Economic Misinformation and the French Election

Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) recently produced a convincing analysis and alternative view of the stakes in France’s run-off elections. You will find the article, “Economic Misinformation plays a Major Role in French Election” on-line at www.cepr.net.

I have long felt that there was little sense in comparing U.S. and French income figures, largely because French productivity is higher for the most part. His employment analysis for males in the 15-24 age bracket however, had escaped me and of course, makes perfect sense. I wondered how Mark’s mathematics-of-unemployment calculation would hold for other segments of the population…?

I wonder whether Mark Weisbrot’s evaluation of the Sarkozy measures were correct, or even, if correct, whether they fairly represent the economic issues currently debated here in France.

What Sarkozy is promoting is labor market flexibility, not a redistribution of wealth as claimed by Mr. Weisbrot. (While the difference may be semantic, no French politician would get very far on a platform of “wealth redistribution”.) But the difference is important. Despite having created a viable society in which an educated population aggressively defends and promotes their social and economic rights, France sufferes from “immobilisme”, a self-inflicted inertia.

The Socialists (a better characterization of Ségolène Royal’s “left of center” group) preach “job security” and “redistribution” through job guarantees. Consumer stimulus may be well and good except they do not say how they would create such jobs or even what self-financing “public service” such employees could provide. In the process, the Socialists manage to avoid meaningful discussion of just how they would address the main cause of labor market inertia: the high cost of job creation (45% employer social security contributions) and labor laws that favor employment security over measures to increase disposable income.

There are other issues, to be sure, including important matters of public finance and community empowerment, of the reduction and redeployment of a civil service that continues to have a very high level of redundancy and functional overlap, and finally, the reform of higher education.

In my own opinion, and, I think, in the opinion of a majority of French voters, society needs a good shaking. The Youth riots of 2005 are not at the center of national debate, and the threat of force to contain and redress what are fundamentally social issues troubles me (and the French electorate) considerably, but these are not at issue here. Rather, the culture of social entitlements mixed with a profoundly cautious national ethos produce a deadly mix which stifles private initiative and places a unreasonably high cost on innovation.

WOLFOWITZ HAS GOT TO GO

This is hardly a post about “living in Provence” except that I understand Wolfowitz (and Richard Pearl and perhaps others of the unlamented “neo-convirate”) are neighbors here in meridional France, a land of exile if ever there was one… This post rather, is about ethics and governance.

While headlines of the world press shouted for Wolfowitz’ head, sweet revenge for the arrogance and “impunity” of the discredited Bush administration, a more quiet headline appeared in environmental journals and blogs. One manifestation of that headline reads, Vast Forests with Trees each Worth £4,000 Sold for a Few Bags of Sugar, another, in the New Scientist reads, Protected Congo Forest is Logged Regardless.

The story of how the world’s forestry reserves are managed leads directly to the World Bank, to the financing of economic development and the governance of the world’s financial institutions. It would not be wise, nor indeed would it be justified to link World Bank practices to unethical exploitation of the developing world.

But in a world of political spin and perception, the United States’ questionable motives in pursuing regime change in Iraq cannot but reflect on the neo-conservative values (the French would say, incorrectly, I believe, the “neo-liberal values”) of one of the chief architects of the Iraq mess and now party to an affair of questionable ethics.

The moral blame resulting directly from the arrogance and impunity of Bush administration governing practices needs to be addressed. And Wolfowitz, as an inside member of that organization, should be considered expendable.

Public Service, Equity and Merit

I’ve had enough Bush bashing.

The world of political comment, the blogosphere is humming. It is comforting to know that we Americans, wherever we may be and whatever our political pursuasion, are reclaiming the center of the party of Abraham Lincoln. It may be too late however, to redeem the “silent majority”. Indeed, that great rhetorical invention and group with which my own father so identified, that silent majority has been too long silent. But that is another story…, or is it?

The issue is no longer “get rid of Bush”. A far more pressing issue is to know what lessons we might learn from the mistakes and complacency of the past eight years.

Three lessons appear critical to me. I will deal with each separately over the next few posts.

1) Take the money out of politics. Politics is about community relationships and a shared commitment to the organization of “public services”. Money in politics only begets more money in an endless spiral of influence mongering. Such “influence mongering” is all the more destabilizing when the “civil service” are constrained by short term considerations and serve at executive pleasure.

2) Equity is a core value in any republican democracy. The basic rules of fairness dictate that every man, woman and child should live in equity, in fairness according to his or her just merits. This is a basic tenant of a tolerant, free society and is totally discredited when large portions of society cannot afford access to education, health or legal services. The principle of equitable acces to public services needs to be safeguarded.

3) Recognize and reward achievement. Achievement is personal merit earned by dint of hard work and ingenuity. Our system fails when we confuse “ability to pay” (priviledge) with personal achievement. The two are not related and we all know the difference.

As we reflect upon our responsibility in choosing a course for the United States, let us reflect upon these things and let these become a mantra for 2008: public service, equity and merit.