Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Economic Freedom?

Well, the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation have no use for France, which ranks just 64th in the measure of "commitment to free-market capitalism" preferred by those august institutions. Thus France lags behind Albania and Uganda. Of course the stalwarts of bien-pensant capitalism urge upon us Hong Kong and Singapore as the examples to emulate. As Matt Yglesias observes, "Long story short, they think we should become a dictatorial East Asian city state."

Yglesias continues:

Or think about the Employee Free Choice Act. Conservatives claim that making it easier for workers to form unions will cripple the economy. But consider these union density stats:

  1. Hong Kong — 22.1 percent
  2. Singapore — 18.5
  3. Australia — 20.0
  4. Ireland — 35.0
  5. New Zealand — 21.1
  6. United States — 12.0
  7. Canada — 29.7
  8. Denmark — 80.0
  9. Switzerland — 25.0
  10. United Kingdom — 28.4

Long story short, by conservatives’ own lights these major elements of progressive social policy are completely compatible with sound overall economic policy. But health care reform and a stronger voice for labor would help ensure that the gains of economic growth are shared broadly rather than leaving us stuck in the Bushonomics trap of debt-financed middle class consumption growth. And I would argue that egalitarian measures like a stronger health care system and the better wages that come from higher union density help forestall political demand for the kind of labor market regulations that you see in the southern European countries that this Heritage/WSJ study frowns upon.


La Légion d'Honneur and the Media

Two journalists, Françoise Fressoz and Marie-Eve Malouines, upon learning that they had been designated to receive the Légion d'honneur, demanded that their names be removed from the list. They had not solicited the award, they said, and presumably did not wish, as journalists, to appear beholden to the government. But Rue89 points out that, contrary to widespread belief, one does not have to solicit the honor to receive it.

As it happens, I will soon be attending a ceremony in which the Légion d'honneur will be awarded by the French ambassador to an eminently deserving American scholar, and one who has frequently been critical of French policy. Is there something compromising about receiving a government award when one is in a position--as journalists and critics are--to criticize the government?

I don't think so, but at least one commenter on this site quite some time ago accused me of being "soft on France" because the wily Frogs had had the foresight to make me a chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in anticipation of my becoming a political blogger (and indeed years before blogs existed). Not to put too fine a point on it, he (or she) accused me of taking a dive for France because I had been bribed with a Republican bauble (actually it's a rather nice little medallion, but really nothing to compare with the hefty metal disk minted at La Monnaie and handed out by the Académie Française). Frankly, it would take more than a lapel pin to turn my head, though I'm sure there are some who covet a cross enough to offer a quid pro quo (Proust was certainly able to imagine it). But then there is Paul Krugman, who did not refuse to be honored by George Bush after receiving his Nobel. Has he taken a softer line on Bush since then? Not that I've noticed. We may all have a price, but we don't all want to be paid in the same currency.

As one friend said to me about French awards, "ça ne se demande pas, ça ne se refuse pas, ça ne se porte pas." This is the puritanical leftist view. It works for me.

L'Ouverture, Encore de l'Ouverture, Toujours de l'Ouverture

L'ouverture was all the rage at the beginning of the Sarkozy regime. One simply had no idea that there were so many on the left so eager to serve France that they were willing to overlook their publicly professed loathing for opposition to Sarkozy to join him in government. With time the novelty faded, though on occasion the name of this or that personnalité disgusted with his comrades and ripe for débauchage surfaced in the press. Jack Lang--will he or won't he? He won't, it seems. Claude Allègre? Does anyone care?

But now Sarko seems to have decided that the left vein is tapped out and is preparing to turn to the souverainiste right. Bruno Retailleau, a close ally of Philippe de Villiers, is rumored to be in line to replace Eric Besson, the Socialist transfuge, in the post of digital czar.

What does it mean? Not much. Bernard Kouchner as foreign minister raised hopes that President Sarkozy might not be quite the same man as lean-and-hungry Sarkozy. Bruno Retailleau raises no hopes at all. Not even fears. At most a yawn to be stifled.

France, Its Own Museum

Pierre Assouline has a little fun with Sarko's latest brainchild, a Museum of the History of France. The opportunities for irony are numerous: ”L’identité n’est pas une pathologie,” for instance. And the cartoons of Descartes and Spinoza will curl the corners of your mouth.