Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Stuart Jeffries on Sarko, Hegel, and the Burqa

Here. The article begins:

Nicolas Sarkozy's problem is that he hasn't read enough Hegel. Let me rephrase that: one of his problems is that he hasn't read enough Hegel. When the French president told a special session of parliament in Versailles earlier this week, "We cannot accept to have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity", he would have done better to hold his tongue, and instead reflect on that passage in the Philosophy of Right in which Hegel distinguishes between abstract and concrete freedom.


L'Institut Montaigne has just published a study of a suburban ghetto (quartier Les Bosquets, Montfermeil), which offers an excellent description of the accumulation of problems that must be simultaneously tackled if there is to be any hope of "de-ghettoization." Well worth reading.

L'Emprunt Public

Why borrow, as Sarkozy has proposed, 80-100 billion euros from the public rather than the bond market? The government will probably have to pay slightly more to induce individual savers to part with their cash than it would have had to pay the professionals, but, as Jacques Mistral says here, the move is also a sort of referendum on the government's economic policy. It's also a way of ensuring that interest payments remain within the Hexagon rather than leak out to foreign bondholders (who currently hold 65% of France's debt). The government may also want to hedge against the possibility that French sovereign debt will fare less well than other debt on what is fast becoming a crowded marketplace: the US, UK, and Germany are all floating large amounts of debt that foreign buyers may prefer to French bonds.

With current interest rates at historic lows and the ECB digging in its heels at going any lower, this is as good a moment as any to fill the state coffers in anticipation of what may yet need to be done to drag the country out of crisis. And the public may well want to increase its savings. Of course such an increase will come, in the short run at least, at the expense of consumption, and low consumption discourages investment, which the government needs to stimulate. So the increased borrowing and decreased consumer spending will have to be compensated by more government expenditure, which until now Sarko, Lagarde, and Woerth have been saying was unnecessary or even counterproductive.

Very little has been said about what this money will be spent on. We are to have the famous "consultations" with the public on national priorities, but no doubt Bercy already has its contingency plans drawn up, and who knows what grands desseins have been hatched at the Elysée. To some extent, therefore, bond buyers are being asked to take a pig in a poke. Will economic patriotism be enough to spur the disinterment of cash-filled coffee tins buried in the sacred soil of the Nation?

Muslim headgear

In case you're not up on your Muslim headgear nomenclature, here's a helpful pictorial primer.

Allègre, ma non troppo

So what happened to Claude Allègre's cabinet nomination? Allègre himself had been boasting about it for weeks. Pierre Moscovici had it from the horse's mouth in a Parisian bistro. Well, rumor has it that the big Green vote in the European elections may be to blame. Allègre is of course a global-warming-denier. To have appointed him to anything, even the MITI-like industrial czardom that he coveted, would have been a slap in the face to ecovoters.

Is this truth or fiction? Who knows? But I like the story line, and the notion that, even today, the will of the voter counts for something, even if it's only to effect a slight mid-course correction in the pilot's reckoning of the winds aloft en route to destination 2012.