Thursday, June 4, 2009

Trouble Ahead

Obama criticized Western countries that prohibit Muslims from wearing the veil. Mr. President, you have no idea what a hornet's nest you've just stepped into.

Is the Allègre Nomination Dead?

Claude Allègre was sure he was about to be named the minister of a French version of Japan's MITI, which would put him in charge of the very dirigisme the FT professed today to admire. But it seems that his loose talk has spurred his enemies of both the left and the right to action and may have scotched his nomination.

Strikes Affected Only Half of Universities

The university strikes affected only 45 of 83 French universities. Even more interesting, 16 of those suffered lengthy distruptions covering all courses, while 19 were affected by a movement limited to the social and human sciences. The 10 other affected universities were hit for short periods of time only. All of this according to Valérie Pécresse, the secretary of state for higher ed, who of course has an interest in minimizing the extent of the damage. But I suspect that she's giving the straight story here.


Libé wants to tax Internet service providers to finance the press. Interesting move. Did the paper propose taxing ISPs to compensate artists for downloaded works when it opposed the HADOPI law? Still, the idea is worthy of examination.

Cohn-Bendit could Beat Bayrou

According to polls. That would be something. And if the Greens and MoDem each get 11%, with the PS taking only 21.5, a Green-MoDem combo of 22% would represent a potent political force and potential for ideological recomposition, to which the PS leadership would do well to pay attention. One can see this as a further breakdown of the old left/right cleavage and the emergence of something new, a "postmodern" cluster of issues centered on the environment, governance style, quality of life, etc. Yuppie or "bobo" politics would be the negative way of putting it. But something is happening in this part of the spectrum.

On the other hand, Dany tutoie François, while François vouvoie Dany (et le traite de pédophile).

The Recession--A Who's Who

Think that France has fared better than the US in the recession? Think that Europe has done relatively well? See the graphic above. (h/t Ezra Klein)

Political Rhetoric

Barack Obama gave an extraordinary speech today in Cairo. This subject takes me outside French politics, but I want to consider the speech as an example of political rhetoric, which is a general enough category to warrant mention here.

Liz Cheney, Dick's daughter, said of the speech that it was "well-delivered" and that Obama's personal story "sends a message about America being a land of opportunity." She went on, however, to say that she "was troubled by the extent to which I heard moral relativism. I heard the president talk about Iran as though we’ve done some bad things to Iran and they’ve done some bad things to us but now we just need to get together here to go forward — rather than acknowledging the fact that Iran is the world’s largest terrorist-sponsoring state."

Consider, however, what Obama actually said:

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

Here he is using not his "personal story" but the history of black oppression in America, of which his story is only a part. And he is using it to make a pertinent analogy about peoples that have suffered humiliation and what responses have proven to be historically effective. Throughout, the speech, moreover, he did not hesitate to examine American wrongs. He emphasized learning from errors rather than atoning for them or using them, as Sarkozy occasionally does, as symbols of redemption. This is not the "moral relativism" that Cheney decries; it is moral reasoning of a high order.

FT Looks at Dirigisme

The FT has a long feature today on French dirigisme. It's the tone rather than the content of the article that's surprising. Dirigisme is described as a sort of natural state for the French, who ran into trouble only when they turned away from dirigiste policies in a misguided flirtation with liberalism. M. Sarkozy is now said to be steering the ship of state back to its accustomed course.

It seems only yesterday that we were hearing that France's problem was that it had missed the liberal boat, and M. Sarkozy was frantically paddling to catch up as it steamed away from Le Havre.

Ah, well. Tempus fugit. For the record, I have consistently maintained that Sarkozy was a wolf in sheep's clothing, or, rather, a (temperate) dirigiste in Armani, and I think what has fluctuated is the view from the City, not the reality on the ground. Indeed, despite the current disappointment with markets, I think France still needs to adapt a bit more to market realities. But moderation in all things--and the FT is of course right to recognize that the French variety of capitalism has, and always has had, a distinctive Gallic flavor.