Commentary Magazine


Topic: socialist president

Bonne Chance, M. le President

The French have a genius for many things: food, art, couture, wine, décor among them. There is no city on earth—except my native New York—that I enjoy being in more than Paris. But not even the greatest admirers of la belle France would say the French have a genius for politics. Ever since a revolution based on liberté, égalité , fraternité produced only—in Margaret Thatcher’s memorable phrase—“a pile of corpses and a tyrant,” French politics has been, more often than not, a mess. Three kingdoms, two empires, and five republics have yet to produce long-term democratic stability of the sort the English-speaking peoples have taken for granted for generations.

Yesterday, the French electorate gave Nicolas Sarkozy the boot from the Élysée Palace and voted in François Hollande, a socialist who admits that he “doesn’t like rich people.” Sarkozy’s loss is not altogether surprising, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out this morning, because he failed to keep nearly all his election promises from five years ago.

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The French have a genius for many things: food, art, couture, wine, décor among them. There is no city on earth—except my native New York—that I enjoy being in more than Paris. But not even the greatest admirers of la belle France would say the French have a genius for politics. Ever since a revolution based on liberté, égalité , fraternité produced only—in Margaret Thatcher’s memorable phrase—“a pile of corpses and a tyrant,” French politics has been, more often than not, a mess. Three kingdoms, two empires, and five republics have yet to produce long-term democratic stability of the sort the English-speaking peoples have taken for granted for generations.

Yesterday, the French electorate gave Nicolas Sarkozy the boot from the Élysée Palace and voted in François Hollande, a socialist who admits that he “doesn’t like rich people.” Sarkozy’s loss is not altogether surprising, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out this morning, because he failed to keep nearly all his election promises from five years ago.

But Hollande wants to raise taxes on those earning more than 1,000,000 euros to 75 percent, and repeal one of Sarkozy’s few accomplishments, increasing the retirement age for young people from 60 to 62. With the French government already controlling 56 percent of the country’s GDP, Hollande wants to increase the size of France’s notorious civil service to stimulate the economy. (It’s not a coincidence that English borrowed the word bureaucrat from the French.)

Even Barack Obama, the most profligate, statist, and stimulus-mad president in American history, has urged Hollande not to abandon austerity, although White House motives might not be wholly selfless here.

It will be interesting to see if Hollande has any real choice. When François Mitterrand tried to implement a traditional socialist agenda after winning the French presidency in 1981, the currency markets tanked the French franc and forced him to back off. Thirty years on, Hollande faces many more problems than Mitterrand did: still stronger markets; the fact that France is now part of the euro system, limiting its ability to play currency games; Angela Merkel (how would you like to bring a bad report card home to her?); and the fact that France does not tax its citizens living abroad. The French expatriate community in Britain is large and will, undoubtedly, get still larger and quickly, if Hollande passes confiscatory taxes on the rich.

With the European crisis by no means at an end, the new président de la République has his work cut out for him, to put it mildly.

 

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No Deal in Copenhagen?

The negotiations have hit a snag. A key player won’t get on board. It’s going to end in failure. Health-care reform? Perhaps. But that’s the scenario being played out in Copenhagen, where lo and behold the Chinese are refusing to go along with efforts to hamstring their economy:

With just two days remaining in historic and contentious climate talks here, China signaled overnight that it sees virtually no possibility that the nearly 200 nations gathered would find agreement by Friday. A participant in the talks said that China would agree only to a brief political declaration that left unresolved virtually all the major issues.

Hillary Clinton cheerfully offered up the U.S. taxpayers’ money and unspecified private financing for a $100B fund to “help poor and vulnerable nations adapt to climate change and build more energy efficient economies,” but only if there’s a deal. She solemnly announced that “we actually think $100 billion is appropriate, usable and will be effective.” (I rather doubt that the taxpayers agree, and some might even think that such private financing might be put to better use to restart the U.S. economy.) Nevertheless, the Chinese seem impervious to our charms and the pleas of the developing countries. The latter are upset, you see, about “the economic and environmental tyranny of the industrial world”:

“The rich are destroying the planet,” said Hugo Chávez, the socialist president of Venezuela, on Wednesday. “Perhaps they think they’re going off to another one after they’ve destroyed this one.” On Monday, African nations briefly brought the climate talks to a standstill. China, by far the largest economic power in the group, has dragged its feet throughout the week by raising one technical objection after another to the basic negotiating text. And on Wednesday night, the group refused to take part in negotiations that conference organizers had hoped would produce a definitive negotiating text by Thursday morning. Instead, many Group of 77 leaders spent the day hurling accusations at wealthier countries.

But we want to give them a hundred billion dollars — isn’t that enough to buy some goodwill? Well, no. It’s shocking, I know, but just as they misread the IOC, the Obami didn’t appreciate “the depth of anger in the developing world and the height of grandstanding that would consume so much of the conference’s time.” They didn’t foresee the beg-and-bribe-athon, the spread-the-wealth frenzy, and the battle-to-hobble the West, nor it seems did they anticipate China’s refusal to offer up its own people’s economic opportunities for the sake of appeasing the likes of Hugo Chavez.

If this all comes to naught, there will be many in the U.S. who ask (re-ask, really) why we should hobble our own economy when China, to name just one major power, refuses to do the same. Why should we restrict emissions, setting up an exodus of jobs? Good questions all. Politico notes:

If China has, in fact, pulled the plug it would deal a major blow to efforts by Democrats in the Senate to revive stalled efforts at passing vitally important companion legislation. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) warned the conference Wednesday that the Senate isn’t likely to move if lawmaker perceive America taking more stringent steps than trading partners and rivals in China and India.

Meanwhile, in the White House, someone is probably asking how it was that they managed to mess up yet another Copenhagen confab, raising expectations only to demonstrate, once again, the severe limits of Obama’s influence. Perhaps multilateralism isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

The negotiations have hit a snag. A key player won’t get on board. It’s going to end in failure. Health-care reform? Perhaps. But that’s the scenario being played out in Copenhagen, where lo and behold the Chinese are refusing to go along with efforts to hamstring their economy:

With just two days remaining in historic and contentious climate talks here, China signaled overnight that it sees virtually no possibility that the nearly 200 nations gathered would find agreement by Friday. A participant in the talks said that China would agree only to a brief political declaration that left unresolved virtually all the major issues.

Hillary Clinton cheerfully offered up the U.S. taxpayers’ money and unspecified private financing for a $100B fund to “help poor and vulnerable nations adapt to climate change and build more energy efficient economies,” but only if there’s a deal. She solemnly announced that “we actually think $100 billion is appropriate, usable and will be effective.” (I rather doubt that the taxpayers agree, and some might even think that such private financing might be put to better use to restart the U.S. economy.) Nevertheless, the Chinese seem impervious to our charms and the pleas of the developing countries. The latter are upset, you see, about “the economic and environmental tyranny of the industrial world”:

“The rich are destroying the planet,” said Hugo Chávez, the socialist president of Venezuela, on Wednesday. “Perhaps they think they’re going off to another one after they’ve destroyed this one.” On Monday, African nations briefly brought the climate talks to a standstill. China, by far the largest economic power in the group, has dragged its feet throughout the week by raising one technical objection after another to the basic negotiating text. And on Wednesday night, the group refused to take part in negotiations that conference organizers had hoped would produce a definitive negotiating text by Thursday morning. Instead, many Group of 77 leaders spent the day hurling accusations at wealthier countries.

But we want to give them a hundred billion dollars — isn’t that enough to buy some goodwill? Well, no. It’s shocking, I know, but just as they misread the IOC, the Obami didn’t appreciate “the depth of anger in the developing world and the height of grandstanding that would consume so much of the conference’s time.” They didn’t foresee the beg-and-bribe-athon, the spread-the-wealth frenzy, and the battle-to-hobble the West, nor it seems did they anticipate China’s refusal to offer up its own people’s economic opportunities for the sake of appeasing the likes of Hugo Chavez.

If this all comes to naught, there will be many in the U.S. who ask (re-ask, really) why we should hobble our own economy when China, to name just one major power, refuses to do the same. Why should we restrict emissions, setting up an exodus of jobs? Good questions all. Politico notes:

If China has, in fact, pulled the plug it would deal a major blow to efforts by Democrats in the Senate to revive stalled efforts at passing vitally important companion legislation. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) warned the conference Wednesday that the Senate isn’t likely to move if lawmaker perceive America taking more stringent steps than trading partners and rivals in China and India.

Meanwhile, in the White House, someone is probably asking how it was that they managed to mess up yet another Copenhagen confab, raising expectations only to demonstrate, once again, the severe limits of Obama’s influence. Perhaps multilateralism isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

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