Saturday, January 18, 2014

Neoliberal Coup or Political Genius? The Two Sides of Françoise Fressoz (and François Hollande)

In her blog, Françoise Fressoz, Le Monde's political correspondent, is the scourge of neoliberalism:
De fait, lui [Hollande] et son gouvernement mettent en place tous les instruments de la régulation, mais avec un tel retard à l’allumage, une telle faiblesse syndicale, que la partie est loin d’être gagnée. Seule l’invocation patriotique, l’appel à l’union pour le redressement national pouvaient masquer dans les mots la victoire par K.-O. du libéralisme.
In the paper, however, she is an effective spin doctor for the powers-that-be, presenting the "responsibility pact" as a great leap forward:
Avec sa politique de l'offre qui rejoint toutes les thématiques du couple Bayrou-Borloo, le coup de la triangulation est quasi parfait. Le centre est remis en selle tandis que les dirigeants de l'UMP se divisent en deux camps : Alain Juppé, Bruno Le Maire, Jean-Pierre Raffarin et les libéraux-centristes prêtent une oreille attentive, les sarko-copéistes campent sur leur position d'opposition ferme.
So, which is it? A "victory by knockout for liberalism" or a brilliant exercise in political triangulation which has won over the center and split the UMP?

Of course, the answer is surely "both." If you read the second piece in its entirety, you have the impression that Fressoz and her co-writer David Revault  d'Allonnes have drunk the kool-aid, or at least the "deep background" briefings obviously given to them by Pierre Moscovici and François Rebsamen, and have decided to concentrate not on the economic substance of the pact but rather on the political strategy behind it. And their portrait of that strategy is rather convincing. Hollande has been persuaded that he cannot count on political support from the Front de Gauche for anything he does. He must therefore build a new coalition, different from the one that elected him. The Bayrou-Borloo rapprochement and the growing fissures in the UMP have given him an opening to do that. In addition, ongoing negotiations with Pierre Gattaz and the Medef have convinced him that he has more room for maneuver there than with Mélenchon, who despises him and won't give him the time of day. So he cut a deal. The deal is described as "risky," but the word is carefully chosen to fit the rhetorical strategy of the Fressoz-d'Allonnes article, which is to portray the hitherto hapless Hollande as a suddenly reborn "leader," a bold general in command of his troops.

Indeed, he is said to have quelled rumors of a Valls-led palace coup, put his ministers back in line, and "reoriented" Ayrault, who tried to go "too far, too fast" with his announced "complete overhaul" of the tax system. Here, of course, we see the Moscovici spin: Mosco resented Ayrault's attempted coup, which cut him out of the loop, and he is now kvelling about having imposed a Strauss-Kahnian line instead, while elbowing another rival, Valls, out of the limelight.

Yes, it all makes for thrilling reading, but the literary genre here is fantasy, not hard-core realism. The narrative fails to reckon with any reactions outside the walls of the National Assembly. The government will risk a no-confidence vote on the responsibility pact, daring the Front de Gauche to vote against it and counting on centrist votes to keep it in power if that happens. Brilliant.

But the narrative also implicitly assumes that results will soon be tangible: unemployment will decrease at an accelerating rate, wages will rise, firms will invest, and all because the payroll tax has been reduced a bit. Nothing is said about the consequences of the promised public-sector cuts and the consequent reduction in demand. Not a word is breathed about what might happen if employers are seen to drag their feet on the famous contreparties while sitting on the piles of cash that begin to accumulate when the cotisations familiales are eliminated. And surely the brilliant strategists at the finance ministry have given a moment or two's thought to what might lie in store if workers take a dim view of this latest "triangulation" and decide to express their lack of confidence in the administration outside the walls of parliament. How long before the positive gloss that Fressoz and d'Allonnes have put on "le tournant 2014" turns to "I told you so, unvarnished neoliberal welfare state retrenchment is a no-go in France?"