Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Michel Tournier

Michel Tournier has died at the age of 91. I translated Le vent paraclet.

The Other Shore

I don't usually comment on US politics, but some of my friends encouraged me to do so here, in case anyone is interested.

Hollande, tapis!

Hollande has pushed all his chips to the center of the table. Tapis, as they say in poker. All in.

In fact, he doesn't have many chips left. His big bet comes to €2 billion, or 0.1 percent of GDP. As stimulus programs go, that's a sneeze in a hurricane. And the policy mix is a hasty retread of the flat tires of yesteryear. Bonuses to firms for new hires, a pittance for a retraining program here and a prep-for-the-workplace program there. Some more tinkering with the labor code. Und so weiter.

The only real politics here is whether to remove the floor on negotiated overtime payments, as Macron wants, which would effectively end the 35-hour week, or retain the floor, as Myriam El Khomri wants. But the 35-hour week has been reduced to an occasionally useful political fiction, a sentimental reminder of the days when it was still possible to entertain aspirations to a different reality. It has been whittled away over the years, and the average French worker puts in considerably more hours on the job each week. The only question is how much they'll be paid for their time, and the constant tinkering with overtime pay now serves mainly as a way to obfuscate actual wages under a camouflage of supplements and bonuses to offset charges and deductions. It's a shell game.

Commentators and political opponents lost no time in denouncing the measure as a last desperate attempt by Hollande to inflect the unemployment curve, which he foolishly made the sine qua non of his candidacy in 2017. Who cares? If unemployment comes down a tenth of a percent, will it make Hollande a weaker candidate than if it goes up a tenth? All it will do is spare him the embarrassment of literally renouncing his promise. "I know I said I wouldn't run unless unemployment came down, but of course you never really believed I meant it, did you?"

The real problem with Hollande is of course that he still thinks this is the way to play the game. His only chance to resurrect himself--and it's a small one--is to say that he's discovered that the poker game he needs to be playing is a high-stakes one and not penny-a-pot. But it's not in his character, and character is destiny.