Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bayrou in Marseille

François Bayrou in Marseille rightly observed that large crowds have often been misinterpreted as signs of strong support. He also accused the two leading candidates of conspiring to avoid the real issue facing the country, and again I think he's right, although I don't think Bayrou has faced it either. Because the main issue is not balancing the national budget but restoring French--and European--growth. On that point, Bayrou has no more to offer than the others:
"Ce n'est pas à la dimension des foules qui assistent aux meetings que l'on mesure la vérité des discours qu'on y tient", a raillé François Bayrou. "Il est même assez souvent arrivé dans l'histoire que plus nombreuses soient les foules, plus gros soient les mensonges et plus graves les désillusions", a-t-il ajouté sous les applaudissements de ses supporters. "C'est d'autant plus vrai dans cette campagne présidentielle qui évite la vérité", a-t-il expliqué. "Nicolas Sarkozy et François Hollande mentent de concert, dans une entente implicite. Nicolas Sarkozy ne veut pas que l'on regarde son bilan de près et François Hollande a choisi de multiplier les promesses intenables", a-t-il accusé.

Kapil's Scoops

Arun Kapil follows the action at Vincennes and Concorde. (h/t MYOS)

Resistance Again

See my previous post on the prégnance of the resistance theme in French political culture. After Mélenchon, Sarkozy:
Au terme d'une semaine qui a vu sa dynamique de campagne s'affaisser, devant une marée de drapeaux bleu, blanc, rouge, le challenger Sarkozy, qui jouait là une de ses dernières cartes avant le premier tour, en a donc appelé, dans de grandes envolées, à la "résistance" du peuple français. Multipliant les références historiques, le président-candidat a appelé les quelques dizaines de milliers de personnes présentes (100 000 selon Jean-François Copé, 50 000 officieusement), à "renouveler l'exploit qu'ont accompli les hommes de l'après-guerre".


Blogging will be reduced in coming days as I travel to Las Vegas tomorrow for a lecture at UNLV on the evening of April 17. Readers in the Las Vegas area are cordially invited to attend. After a brief return to Cambridge, I am on the road again next week, to Madison, WI, and Chicago, and then the following week to Washington, DC, Stanford, and finally UCSD. I will try to keep up the blog while traveling, but output will undoubtedly be reduced.

Tiens! Sarkozy Isn't Happy with Eurozone Governance Either

Nicolas Sarkozy, who has mocked François Hollande's pledge to "renegotiate" the "Merkozy accord" imposing a tighter watch on the spending of EU member states, has now launched his own call for a rethinking of the way business is done in the Eurozone. To be sure, Sarkozy aimed his fire at the European Central Bank rather than at the balanced budget treaty, but the thinking is similar: without steps to stimulate growth coupled with accommodation by the ECB, the Eurozone's troubles will increase.

The Resistance Metaphor

Another thing struck me in the reports from Mélenchon's Marseille rally: at several points the large crowd changed "Résistance! Résistance! Résistance!" What the chanters proposed to resist, of course, was the forces of globalization, even more than the Sarkozy government. The metaphor of "resistance" is a very powerful one in French political culture, for obvious reasons. Resistance was not only the raison d'être of Gaullist politics, it was also the chief claim to legitimacy of the Communist Party, "le parti de 75 000 fusillés" (it would be bad form to quibble about the precise number).

I have no wish to quarrel with the legacy of the Resistance. But "resistance" is not a political program, as even the actual Comité National de la Résistance discovered in 1945, when the unity imposed by the existence of a common enemy disintegrated in the face of the problems of postwar government. This is the essence of my quarrel with the Mélenchonistes. Resistance may stem from good instincts, but those instincts must be educated by sound analysis. And legitimate pride in standing in solidarity with the victims of wrongheaded policy must not be allowed to veer toward overweening arrogance toward those who cannot march in lockstep with the resisters. A genuine political program must recognize the existence of choices, not between good and evil, which is the stark choice to which resisters want to reduce every conflict, but between better and worse: "Gouverner, c'est chosir," said Mendès France, and that dictum still holds true.

On the Extreme Left Vote

Jean-Luc Mélenchon's political skills have enabled him to monopolize the extreme left vote, claim the allegiance of many who might have voted Green had the EELV fielded a stronger candidate, and reclaimed some working-class voters who had drifted toward the extreme left. The accomplishment deserves recognition, as do his forthright pronouncements on certain controversial social issues. Yesterday, for example, in Marseille, he praised the France of métissage, the univeralist France that welcomes foreigners and extends to them (in principle) the rights and benefits of citizenship (as commenter Brent rightly reminds me).

Still, his achievement should not be overstated. Suppose he gets 15% of the vote. Here's what I wrote (with George Ross) about the extreme left back in 2009, when Besancenot was its preferred candidate:

The Common Program of the 1970s transformed [the Socialist Party] into a party interested in governing but did not entirely dissipate the conviction of a part of the population (and of the PCF itself) that the best way to protect the interests of the “people of the left” was less to influence government policy than to oppose it. This sentiment, though less powerful than it once was, continues to motivate perhaps 10–15 percent of voters, who cast their votes for the parties of the extreme left, the extreme right, the Communist rump, and even the Greens, in the hope of demonstrating a disruptive potential sufficient to inhibit governments from pursuing reforms deemed to be aimed at dismantling the French social model.
Mélenchon has merely consolidated this vote and achieved, according to polls, its consistent high-water mark of 15%. If he goes beyond that, if he wins 16 or 17% on April 22, I will have to reconsider and suggest that something significant is stirring in the depths. But at the moment, I see simply a reshuffling of the deck.

The quote if from What's Left of the Left:

Hollande, Sarkozy Bask in the Adulation of Thousands

Mass political meetings always give me the willies. I keep waiting for forearms to be extended toward the leader in a stiff-armed salute. But the ability to turn out a large crowd seems to be a prerequisite of the job, so after Mélenchon in Marseille, we now have Sarkozy at Concorde and Hollande at Vincennes showing that they, too, can play the big numbers game. Meanwhile, Bayrou chose to stage his last rally in Marseille, on the same ground hallowed by Mélenchon yesterday--perhaps not the best move, as comparisons will be inevitable.

Yankee Go Home

Jean-Luc Mélenchon held another monster rally yesterday in Marseille. Were there 120,000 people there? To judge by the sea of red flags visible on TV, it's not out of the question. Among other things, JLM called for the US Sixth Fleet to be withdrawn from the Mediterranean (hey, when you're on a roll, why stop?) and promised to lead a mass mobilization on May 1--a "citizen insurrection," in fact--but only if the unions want him.

In 10 years, he says, the Front de Gauche will be in power. Meanwhile, it's never too early to send the Yankees packing.

A Warning from Barry Eichengreen

The ECB is preoccupied by moral-hazard risk – the idea that supporting spending will relieve the pressure on governments to act. But it should also worry about meltdown risk – about the danger that its own failure to act, by leading to a deep recession, will undermine political leaders’ ability to take the steps needed to put their economies on a sound footing.
Eichengreen notes that German wage increases may improve the competitive position of southern-tier states:
The leading German trade union, IG Metall, has called for a 6.5% wage increase in the next annual round of negotiations. And German public-sector workers obtained an agreement at the end of March that boosts wages by 6.3% in the coming two years.
But this increase in German labor costs is, in fact, precisely what Europe needs to accelerate its rebalancing, because it will help to realign the competitive positions of the northern and southern European economies.
Southern Europe needs to enhance its competitiveness and export more, and has been criticized (not without justification) for failing to do more along these lines. But what matters are southern Europe’s costs of production relative to those of Germany, Europe’s export champion. That is why the prospect of rising German labor costs, after a decade of stasis, is actually one of the few positive economic developments on the European scene – hardly something that the ECB should resist.
One of the pressures that Hollande is likely to face after his election is from unions that have been keeping an eye on German wage increases. They would like to see the same thing happen in France. But France has not been the export champion that Germany is and has in fact been losing ground in key export markets to southern countries such as Spain and Italy. Consider this graph:

What this shows is a sharply deteriorating French trade position with Spain in Standard International Trade Code 7 (machinery and transportation equipment) and a less drastically deteriorating position in Code 6 (manufactured goods classified chiefly by material). Labor costs are not the only reason for this deterioration, but they are a factor, and wage increases after the election will compound matters. So Hollande may not be in a position to reward union expectations, and that could be a problem.