Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Barry Eichengreen Lets Loose


The Irish “rescue package” finalized over the weekend is a disaster. You can say one thing for the European Commission, the ECB and the German government: they never miss an opportunity to make things worse.

It pains me to say this. I’m probably the most pro-euro economist on my side of the Atlantic. Not because I think the euro area is the perfect monetary union, but because I have always thought that a Europe of scores of national currencies would be even less stable. I’m also a believer in the larger European project. But given this abject failure of European and German leadership, I am going to have to rethink my position.
As John Maynard Keynes – who knew about matters like reparations – once said, leadership involves “ruthless truth telling.” In Europe today, recent events make clear, leadership is in short supply.

Immigration and National Identity

A review of Patrick Weil's latest book, Liberté, Égalité, Discriminations: L’«Identité Nationale» au regard de l’histoire.

The Incomprehension of the Socialist Party

Le Monde's editorial is correct:

Hormis leur refondateur des années 1970, François Mitterrand, les socialistes n'ont toujours pas compris la nature de l'élection présidentielle française : la rencontre d'un homme - ou d'une femme - et du pays. Plus exactement, s'ils l'ont compris, ils n'assument pas pleinement cette monarchie républicaine instaurée en 1962 et l'aventure singulière, l'ambition individuelle, la détermination sans faille qu'elle suppose.

But the editorial does not pursue this analysis any further. The obvious question to ask is why the Socialists have not grasped the fundamental nature of presidential politics. Mitterrand, who learned the political art in the Fourth Republic, was also schooled by the weaknesses of that regime in the importance of a gravitational center, without which the satellites veer from their orbits and quickly reduce order to chaos. He may have polemicized against the coup d'État permanent, but he knew what needed to be done to govern "le pays de 350 fromages."

But a certain presidential tropism was not the only legacy of the Fourth Republic: technocracy was perhaps its finest product. For most of les Trente Glorieuses, France was in fact ruled by technocrats. The legitimacy derived, after the advent of the Fifth Republic, from the election of a supreme magistrate by universal suffrage only added to the legitimacy of competence that the technocrats derived from their own training and ostensible commitment to the general interest. Mitterrand, recognizing this, surrounded himself with young énarques, who continue to dominate the Socialist Party today. But he squashed the Rocardians, who might have infused technocracy with a bit of political savvy, had they been allowed to develop as a movement, and then Jospin, the best of the remaining lot (with Fabius sidelined by the blood scandal and rightly distrusted for his sinuous political line), was in turn squashed by the Front National, a movement that Mitterrand had covertly encouraged (through his sanction of proportional representation in local elections) in order to divide the right. This left only the small fry among politicized technocrats to run the PS at the national level, while the local federations were ceded to barons who might have been at home in the Fourth Republic: the Collombs, Frêches, and Rebsamens, among others.

There is of course a younger generation of Socialists schooled in a variety of political arts unknown to the énarques. Harlem Désir, another Mitterrand product, came up by way of racial politics. Manuel Valls has been searching for a third way in downtown Evry for years. Arnaud Montebourg, who has studied the secrets of Sarkozy's rise and Ségolène's surprising appeal, would like to be a media darling as well, but he hasn't quite found the trick of it. So the party limps along with out-of-touch énarques at its head, struggling youngsters searching for another way, pollsters endlessly touting Hamlet Strauss-Kahn, who can't decide whether to be or not to be, and the mercurial Ségolène, who alone among the lot has grasped the fact that a president must be the incarnation of something.

And incarnation is precisely what Ségolène has mastered: she has undeniable presence. It's the "something" that eludes her. Exactly what she intends to incarnate has never been clear and becomes less clear with each reinvention of herself. By turns Blairite, gauchiste, 68arde attardée, femme fatale, attack dog, Marianne redux, and Mother of all the French, she retains her spontaneity by avoiding identification with any particular line of policy and her vivacity by refusing to closet herself away with the many dossiers she needs to master if she wants to make her next candidacy more credible than her last one.

In retrospect, one has to admire the genius of Mitterrand, who was able to mold this nébuleux into a vehicle of victory. If only he had been able to pass some of his Florentine subtlety on to his protégés, the party might be in a better position to win an election that would seem, if Sarkozy's unpopularity is any gauge, to be eminently winnable.

More on the French Brain Drain

The story continues to attract attention in the US but, curiously, in France, not so much:

Ben Wildavsky, a senior scholar in research and policy at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and author of The Great Brain Race, appeared with Kohler at the French Embassy. In his book, Wildavsky argues that academic excellence is not a zero sum game and that it's a good thing that there is more competition for academic talent. Still, he said Tuesday that "without being alarmist," there is good reason for a country like France to worry about its loss of talent.

He argued -- to the visible discomfort of some of the French academics in the audience -- that the "culture of egalitarianism" and a "culture of mediocrity" have eroded the quality of French universities. (He later said he "withdrew" the word "mediocrity" and that he should have referred instead to a culture of "insufficient excellence.") Some of those who were challenging the report, he said, showed "elements of denial."

"Insufficient excellence?" C'mon, Ben, do you think anybody's gonna believe a weasel-word like that conveys your true thoughts on the matter? But I think you're being rather unfair, even with your waffle. French academics receive too little money and virtually no support of the sort that American academics take for granted: libraries, computers, secretaries, travel grants, research funding, etc. Mediocrity is a product of policy, not of  "culture." As for egalitarianism, you're neglecting the Grandes Écoles, which might lead you to the opposite conclusion about the French system. It would be more accurate to say that the stratification inherent in any system of higher education needs to be spread over a somewhat wider base than is presently the case in France.

More WikiLeaks

Notice how much better a job the Times does in summarizing these cables than the French press has managed to date. Our diplomats may lack flair, but our journalists are tops when it comes to collecting and regurgitating the diplomatic mush.

I think I'll spend the afternoon re-reading Isaiah Berlin's wartime dispatches from Washington and George Kennan's letters from Moscow. Longing for the good old days. I guess this is a sure sign I've become an old man.

Here Are the Secrets

OK, I take it back. US diplomats did know something that they couldn't have read on this blog: that DSK regarded Ségolène Royal's popularity as a "collective hallucination." As for Ségo herself, she confessed that she watches "Desperate Housewives" (hmmmmm), but that didn't prevent our crackerjack diplomatic corps from recognizing her allegedly "traditional leftist preconceptions, not to say prejudices" against the US. Oh, yes: and they also knew about Sarko chasing little Louis's dog and rabbit around the Élysée.

I mean, like, you know, Good grief! (Or WTF, in today's parlance.) So, sure, we negotiate with an impostor in Afghanistan, but what do we know about Afghanistan? We've only been at war there since 2001. France--our oldest ally, and this is the best we can do? Twaddle and tittle-tattle?