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Guardian (UK) 4/9/12: "Melenchon could change French politics with strong showing" by Mark Weisbrot

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  • Rick Kissell
    Melenchon could change French politics with strongshowing by Mark Weisbrot The Guardian (U.K.) April 9, 2012 France s conservative President, Nicolas Sarkozy,
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 10, 2012
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      Melenchon could change French politics with strong showing

      by Mark Weisbrot
      The Guardian (U.K.)
      April 9, 2012

      France's conservative President, Nicolas Sarkozy, ran
      for office in 2007 on a program of making the French
      economy more like that of the United States.  He picked
      a bad time for that: the U.S. was on the brink of its
      worst recession since the Great Depression, and would
      help drag down Europe and much of the world economy as
      the American economy collapsed.  He probably wouldn't
      want to say these things today, after the U.S. has had
      four years with hardly any economic growth at all.

      But Sarkozy did succeed in making the French economy
      more like the U.S. in some ways.  After being one of
      the few high-income countries that didn't have an
      increase in inequality from the mid-1980s to the
      mid-2000s, France has become more unequal since Sarkozy
      was elected.  For example, the ratio of the income of
      people in the 99th percentile (near the top) to the
      first percentile (at the bottom) went from 11.8 to
      16.2.  Other measures of inequality also increased
      significantly (the Gini coefficient rose from 26.6 to
      29.9).  This happened from 2007 to 2010; it is probably
      worse today.

      By raising the retirement age - a wholly unnecessary
      reform that drew enormous opposition and protests -
      Sarkozy also helped to make France more unequal for the

      The comparison between France and the U.S. is a good
      one, because the two countries have about the same
      level of productivity, or output per hour.  This means
      that they have the economic capacity to enjoy about the
      same living standards.  The French have chosen to take
      their productivity gains in the form of shorter work
      hours, longer vacations, universal health care, free
      college education and child care, and a more equal
      distribution of income.  By contrast, in the United
      States more than 60 percent of the income gains of the
      past three decades have gone to the richest one
      percent. Poverty is now back to the rates of the late
      1960s; college tuition costs have soared; we have no
      legally mandated paid holidays or vacations; and 52
      million Americans remain without health insurance
      (although this could be reduced in the coming years,
      depending partly on the Supreme Court).

      Most French citizens like their economic security and
      shared prosperity. So it may seem odd that someone with
      Sarkozy's program could have gotten elected in the
      first place, and have a chance to win re-election. But
      this is largely due to popular misunderstanding of the
      most important economic issues, aided and abetted by
      flawed media coverage.

      As in 2007, the conventional wisdom is that France is
      living beyond its means, and Sarkozy now warns that
      France could be the next Greece and face economic
      meltdown if he is not re-elected.  He pledges to
      balance France's national budget by 2016.

      Unfortunately, his Socialist Party rival, Fran├žois
      Hollande, pledges to balance the budget by 2017. Of
      course there are some important differences between the
      two, but if either candidate were to implement a fiscal
      austerity program of this magnitude while the French
      and European economies are this weak, it is almost
      certain that unemployment and other economic and social
      problems will worsen. And France will lose some its
      important economic and social achievements.

      Fortunately France has a more progressive alternative:
      Jean-Luc Melenchon, backed by the Left Front.  He seems
      to be the only one in the race that understands the
      real economic choices faced by France and the eurozone.
      France does not need austerity - that would be its best
      chance of actually ending up like Greece.  Melenchon
      proposes instead that the European Central Bank (ECB)
      do its job and make loans to France and other European
      governments at one percent, as it does for the banks.
      France's interest burden on its debt is already quite
      reasonable, at about 2.4 percent of GDP; so if it can
      keep borrowing costs low it can grow its way out of its
      current problems, creating employment and increasing
      incomes in the process.  That is sensible macroeconomic

      Melenchon also wants to reduce work hours and raise the
      minimum wage, and increase taxes on the rich. He
      rejects the balanced-budget nonsense - as even most
      economists in the U.S. do - and also the ECB's lack of
      commitment to full employment.  This also makes
      economic sense, especially in a time of recession when
      the ECB can create money (as the U.S. Federal Reserve
      has created $2.3 trillion since 2008) without fear of
      excess inflation.

      In the French elections, the top two finishers go to a
      second round if, as appears likely, neither gets a
      majority in the first round on April 22.  Melenchon is
      currently polling at about 15 percent of the vote, but
      this would probably be even higher if not for the fear
      that he could push the Socialist Party out of the
      second round of the election.  That happened in 2002,
      when the far-right, anti-immigrant candidate took
      second place.  But there is no significant chance of a
      repeat this year; Marine Le Pen is polling at just 13
      percent.  So it would seem that anyone who wants to
      preserve French living standards and way of life should
      cast their vote for Melenchon.

      As compared with the U.S., it is much easier for a
      third party candidate in France to have a significant
      influence even without winning.  Hollande has already
      moved left to capture the Left Front's voters, and
      Melenchon will have the bargaining chip of his
      endorsement for the second round. With the two big
      parties committed to economic policies that will lower
      French living standards for the majority - in 2007 it
      was just Sarkozy who made this commitment - it's hard
      to think of a more appropriate time to vote "outside
      the box."

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