Sunday, February 22, 2009

French Anomaly on Banking Profits

Take a look at the last graph in this article. To the question "How much would you support banks focusing on serving local communities and industries rather than making profits?" only 30 pct of the French answered "strongly support," compared with over 40 pct of Americans.

True, the polls show that people everywhere strongly blame bankers, including central bankers, for the crisis. But this relative French tolerance of profit over community service is surprising, to say the least, especially in view of the previous graph, which shows the French much more strongly in favor of compensation caps for bankers than the Americans.

The Balladur Committee

The Balladur Committee is due to submit a report on an overhaul of France's regional and local government structure. With the Left currently in control of 20 of 22 regions, it's easy to say that the real intention of any reform proposal will be to alter the balance of power--and Jean-Paul Huchon, the président of Ile-de-France, has said just that. Of course it's also easy to insist that the "inefficiency" of the current system is glaring, so that reform is necessary. Finally, it's easy to claim that the reformers won't dare touch the "real" source of inefficiencies: the superfluous départements, the proliferation of tiny communes, the unnecessary duplication of structures and services.

Having made all of these "easy" observations, what is to be done? Politics at this level gets very sticky. "All politics is local," the late Tip O'Neill is supposed to have said, and "politics is property," according to the late Norman Mailer. In France, at any rate, local politics really is property in every sense: it's a source of revenue, a series of jealously guarded fiefs from which to launch national careers, an electoral base, and a recruiting ground for trusted henchmen. Every national pol needs a base behind the front lines to wage war successfully in Paris. Tinker with the base camps and you upset the balance of power. So the Balladur Committee's work is to be watched closely, but exactly what's going on and how the strings are being pulled, as well as what bargains are being struck, is impossible to judge.

Total in Yemen

The Times provides some excellent background.