Point-counterpoint at Merrill Lynch

No one can accuse Merrill Lynch Europe of being dogmatique.

No one can accuse Merrill Lynch Europe of being dogmatique.

One of its vice chairmen, former Air France CEO Christian Blanc, has launched an Internet-based movement called “l’ami public” - the public friend - whose manifesto lambastes French politics for being sterile and pledges to spur reform. (The Web site: www. amipublic.com.) Blanc quit Air France in 1997 when Lionel Jospin’s government blocked his plans to privatize the carrier; some view l’ami public as Blanc’s bid to win a post in a new, center-right government if Jacques Chirac is reelected.

Meanwhile, another Merrill vice chairman is taking a quite different political tack. Adair Turner, former head of the Confederation of British Industry, has published Just Capital: The Liberal Economy, which challenges the American business model. Even in a global marketplace, he argues, governments can pursue progressive social agendas. The book “helps to build a relationship” with Merrill clients, contends Turner, “because people find it sufficiently interesting that they want to discuss it.”

Merrill swears it has no political litmus test. Says a spokesman, “We actively seek out thinkers of these gentlemen’s caliber.”