Thursday, August 21, 2014

Accelerating Into the Wall

John Maynard Keynes was once asked about a change in his position. "When the facts change, sir, I change my mind. What do you do?" In this as in other respects François Hollande is evidently not a Keynesian. In an interview with Le Monde, he said:

je réponds que toute godille ou tout zigzag rendrait incompréhensible notre politique et ne produirait pas de résultats
Heaven forbid that he should tack or zigzag, because that "would make our policy incomprehensible." As things are, of course, that policy is a model of limpid clarity. The fact that it is not producing any results to be proud of does not preclude the possibility that it will produce results tomorrow. The fact that the government has already tacked and zigzagged on a hundred points, most recently after the Constitutional Council struck down a key component of its Responsibility Pact, must not be confused with the kinds of tacks and zigzags proposed by its critics, which would only confuse matters by moving in a different direction. And that would be a disaster, because the remedy for all the government's failures to date is to "accelerate the reform." When a wall looms in the path of an onrushing vehicle, acceleration may not be the best strategy, but Hollande le Mou has evidently been advised by his media counselors to emphasize his firmness, and, by golly, he has mastered the art of repeating ad nauseam "I will not change course."

Sigh.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

France Stagnates

The government has been preparing people for the bad news for weeks now, but the numbers are finally in: growth in the last quarter was zero, and France is on the verge of deflation. Yet Jens Weidmann, the Bundesbank's stern flagellator-in-chief, castigated France yesterday for its lackadaisical approach to the reforms he believes are necessary: hors de soi-même, point de salut. In other words, "Don't expect us to bail you out." When asked whether France is "the sick man of Europe," Weidmann said he didn't like to use that phrase but went on to prescribe a course of heavy-duty austerotherapy nevertheless.

Of course, German growth has flagged as well, and that indeed is part of the problem. Austerity has dried up trade, and the Ukrainian mess has cut into German trade with its eastern neighbors. If a deflationary spiral really sets in in the Eurozone, we are in for a very bad time indeed. Meanwhile, the French government has not given so much as a glimmer of a hint of an answer to its quandary. The Responsibility Pact has to be redrafted in the wake of the Constitutional Council decision. Taxes cannot be raised any further, because the population is already groaning under the weight of increases from the first two years of the Hollande era. Cutting spending is not an art that Hollande has mastered, even with the change from Ayrault to Valls. Tax receipts are dwindling as prices fall (the price of a cup of coffee in France is down 3% in the past year, or so says INSEE, if not le garçon de café).

Not good times.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

France to Support Kurds against IS

Looks like France will be the first country to support the Kurds in combating the self-declared Islamic State. Hollande can't do anything at home; might as well go abroad. Cynicism aside, I'm glad someone's coming to the defense of the Kurds.

The Conseil Constitutionnel and the Pacte de Responsabilité

François Hollande managed to impose his Pacte de Responsabilité on a recalcitrant majority but apparently not on the Conseil Constitutionnel, which, while approving the cut in corporate social charges, rejected the accompanying reduction in social charges on lower-paid employees, which was supposed to sweeten the bitter pill. The CC argues that the skewing of rates to favor less well-off workers violates "the principle of equality," although one might equally well argue that it was intended to support that principle. But the law is as the law does, and the government must now live with the CC's obtuse interpretation of equality, which is likely to make a measure already unpopular (to put it mildly) with its electoral base even more repellent.

The Responsibility Pact makes a certain amount of economic sense, even if one can argue about its likely effectiveness. But the government must now find another sweetener for its package or risk even further erosion of its support.

Sarkozy Woos New Allies

Nicolas Sarkozy has reportedly concluded that he needs new allies if he is to succeed in his effort to reclaim the UMP. The old guard--Balkany, Morano, Hortefeux--no longer suffices. And former key lieutenants such as Patrick Buisson and Claude Guéant have become taboo. So he is allegedly wooing ambitious younger politicians such as Laurent Wauquiez and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet in addition the denizens of la Droite forte, who have been only too eager to support him.

The conjunction of the names Wauquiez and NKM is interesting, in that the two had seemed to take opposite tacks in response to Sarkozy's attempted droitisation of the party in the run-up to 2012. Wauquiez appeared to embrace the more xenophobic line, while NKM forthrightly attacked the Front National. But both are smart and ambitious and calculating, so they know that they need to attract some of Sarkozy's rank-and-file support if they wish to position themselves as future présidentiables.

Of course, being wooed is not the same thing as getting married, and precisely because Wauquiez and NKM are smart, they're likely to play one suitor off against another. It's interesting that the name of Bruno Le Maire does not appear in the Le Monde article. He's part of the same group of ambitious wannabes. Perhaps he's already pushed too far in touting his own candidacy for the party leadership, so that Sarkozy views him as a rival rather than an ally, while LW and NKM are prepared to back Sarkozy as a maneuver to outflank Le Maire. The UMP contest is interesting from a purely tactical point of view, if nevertheless quite disappointing with respect to any actual new thinking about issues. But one takes one's entertainment where one finds it.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Polling 3 Years Before an Election Is Worthless, Of Course, but This ....

IFOP says Marine Le Pen would get 27% in the first round, Nicolas Sarkozy would come in second with 26, and the Socialist candidate would be eliminated, be he Hollande or Valls.or Montebourg.

Bien joué, M. le Président.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mélenchon Declares Failure

Jean-Luc Mélenchon has declared the failure of the Front de Gauche:
Son constat sur le Front de gauche est lui aussi sans appel : "Nous sommes en échec." Il explique ainsi que "la force" que représentait son résultat à la présidentielle a été "étouffée par le poids du retour aux vieilles traditions partiaires, aux arrangements, aux accords électoraux". "Tout ça a été planté pour une poignée de postes aux municipales", critique-t-il. Le principal responsable ? Le PCF qui a choisi de s'allier au premier tour avec le PS dans certaines villes quand lui et les siens prônaient l'autonomie. Une stratégie qui a selon lui "complètement décrédibilisé" le Front de gauche.
He says he needs time for himself:

"A un moment, il faut s'arrêter de courir. Parce que si on court tout le temps, on va finir par se mettre dans le vide. Et là, j'ai besoin de dormir, de ne rien faire, de bayer aux corneilles", explique-t-il. Des mots rares dans sa bouche qui pourraient résonner comme un aveu d'impuissance. "J'ai besoin de temps, je ne peux plus continuer comme ça", poursuit-il en souhaitant que "le niveau de pression sur [lui] baisse". Le fondateur du Parti de gauche ajoute que la relève au sein de son parti est prête et qu'il n'entend pas jouer "tous les rôles". "J'ai fait mon temps à organiser la vie d'un parti", précise l'ancien socialiste qui se garde cependant d'évoquer sur la crise interne que traverse actuellement le parti qu'il a fondé en 2008.
And he doesn't rule out a Le Pen victory in 2017, recognizing the "talent" of his erstwhile nemesis:

"On doit se demander pourquoi on fait des campagnes aussi mauvaises, aussi lamentables, aussi tardives", assène-t-il. Au passage, il reconnaît du "talent" à la dirigeante du Front national qui a, selon lui, une "chance" d'y arriver en 2017. Pourquoi ? "Parce que la société est en train de se diriger vers le point 'qu’ils s’en aillent tous'. Et quand le point 'qu’ils s’en aillent tous' est atteint, tout saute en même temps", prévient-il. Pas un mot en revanche sur le rôle qu'il entend jouer lors de la prochaine présidentielle.
This is the sound of a beaten man.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Wren-Lewis on the Incoherence of Hollande's Economic Policy

It's not as though no one else has noticed, but Simon Wren-Lewis is also confused about what Hollande et al. think they are up to.

Sadness in the Streets of Paris

I don't generally comment on Middle East affairs on this blog, but since the war between Israel and Hamas has spilled over into the streets of Paris, I will say a word. As Le Monde's editorial this morning suggests, the government erred by prohibiting yesterday's pro-Hamas demonstration, which degenerated into street violence. Le Monde's reasoning is faulty, however. The paper suggests that because authorized demonstrations elsewhere in France did not degenerate, the same would have been true in Paris.

This is of course a logical non sequitur. There may have been--I believe there were--elements in Paris spoiling for a fight, elements not present elsewhere. Now, whether this urge to en découdre on the part of some pro-Hamas demonstrators was in response to previous alleged "provocations" by the Jewish Defense League is beside the point, and it is of course pointless to raise the "who started it?" question--as pointless as in the Gaza war itself.

And just as the war has revealed certain obvious but ordinarily unspoken truths--that Netanyahu has no interest in a two-state solution and that Hamas has stockpiled thousands of rockets and dug dozens of tunnels to attack Israel when the moment is ripe--so has the violence in Paris revealed, or revived, the equally unspoken reality of widespread hatred and hostility among French Muslims toward French Jews. (See also Pascal Riché's excellent report from the scene.)

I say "hostility toward French Jews" (and not Israel) because, as Riché's report in particular makes clear, while demonstrators may be protesting Israel's policy toward the West Bank and Gaza--which deserves to be protested--they are also motivated by the belief that "the Jews control everything" in France and elsewhere and that it is this occult Jewish power that dictates French policy toward the Middle East. This is a dangerously false belief, and it is almost as depressing to see it aired in the streets of Paris as it is to see demonstrators carrying effigies of the rockets that Hamas has aimed at Israel.

A recent Pew poll showed that anti-Semitic sentiment in France is relatively low and that France is one of the least anti-Semitic countries in Europe. Unfortunately, this has been accompanied by an exacerbation of anti-Semitic sentiment within the Muslim minority in France. There is no doubt that this new polarization has been and will continue to be cynically exploited by politicians wanting to demonstrate a "tough-on-Islam" stance at little or no cost. But what is to be done? The festering of anti-Semitic sentiment in a substantial segment of the population of any country is a most unfortunate development in 21st c. Europe. The only real solution is to end the conflict in the Middle East, but that's like saying that the only real solution is the End of Time. It's enough to make one weep.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Did Sarkozy's Dogs Tear Up the Furniture in the Elysée?

First we heard that Valérie Trierweiler had smashed up the bibelots in a fit of rage after l'Affaire Gayet. Now it seems that it wasn't the Rottweiler after all but Sarkozy's pups who messed things up.


And Sarko, they say, is a recidivist:
Mais l'ancien président est habitué aux dégradations de mobilier : alors qu'il était ministre de l'Intérieur, un canapé était déjà rentré au Mobilier, imbibé de poils et d’urine.
Une honte pour la République!