Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

It's been an interesting week, spent mostly at two colloquia in Montreal, where I met and exchanged ideas about politics and the crisis with colleagues from Canada, France, Senegal, and Belgium. I also met dignitaries: three former prime ministers (one of France, Jospin, and two of Quebec, Parizeau and Bouchard) and the current, and remarkably young and well-spoken, French ambassador to Canada, François Delattre. It is always somewhat sobering to confront in the flesh the people about whom it is so easy to be critical, flippant, or ironic in a blog. They turn out, at least in this case, to be thoughtful, intelligent, often clever, very well-informed, and remarkably captivating.

But now that I'm back at my keyboard and in the privacy and anonymity of my boudoir, I will have to balance my sympathies against my blogospheric duty to thrust unwanted truth upon unseen power.

I also had a moment to reflect on the fleeting nature of power and glory. True, Jospin did fill an auditorium with 500 people in a foreign country 7 years after leaving office. But the next morning I found myself sitting alone with him in a student cafeteria at the UMontreal business school, and students came and went without noticing that a former prime minister was among them. And when we were joined by Jacques Parizeau, a former prime minister of the very province in which we were sitting, he attracted no more notice.

Juppé: Think About Modifying the Tax Shield

Rumblings on the right: Alain Juppé says that it's time to think about reconsidering the tax shield revision that was a centerpiece of the Sarko program. "Fairness and justice" need to be considered--or, rather, more precisely, a "signal" of fairness and justice needs to be sent. Interesting formulation, that. In any case, with a ministerial shakeup expected soon, this is an interesting move on Juppé's part. It, too, is a "signal"--to Sarko, that his party is restive and that if he, the president, decides that he, too, wants to start signaling, one way to do it would be to choose Juppé for a major post, say at Finance, or even perhaps PM. Of course Juppé would be a rather large couleuvre for the president to swallow. He's no pushover, and he lacks Fillon's discretion. In power he could become a thorn in Sarko's side. But Sarko seems to be out of ideas and short even on tactics and images, normally his strong suits. Juppé is offering him the latter and perhaps even the former: in the post-neoliberal age, conservatism needs to stress its "humanist" compassion rather than its now suspect commitment to the logic of economic incentives.

Two French Economists on the Crisis

Thomas Piketty looks at the Irish dilemma and proposes that the EU condition aid to smaller countries in trouble on a pledge to ban "fiscal dumping," i.e., the use of low corporate taxes to lure business.

And Etienne Wasmer examines the effects of the crisis on employment and speculates about possible social and political consequences.