Thursday, April 24, 2014

PIketty cartonne!

It's been interesting to watch the fortunes of French economist Thomas Piketty's Le capital au 21e siècle since its publication in France last September. I'm well placed to do so, since I'm the book's English translator. The French version has sold well from the start. For the past 78 days straight, it has been on the Top 100 list of But today, for the first time, it hit no. 1 in France, as news of Piketty's astonishing success in the United States returned to French shores. It's as if France was awaiting validation of its latest intellectual superstar by the tough American audience.

In the United States, success came swiftly. Two Nobel prizewinners wrote glowing reviews: Paul Krugman and Robert Solow. A third Nobel laureate, Joseph Stiglitz, praised the book during a public appearance with Piketty at CUNY. Economist Brad DeLong sums up the burgeoning discussion of the book here. This is the first Harvard University Press book to make the New York Times bestseller list since the 1990s.

I'm pleased to be associated with this important book and congratulate Thomas on his well-deserved recognition.

Pauvre François

The president is in such trouble that he can't even lay a wreath in memory of Jaurès without getting booed, jeered, and attacked by a tenacious woman in the crowd  (watch the video at the link) who tells him "You haven't kept your promises, Mr. President." Socialist nostalgia is no longer operative; the restive masses would like to see some actual socialist practice.

French Regulations Drive Netflix to Luxembourg

France asked too much of Netflix, so the streaming video service went to Luxembourg instead.

Bons élèves, les dirigeants de Netflix se sont tout de même donné la peine d’entamer des négociations avec Aurélie Filippetti et le CSA : les règles françaises étant issues d’un décret et pas de la loi, un infime espoir subsistait de voir le Ministère de la Culture assouplir le cadre réglementaire en échange de la promesse de financements supplémentaires pour les productions françaises originales et, bien sûr, d’importantes rentrées fiscales.
Peine perdue : la bonne volonté des Américains s’est heurtée à l’intransigeance française, comme l’illustrent les déclarations martiales d’Aurélie Filippetti, qui assurait, en début d’année, que Netflix devrait“se plier à nos régulations”.

Taliban at Ecology: Minister Royal Bans Décolleté?

She denies it, but Le Point insists that Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal has banned décolleté at work.

Her sister minister, Marisol Touraine:

La ministre de la Santé Marisol Touraine a réagi, expliquant que dans son ministère "toutes les femmes et tous les hommes ont le sens de la mission qui est la leur et spontanément adoptent des tenues descentes", et que, l'été, "des décolletés légers ne [lui] posent aucun problème".
No one at Ecology can have a private office, including top advisor Jean-Louis Bianco. And Ségo has stopped kissing the cheeks of her colleagues now that she's in charge, contenting herself with a handshake.

More at Rue89:
Au ministère de l’Ecologie, raconte Le Point, Ségolène Royal aurait donné des consignes... strictes à ses collaborateurs.
  • porter des tenues décentes, avec « interdiction des décolletés » ;
  • se lever au passage de la ministre, « précédée d’un huissier qui l’annonce » quand elle se déplace dans les locaux ;
  • s’abstenir de fumer en sa présence, dans la cour et le jardin ;
  • « ne pas emprunter le couloir adjacent » à son salon quand elle y déjeune (ça fait trop de bruit) ;
  • partager son bureau avec au moins un collègue ;
  • en ce qui concerne le chauffeur de Frédéric Cuvillier : dormir ailleurs qu’au ministère quand le secrétaire d’Etat aux Transports n’est pas à Paris.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Historical Paris

A nice commentary on the Charles Marville show at the Met by Lauren Elkin.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bruno Le Roux Gives a Lesson in Langue de Bois

Bruno Le Roux, who has the thankless job of heading the Socialist group in the National Assembly, tries to explain why, although his group dislikes the Hollande-Valls policy, can't do much to change it, and is worried about its effects on their political ambitions, they will nevertheless perform their expected function of godillots fidèles:

Dans quel état est le groupe socialiste après la défaite des municipales, le remaniement et les épisodes qui ont suivi ?Bruno Le Roux : C'est un groupe qui est toujours dans la réflexion sur les causes de la défaite et le message des électeurs. Il y a une grande conscience qu'il faut continuer, redresser le pays. Ce courage, ça fait partie du logiciel de la gauche. Dans le même temps, il a envie de participer encore plus à la mise en oeuvre de cette politique, à sa définition, de soutenir en réfléchissant et en participant encore plus.

Don't you love that promise to offer "support while reflecting and participating more than ever"? And "This courage is an integral part of the software of the left." Translation: Yeah, you're right, they're screwing us over, but we'll suck it up as we've always done and seize any opportunity we can find."

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Hollande Ties His Fate to the Unemployment Curve

François Hollande says he won't run in 2017 if employment has not decreased by then (he didn't say by how much, however):
Les syndicalistes de Michelin ont eu droit, vendredi 18 avril, à une première. C'est en partageant un déjeuner avec eux, à Clermont-Ferrand, que le chef de l'Etat a lâché cette drôle de confidence : « Si le chômage ne baisse pas d'ici à 2017, je n'ai ou aucune raison d'être candidat, ou aucune chance d'être réélu. »

Friday, April 18, 2014

Morelle Resigns

Another nail in François Hollande's coffin? His close advisor and longtime friend Aquilino Morelle has resigned under fire, despite his having mounted a vigorous defense against Médiapart's accusation that he was involved in a conflict of interest because he consulted to drug companies while employed by the state agency charged with regulating them. Morelle claims he respected all the rules governing such outside work, but even if true, the "optics" of the situation were just disastrous for a regime already haunted by the Cahuzac affair, which lingered on for months as the accused vehemently denied all charges, even before the National Assembly, only to resign in even greater ignominy than when the truth was finally established. So, lesson learned: the story had barely broken when the new head of the Socialist Party began to hint that Morelle would have to go. Morelle posted his denial on Facebook, but today he resigned. And no doubt he was told to walk the plank.

Moi, président: everyone remembers François Hollande's anaphoric litany of all the things that would change when he was elected to replace Nicolas Sarkozy. France would defy the German insistence on austerity; unemployment would begin to decrease; the budget deficit would disappear; and exemplary behavior would become the norm at the top levels of government. It's all ashes now.

Governing is hard. There's no shame in making decisions that turn out to be wrong in the face of massive uncertainty, conflicting advice, and expert disagreement. Even in matters of ethics there are gray areas. But it should be obvious to any schoolchild that consulting to an industry you're supposed to be regulating crosses an ethical line. The only surprise is that this transgression took so long to surface.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What Does Austerity Mean?

Good piece.

Le Monde Backs Valls' Turn to Austerity

Le Monde takes the view that critics (like me) of Valls' "courageous" insistence on shrinking the bloated French state despite persistent recession are lamentable and pathetic, unwilling to face reality, etc.
Bref, dès qu’il s’agit de réduire – ou plus exactement de tenter de réduire – les dépenses de l’Etat, des collectivités locales ou de l’Etat-providence, ce n’est jamais ni le bon moment, ni la bonne méthode, ni la bonne politique. Toujours moins, implorent les uns ; toujours plus, réclament les autres.
Le Monde, in short, is playing the role aptly dubbed by Paul Krugman that of The Very Serious Person (VSP). In the blogosphere, this tactic is known as "concern trolling." We are deeply concerned, intones the newspaper of record, that those who are screaming cris d'orfraie at the latest turn of the austerity screw, do not realize what an unconscionable burden they would have us leave to generations still unborn from now until eternity.

Duly noted. Nevertheless, je persiste et signe: this is a stupid policy, it demonstrates both lack of economic understanding and lack of fortitude, it plays into the hands of the political extremes, it further disconcerts and disorients the left electorate, and it fails to address the real difficulties of the French economy.

On TV last night, Valls angrily responded to a question about pressure from the European Commission by saying "France is a sovereign nation." Like Hollande, he avoids exploring or explaining his actual economic analysis by treating "debt" as a moral rather than an economic category. He does not explain why a debt of 97% of GDP is an intolerable burden for future generations while a debt of 80% of GDP is not. He avoids detail about the precise timing of the various receipts and outlays he proposes to tamper with. He discusses. legitimately enough, the need for reform of the state but fails to say a word about the need for reform in the private sector and how the state might encourage it--and this is the crux of the matter.

France has been slower than some of its European partners to react to changes in the global marketplace and shifting factor supplies and prices. The challenge for the government is to lead a transformation that it cannot control in detail: dirigisme's day is over, but the government still has a role to play in guiding the restructuring of the private sector. A true leader would be able to articulate a vision of the "social market economy" of the future rather than simply invoke it as a slogan. Valls appears to think that he can get by by putting a tough face on a continuation of the status quo. It won't work.