc socialiste

Will the primary to which the Socialists are now committed unite the Left? Not likely.

Respite for Aubry?

The French media are describing the PS Summer School at La Rochelle as a success for Aubry, though for the life of me I can't understand why. Her success seems rather like the "success" of François Hollande for so many years, which has left the party in the predicament in which it finds itself now. That is, she managed to avoid an overt explosion of the factions by going with the flow: yes to primaries. More promises of the famous and indefinitely postponed "renovation." Smiles for Ségo. No more talk of expulsions and purges (where was Valls this weekend?). But substance? Policy? Nada. Unless I've missed something.

And from the Right, we have the comment that Aubry "rejects the carbon tax of the Right." Hmm. But the carbon tax of the Right is actually a watered-down version of the carbon tax proposed by the Rocard Commission (and surely the now officially "open" PS still has room for Rocard, no?), modified to meet the expressed desiderata of the Left (compensation to the poor and to rural residents who use more fuel), hence less effective "sur le plan écologique." So what is the Left's proposal? On that, nada.

The Right pushes back.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Hic in the Socialist-Green Romance

Martine Aubry wants to say that the PS and the Greens are on the same page when it comes to the environment, but Cécile Duflot, who is in La Rochelle for the PS Summer School, notes that Ségolène Royal has attacked the carbon tax and that the PS has been lukewarm in its support. Moving this flirtation to the next stage may prove to be quite difficult.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Internal Referendum

OK, so the latest in Socialist renovation plans is this: there will be an "internal referendum" in October to decide how the "open primary" of the Left should be organized. Never decide today what you can put off until tomorrow.

Cat Fight in the "Left" Mediasphere, the ex-Ségolèniste book review site, now seems to have swung firmly behind Martine Aubry. Today the Web publication unleashes a blast at its rival, Le Nouvel Obs, for failing to feature an interview with Aubry in advance of the Socialist summer school at La Rochelle, which opens today. The "exclusive" editorial by Barnabe Louche (how can an opinion piece be anything but "exclusive"?) links the magazine's neglect of Aubry to its readiness to lick Sarkozy's boots earlier this year, as well as to the recent poll showing DSK the favorite among potential candidates of the Left, taken here to be a swipe at Aubry. No doubt there is a story behind this story, but the presentation here seems a trifle clumsy--almost as clumsy, dare I say, as the NO's "interview" with Sarko, which was conducted by Denis Olivennes and from which the magazine's journalists were deliberately excluded.

(full disclosure: I am a member of nonfiction's large group of editorial advisors and have written for the site.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

PS d'Or

A new set of prizes, awarded by journalists at the behest of Rue89:

  • Langue de bois d'or : Harlem Désir. Jamais un mot plus haut que l'autre, il devance d'une voix Martine Aubry, qui proclamait au soir des européennes : « Si c'était à refaire, je referais la même campagne. »
  • Melon d'or : Pierre Moscovici. Celui qui se rêve en candidat à la présidentielle est talonné par Manuel Valls (d'une petite voix) et par Vincent Peillon (de deux voix). Les « jeunes pousses » sont sur le podium.
  • Retournement de veste d'or : Arnaud Montebourg. Du NPS à Ségolène Royal via Martine Aubry. Son parcours NPS ressemble à un joli zig zag. Vincent Peillon arrive deuxième.
  • Comique d'or : Jean-Christophe Cambadélis. Il l'emporte de haute lutte devant Guillaume Bachelay, Benoît Hamon, Gérard Collomb, Gilles Pargneaux ou Ségolène Royal. Sa « lettre à un militant qui n'en peut plus » a fait la différence.

    Le roi des snipers propose que « chaque élu, chaque responsable s'engage pendant un an à ne pas critiquer le PS ou ses camarades ». Certains ont apprécié sa campagne des européennes, inspirée, à en croire « Camba », de celle de Barack Obama.

Leader of the Herd

When the herd starts moving in one direction, the leader had better put herself in front of it. Apparently, Martine Aubry got the message: there will be some sort of primary to choose a presidential candidate of ... what? The Left? The PS? The PS and some partner(s) to be named later? And it will be an "open" primary, we are assured. Open to whom remains to be seen. "There will be "open primaries to choose the candidate of our party," Aubry said. And what if the candidates of other parties choose to avail themselves of this openness?

Less noticed in Aubry's statement was the preceding clause: among the changes in the party rules necessary to "reinvent democracy" (no less!), Aubry lists "le non-cumul des mandats." That will shake things up a bit.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Primary Petition

The think tank Terra Nova has launched a petition calling for a primary to choose the left's presidential candidate. Among the first hundred signatories:

Bertrand Delanoë, Jean-Noël Guérini, Pierre Moscovici, Arnaud Montebourg, Vincent Peillon, Gérard Collomb, Michel Rocard, Manuel Valls, Jack Lang… Mais la force de l'appel tient aussi au soutien des personnalités extérieures : Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Verts), Jean Peyrelevade (Modem), Jean-Michel Baylet (PRG), Christiane Taubira (PRG), Noël Mamère (Verts)… De nombreux intellectuels et artistes, Pierre Bergé, Bernard-Henry Lévy, Olivier Poivre d'Arvor, Patrice Chéreau ou encore Olivier Duhamel, apportent également leur signature.

Terra Nova also appears in another news item: its president, Olivier Ferrand, is one of four rapporteurs of the commission just named by the government to decide what is to be done with the "national loan" that Sarkozy is floating as an economic stimulus measure.

ADDENDUM: A dissenting voice in this amen chorus.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bonus-Malus for Bankers

French bankers have agreed that traders should not only be rewarded with bonuses when they do well but punished with "maluses" when their trades go sour. But they note that this can't work if limited to French banks alone, since the financial markets are truly international, and many French banks run their trading operations out of London anyway, where their employees are covered by British, not French, law.

Will the bonus-malus system do what it is supposed to do? Everything depends on the details, and no details have been forthcoming. "Clawback" strategies have been discussed in the US as a way of aligning the interests of traders with the long-term interests of the banks, and the malus system, one assumes, is merely a mechanical sort of clawback. But there is a further question: what will align the interests of the banks and traders with the general interest? We wouldn't really care about bankers becoming obscenely rich if the results of their wheeling and dealing were good for us all. There is abundant evidence, however, that financial liberalization has led to massive misallocations of capital: for instance, far too much money went into US housing, fiber optic cable that lies unused, Web startups, biotech, etc. etc. Penalizing traders for deals that go sour doesn't begin to get at the more general, and far more important, problem of the "efficiency" of financial markets.

Sarko needs a "triumph" that he can herald to the G20 when it meets next month, and the bonus-malus accord will allow him to pretend that France is leading the way toward global financial reform. In fact, France has put up some pretty window-dressing, but what is going on inside remains murky and probably insalubrious.

For additional thoughts from Bernard G., see here.

Carbon Tax

Budget minister Eric Woerth has confirmed that there will be a carbon tax in the next budget. This didn't look all that likely a few months ago.

Electoral Alliances

Gérard Collomb is calling for an alliance between thePS and MoDem.

The Liberation of Paris

Today marks the 65th anniversary. You can watch it on film here. (h/t Polly)

ADDENDUM: Sarko seizes the day.

La Rentrée

La rentrée politique begins officially tomorrowtoday, with the first post-vacation Council of Ministers meeting, but Sarkozy and Fillon spent the day together yesterday at Cap Nègre, whether in deep consultation or merely as a sign of solidarity, un coup de comm', as Le Figaro seems to believe, is anyone's guess. In any case, Sarko apparently did not invite his aerobics trainer: Le Figaro recalls that the ultimate break between Giscard and Chirac came when the former, as president, invited the latter, his prime minister, to lunch at Bregançon with his tennis instructor.

Agenda for la rentrée here.

Cultural Shift

From The New York Times:

Unfaithful spouses in France, beware: Passionate text messages sent to mistresses and lovers can now be used as evidence against you in a divorce.

Of course, France's most famous SMS'er and divorcee happens to be her president. Coincidence?

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Summer of Our Content

Sarko has had a beautiful summer, despite his jogging malaise. His popularity has rebounded from Bush II levels to Obama levels, reaching 48% approval in the latest poll. And he's had a couple of weeks in a lovely villa on Cap Nègre, and to cap it all off, a candlelight dinner with Jacques and Bernadette. His prayers have been answered.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Guide to Globalized Finance

A thorough survey of the workings of the globalized financial system by two French economists, Anton Brender and Florence Pisani.

French Banking Regulation

President Sarkozy is apparently pressing French banks to take the lead in devising new regulations and bonus rules to prevent excessive risk-taking.


Well, it had to happen. With the Socialist Party in disintegration and Martine Aubry apparently unable to keep her mavericks in line, despite several overt cracks of the whip this summer, others were bound to see an opportunity. Vincent Peillon, whose courant is called "Espoir à gauche," may indeed see hope on the left, or he may merely sense opportunity, whether for himself or for Ségolène Royal, whom he supported in the leadership struggle, remains to be seen. In any case, he managed to pull together various elements of the Left Nebula, including the Greens, the ex-PCF leader Robert Hue, MoDem's Marielle de Sarnez (did I say Left Nebula?--Sarnez may be more nebulous than left), etc. And so here we are, in Marseille, trying to put together a sort of Programme Commun bis, and things have reached such a point of desperation that it may even work.

François Rebsamen sees a "historic moment" for the country. Cohn-Bendit, as is his habit, was a bit more down-to-earth: there has as yet been no meeting of the minds, much less unity, so a Programme Commun is still a bit far off. But what this meeting has done is to arm the anti-Aubry forces going into the PS Université d'Été later this month. Aubry doesn't want an open primary, but it's going to be hard to counter the momentum generated by Peillon's rassemblement and Delanoë's capitulation. Montebourg and Hamon are also calling for primaries. And in an open primary of the left, Royal will very likely do better than Aubry or Hollande. What Ségo has to fear, however, is DSK, who has just outpolled everyone to become the favorite presidential hopeful of the French. Another year at the IMF could allow DSK to return home in quasi-triumph, having done his bit to counter the economic crisis and now responding to the summons of the left-wing electorate. Having made Caesar general, Sarko may now have to fear the putsch.

ADDENDUM: The PCF is not happy about this latest development. Neither is the NPA. Polling indicates that most respondents favor a PS-Green alliance but not a PS-MoDem alliance. And here is a decidedly jaundiced view from Gérard Courtois.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Not Enough Immigrants

Interesting: French farmers are complaining that they're at a competitive disadvantage compared to their German and Spanish counterparts because their access to cheap immigrant labor is "limited."

Fear of the Future

French youth are afraid of the future, according to Olivier Galland. Actually, his thesis is rather more subtle than his title suggests, to judge by this review of his new book. What Galland apparently argues is that the French educational system has the effect of alienating a large segment of each age cohort by "fetishizing diplomas, leaving weaker students behind owing to an emphasis on elite education that is part of the republican tradition, and maintaining a façade of equality." The diagnosis is not new, but that doesn't detract from its pertinence.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

ATTAC on the Decline

ATTAC, the antiglobalization activist group, has lost half its membership over the past 3 years. Somewhat surprisingly, the economic crisis appears to have done nothing to replenish the ranks.

Delanoë: Frustration, Anxiety, Anger

Bertrand Delanoë has apparently told his courant that the Socialist Party inspires in him "frustration, anxiety, and even a kind of anger." The same op-ed (by Michel Noblecourt) discusses the positions of the various other party elephants in advance of the upcoming summer university in La Rochelle.

Working Time

Two interesting bits of news on the labor front. First, overtime hours decreased 10% on a year-over-year basis in the second quarter of 2009. Clearly the crisis is to blame, but the number highlights what was always an obvious weakness of one of Sarkozy's signature reforms, the tax exemption for overtime, enacted in 2007. This was supposed to spur job creation, but it's of little avail when the animal spirits are weak and employers are not disposed to employ. Second, another Sarko reform, embodied in the law of August 2008, established the possibility of modifying the 35-hour work week through labor-management negotiations at the firm or branch level. But few such negotiations have actually taken place since the law was passed.

Chatel's Chattel

Intermarché turned out a claque of desperate housewives to greet education minister Luc Chatel in the back-to-school aisle, where the obliging women told the minister what he wanted to hear, that his "back-to-school essentials" program was working out just as planned. Unfortunately, the ruse was cousu de fil blanc and has made a laughingstock of Chatel both at home and abroad. Nadine Morano was caught in a similar cock-up last year. You'd think they'd learn, but I suppose that being a minister, surrounded by flattering toadies, one loses one's ability to distinguish authentic from inauthentic.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Montebourg Threatens to Quit the PS ...

... again. This is rich. The guy in charge of "renovating" the party thinks the party is beyond renovation. But he's giving it one last chance.

Olivier Blanchard on the Crisis

IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard assesses the current state of the economic crisis. Salient points: potential output has probably been permanently reduced; growth rates in recovery will be low; the global economy needs to be restructured, with domestic consumption increasing in Asia and decreasing in the West. The last point is more a wish than un constat, and one might welcome a fuller discussion of how such adjustments might occur. But as an overview of where things stand, this is a useful summary.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sperber Wins First Lévi-Strauss Prize

Dan Sperber has won the first Lévi-Strauss Prize (h/t Brian Leiter).

The BNF Is Talking to Google

The Bibliothèque Nationale, after holding out for four years, may be ready to surrender to Google owing to the prohibitive cost of creating its own digital library. Denis Bruckmann, assistant general manager of the library, says that negotiations might be within months of an agreement.

ADDENDUM: The library in Lyon has already signed on with Google. And more on Google here. And Charles Bremner here.

Anti-Bonus Petition (Paul Quilès)

I've been asked to publicize this petition calling upon G-20 leaders to limit in one way or another the compensation of financial traders. The initiative is due to Paul Quilès, who served in numerous ministerial posts under Socialist governments. There is some discussion on the blog of Frédéric Lemaître, a senior editor at Le Monde.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dissension in the CGT

Bernard Thibault is under attack by Xavier Mathieu.

French Holds Its Own

A new NBER working paper by Lex Borghans and Frank Cörvers looks at "The Americanization of European Higher Education and Research." Among other things they find evidence for increased mobility of students and an increased tendency to write dissertations in languages other than the home language, driven, the authors believe, by a trend toward measuring scholarly performance by journal publications. But France and, to a slightly lesser extent, Germany are exceptions to these trends: in France, nearly 100 pct of dissertations are written in French, even in fields like medicine and economics, where the value of publication in English is highest. Compare this with the Netherlands and Norway, where dissertations written in the home language have dropped to 14 and 0 percent, respectively. (The paper is gated.)

The long-term cultural implications of such shifts bear thinking about.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rocky Rassemblement

Having snarfed up Socialists unhappy at the prospect of remaining in the cold the length of a quinquennat, Sarkozy now seems to be hoovering up to his right. Frédéric Nihous of Chasse, Pêche, etc., seems ready to sign on, as does Philippe de Villiers. Jean-Marie Bockel, one of the previously snarfed Socialists, thinks the new alliance will prove rocky, but what else is the president of La Gauche Moderne to say upon finding himself yoked together with the hunter/fishers and the sovereignist right? And Sarko doesn't appear to have offered these new supplicants anything. They have come to the throne of their own accord, begging for handouts. And why should a magnanimous monarch refuse them. After all, There Is No Alternative (if you check out this link, be sure to catch the presidential bathing costume in the second photo, midway through the column: if they're going to ban burquinis, they might want to rethink the Sarko-suit).

Government Meddling in Wikipedia?

Looks like it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Who Knew?

Patrick Devedjian, connoisseur ...

August ...

... is the cruelest month for a French political blogger. It's la fermeture annuelle for the government, and any self-respecting Frenchman is en vacances, so what is there to write about, and for whom?

Even the hyperpresident has discovered the joys of relaxation. In the summer of 2007 he was jogging around Winnepasaukee with packs of paparazzi at his heels, Cécilia was making news with her sore throat, and no vacation was too important to be interrupted for a quick flight back to France lest the evening news find an excuse to interrupt its steady flow of super-Sarko stories. In the summer of 2009, sympathy for the presidential syncope has sent his approval rating to its highest level in months while he takes it easy on the Côte. Who knew that governing could be so easy?

Of course la rentrée looms, now only a few weeks away. I expect a flurry of activity come September. This preternatural silence can't last. In the meantime, I will use the lull to get some work done.

Friday, August 7, 2009


A check of this blog's logs reveals that a majority of you are using the Firefox browser, but of those, 70% are still using version 3.0. Firefox 3.5 has been out for weeks. It's a big improvement. So, for those of you who haven't upgraded, a friendly reminder. Do it now. It takes only a few clicks.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What's the world coming to?

No sooner does Sarko leave for vacation than the Conseil Constitutionnel tosses out his cherished Sunday opening law, at least insofar as it treats Paris differently from other cities. What's a hyperpresident to do? First HADOPI, now Sundays. Truly, de Gaulle knew what he was doing when he opposed a constitutional court in France. Especially constitutional courts filled with trouble-making ex-presidents who may not have the current president's best interests at heart. With the Eurocrats making trouble on one side and the CC on the other, Sarko may be wishing he'd gone to New Hampshire again instead of the Riviera.

Est-ce possible?

So Brussels wants French fruit and vegetable growers to reimburse half a billion euros in state aid received from 1992 to 2002 and now deemed illegal, a distortion of the market. And to help angry farmers bear this burden, agriculture minister Bruno Le Maire is now proposing ... additional state aid.

Anybody get the feeling that the game here is like three-card monte? No wonder the EU is everybody's favorite whipping boy.

A Sensible Article About Laïcité

By Olivier Esteves. Here.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Who Cares About Climate Change?

The French do. The Americans don't. (h/t Ezra Klein)

Financing Greater Paris

It won't be cheap: tens of billions of euros. To pay for it, fines will increase; bonds will be issued; train tickets will get more expensive; public-private partnerships may be launched.

From Nation-State to Nation-Site

From today's FT, this thought-provoking paragraph:

Facebook has more than 250m users and is growing fast. However, it has no current plans to organise the storefronts into an online mall, or to make money from them by either taxing the transactions that take place on its site, or by offering its own virtual currency.

Think about that. Facebook, with a population roughly 4 times that of France, "has no current plans" to impose taxes or issue a currency. But evidently there are people thinking along these lines. Perhaps it's time to apply for a passport, so I can get out of Facebook if current plans change and it begins not only to levy taxes and float bonds but also to build prisons and draft young men of military age.

Rocard and the Environment

An IMF economist and an energy expert examine the likely impact of the Rocard Commission's proposed carbon tax and question whether it would achieved the desired result. Bernard Girard goes even farther. He sees in this tax a continuation of a pattern that has marked Rocard's entire career.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Small Business

Politicians like to extol the virtues of small business. Those mom-and-pop businesses and their grown-up cousins--what the French call PME--are so much fuzzier and friendlier than MegaBehemoth Manufacturing International, Inc. And small businesses are often credited with being the dynamic job creators, the cutting-edge pioneers who develop new products and technologies.

But are these myths true? Not so much--not for the US and not for France, and France in this respect is much closer to the US than many people believe, to judge by the statistics in this paper. (h/t Paul Krugman)

Helicopter Traffic Jam

Now here's a problem not all cities face: Saint-Tropez has too many helicopters. Somebody's even suggesting that the city buy the decommissioned porte-hélicoptère Jeanne d'Arc to serve as an offshore parking lot. But if you're the sort who helicopters down to your villa on the Côte d'Azur for a couple of hours of sun between mergers and acquisitions, are you really going to put up with the water-shuttle to the Jeanne d'Arc?

An American Looks at the HADOPI Law

Brent Whelan, an American who knows France well, has been looking at the HADOPI Law in the wake of the $675,000 judgment against a Boston University physics student, Joel Tenenbaum, who downloaded music from the Internet and was made an example by the recording industry. Brent attended the trial and blogged about it. Now he compares the situation in the U.S. with that in France:

So now that the Tenenbaum case has piqued my interest, I have gone back and learned a few interesting things about Hadopi:
  • First, the law as proposed is pretty tame. An infringer would receive an email warning from his provider. A second infraction would draw a warning by registered letter, and if the infringement persisted, the provider would be authorized to cut off internet connections to the offending computer for up to a year (with the user banned from changing providers in that time). That's it: no million dollar judgements, no drama. And yet ...
  • The law met with militant opposition on a number of fronts: the surveillance of computer users was deemed invasive, the penalty of interrupted service disproportionate, the role of the provider as arbiter unconstitutional.
  • In view of these objections, particularly the latter one, the French Constitutional (Supreme) Court struck down the penalty part of the law, rendering it useless. A new version is now making its way through the parliament, but I'm not sure how the problems are addressed.
Several points could be drawn from this comparison. First, this rather modest legislative attempt at remedy makes the American approach through civil litigation look extremely heavy-handed, with a vast and disproportionate degree of power vested in private interests (e.g., the recording industry) with the means to conduct expensive lawsuits. France has a totally different balance of power between individuals and corporate interests. Secondly, from what I can tell the opposition to Hadopi is deeply rooted among left-leaning citizens who, being French, make their position known in the street with large noisy protests. And third, these opponents include high-profile artists, 'creators,' who in our country are pretty well locked down by the industry but in France feel free to side with the libertarians (perhaps against their own economic interests).

One reason for this last point may well be that the French recording industry is smaller, with less at stake. On the flip side, artists may well depend more on state subsidies and less on the largesse of the industry. I'm not really sure of the present state of artistic subsidy in France, but I notice Socialist legislators pointing to this as a potential solution to the vexing question: if the new medias allow for free use, how will the artists get paid?

Well and good, you say, but public subsidy just isn't an option over here in Frontierland USA. Maybe so, but what would be our red-blooded American alternative? How about foundation support? Some are starting to see this as the solution to the journalistic crisis, as the newspapers die not through infringement but fair use. A non-profit but rigorously non-governmental support network here in the land of low taxes and 8-figure salaries might make sense for musicians as well as journalists (though one might imagine a vast divide between the artist as modestly salaried, whether by state subsidy or private grant, vs. the artist as win-the-lottery American Idol, all-or-nothing star or loser--the plot line our culture seems to prefer. Does our sensationalized star system make for better art, or just a lot of hoopla and wasted motion? Would public subsidy produce boring official art, or a distinguished caste of socially integrated artists? Right now in America the labels are waging (and perhaps winning) a rear-guard action to defend their status quo. Tenenbaum's case is an awkward moment in that ungainly struggle. But history is ultimately on the side of progress, not stasis, and we should all be thinking of creative ways to support creativity under the changed circumstances of rapidly evolving technologies.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Francis Jeanson Dies

Francis Jeanson, who created a network in France to support the FLN during the Algerian War (the so-called "porteurs de valise"), is dead at 87. He was a close collaborator of Jean-Paul Sartre.

300K Despite Summer Doldrums

The blog has been in the summer doldrums for the past few weeks, with traffic running at about half the normal level while readers frolic, I hope, at the beach or doze off at their desks, but I am happy to report that we just passed the milestone of 300,000 page views earlier this morning.

Night of August 4

It's not every economist who knows his history, but Thomas Piketty remembers the night of August 4, when French revolutionaries abolished the "privileges" of the Old Regime. He seizes on the occasion--this is the eve of Aug. 4--to enumerate some of the privileges inherent in today's tax system and to insist on their abolition.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Can't Help Scratching That Itch

In comments to this post, Leo chides me, properly, for breaking my own vow to say no more about the burqa, MCG berates me, improperly, for refusing to say that the burqa is inherently "degrading,"and now Francis recommends here that I correct my erroneous views by reading this. In this latest contribution to the debate, Jamil Sayah contends that not only the burqa but also the headscarf are examples of "la violence faite aux femmes" and proof that "Islamic fundamentalists" have already won their battle against laïcité. Both, he says, are symptoms of the confinement of women to a "zone of non-existence" and representations of woman as "an inferior being reduced to an object of pleasure."

I don't quite follow the logic here. In Catholicism, women are also represented as inferior to men: they cannot be ordained. Some Catholic women choose to dress in habits symbolizing both their hierarchical inferiority to certain men (priests) and their superiority to other women (they have married Christ and thereby entered a realm of purity free of carnal taint). Not everyone in the ambient society accepts these tenets of faith, but the symbol embodying them is nevertheless not banned from the streets. It is banned from the schools. Traditionally, laïcité meant exactly this kind of drawing of boundaries. Now, on metaphysical grounds that go well beyond the usual understanding of the demands of laïcité, M. Sayah wants to prove himself a laïque zealot.

The phrase "more Catholic than the Pope" comes to mind.