Friday, January 17, 2014

Hollande en prend pour son grade

Wherever you turn in the US these days, there's somebody who thinks François Hollande hasn't been very presidential. Stephen Colbert tackles his private life. The New York Times editorial page does the same, with fewer winks and nudges. And Paul Krugman still can't get over Hollande's resurrection of Say's Law.

Oddly enough, Krugman dismisses the affair:
I am not, of course, talking about his alleged affair with an actress, which, even if true, is neither surprising (hey, it’s France) nor disturbing.
while his editors see it as the heart of the matter:
But Mr. Hollande may have subjected national tolerance to one too many tests. In his campaign to succeed Nicolas Sarkozy, who irritated the French with his bling-bling lifestyle, Mr. Hollande projected himself as Mr. Normal, who would bring decorum back to the Élysée Palace (despite the fact that he had left Ségolène Royal, the mother of his four children, for another woman, Valérie Trierweiler, and made her his official consort).
For Krugman, the criticism is no less stinging, but the target is "spinelessness" rather than "self-indulgence":
Yes, callous, wrongheaded conservatives have been driving policy, but they have been abetted and enabled by spineless, muddleheaded politicians on the moderate left.
Tough talk, but characteristically one-sided. Like many economists, Paul Krugman believes that if you have the correct economic analysis, the politics will take care of itself. There should be no need to cajole, negotiate, or placate. Yet Krugman knows that such tactics don't play in the real world: the reason he gave for not wanting the job when his name was proposed for Treasury secretary was that he wouldn't be good at it.

I don't intend this criticism of Krugman to be a defense of Hollande, although I don't entirely agree with Krugman's economic analysis either. To be sure, he's absolutely right to call Hollande on his invocation of Say's Law, but who knows what Hollande really thinks about supply and demand? The essence of Hollande's "responsibility pact" is to broaden the base of the tax that pays part of the cost of the social security system, and that much of his policy can be defended (see my earlier posts). Still, Krugman is right to prod him on the demand side of the equation, although his aggressive language isn't going to get him more of a hearing now than he has had thus far in Europe (and no doubt his frustration is the reason for his aggression).

But there is a problem that none of these American commentators touches on. The French journalist Jean Quatremer hits the target squarely:
Ensuite, la vie privée n’a pas le même sens selon que l’on soit un quidam quelconque ou le plus haut personnage de l’État : par nature, ce dernier est la personne la plus exposée de la République, la plus observée, la plus surveillée. ... Autrement dit, la vie privée d’un Président de la République ou même d’une star est forcément plus limitée que celle d’un citoyen lambda puisque la fonction est par nature exposée.
Here is the heart of the matter. It's foolish to snicker about Hollande's sex life, as Colbert does, or moralize about it, as the Times does, or dismiss it as unimportant compared to getting Say's Law right, as Krugman does. The president's role is not to do economic analysis, but it is to persuade people that he's devoting the full measure of his talent and resources to understanding what experts are telling him, to gathering the views of his European partners, and to working his way out of the morass in which the country is mired. If you aspire to the supreme post, then you can be expected to put most personal gratifications aside for the duration of your term. Even Sarkozy recognized this when he said, immediately after his election, that he would retire to a monastery for an ascetic interlude in preparation for assuming his functions. Of course, in the event, he betrayed that understanding by accepting the gift of a yacht in lieu of a monastery and disporting himself in the Mediterranean with his soon-to-be-estranged wife. Hollande promised to be a different kind of president, and he has disappointed those of us who hoped he would be.


Trisha Craig said...

It may be foolish of Colbert but it was an extremely funny piece.

David A. Bell said...

I'm afraid Hollande deserves all the snickering that has come his way. Did you see, btw, the full page ad in Le Monde for Sixt auto rentals? "M. le Président, la prochaine fois évitez le scooter. Sixt loue des voitures avec vitres teintées."

James Conran said...

I guess Krugman would say that the disappointed hopes of a break with Eurozone austerism are more important than those of a "normalized" presidency (especially when extra-marital activities seem to outsiders to be fairly normal behavior for French politicians).

Regarding the former, Art, don't you think Hollande's failure has been that he didn't even seem to try very hard to "cajole, negotiate, or placate" Merkel et al? And is it not all too plausible that part of his failure to do so stemmed from a lack of either "correct" economic analysis and/or of conviction in that analysis.

I am reminded of Peter Hall's classic 1993 article on "policy paradigms" and British macroeconomic policy. Hall wrote that to illustrate the (limited, as his article emphasizes) importance of economic ideas:

"...we need go no further than to compare the 1970-74 government
under Edward Heath and the 1979-83 government of Margaret Thatcher. Both were Conservative governments, elected on promises to lower inflation, cut taxes, and reduce the role of the state in the economy. When rates of unemployment began to rise and recession loomed, however, the Heath government made a famous U-turn back toward reflation and
interventionist policies, while the Thatcher government held fast to its deflationary course. What explains the difference? In part, of course, Thatcher learned from Heath's experience, suggesting once again that policy is strongly influenced by past experience. However, the platform on which Heath was elected was a jerrybuilt structure with no underpinning in an alternative economic theory,
while Thatcher's was based on a much more fully elaborated monetarist paradigm. Thus, when recession loomed and both governments faced intense pressure from producer groups for reflation, Heath had nothing to fall back on, other than a
Keynesian paradigm that dictated reflation. Thatcher, by contrast, was able to appeal to the monetarist paradigm for authoritative arguments with which to resist mounting pressure for reflation.

....Policymakers are likely to be in a stronger position to resist pressure from societal interests
when they are armed with a coherent policy paradigm. If it does not dictate the optimal
course for policy, at least it provides a set of criteria for resisting some societal demands
while accepting others. Precisely for this reason, the presence of a coherent policy paradigm
greatly enhanced the autonomy of the Thatcherite state in the economic sphere. Conversely, when such a paradigm is absent or disintegrating, policymakers may be much more vulnerable to outside pressure, as the 1974-79 Labour government was once the Keynesian paradigm began to collapse."

While Hall doesn't attribute the difference to Heath and Thatcher's very different personalities, I don't think it would be unreasonable to suggest that Hollande is more a Heath than a Thatcher...

James Conran said...

Apologies for the messy formatting on that quotation, hard to manage the cut and paste...

Anonymous said...

Foolish or not, you have to admit Colbert's take on this was hilarious.

Cincinna said...

You have to admit that Stephen Colbert's take on l'Affaire Hollande is hilarious! And he gets all the details right, in a very good French accent. The Colbert Report strikes again! Everyone today was talking about it. And it has been picked up by French media and gone viral on YouTube.
I do agree that the piece by Jean Quatremer is on the mark from a very French point of view. But, if it is true that this affair has been going on for two years, IOW before the 2012 election, Hollande is guilty not just of colossal stupidity, but of lying to the French people and leading them on. Already having another mistress and officially installing Valérie as "Première Dame" de France on the public dime, Élysée office and full staff included. Il prend les gens pour les cons, and IMHO, ça suffit! People have had it with this Peter Pan and his ridiculous "vie privée".

Anonymous said...

I do think the press is going overboard with this. As someone pointed out elsewhere, Serge Dassault is suspected of being complicit in planning the murder of a woman who had had the bad idea of videotapping him in an act of corruption (there are actual audio files of this). Corbeil Essone sounds like a mafia town with voters being paid to vote for a certain person, extorsion, corruption, and threats being commonplace. And the French Senate refused to vote to lift his "immunity" ! o_O This SHOULD BE a real scandal yet all eyes are on Julie Gayet.

I think Hollande was foolish and reckless but more is happening right now and the press is losing focus. That the "celebritiy mags" keep publishing and publishing on this, okay, it's their job. but to see every "political" pundit on the news and in the papers preoccupied by this?

Another take: