Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Comedy Break

For background.
Sarkozy, le majordome soumis de Merkel dans un... by Nouvelobs

Wolfgang Streeck on the Euro Crisis

Here. These are the same questions that Peter Hall and I answered in previous installments of this Current Moment series.

Unit Labor Costs

Eurozone adjustment will necessarily involve some adjustment in unit labor costs. A discussion can be found here.

The Social VAT

It's baaaack ... comment outsourced to Autheuil.

Hollande's Manifesto

Libération has published a text by François Hollande defining the main themes of his campaign, which had seemed to be losing steam over the past few weeks. It's a worthy effort in the grand style of political manifestos, gesturing in this direction and that while anticipating the objections and critiques of the adverse party. In fact, the text bears some of the hallmarks of the best speeches by Henri Guaino, minus the incessant anaphora that is Guaino's hallmark.

For a good analysis of Hollande's themes, see Bernard Girard, who is slightly more upbeat than I would be, for two reasons. First, I tend to discount the significance of these exercises in soaring rhetoric and glittering generality. Second, I discount the significance even more when the rhetoric is couched in a printed document rather than a speech. The spoken word is like music: it can convey an emotion while circumventing the rational censor--if it is delivered well. That is why the Sarkozy-Guaino tandem has been so effective: the two are on the same wavelength and compensate for each other's defects. Guaino softens Sarkozy's hard-edged crudeness, while Sarkozy lends muscle to Guaino's airiness.* The question remains whether Hollande can effectively deliver the lines that he and his speechwriters have written. And even in the text there is a sort of sauce hollandaise, unctuously smooth and lemony tart: "Comme les choses seraient faciles si l’échec devenait une excuse, si l’expérience - même malheureuse - devenait une justification opportune de poursuivre et l’abandon des promesses, une preuve de courage !" One can see the sly smile of the former leader of the PS, so adept in his time at placing the one-liners that would become the next day's headlines. Sarkozy will run on his experience, so what could be more logical than to remind voters, with a slight play on words, that that experience has been malheureuse.

Still, the campaign is now on in earnest. Hollande, who may be about to change his stand on combining the CSG and the income tax, will have to deal with endless obfuscatory attacks on the details of any policy he announces, did well to start things off with a strong if vague statement of purpose. If he can grow into his own words and make himself their embodiment, he will have done most of what he needs to do to defeat Sarkozy, who, for better or for worse, is stuck with the "unhappy experience" that fate has dealt him.

* Just after writing these lines, I came across this little essay on Sarkozy and Guaino by Philippe Bilger, who ofters this quote: "Nicolas Sarkozy gère tout à l'affect. La contrepartie de l'affect, c'est la brutalité."

Knock Me Over with a Feather

Well, I'll be: from this morning's Times I learn that a key player in French policymaking around the euro is Ramon Fernandez, the son of novelist Dominique Fernandez, whose biography (Ramon) of his father, also named Ramon Fernandez, is one of the most fascinating books I've read in recent years. It tells the story of how the elder Ramon Fernandez, the technocrat's grandfather, went from Parisian aesthete and distinguished literary critic to rabble-rousing fascist orator and party captain in Doriot's quasi-fascist PPF. An amazing book, and now am I further amazed to discover that Ramon Fernandez's namesake is making policy about the euro.