Monday, June 29, 2009

Sarko on Avigdor Lieberman

Via Judah Grunstein.

When "Free" is not Free

Something for HADOPI adversaries to chew on.

Dati's Cumul

Rachida Dati will be pulling down a salary from the international law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher in addition to her 7,661 euros per month as MEP, according to Jean Quatremer, who amusingly mangles the name of the firm as "Willkie Fart & Gallagher," sure to make adolescent Anglophones everywhere smile (and sure to rank in the annals of law firms alongside Click and Clack's Dewey Cheatham & Howe).

IMF Backs France's Economic Policy

A new report issued today:

France has taken decisive actions to address the domestic impact of the financial crisis and the unprecedented global contraction. Crisis management needs to remain a cornerstone of near term policies, but a renewed focus on medium-term fiscal sustainability and a deepening of the country’s ambitious structural reform agenda will help to minimize the longer-term costs of the current downturn.

Hmm. That's a rather more optimistic read than I would have expected. And what does it say about the likelihood of a Sarko-DSK face-off in 2012? "You criticize me now," Sarko could say, "but back in 2009 your staff gave my policies its blessing."

Chérèque Says No

The government's big push over the coming months will be to work toward an increase in the legal age of retirement. Among the unions, the CFDT has generally been the most favorable toward retirement reform as a necessary if somewhat painful step toward preserving the "French social model." The CFDT supported Juppé's abortive 1995 reform effort, Fillon's successful 2003 reform, and, in the main, Sarkozy's reform of the special regimes in 2007. So it is noteworthy--and, to me, somewhat surprising--that Chérèque now seems to be putting his foot down. Of the alternatives on offer--reduced benefits, higher payroll taxes and deductions, and higher retirement age--I would think that the last would be most palatable to labor, given the increase in longevity. France is out of line with most other countries in this respect as well. To be sure, adjustments would be required to deal with those lines of work in which the ability to perform beyond the age of 55 is in question--the so-called pénibilité issue. I'm not sure what Chérèque, who has until now been a realist on retirement issues, has in mind. But the signal to the government is an ominous one.

Holy Toledo!

I hadn't realized that there were allegations that the Karachi bomb affair is tied up with alleged illegal kickbacks to the Balladur presidential campaign (managed by Nicolas Sarkozy). Charles Bremner puts the pieces together. This takes the Sarkozy-Villepin rivalry/mutual vendetta to an entirely new level.

Front National 39 Percent

In the first round of the municipal election at Hénin-Beaumont yesterday, the Front National, with Marine Le Pen in the no. 2 spot on the ticket, scored 39.34%. The excellent reportage by David Servenay and Audrey Cerdan suggests that the FN has taken a new turn in its approach to campaigning, dropping controversial historical references and attempting to appeal to voters as the incarnation of a new generation of "nationalist" (and not xenophobic or racist) sentiment. The FN had seemed to be on the decline. Will it find a new lease on life in the Nord? And if the account here is correct, why is the PS apparently taking the threat so lightly?

More here and here.

The Dray Affair

I've been following the Julien Dray affair without comment, and now I'm dispensed from the need to write anything myself by Bernard Girard's post this morning, which sums up what I would have said.

From the same post I also learned a new usage of a familiar French word: cavalerie. From the dictionary:

II.− [P. anal. de fonction; p. réf. aux pièces d'or anglaises où Saint-George figure en cavalier] La cavalerie de Saint-Georges. L'or dépensé par la diplomatie anglaise pour acheter les adversaires de sa politique :
4. Le « chef du Foreign Office français » avait envoyé les tirailleurs de Marchand opérer au loin contre l'Angleterre : le chef du véritable Foreign Office répondait en envoyant la cavalerie de Saint-Georges manœuvrer dans nos villes contre le cabinet français et les soldats français.
Maurras, Kiel et Tanger, 1914, p. 51.
III.− Arg. Opération fictive entre commerçants simulant une affaire pour se procurer de l'argent auprès d'une banque. [Les autres] complices (...) qu'Elam avait mis dans son bain avec des traites de cavalerie (A. Simonin, J. Bazin, Voilà taxi! 1935, p. 168).

On Efficiency and the Moralization of Capitalism

Since the crisis, Nicolas Sarkozy has shed any neoliberal trappings he once wore and become a great "moralizer of capitalism," an apostle of new, but most often unspecified, regulations to rid the economy of financiarisation (bad) and return us to the halcyon days of yore. Guillermo Calvo and Rudy Loo-Kung take a different view: that deregulation is "socially efficient" even if it yields bubbles that subsequently collapse in crisis. Politicians (and central bankers?) instinctively recognize this, they say, which is why they don't try harder to prick bubbles.

I don't think I buy this argument, but it's intriguing enough to warrant a cogent refutation. Not that I'm about to supply one. It's too early in the morning. Just sayin' ... something to think about. Being a pessimistic sort myself, I can see why society collectively might require periodic infusions of optimism, riskophilic stimuli, as it were. Bubbles might be just the thing ... And what if the good that bubbles do were interred with their sticky residue, while the evil, perpetuated in endless rehashing of the collapse and the "irrationality" of the boom years, cast a pall over enterprise for decades? The moralization of capitalism, Sarko's latest hobby horse, might then be seen less as a virtue than as the tribute paid by vice--Dr. Johnson's definition of hypocrisy.

ADDENDUM: Of course there's also the "Rahm Emanuel dictum": "A crisis is too important to waste." In other words, the possibility of fundamental reform in a political system choked by a surfeit of veto points depends on periodic crises and the clamor for effective action that they generate. Collapsing bubbles are thus a catalyst for necessary change. On the other hand, simply standing Calvo and Loo-Kung on their head ignores, as they do, the distribution of the costs of bubbles. Even if the social benefit exceeds the social cost, the distribution of benefits in both the expansive and contractive phases may militate against accepting a positive balance as optimal.

Bien Dit!

C.H., at Rationalité Limitée, discusses l'emprunt national:

François Fillon, à propos du “grand emprunt national” qui non, “n’est pas un plan de relance” :

Pour moi, il est absolument essentiel que pas un euro ne soit utilisé à des dépenses qui ne seraient pas des dépenses utiles“.

Hum, que faut-il comprendre ? Qu’en temps normal (i.e. quand on ne fait pas tout un bazar autour de ce qui, pour tout Etat, est quelque chose de tout à fait banal : emprunter), les ressources sont dépensées n’importe comment ? Mine de rien, le premier ministre laisse quand même entendre qu’il arrive à l’Etat français de faire des dépenses inutiles. C’est pas un scoop vous me direz…

On the same subject, Arthur Charpentier offers a lovely saying that he attributes to Edgar Faure: "Ce n'est pas la girouette qui tourne, c'est le vent,"along with a pertinent comment on the lack of government pedagogy about the changes in economic policy.