Friday, January 30, 2009

Now What?

The president is going to "respond" to yesterday's strikers. "Je vous ai compris," he says in substance. The refrain is familiar. In my judgment, Sarkozy's judgment of the "social movement" is accurate: it's too "disparate" to develop into anything of alarming magnitude. The crowds in the streets were indeed impressive, but the range of complaints was dizzying. Hospital workers want this, engineers in the semiconductor industry want that, teachers want x, profs in this or that UFR want y, etc. Sarko, who likes to rail against the "conservatisms" in the plural that stand in the way of "reforms," faces the multitude of "corporatisms" that turn French politics into a Rubik's Cube: you twist things to solve problem X and you find that you've only created another problem Z.

Of course the trick for the president is to avoid becoming himself the factor that unifies the various corporatisms. The problem with la politique par manifestation is that it has often in the past led the opposition to overestimate its strength and coherence. There is something about the heady atmosphere of the streets (I know, I've been there) that persuades otherwise sober people that "c'est la lutte finale/Groupons-nous et demain/l'Internationale sera le genre humain."

There is of course no lutte finale, ever. History has no end. Politics is always with us. But presidential recalcitrance can turn la lutte du moment into a semblance of la lutte finale, and that is what Sarko has to avoid. Thus far, he's been superb at tactical retreat. I don't expect he will have lost his touch, nor do I expect the opposition suddenly to have found its center. So yesterday's carnival will have been yet another picturesque contribution to a French genre.

To say this is not to minimize the importance of periodic renewals of solidarity, of ces grandes messes thar are also a part of politics very different from the "long, slow boring of hard, dry boards" that Max Weber saw as the essence of the thing. But the long, slow boring remains.

Blanchard on the Crisis

Olivier Blanchard, chief economist of the IMF, on the crisis here. Discussion here.