Monday, December 13, 2004

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Notes from Paris

So, what dirt was able to be gleamed from my trip to Paris? Here's the tidbits about the people, the place, and the ideas that are worth divilging:

1) I love it when stereotypes don't hold up. There was a moment in the second day when Ambassador Francois Bujon De L'Estaing sneeringly mocked Lawrence Kaplan's presentation about the European Union as the embodiment of the neoconservative stereotype -- after which Kaplan jibed back about the Ambassador also fulfilling his stereotype equally well.

For me, what was refreshing was the number of people who didn't conform to my preconceived expectations. For example, the big mooseheads at the conference -- William Schneider, Charles Cook, and Thomas Mann -- did a great job on their panel. Schneider, in contrast to his CNN smiling-face persona, was perfectly willing to cross swords with the other participants. Furthermore, the three of them actually attended every panel presentation. At events like these, the headliners often decamp after they've presented their own spiel -- particularly if they're in Paris. Not these three.

Similarly, it was refreshing to hear ACLU head Nadine Strossen say that 90% of the USA Patriot Act was completely unobjectionable (actually, it was just refreshing to hear a reasonable conversation about the Patriot Act). It was good to hear Dan Mitchell from the Haritage Foundation say that larger budget deficits do put upward pressure on interest rates (though he thinks the magnitude of that effect is pretty damn small). It was amusing to hear a French businessman blast the Kyoto Protocol -- not because the U.S. hadn't signed, but because the agreement put serious constraints on France but not China.

2) In an act of stunning symbolism for French diplomacy, the Foreign Ministry was supposed to host a grand lunch reception for all the participants, with an address by the Foreign Minister himself. When we got to the Quai D'Orsay, however, the Foreign Minister turned out to be a no-show -- and the "lunch" consisted of a paltry selection of finger foods that appalled even the French interlocuters.

3) Olivier Blanchard gave an excellent, accessible talk on the implications of the current account deficit that nevertheless bucked conventional wisdom on the topic. His basic argument was that the distribution of costs from a declining dollar was going to adversely affect Europe far more than the United States. A rising Euro renders European goods uncompetitive in the global marketplace, and for a variety of reasons, European consumption is not likely to increase by all that much. In contrast, the U.S. will benefit from an improved balance of trade, while inflationary pressures remain muted.

4) If Chuck Hagel delivers on-the-record talks like the one he gave to our group, the man has zero chance of becoming President. He spent so long praising the conference coordinator for assembling such a "distinguished panel of experts" that for a minute I thought he had misplaced his speech and was just tap-dancing while an aide found it. I've heard Hagel before in an off-the-record format, and he was pretty good there, but this was awful. More amusingly, until Hagel spoke the French had cleverly kept the conference room somewhat chilly to ensure that everyone stayed awake. Hagel requested the room be warmed up. Not surprisingly, there were a lot of closed eyes for the rest of the day.

By contrast, Connie Morella -- a former U.S. Representative for Maryland and currently U.S. Ambassador to the OECD -- was more interesting (though, to be fair, she didn't have to give a talk). Four years from now, any Republican nominee should short-list her for VP consideration. She's a blue-stater, was able to get re-elected in an overwhelmingly Democratic district until she finally succumbed in 2002, and after her OECD stint will have diplomatic and economic policymaking experience.

5) One wonders just how much anti-Americanism abroad is driven by the distorted lens of American expats. Whjile I was waiting in line to enter the magnificent Musee D'Orsay, I overheard one conversation between an American expat living in Germany and the French couple in front of her. The American explained that Bush is worse than Hitler and that he really didn't win the 2004 election -- he made Democrat ballots disappear.

C'est tout.

posted by Dan on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM


Thats a good point about ex-pats. I had the same experience in Paris. I think the only blatant anti-Americanism I saw was from some former Americans.
Ever know someone that didnt own a tv? Did they ever let an opportunity go by to mention they didnt own a tv? These guys are from the same mold.

Musee D'Orsay is a must see. If you have a week spend it in the Luevre, if you have a day split it between the two.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

What did Olivier Blanchard have to say? I sometimes wonder if he modulates his message a bit depending on what country he's in.

posted by: P O'Neill on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

An attorney friend in Paris recounted to me how two American lawyers that work in her office burst into tears after learning that the Bush victory was confirmed. Without a doubt the majority of Americans in Paris are strongly anti-Bush. But a lot of it probably has to do less with political beliefs than with dealing with personal tensions. These conflicts are traumatic to people -such as myslf- whose lives happen to rest on international fault lines. I know I'd be ecstatic if the insufferable Chirac was replaced by the pro-American Sarkozy, or even better, by Alain Madelin (the liberal candidate). Not only because I believe their policies are better for France, but also, selfishly, because it would make my life in America a lot easier on a daily basis.

posted by: Antoine on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

I just posted on my blog RE: Morella as a VP candidate. It will never happen. She's too moderate, and too timid. As a former constituent, she doesn't have the type of character needed to be a VP candidate (she's a very poor attack dog), and while she might haves served some good as a moderating influence, she doesn't have the spine to stand up to the Republican leadership.

posted by: David Schraub on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

I doubt that the next GOP nominee will be terribly concerned with nominating a blue-stater for VP. I hope someone like Chuck Hagel gets the party's presidential nomination, whatever his contributions to hi-fallutin overseas talk-fests. If he does, he'll want to shore up the red-state majority with a more "conservative" running mate. If someone more Bush-ite than Hagel gets it, I can't imagine they'll give a darn about the political center.

Bill Schneider is the essence of banality on TV. He strikes me as someone completely self-satisfied; someone who thinks any simplistic analysis he makes is an anaylsis the rest of us couldn't have made on our own.

What do the French and Americans-who-want-to-be-French think? I don't know. Lafayette, we have returned.

posted by: Andrew Steele on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

Did Dan add #3 since the last time I checked his blog?

I'm not sure who Olivier Blanchard is, but he seems to me to be EXACTLY RIGHT. (Of course, I've been trying to make that point on many of Dan's recent "sky is falling" exchange-rate posts. Guess it carries more weight coming from a tenured MIT economist than from an anonymous blog commenter. Who knew?) A general decline in the value of the dollar vis-a-vis the euro seems to me to be in the aggregate beneficial to the United States. Too many people have short-lived memories: the last few years have been out-of-whack; we are now merely returning to the natural level of the dollar following the Plaza Accord. Moreover, the doomsday scenario we are talking about (collapse) seems to me to be singularly unlikely. The dollar is simply not the same as the Argentine peso.

But what we all want to know is what one Daniel W Drezner spoke about (because we don't get enough Daniel W Drezner here at Was he erudite and charming? Did Feulner chew him up and spit him out?

Oh, and the Morella suggestion is asinine. Or did you think that Lieberman was helpful to Gore?

posted by: Al on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

What guts it takes to call someone "asinine" as one posts under the name "Al" at email address "". Drezner has written books for God's sakes, one of which he's made available on this site for free. Who cares whether he charmed the French.

The possibility of a "hard fall" of the dollar has been suggested by serious academics -- yes, even MIT economists, see Lester Thurow's "Fortune Favors the Bold".

The "tragedy of the commons" is not simply academic pipe-dream, and the dollar remains the "common" currency. Moderate declines against certain currencies may mean moderate gains for Americans. But that's not the issue. The issue is a run on the dollar, which happens indepently of self-righteous investors, bloggers, academics, and public officials. Instead, it happens directly as a result of self-interested investors, bloggers, academics, and public officials. The latter trumps the former.

posted by: Andrew Steele on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

I'm with Al -- either my eyesight is busted or Dan's #3 appeared after my query above. But anyway, it's interesting to hear that Blanchard seems relatively unperturbed by the capital account side of a declining dollar. I guess he thinks those East Asian central banks will take their lumps on their dollar assets as it depreciates.

posted by: P O'Neill on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

P O'Neill,

Maybe Dan found reason to amend his post; if so, that's his prerogative, and it doesn't diminish the value of your posts related to political economy.

Perhaps I should praise you for providing links to your blog, for better or worse. Personally, I say for worse. Your anti-Irish, homophobic posts of late are pure crapola. (Anyone interested, click on P's name above. Once his blog appears, scroll down and click on the "one year lag" link, which refers to Andrew Sullivan. Read the text that gets you there.)

posted by: Andrew Steele on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

I've listend to Sen. Hagel from time to time speak on programs, evidently either because he was asked to or because he felt he should. Sen. McCain does the same thing. The purpose-driven politician's life needs to keep such appearances to a minimum, the better to maximize the impact of those occasions when one has something to say.

posted by: Zathras on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

Similarly, it was refreshing to hear ACLU head Nadine Strossen say that 90% of the USA Patriot Act was completely unobjectionable...

I was struck that you had to go to Paris to hear this. Strossen may not be a media favorite, but she certainly doesn't try to keep her opinions a secret.

Furthermore, this is not just the position of Storssen or the ACLU. Kerry said pretty much the same thing during the debates. The 2004 Democratic Platform indicatess that the Patriot Act has both good and bad provisions: "We will strengthen some provisions of the Patriot Act, like the restrictions on money laundering. And we will change the portions of the Patriot Act that threaten individual rights, such as the library provisions, while still allowing the government to take all needed steps to fight terror."

When a well informed conservative finds it "refreshing" to hear a liberal recite the Democratic party line, it seems like the Democrats have a major communications problem.

posted by: Kenneth Almquist on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

One wonders just how much anti-Americanism abroad is driven by the distorted lens of American expats.

Not much. Non-Americans are perfectly capable of getting information about the U. S. from many different sources, and of course personal experiences. Besides, it's hardly the expats who "drive" the main manufacturer of anti-Americanism, the U. S. foreign policy.

posted by: Oscar on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

I'd agree with Oscar. I'm no fan of President Bush, but you'd be surprised how many times I've defended him from absurd claims I've heard from friends I've met in Europe.

posted by: BigMatt on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

Yeah, people I've talked to who have been in west Europe say the Europeans don't need much help when it comes to Bush bashing. I've also heard that idea that non-Bush voters end up feeling they have to defend the president.

posted by: John on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

What guts it takes to call someone "asinine"

The suggestion was asinine, not the person who made it. Even the most brilliant among us can come up with stinkers now and again. Sheesh.

And if Lester Thurow is promoting the idea of a hard fall, then I am even more confident that there will be none. That guy's been wrong about basically everything forever. It's like reading a Fred Kaplan article: the truth will invariably be the exact opposite of what is written.

posted by: Al on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

Okay. For some reason I had the urge to be provocative yesterday and I'm not very good at it, so apologies to Al and P. O'Neill for my lame efforts.

In regard to Thurow, I don't know much about him, so the info is useful. I would add that in the book, which is more than a year old, he doesn't say a crash of the dollar is inevitable, though he does argue it's likely. It's one of the big threats to globalization he sees, another being the lack of protection for intellectual property. There's concern about epidemiological crisis too, if I recall correctly.

posted by: Andrew Steele on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

Connie Morella could only be considered as a VP to balance a ticket if the GOP nominee were considerably to the right of Sam Brownback and Rick Santorum. She's not "moderate," she's liberal and would be a Democrat if she lived in a Red state.

posted by: Ryan Booth on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

I'm going to have to agree with Ryan. Suggesting that Morella should be on the VP shortlist is to completely misunderstand Republican politics. I'm baffled as to why you would suggest Morella.

posted by: mls on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

I certainly agree with the sour American expat thesis from my time in London (and to a lesser extent Sydney). It is one of the more interesting unintended consequences of globalization. Theoretically by allowing us to jet around more, should bring people closer together. But this misses the selection effect of emigration – people emigrate if they don’t like their home country – for whatever reason. Another example I think includes the phenomena that a part of the Europe is f’cked thesis originates from the views of and conversations with European emigrants to Britain, Australia and the US. Ditto Brits in Oz.

And in some ways I think this is healthy – I’ve always thought the real stranger cole was the emigrant who didn’t think his home country was f’cked – because if it is (which it usually is, why else would they leave? Because they couldn’t get a job?), it shows they came from a culture without a strong tradition of self criticism. And that’s really dangerous!

posted by: Giles on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

It seems fairly obvious that Europe is going to be very badly hurt by the entire dollar adjustment being against the Euro rather than being spread out among the Asian currencies as well.

The question is why are the Europeans not screaming like crazy about the entire adjusment being forced onto them?

posted by: spencer on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

Look at Britain and the Gold Standard in the 20's. Sometimes people think that having the international reserve currency is more important than, well, anything else.

posted by: Giles on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

Yea, I gotta agree with Kevin, I mean Kerry essentially ran on we have to only change p arts of the Patriot Act. I'm not sure what's so refreshing. This has been the standard line for a long time.

posted by: Jor on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

Huh? Kerry said he wanted to "replace" the Patriot Act.

posted by: Al on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

Huh? Kerry said he wanted to "replace" the Patriot Act.

Meaning, I assume, that he wanted to replace it with an act that provided the same intelligence-gathering abilities as the Patriot Act, while reigning in the execesses of the John Ashcroft. If you can find a transcript of the talk in which John Kerry said this, post it and I'll check it out. In the mean time, here is a quote from Kerry in the second presidentail debate:

I believe in the Patriot Act. We need the things in it that coordinate the FBI and the CIA. We need to be stronger on terrorism.

But you know what we also need to do as Americans is never let the terrorists change the Constitution of the United States in a way that disadvantages our rights.

posted by: Kenneth Almquist on 12.13.04 at 03:06 PM [permalink]

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