Monday, June 11, 2012

Report on Taxation and Redistribution in France

From the Institut des Politiques Publiques, here. I haven't had a chance to read this yet, but it looks quite interesting.

France Will Tighten Rules on Layoffs

The new government plans to make it more difficult and expensive for firms to lay off workers. "The main idea is to make redundancies so costly that it's not worth it," said Michel Sapin, the new labor minister. I'm no neoliberal apologist, but I think this is a terrible idea. France needs to improve its competitive position in the world. It has too many workers in declining industries and too many plants that are suboptimal in size and technology for today's markets. It's wishful thinking to believe that this can be combated by fiat, but the government is apparently sufficiently desperate about rising unemployment numbers to resort to a measure that is likely to worsen the situation in the medium term, even if it prevents further losses for a few months or years. Perhaps Hollande is less of a centrist than I thought he was, or perhaps the balance of forces within the party is not quite what I believed.

Joffrin Analyzes Mélenchon's Failure

For Laurent Joffrin, Jean-Luc Mélenchon failed in the presidential election and even more spectacularly in Hénin-Beaumont because he misdiagnosed the state of mind of the working class:

Autant Jean-Luc Mélenchon a fait preuve depuis un an d’un grand talent, d’un abattage exceptionnel et d’une réussite certaine en donnant à la gauche de la gauche une visibilité inédite, autant il paie le prix d’une grave confusion idéologique. Son aventure reposait sur un postulat : pour ramener à gauche les classes populaires détournées par le vote FN ou l’abstention, il fallait radicaliser le langage, la tactique et le programme. Un discours agressif et dénonciateur, le refus de toute perspective gouvernementale avec les socialistes honnis, des propositions de rupture en matière économique ou d’immigration : il fallait en tout point déclarer la guerre au réformisme. Pour séduire les ouvriers déçus par la gauche, il fallait être beaucoup plus à gauche. C’est ce raisonnement, plus que le candidat Mélenchon, qui a échoué à Hénin-Beaumont.
Les classes populaires, contrairement au postulat mélenchoniste, ont les pieds sur terre. Elles se méfient de la radicalité verbale qui recouvre avant tout l’irréalisme. Aussi bien, un candidat qui proclame à tous vents que l’immigration ne pose aucun problème ne saurait remporter un grand succès auprès des ouvriers et des employés, qui craignent la concurrence d’une main d’œuvre sous-payée et corvéable à merci.
I think we all tend to overinterpret the results of elections. One could equally well point to the fact that the Front de Gauche was not nearly as well organized in H-B as the Front National, that Mélenchon, even more than Le Pen, was un candidat parachuté, who chose the district only because he wanted a symbolic and ego-nourishing confrontation with the leader of the FN, and that Mélenchon's focal issues were particularly ill-adapted to the situation on the ground in the district. Still, I think that Joffrin's basic point--that gauchiste intransigence did not pay off--is correct. The left of the left will now have to rethink its position. It can still play a useful role as critic of the center-left government. What was not useful was the attempt to construct a duopolistic cult of personalities pitting a charismatic orator of the extreme left against the dynamic heiress of the FN dynasty. Mélenchon défrayait la chronique for a while, but his failure leaves the left of the left adrift, leaderless, and in search of a new message. The attempt to revive, if only rhetorically, the revolutionary militancy of a bygone era has been definitively rejected. It's time to move on.