Tuesday, September 8, 2009

And About that University Reform ...

So, Sarkozy's idea for reforming the universities was to devolve greater power to university presidents. His minister, Valérie Pécresse, has just discovered a bump in the road to Toulon. When you concentrate power in the hands of one person, you had better make sure that person can be trusted.


Now, you have to wonder about the source(s) for this "story." When did Le Point turn into Closer?

More Trouble for Martine


Joan Scott Reviews ...

... two books on the headscarf controversy and has high praise for one, by Cécile Laborde, whose work I, too, greatly admire:

[I]f critical political thinking requires not only analysis of what’s wrong, but visions of what could be right, this book represents a tremendous achievement. Critical republicanism, as Laborde imagines it, allows us to interrogate “the republican credentials of existing institutions and norms.” Taking republican norms at their word, provides a tremendously useful vantage for those seeking to change existing practices. They become the standard against which social ills can be diagnosed and the need for reform justified. From this perspective, headscarves become not the measure of Muslim intransigence, but of the shortcomings of the French political system. They reveal that France is not – as some of its critics have maintained – too republican, but “not republican enough.” (p. 257)

Banking Regulation

The G20 finance ministers have firmly rejected Christine Lagarde's contention that the Basel II regulations would be sufficient to police the post-crisis banking system. The new capital and leverage requirements are tough and will be particularly difficult for European banks, because they limit the substitution of hybrid capital for true equity (see this article for technical explanations), a common practice in Europe. The limitation of leverage to a maximum of 25 to 1 will not please American investment banks, or what is left of them in their new guise as bank holding companies, since many of them were running considerably higher (and very unsafe) leverage ratios before the crisis.

But Simon Johnson is having none of it:

This is a sophisticated delaying action and you are seeing masters of economic policy spin at work. When something goes wrong on a colossal, global scale, here’s the playbook (e.g., as applied to capital requirements).

  1. Agree that there is a problem, but be very vague about it. “It’s complicated” is a good watch phrase.
  2. State some completely bland principles to which no can object.
  3. By all means, have a spat with the French or Germans. But then patch it up amicably at the big summit; agree to do a bit of everything, in principle. People are wowed by your leadership.
  4. Send the job of formulating technical details to a committee of experts, asking them to report at the end of 2009 – and then make adjustments through the end of 2010.
  5. Rely on the experts to produce a report of mind-numbing detail, which few really understand. The experts know their job and will deliver.
  6. Provide leaks of this work and your “true feelings” to sympathetic reporters. They will help declare victory against great, albeit vaguely specified, odds.
  7. At this point, it’s 2011 and either (a) new people are in power, or (b) other things have gone sufficiently well that everyone has forgotten about the financial fiasco of 2008-09.

The brilliance of this approach is that you can say, whenever someone objects that capital requirements are not being increased as much: “we are doing that, but the details are not yet fully settled,” or “but we agree with that principle; of course the details are complicated.”

And, in this context, the point of a G20 or IMF meeting is to have the world’s economic policymakers show mutual support. After all, our opinion leaders reckon, if everyone is on board, then this must be the right way to go.

There will be some minor changes, and these will be much trumpeted. But what will really change in or around the power structure of global finance – as it plays out in the United States, Western Europe, or anywhere else?

Nothing – and you know this because otherwise the CEOs of all our top financial institutions would be mounting massive PR campaigns against the proposals, with op eds, Internet ads, innumerable cable appearances, and a virtually constant presence at Treasury. Just think back to how active they were earlier this year, when FDIC-type resolution for big banks was on the table.

France Will Oppose Google

France will formally oppose Google's plan to digitize books. Frédéric Mitterrand, the minister of culture, who charmed the UMP's Jeunes Pops this weekend with a little softshoe comedy routine, will sign the order today.

I might add that I don't find M. Mitterrand as charming as do the UMP youngsters. I can't quite put my finger on why. Normally I appreciate irony, and M. Mitterrand is nothing if not ironic, but there's a certain lack of frankness in his character, a pleasure in the wearing of veils, a bit too much ostentation in the display of cultivation, and a demeanor that I find retors. But I judge from a distance and could be quite wrong.

Royal Flirts with Bayrou

It's 2007 again: Ségo is sitting by her telephone waiting for a call from François. Will Bayrou keep the date this time? In any case, Ségo has not waited for her chaperone Martine to give her the OK. Continuing her quest for the presidency as une cavalière seule, she has responded to Bayrou's overture to the Socialist Party by substituting herself for the party that didn't quite elect her its leader. It remains to be seen whether Martine will take this lying down. Either way, she loses: either a) Ségo becomes the de facto public face of the party, relegating Martine to the background and the thankless business of organizing the unorganizable, or b) she rebukes her maverick rival and shatters the façade of unity that is barely two weeks old. My guess: public rebuke. Martine veers left, with Hamon and Cambadélis applauding audibly, and the rules of the party primary are fixed to try to tamp down the possibility of centrist voters crossing over to choose the candidate of the Left. Though I'm not really sure what appeal Ségo holds these days for the 18% who voted Bayrou in the first round of 2007. Many of them would rather vote Green, I'm sure, than vote for Ségo or any of her potential PS rivals.


France ranks no. 16 in competitiveness. Countries with a high emphasis on financial services such as the US and UK have dropped in the rankings since last year but are still ahead of France, according to the World Economic Forum.

For a stinging critique of the whole idea of competitiveness rankings, see here.

Tocqueville Review

The Tocqueville Review/La Revue Tocqueville is now available on-line via Project Muse. You're entitled to one free issue, and, as it happens, the current issue 30(1):2009 contains an article by me, "A Fearful Asymmetry," as well as articles by two other "friends of French Politics," Justin Vaïsse and Éloi Laurent. If you don't have access through a university library, you might as well make this your sample issue.

This issue is a special one in honor of Stanley Hoffmann, le doyen of French studies in the U.S., who celebrated his 80th birthday this year. Stanley himself contributes the introduction to the issue, which was ably edited by Cheryl Welch (to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for valuable suggestions that greatly improved my piece).

One Last Map Set

I said that I wouldn't plague you any more with maps of unemployment, but indulge me one last time. Labor Day weekend is over, and I have to get back to work, so this really will be the last, but this is worth looking at, I think. Unfortunately I have to host it on another site, because Blogger won't display animated gifs. So you'll need to click here. When you do, you'll see an animated map showing unemployment in France in the first quarter of each year from 1982 to 2009. You'll see the business cycle come alive.