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Sid Walker

The 2007 French Election

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This article by Pascal Boniface, written just before the recent poll in which both Royal and Sarkozy won a place in the final ballot for President, gives an interesting overview of French relations with Israel and Arab countries since World War Two - and discusses the significance of the coming contest.

It seems that the far-right were willing to support Sarkozy and therefore Le Pen got squeezed. The same thing happened to the British National Party (BNP) when Thatcher was leading the Conservative Party. Sarkozy appears to wants to introduce the kind of "economic reforms" associated with Thatcher and Blair. Let us hope for France's sake that Royal wins.

I agree.

The are marked similarities between the selling of Thatcherism and the selling of Sarkozy's 'tough medicine' economic policies.

The same was true of Merkel's rise to power in Germany, when comparison's with Thatcher were, for obvious reasons, even more common - but as luck would have it, Merkel failed to win an outright majority.

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Pascal Boniface, cited above, is mentioned in this Counterpunch article of the French Presidential election and its potential significance.

French Foreign Policy and the Presidential Election

The Absent Middle East

By DIANA JOHNSTONE

The French presidential elections will be followed by elections for the National Assembly, whose composition will largely determine the extent to which the new president can keep her or his domestic promises--within the limits of European Union regulations and directives.

Foreign policy, however, is still the privileged domain of the President. Theoretically, the one field in which the presidential election is truly decisive is foreign policy.

So it is somewhat disconcerting that discussion of foreign policy is almost entirely absent from the current French presidential election campaign, whose first phase ends Sunday, when all but two of the twelve candidates will be eliminated in the first round of voting.

The three candidates with a chance of being elected--Nicolas Sarkozy, Ségolène Royal, François Bayrou--have had practically nothing of interest to say about the outside world, and notably about the crucial Middle East. This could mean that the French are not interested, and so that there are no votes to be gained by talking about it. Or it can mean that to be elected, it is safer to avoid the subject.

Let's try the second hypothesis. When a marginal candidate, such as the anti-globalization champion José Bové, holds a meeting in Paris, he speaks of the usual left topics : jobs, housing, public services, rights of immigrants, and his own emblematic crusade against GMO plantations. Mild applause. But when he denounces the war in Iraq, or defends the rights of the Palestinians, the crowd bursts into loud cheers and sustained applause.

But Bové has nothing to lose. One can only guess what might await whichever of the three leading candidates who would dare campaign on the theme of keeping France out of U.S. wars in the Middle East and supporting the rights of Palestinians. It is a theme that many voters would heartily approve. The media, however, would raise cries of scandal, accusing the intrepid candidate of irresponsibility and incompetence--or worse

Ségolène in the Middle East

A sample of the danger of foreign policy initiatives was provided by Ségolène Royal's visit to Lebanon last December. Following her trademark approach of "listening to everybody", the Socialist candidate brushed aside advice from Druze leader Walid Joumblatt to "go home right away" and insisted on hearing what all sides had to say. A meeting was arranged with the foreign affairs committee of the Lebanese parliament. Among those who attended was an elected representative of Hezbollah, Ali Ammar, who, speaking Arabic, spoke of "the great role France has to play in Lebanon if it can detach itself from the madness of American policy". According to the report in the local Francophone newspaper, L'Orient-Le Jour, Ammar added that the Lebanese were "proud of their friendship with France and of the fact that Hezbollah's resistance [to Israeli occupation--the origin of its existence] was inspired by the French resistance to Nazi occupation".

This was transformed into a "scandal" by confused reports that Royal had allowed Ammar to liken Israel to Nazism in her presence without reacting. In response, she pointed out that neither she nor the French ambassador at her side had heard any mention of Nazism, and that if they had heard such "inadmissible, abominable, odious" remarks, they would have "left the room". (It was confirmed that the press and the French candidate had been listening to different interpreters.)

Even that wasn't enough, and commentators have continued to speak of her "foreign policy blunder" in Lebanon as evidence that she is unqualified.

For the pro-Israel lobby, the mere fact of listening to a representative of Hezbollah is unacceptable. Royal's scandalous willingness to hear the other side was compared unfavorably to the "courage" of the 2002 Socialist candidate, Lionel Jospin, who when visiting the Near East as prime minister denounced Hezbollah as a "terrorist" organization.

Now, it so happens that, in the real world outside the media, that statement by Jospin was negatively interpreted by much of the French population as a gratuitous concession to Israel and its lobby. And in conversations, just about everyone concedes that as President, Jospin would have followed the United States into the catastrophic Iraq quagmire, unlike Chirac.

The fact is that despite the sniping from commentators and even members of her own Socialist Party, as the first round campaign is ending, Ségolène Royal is doing much better in the polls than Jospin was doing before his humiliating elimination by Jean-Marie Le Pen. She has actually run a much more vigorous campaign, making quite as much sense, and usually more, than her main rivals--while, unlike the male candidates, having to make strategic choices of wardrobe. True, the whole spectrum has been moved to the right by the European Union straitjacket, but she is still relatively to the left, at least in words, at least during the campaign.

But how would she be in foreign policy?

This would inevitably depend largely on her choice of advisors. Foreign policy is not the major area of competence of most professional politicians, whose primary concern is to work their own home turf. An exception is Jean-Pierre Chevènement, the independent-minded former presidential candidate, who this time decided to back Ségolène Royal, hoping to give her some useful advice. He, like such veteran realist diplomats as Hubert Védrine, might be able to preserve some remnants of France's independent foreign policy under a Royal presidency. On the other hand, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the Socialist with solid business backing, is angling to be prime minister if Ségolène wins--or even if Bayrou wins, for that matter. DSK is every bit as pro-Israel and pro-U.S. as Sarkozy, if not more so.

The case of Pascal Boniface

U.S. foreign policy has largely fallen into the hands of lobbies and privately-financed think tanks. In France, the foreign ministry, known by its address on the Quai d'Orsay, still plays the leading role. The Quai d'Orsay has a tradition of realistic appraisal of situations and French interests. But a generational change is underway, and some observers fear that the next generation will be heavily influenced by the media, the pro-Israel lobby and the sort of moralism that is used by both to justify U.S. foreign policy adventures.

Pascal Boniface is the director of the Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques (IRIS) in Paris, a think tank linked to the Socialist Party. In April 2001, he wrote a note for PS general secretary François Hollande urging the party to overcome its fear of taking a clear position on Palestine. As a professor, he was witness to students' growing sympathy for the Palestinians and outrage at their treatment. To the party's fears of "losing the Jewish vote", Boniface replied that making policy according to the wishes of a "community" constituency was not only unprincipled, but in the long run dangerous. The conspicuous influence of the organized Jewish community on policy, he warned, could only inspire the rise of an opposing lobby based in the much larger Muslim community. This threatened to divide France along ethnic or religious community lines, a prospect deeply dreaded by Socialists.

For having made this observation, Boniface became the target of a campaign led by Jewish commentators and organizations which came close to destroying his career, even though he is a stalwart defender of Israel and his views on the Middle East conflict are quite moderate. However, he is still there, and the upshot of the incident may be that, in France as in the United States, impatience is growing with the lobby even in mainstream circles, and even in the Socialist Party, which is traditionally Israel's strongest supporter.

Human rights

These days, nobody can defend Israel's actions in the occupied territories of Palestine. Distraction rather than defense is the pro-Israel strategy. Attention is focused on the Iranian « threat to Israel's existence » or else on Darfur, where many more people are being killed. All three leading French candidates have signed onto the promise to "do something" about Darfur, probably economic sanctions against Sudan. If the younger generation is sensitive to the plight of the Palestinians, it is also very sensitive to human rights in general, and scornful of political realism.

Sarkozy did nothing to improve his chances with his obsequious performance in Washington. His handshake with George W. Bush is the favorite illustration on the « anybody but Sarkozy » web sites. If he should become president, the right-wing candidate would certainly love to fortify an alliance with George W. and the neo-conservatives. But in all probability, they won't be there much longer. Sarkozy will have arrived too late. On the other hand, Ségolène Royal paints a glowing picture of a future presidential sisterhood with President Hillary Clinton. It is not clear whether she has taken the full measure of Hillary's dismal foreign policy outlook.

Diana Johnstone lives in Paris. She can be reached at dianajohnstone@compuserve.com

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Two days to go.

Martin Jacques in The Guardian has a most interesting article about the choice ahead:

Sarkozy plays the race card - and our establishment cheers

It is a disturbing mark of our times that Ségolène Royal enjoys such little support from the media and politicians on this side of the Channel, notwithstanding her highly credible performance in Wednesday's TV debate. Nicolas Sarkozy seems to be their overwhelmingly preferred choice. Downing Street, unsurprisingly, is backing him: Tony Blair prefers the right as always - Silvio Berlusconi, José María Aznar, Angela Merkel, George Bush. David Cameron is supporting Sarkozy. So is the Economist. Matthew Parris, the Times columnist, is backing Royal, but only for the perverse reason that France is not yet ready for Sarkozy, but a Royal presidency will prepare the ground for his subsequent triumph.

The dominant political consensus appears to be that only the right can sort out the political problems of a country. The preferred choice, thus, is either a party of the right or, as in the case of our soon-to-be-departed prime minister, a party of the left led by a leader of the right. In this judgment, two criteria reign supreme. First, is the party or candidate prepared to adopt Anglo-American neoliberal economic principles, or at least to move closer to them? And second, are they willing to adopt a more pro-American foreign policy?

It is no surprise that neoliberal economic thinking still predominates. New Labour enthusiastically embraced the central tenets of Thatcherism and has presided over an extremely long boom. It is rather harder to explain the cosupportntinuing attachment to pro-Americanism at a time when US foreign policy stands deeply discredited. Two European nations emerged with credit from the Iraq disaster: France and Germany. Both had the courage to withstand the Bush administration and oppose the US-led invasion.

Who was right: Chirac and Schröder or Bush and Blair? Bush and Blair stand condemned by their own publics and face imminent political extinction. The ability of the French establishment, right and left, to think independently of the US for the past half-century is to be commended in contrast to the supine pro-Americanism that has long characterised British foreign policy thinking and which reached its nadir in 2003. In that same year, France did the world a service by leading the opposition within the UN and refusing to allow the body to be used as a tool of Anglo-American policy. While the US and Britain were committed to the idea of a unipolar world, Chirac upheld the principle of a multi-polar world. As the world changes before our eyes, you need only one partially sighted eye to see who was right. In contrast, New Labour's foreign policy has been a disaster. It is difficult to see how anyone can seriously advocate it as a model for other European countries.

More fundamentally, however, the choices facing European nations are simply not reducible to the two issues of neoliberal economics and a pro-US foreign policy. Such thinking displays a shrivelled view of what matters in the life of a nation, a reflection of how politics and political choice has been debased in the neoliberal era. In late 2005, Sarkozy, then interior minister, condemned the riots that took place in the suburbs, where those of African and Arab origin were concentrated, in calculatedly inflammatory terms, displaying zero sympathy for the plight of the ethnic minorities or any willingness to understand their grievances.

It was a defining political moment. At the centre of Sarkozy's appeal is race: he does not need to bang on about it because in that moment everyone, white and brown, knew where he stood. He staked a claim for the Le Pen vote. As a result of Sarkozy's action, he is hated in the suburbs. Under huge pressure and amid tight security, he eventually visited one such suburb. As François Bayrou, the centrist, third-party candidate, said: "Five years in the interior ministry and he can no longer enter parts of the French suburbs." The suburbs, in response, have registered and voted, politically mobilised for the first time and in no doubt as to what is at stake in this election.

France faces a very different choice in this election to the two preferred by the political consensus here. With an ethnic minority community of a similar size to that in Britain, France can seek either to include them on a new basis or demonise them and blame them for the country's problems - and build a new political majority with race at its core. The most dramatic expression of the former possibility was the multiracial French team that won the World Cup in 1998 and the extraordinary reception that it received in France. The polar opposite of that moment was Sarkozy's condemnation of the riots in November 2005 as purely a criminal matter to be repressed by brutal police action.

None of this seems to matter to our political leaders or media commentators: courting racism and the far right appear to count for little compared with the demons of the left. If you are white, racism is too easily ignored and forgiven, regarded as of burning concern only to the ethnic minorities, and therefore of relatively marginal significance. Yet these things will matter more and more.

Western Europe is becoming increasingly diverse, especially France and Britain. That process will continue apace. The ability of our societies to embrace all races and cultures will be crucial to their future stability, security and success. The alternative is the "Sarkozy route", which has all too many parallels elsewhere in Europe, not least in the Netherlands: repression, ghettoes, gated communities, rampant racism, the exclusion of ethnic minorities from mainstream society, a form of low-level civil war.

One of the great themes of postwar Europe has been immigration from the developing world. It has transformed almost exclusively white countries into increasingly multiracial and multicultural societies. It has been traumatic and conflictual, but also liberating and educative. Europe faces two great challenges, neither of which seem to be on the political radar screen of our leaders and pundits. First, the ability to build inclusive multiracial societies. And second, adapting Europe to a world where it is no longer pre-eminent but one of many centres, and a declining one at that.

The two are closely related. They are far more fundamental to Europe's future than whether or not Sarkozy is going to liberalise France's labour market. In the context of a multiracial society, Royal offers inclusivity and Sarkozy exclusivity - she respects diversity while he preaches nativism. On these grounds alone, the choice could hardly be clearer.

· Martin Jacques is a visiting research fellow at the Asia Research Centre, London School of Economics

A conventional, 'respectable' left-wing analysis is that by pandering to racism, Sarkozy locks in the support of Le Pen and his followers.

Well, we'll have to wait and see how Le Pen supporters actually vote on Sunday, but if they support Sarkozy it will be in spite of Le Pen's best efforts: see Le Pen tells his supporters to abstain in French election

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I hope Royal wins, too. I can't believe the French would be dopey enough to elect a leader who blatantly toadies to those discredited neocons in Washington. As the Diana Johnstone piece points out, it's too late anyway--Bush and company are on the way out.

I also don't see what all the fuss about the LePen interview is about. His views on Lebanon, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and America's attempt to goad Iran into war all seem quite reasonable to me.

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I also don't see what all the fuss about the LePen interview is about. His views on Lebanon, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and America's attempt to goad Iran into war all seem quite reasonable to me.

He's a fascist. Hitler for instance may have had interesting ideas on the most humane way of cooking lobster. It is however important to view the whole package :rolleyes:

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I also don't see what all the fuss about the LePen interview is about. His views on Lebanon, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and America's attempt to goad Iran into war all seem quite reasonable to me.

He's a fascist. Hitler for instance may have had interesting ideas on the most humane way of cooking lobster. It is however important to view the whole package :rolleyes:

Andy

Perhaps you could explain the basis for your assertion. Le Pen does not call himself a fascist. Why do you think he is? What do you mean by the term in this context?

Incidentally, your "cooking lobster" analogy is interesting.

The expression rather accurately summarizes Zionist policy to the Palestinians over a 59-year long occupation. As you know, M Le Pen has been rather critical of this disgusting supremacist behaviour, whereas M Sarkozy has been amicably silent.

Still, I imagine we both hope for the election of Madame Royal for both aesthetic and political reasons. <_<

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Perhaps you could explain the basis for your assertion. Le Pen does not call himself a fascist. . :rolleyes:

If you are serious (which of course you are not) I suggest you investigate sites like the following

http://www.uaf.org.uk/news.asp?choice=70321

http://www.anl.org.uk/campaigns.htm

A couple of links do not an explanation make.

Anyhow, I visited both web sites, searching for clues as to the the source of "anti-fascist" antipathy for Le Pen.

I encountered the word "fascism" many times, but not much explication.

Loathing for Le Pen doesn't seem to be a matter of immigration policy - not in any consistent way.

After all, the UAF doesn't seem to complain about Mr Olmert's immigration policy - which is more discriminatory than M Le Pen's, wouldn't you agree?

Edited by Sid Walker

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Perhaps you could explain the basis for your assertion. Le Pen does not call himself a fascist. . :rolleyes:

If you are serious (which of course you are not) I suggest you investigate sites like the following

http://www.uaf.org.uk/news.asp?choice=70321

http://www.anl.org.uk/campaigns.htm

A couple of links do not an explanation make.

If you really need an explanation of fascism I recommend Martin Kitchen's excellent little book of the same name.

I am not going to waste my time arguing the toss with the likes of you about the depths of Le Pen's fascism. You are surely in a minority of one in your "belief" that the Front National is not fascist.

Please find another vehicle through which to peddle your far right views.

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Some people on the left in France intend to abstain on Sunday. They argue that a period of Sarkozy's right-wing government will help unite progressive groups and enable a real socialist to be elected next time. Maybe but it seems a very high risk strategy.

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Isn't that what some socialists and communists thought when Hitler came to power? Not that I would dream of suggesting any sort of similarity between M. Sarkozy and Herr Hitler. Heaven forfend.

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It is a good job that the likes of Sarkozy were not in power in 2003. This is what Dominique de Villepin told the UN security council on March 7 2003: "These crises have many roots. They are political, religious, economic. There may be some who believe that these problems can be resolved by force, thereby creating a new order. That is not France's conviction. On the contrary, we believe that the use of force can arouse rancour and hatred, fuel a clash of identities, of cultures - something that our generation has, precisely, a prime responsibility to avoid."

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Some people on the left in France intend to abstain on Sunday. They argue that a period of Sarkozy's right-wing government will help unite progressive groups and enable a real socialist to be elected next time. Maybe but it seems a very high risk strategy.

I remember some on the British left running a similar argument about Thatcher in 1979.

A very high risk strategy!

Not only did the Tories last several terms - observe what really came next!

Edited by Sid Walker

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An antidote to the only take on French economic life that I ever see in the major English-speaking mass media - which sells Sarkozy on the basis that at least he offers hope of solving France's "economic woes" with "harsh medicine".

Mark Weisbrot suggests these woes may be seriously over-stated, and the proposed cure a lot worse than the imagined disease.

A must read, IMO - along with this additional bilingual reference: France is not in decline and the last thing it needs is "reform"

Economic Misinformation Plays Major Role in French Election

Posted by SuperFrenchie

in Bashed in America (May 5, 2007 at 5:59 am)

-

The Mighty Frog Dollar[The following article was written by Mark Weisbrot and is reprinted with permission. It originally appeared on washingtonpost.com]

[French version]

The elections in France demonstrate the power of faulty economic analysis, and more generalized problems with arithmetic, to shape ideas and possibly the future of not only a nation, but a continent.The United States has faced similar problems with its debate over Social Security, in which the majority of Americans were convinced - based on verbal and accounting trickery - that the program is facing serious financial problems when the baby boom generation retires. (It isn’t).

In France, Nicolas Sarkozy, the right-wing candidate, has taken the lead after Sunday’s election with 31.2 percent of the vote, against Ségolène Royal, the left-of-center candidate of France’s Socialist party, who garnered 25.9 percent. They face a runoff election against each other on May 6.

The general theme that has propelled Sarkozy into the lead is that the French economy is somehow “stuck” and needs to be reformed to be more like ours. It is also widely believed that France needs to be made more “competitive” in the global economy, since competition is tougher now in a more globalized world.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has been the most popular proponent of the idea that French workers must lower their living standards because of the global economy. “All of the forces of globalization [are] eating away at Europe’s welfare states,” he writes . . . “French voters are trying to preserve a 35-hour work week in a world where Indian engineers are ready to work a 35-hour day.” For Friedman and most of the pundits, this is impossible.

It is important to understand that there is no economic logic to the argument that the citizens of any rich country need to reduce their living standards or government programs because of economic progress in developing countries. Once a developed country has reached a certain level of productivity, there is no economic reason for its residents to take a pay or benefit cut, or work more hours, because other countries are catching up to their level. That productivity, which is based on the country’s collective knowledge, skills, capital stock, and organization of the economy, is still there, and in fact it increases every year. To the extent that international competition is being used by special interests to push down the living standards of French or German or U.S. workers - and it is - it just means that the rules for international commerce are being written by the wrong people. It is a problem of limited democracy and lack of representation for the majority, not a problem that is inherent to economic progress.

Another mistake that is commonly made in this debate is to compare France’s income or GDP per person to the U.S., by which France lags: $30,693 for France versus $43,144 for the U.S. (these are adjusted for purchasing power parity). But this is not a fair comparison, because the French do not work nearly as many hours as we do in the United States. Economists do not say that one person is worse off than another if she has less income simply due to working fewer hours. A better indicator of economic welfare in such a comparison is therefore productivity, which is as high or higher in France as it is in the United States.

Now for some arithmetic regarding France’s notoriously high unemployment rate among young people, which shaped politics there and influenced world opinion during the youth riots in 2005. The standard measure of unemployment puts the unemployed in the numerator, and unemployed plus employed in the denominator (u/u+e). By this measure, French males age 15-24 have an unemployment rate of 20.8 percent, as compared to 11.8 percent for the US. But this difference is mainly because in France, there are proportionately many more young males who are not in the labor force - because more are in school, and because young people in France do not work part time while they are in school, as much as they do in the United States. Those who are not in the labor force are not counted in either the numerator or the denominator of the unemployment rate.

A better comparison then is to look at the number of unemployed divided by the population of those in the age group 15-24. By this measure, the U.S. comes in at 8.3 percent and France at 8.6 percent. Both countries have a serious unemployment problem among youth, and in both countries it is highly concentrated among racial/ethnic minorities. But the problem is not much worse in France than it is in the United States.

Sarkozy proposes making it easier for employers to fire workers, cutting taxes (including inheritance taxes), pushing back against the 35 hour work week, and other measures that will favor upper-income groups and owners of corporations. These measures will certainly redistribute income upward, as we have been doing in the United States over the last 30 years. But once again, there is little or no economic evidence that these measures will increase employment or economic growth.

Royal proposes a series of measures to boost economy-wide demand - including raising the minimum wage, unemployment benefits, and state-subsidized employment. These make some economic sense, since they at least have a chance - mostly by boosting aggregate demand and spending power of consumers - to create more employment.

If France makes a historic shift to the right in this election, it will be largely due to economic misinformation.

Edited by Sid Walker

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An antidote to the only take on French economic life that I ever see in the major English-speaking mass media - which sells Sarkozy on the basis that at least he offers hope of solving France's "economic woes" with "harsh medicine".

Mark Weisbrot suggests these woes may be seriously over-stated, and the proposed cure a lot worse than the imagined disease.

A must read, IMO - along with this additional bilingual reference: France is not in decline and the last thing it needs is "reform"

Economic Misinformation Plays Major Role in French Election

Posted by SuperFrenchie

in Bashed in America (May 5, 2007 at 5:59 am)

-

The Mighty Frog Dollar[The following article was written by Mark Weisbrot and is reprinted with permission. It originally appeared on washingtonpost.com]

[French version]

The elections in France demonstrate the power of faulty economic analysis, and more generalized problems with arithmetic, to shape ideas and possibly the future of not only a nation, but a continent.The United States has faced similar problems with its debate over Social Security, in which the majority of Americans were convinced - based on verbal and accounting trickery - that the program is facing serious financial problems when the baby boom generation retires. (It isn’t).

In France, Nicolas Sarkozy, the right-wing candidate, has taken the lead after Sunday’s election with 31.2 percent of the vote, against Ségolène Royal, the left-of-center candidate of France’s Socialist party, who garnered 25.9 percent. They face a runoff election against each other on May 6.

The general theme that has propelled Sarkozy into the lead is that the French economy is somehow “stuck” and needs to be reformed to be more like ours. It is also widely believed that France needs to be made more “competitive” in the global economy, since competition is tougher now in a more globalized world.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has been the most popular proponent of the idea that French workers must lower their living standards because of the global economy. “All of the forces of globalization [are] eating away at Europe’s welfare states,” he writes . . . “French voters are trying to preserve a 35-hour work week in a world where Indian engineers are ready to work a 35-hour day.” For Friedman and most of the pundits, this is impossible.

It is important to understand that there is no economic logic to the argument that the citizens of any rich country need to reduce their living standards or government programs because of economic progress in developing countries. Once a developed country has reached a certain level of productivity, there is no economic reason for its residents to take a pay or benefit cut, or work more hours, because other countries are catching up to their level. That productivity, which is based on the country’s collective knowledge, skills, capital stock, and organization of the economy, is still there, and in fact it increases every year. To the extent that international competition is being used by special interests to push down the living standards of French or German or U.S. workers - and it is - it just means that the rules for international commerce are being written by the wrong people. It is a problem of limited democracy and lack of representation for the majority, not a problem that is inherent to economic progress.

Another mistake that is commonly made in this debate is to compare France’s income or GDP per person to the U.S., by which France lags: $30,693 for France versus $43,144 for the U.S. (these are adjusted for purchasing power parity). But this is not a fair comparison, because the French do not work nearly as many hours as we do in the United States. Economists do not say that one person is worse off than another if she has less income simply due to working fewer hours. A better indicator of economic welfare in such a comparison is therefore productivity, which is as high or higher in France as it is in the United States.

Now for some arithmetic regarding France’s notoriously high unemployment rate among young people, which shaped politics there and influenced world opinion during the youth riots in 2005. The standard measure of unemployment puts the unemployed in the numerator, and unemployed plus employed in the denominator (u/u+e). By this measure, French males age 15-24 have an unemployment rate of 20.8 percent, as compared to 11.8 percent for the US. But this difference is mainly because in France, there are proportionately many more young males who are not in the labor force - because more are in school, and because young people in France do not work part time while they are in school, as much as they do in the United States. Those who are not in the labor force are not counted in either the numerator or the denominator of the unemployment rate.

A better comparison then is to look at the number of unemployed divided by the population of those in the age group 15-24. By this measure, the U.S. comes in at 8.3 percent and France at 8.6 percent. Both countries have a serious unemployment problem among youth, and in both countries it is highly concentrated among racial/ethnic minorities. But the problem is not much worse in France than it is in the United States.

Sarkozy proposes making it easier for employers to fire workers, cutting taxes (including inheritance taxes), pushing back against the 35 hour work week, and other measures that will favor upper-income groups and owners of corporations. These measures will certainly redistribute income upward, as we have been doing in the United States over the last 30 years. But once again, there is little or no economic evidence that these measures will increase employment or economic growth.

Royal proposes a series of measures to boost economy-wide demand - including raising the minimum wage, unemployment benefits, and state-subsidized employment. These make some economic sense, since they at least have a chance - mostly by boosting aggregate demand and spending power of consumers - to create more employment.

If France makes a historic shift to the right in this election, it will be largely due to economic misinformation.

Weisbrot is right on the money, imo.

Governments in western democracies, at the insistence of their corporate donors, are citing global competition as the justification for the necessary erosion of living standards for the non-elites. Abolishing collective bargaing and promoting individual contracts is merely a tool for lowering the cost of labour. Cheap labor is the holy grail for the corporate sector--that's why they also urge Governments to increase immigration. The fact that cities (such as Sydney) have chronic infrastructure problems eg, housing, health services, traffic congestion, public transport, shortage of water etc, the corporate sector doesn't care about the overcrowding of cities---they just want that large pool of cheap labour to be there on call.

Critics will claim that Royal's plans would turn the clock back to the era of Government economic meddling and socialism. But Sarkozy's ideas, like those of Howard here in Australia, will turn the clock back even further--to the Dickensian era.

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