Lost In Translation?

Interesting piece in the FT this morning about Jack Lang, French PS politician, and possible presidential hopeful in 2007. Before going further I should perhaps point out that the only thing I really know about Lang is that when he was the Culture Minister, back in the 80’s, he opened a small museum dedicated to my preferred contemporary French poet – Ren? Char – in Char’s home town of L’Isle sur la Sorge. This fact may cloud my vision somewhat.

Lang is, one would have thought, the most improbable of Presidential candidates. Nonetheless, as the FT points out, he is definitely out in front as the most electable PS politician in the recent Paris Match (ifop) poll, pinning Sarkozy down to a fairly assailable 52% of the voting intentions in a head to head with him.

But what does Lang stand for? Well apart from his much publicised campaigning (in the company of Tony Blair) ‘for Africa’, it’s hard to say. The FT have a quote which intrigues me:

“I consider that for me, for us, Sarkozy is a good opponent. He is clearly a man of the right. Economically, he is American. He is for wild capitalism. Politically, he is Bonapartist. He is authoritarian. I am exactly the opposite”

Now this intrigues me, since Googling the French press the only version I could find of this was the following:

S’il ?tait candidat ? l’?lection pr?sidentielle en 2007, le d?put? PS du Pas-de-Calais a expliqu? sur La Cha?ne parlementaire (LCP) qu’il aimerait avoir pour adversaire Nicolas Sarkozy. ?Pourquoi Sarkozy? Parce qu’il est vraiment, clairement, ? droite. Il est clairement lib?ral sur le plan ?conomique et clairement d’une culture autoritaire sur le plan politique. Je suis l’inverse, donc j’aimerais avoir en face de moi l’inverse?, a pr?cis? l’ancien ministre de la Culture et de l’Education.

Where he says, in an interview on the French ‘Channel Parliament’, that he would just love to face Sarkozy in a run-off, since Sarkozy is a confirmed economic liberal, and at the same time a cultural authoritarian (the same combination that I was recently complaining about in Mrs Thatcher, interesting question why Europe’s leading economic liberals have to be authoritarians – and not libertarians. Politicians like Merkel and Blair are, of course, neither. They are pragmatic, which is what the FT suggests that Lang in fact is). The interesting detail about the French version of the quote is that there is no ‘American’ and no ‘Bonapartist’. Strange.

Delving further, the FT suggests that Lang is a declared admirer of ‘our Tony’, and does at least seem to have got some of the message about the unfairness and inefficiency generated by France’s overly regulated labour market:

“He says France needs fundamental political and economic reform and can learn lessons from its neighbours. “It is true we have to reform and change deeply our system. I cannot accept this French sickness of unemployment. It is our duty to find ways to cure it. But we cannot be dogmatic or theoretical. We have to analyse the experience of our neighbours – the British experience, the Danish experience, the Swedish experience – to find a policy that works.””

So which Jack Lang is the real one, the ‘honed’ pragmatic politician and future President of the Republic, or the idealistic but slightly nutty-professor type? Well, according to this report, last weekend he didn’t seem to be able to remember the URL for his own personal website.

Now what was the story about Thales? (See 8f).

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

13 thoughts on “Lost In Translation?

  1. interesting question why Europe’s leading economic liberals have to be authoritarians – and not libertarians

    Because it is political suicide to be out of the mainstream in two different ways in what are essentially big moderately conservative parties?

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  3. “I don’t think it’s not quite truth in labelling…”

    This looks promising :). But first help me out David, which side do you think I might be on?

  4. Now right and left is a highly problematic shorthand, so perhaps one should dispense with it, but there aren’t any alternate shorthand that’s less problematic, and if you reject shorthand categories altogther, your ability to describe the world arond you is limited.

  5. “You’re a man of the right.”

    Well look, I understand what you’re saying, and I can even comprehend why you’re saying it, but I don’t really agree. I don’t emotionally identify with the right at all, and I don’t emotionally identify with what people term socialism, and I think somewhere along the line, what you feel is important.

    OTOH it is interesting to learn and reflect-on how others see you. But you see me in one light, and Abiola (for example) tends to see me in another. Simply because I don’t fit easily in the stereotypes I suspect that people who lean slightly to the left think I am on the right, and people who lean to the right think I am on the left. Actually this makes me *feel* that I have got things about right.

    I consider myself to be a pragmatist, in the sense that Blair, Merkel, Jack Lang, Wes Clark, Harold MacMillan and a host of other politicians too numerous to mention, could be considered pragmatists (my doubts about whether Lang would or would not make a good French president stem in part from ignorance, and in part from his excessive tendency to intellectualise things, not from his politics as revealed by the FT per se).

    On social issues I would describe myself as a liberal in the UK sense. I do not consider myself a ‘libertarian’ (since I think this is an ideological view, and I can still remember those Monday Club libertarians of my youth who felt that long term prisoners should be issued with razor blades so they could exercise their right to suicide should they chose so to do).

    I do not believe in the curative powers of hardship, or in punishment for punishments sake (I simply think some people are better kept out of circulation for obvious practical reasons).

    On free trade and globalisation I am an unqualified supporter of both.

    On market economies, I favour market-based decision making where possible in developed economies, but again I’m pragmatic. In a development context (eg China and India) the US model may not be appropriate, having transparency at the institutional level and independent central banks etc is not the same as having *no* role for the state in development.

    I am an internationalist, and not a nationalist. I believe in the UN. I support the international penal court, and the enforcement of the conventions on torture etc. Ultimately I believe that the most pressing problems of our epoch, from global warming, to resource scarcity, to Aids, to terrorism, to poverty, can only be effectively confronted on a multilateral basis.

    I welcome the arrival of new and powerful economic rivals like China and India: I welcome the fact that two and a half billion people are slowly but surely working their way out of poverty.

    On welfare systems, I believe in social safety nets. If I think we need to reform our present European arrangements, it is only because I take the view that the ageing question makes them unsustainable as they are, not because I am against them per se. I think the social impact of reforming them will be less than allowing them simply to go bust.

    Really I think that to all intent and purpose the modern centre right is all but indistinguishable from the modern centre left. The constitution vote really made this clear, where the line up was pretty much the centre against the edges. It is simply a pity that our political parties do not reflect this reality. In a vote of Merkel against Blair I wouldn’t know where I stood, in a vote of Merkel/Sarkozy I would, as I would in a vote of Blair against Schr?der, and in a Lang/Schr?der face-off I would probably be with Lang, but I am still waiting to see if any comments here can help me change my mind. Again, in a hypothetical run-off between Lang and Vaclav Havel I would be all at sea, since the main criteria would probably be poetics :). (They say DdV is a poet, but somehow I don’t see it, his poetry I mean).

  6. A link on the NObs page produced this gem concerning the annual press prize for political humour. Sarkozy won for declaring he was not a candidate for Prime Minister, but the real beaut was the idea of a lifetime achievement award:

    Par ailleurs, un “Prix sp?cial du Jury” a ?t? d?cern? ? l’ancien pr?sident de la R?publique Val?ry Giscard d’Estaing pour l’ensemble de son oeuvre


  7. Well, David, I have always thought of Edward as A Man Of The Left who simply has a good understanding of economics. (ob-smiley)

  8. Edward,

    Lang has a book out on his view on France and politics (don’t they all?). Only a year or so old – if you’re really keen to know.

  9. Defining politics as ?left? or ?right? implies that politics is a straight line with a centre, and, a left and right stretching out equidistant either side of it. I take the view that politics today is not as simple as that. Today ?issues politics? has broken down the old definitions of ?left? and ?right?. On some issues one might agree with the socialists but on others one might agree with the views / policies of conservatives or liberals; to put it another way people may find that they are polarised on some issues but united on others.

    Furthermore, as Edward has highlighted, for politicians, politics has increasingly become far more a question of doing what is pragmatic rather than a question of the adherence to an ideology. We should in many respects be thankful for that.

    Clearly there are still people who adhere blindly to a political ideology, but in today?s world such people are in the minority and regarded at worst as extremists / fundamentalists, and at best as na?ve idealists lacking pragmatism.

  10. Jacques Lang is nicknamed “the goat” (you’ll understand when you see him speak). He was at his zenith when in 1988 he styled the old fox Mitterrand as “Tonton” (uncle) and made him win another term as French president. Saying at this moment in France that it is perhaps not a bad idea to look at some other countries, including the UK, to learn how social policies could be improved, is certainly something like cursing in the church. But don’t overrate Mr. Lang’s political weight: he is just provoking Laurent Fabius who cannot say what Lang said, as he is entangled in the “No” to Europe camp.

  11. And the prize goes to Huib who got closest to the true answer. French politics aren’t really about right,left,centre and ideology. French politics are about who’s doing what to whom, period.

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