Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Economist's "Denial"

The Economist claims that France is in denial:
It is not unusual for politicians to avoid some ugly truths during elections; but it is unusual, in recent times in Europe, to ignore them as completely as French politicians are doing. In Britain, Ireland, Portugal and Spain voters have plumped for parties that promised painful realism. Part of the problem is that French voters are notorious for their belief in the state’s benevolence and the market’s heartless cruelty. Almost uniquely among developed countries, French voters tend to see globalisation as a blind threat rather than a source of prosperity. With the far left and the far right preaching protectionism, any candidate will feel he must shore up his base.
But The Economist exaggerates. In the previous paragraph, for example, in the previous paragraph, it says:
Exports are stagnating while they roar ahead in Germany. France now has the euro zone’s largest current-account deficit in nominal terms.
But who measures current account in nominal terms? In percentage of GDP, the deficit is 2%, having drifted steadily downward from a surplus of 2% a decade ago. This is not a good situation, but it's hardly as catastrophic as The Economist claims, and France is by no means in the same position as Greece, with little to sell that the rest of the world is buying. The path to balance is clear.

It would be more accurate to say that Europe is in denial and that France just happens to be the country holding the next election, so the denial of Europe's problems is momentarily manifest there. Should French politicians be talking more about the problems of the Eurozone? Of course, but since both major parties are deeply divided, they cannot, and since both face opposition from strong anti-Europe parties on their wings, they would rather avoid the issue altogether. The Economist would like to throw gasoline on the brazier, but concrete suggestions about how to reform European institutions would be more useful. The fact that even a high-stakes gambler like Sarkozy hasn't proposed anything is an indication of how daunting the task is. The Economist, in its usual brisk, no-nonsense, just-get-on-with-it style, seems to think that it's all just a matter of putting one's head down and chugging off in the right direction.

CSA: Sarkozy +4

A CSA poll conducted on March 26-27 gives Sarkozy a 4-point advantage in the first round but still has him losing to Hollande 53-47 in the second. This is the first clear sign of a post-Toulouse bump for Sarkozy, but 53-47 is still a considerable deficit to overcome. Meanwhile, CSA has Bayrou and Mélenchon equal at 12.5 and Marine Le Pen back on top of the second tier with 15.

Polytechnique et Pantouflage

Henceforth, graduates of the Ecole Polytechnique who take jobs in the private sector ("pantouflage," in the picturesque slang expression) must reimburse the state for their education to the tune of €45 000 . Not quite Harvard or MIT tuition but getting up there. And the principle is now established at the very pinnacle of the republican educational system. Sciences Po has been charging tuition to some students for a while, but it's a semi-private institution. X, by contrast, has always been about state service, but in recent years 75% of its graduates have been going into the private sector.