Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lagarde Takes Note of Danger of Second Recession

I am pleased to note that Christine Lagarde seems to be placing greater emphasis on the risk of a double-dip recession and is stressing the idea that, while debt reduction is a proper long-term goal, the immediate need is for rapid action to support growth as well as for accomodative monetary policy given currently low inflation risks:

"La politique macroéconomique doit soutenir la croissance", a souligné l'ancienne ministre française des Finances dans son premier grand discours depuis sa prise de fonction à la tête du FMI en juillet.
"La politique monétaire doit aussi rester extrêmement souple parce que le risque d'une récession est plus élevé que celui de l'inflation."
This is a clearer statement of priorities than I, at least, read in her recent FT article and a different picture from the one painted in the Forbes profile of the new IMF head.

Hoist by Their Own Petard

It's rather amusing, really: the Bush administration closely followed the genetically modified organism debate in France and worried that French anxieties would harm US interests. So here was a case where the French refused to believe the assurances of scientists that the GMO in question, manufactured by Monsanto, were harmless. But of course the Bush administration at home did everything it could to undermine the authority of scientists in a number of areas (global warming, stem cell research, etc.).

Now, I happen to think that far too many people in France are far too exercised about a small number of potential harms: GMOs, cell-phone towers, etc. To be sure, caution is always wise, but I also believe that it is possible to be too cautious. Yet if there is to be any fair and reasonable assessment of risks and benefits, some forms of authority must be accredited. And with the American right-wing assiduously undermining scientific authority for ideological reasons and the French eco-fringe just as assiduously attacking scientific authority for different ideological reasons, there are certain to be any number of issues in which the two converge to produce undesirable outcomes. And so we are treated to the comedy revealed by Wikileaks.

Mélenchon Addresses les Cocos

Jean-Luc Mélenchon rolled out the rhetorical heavy artillery for the Communist Party's Summer School:

Le "camarade Jean-Luc" en fait des tonnes pour montrer qu'il est presque un communiste comme les autres : référence à la doxa marxiste, évocation de la révolution de 1917, au "coeur battant de la Résistance" ; il parle même de "dictature de l'intérêt général contre la dictature de l'argent"... tout y est. Un rien cabotin, il lance : "Nous sommes des êtres conscients réunis par un pacte politique et pas par le charisme d'un leader." Ajoutant : "Je vais regretter les moments où je pouvais dire "je" et où je pouvais n'être démenti que par moi. A partir du moment où je vais dire "nous", je vais devoir vous demander à chacun si vous êtes d'accord."
I still remember the first time I was exposed to an evocation of the PCF's great lieux de mémoire. It was in a most unlikely setting--a seminar room at Harvard--and the speaker was Henri Krasucki. By the end of it, I was nearly in tears: le parti des 75 000 fusillés, les déportations (Krasucki's father died at Birkenau), les journées nationales de grève, la lutte des classes. Such emotional fellows, les cocos. And such a long way from the young American's image of "Marxist intellectuals" and "Soviet marshals and commissars." This was politics as soap opera. Most entertaining, and in the right setting I imagine rather effective. But that was 30 years ago. I wonder if this imagery still works on the young.

Polls and Feedback

Rue89 has a good piece on the effect of polling on primary voters. The argument is simple: had it not been for polls showing that Ségolène Royal was the best-placed Socialist candidate to beat Sarkozy in 2007, she wouldn't have won the primary, and look how that worked out.

Indeed, as the article points out, when ideological differences between candidates are small, primary voters tend to be unduly influenced by horse-race polling, which is notoriously inaccurate. After all, none of the contenders has really been tested against the true opposition, voters are notoriously fickle, and much can happen in the many months between now and the presidential election.

At the moment, François Hollande appears to enjoy a not insignificant lead both in polling against Sarkozy and in comparison with other Socialist candidates. This probably reflects his assiduous efforts: by campaigning constantly, he has kept his name in the news and not just at the national level. One can't accuse him of not working hard for the nomination. Are there other factors? Does he seem a more likely "incarnation" of the presidency than his rivals? Are primary voters, disappointed with their choice of a woman last time around, looking for a man this time? Has Aubry failed to convince or connect?

I really don't know. The polling methodologies in France are too various and haphazard to have much confidence in their ability to pick winners or even to identify likely primary voters (France needs a poll critic like Nate Silver in the U.S., who can separate the wheat from the chaff). I frankly don't sense much enthusiasm among my Socialist friends for either Aubry or Hollande. Faute de mieux, either one will do. The primary campaign hasn't stirred much of a debate yet about anything important, and both leading candidates are cautious in the extreme, as well as seasoned enough to avoid major gaffes. So we just have to wait to see who staggers across the finish line first. As for Montebourg, Valls, Royal, and the other guy (Baylet, qui ça?), yeah, sure, anything could happen, but ...

"Society of Equals" by Pierre Rosanvallon

Sylvain Bourmeau interviews Pierre Rosanvallon about his new book, La Sociéte des égaux, which happens to be what I'm translating at the moment. Unfortunately, you have to be a Libé subscriber to read this, and I'm not. If you're in France, do buy the book (just out, I believe): it's Rosanvallon at his best.

Hurricane Warning

As you probably know, Hurricane Irene is headed for the Boston area, so I may find myself without power or Internet or both for an indeterminate period. If the blog suddenly disappears, blame the hurricane. But I'll be back whenever life returns to normal.