Emmanuel Macron has handily won the French presidential election. Now comes the hard part: trying to “govern a nation that has 246 different kinds of cheese?” (to quote Charles De Gaulle).
The jury is very much out on Macron.
In a typically well written and observed piece in the Washington Post, George Will thinks that Macron is the French version of Barack Obama: vastly over-hyped and pretentious. In this view, Macron should be grouped with Obama and Canada’s Justin Trudeau (who, when he is not discussing the science of climate change with his buddy Barack, can be seen sporting the tell-tale marks of “cupping”) in the Axis of Empty Suits.
Robert Colville, who runs the libertarian Centre for Policy Studies in the United Kingdom, has gone for another comparison in a WSJ editorial. He thinks that Macron is the French Tony Blair, being the same type of squishy left-of-center moderate who initially generated rock-star adulation due to his youth and looks. Colville predicts that Macron will leave voters with the same feeling of “we’ve been had” as Blair, who currently polls at a 2% approval rating versus 51% disapproval. Colville notes that Macron has a much tougher task than Blair, who inherited a strong economy and fiscal position from the Tories, and who had a huge majority in Parliament. By contrast, “Mr. Macron…promises to try Blairism in a country that never had Thatcherism.”
Macron’s economic platform shines primarily by comparison to the absurd promises made by his opponents (with the exception of the self-detonating François Fillon). He wants to reform France’s job-destroying labor code, but this is an effort at which he failed as an economics minister in Francois Hollande’s government. He wants to cut the government and bureaucracy, but given that France’s government spends 57% of the country’s GDP – higher than in Scandinavia, although you never hear Bernie Sanders talking about France – he plans to use a scalpel when a chainsaw is required. Ditto on the 35-hour work week, where he is calling for greater flexibility but not the repeal that is needed.
The good news is that, in the likely absence of his own party to support him in parliament, Macron will have to rely on support from Les Républicains, which are expected to perform strongly in the June parliamentary elections despite the personal financial scandals of the party’s presidential candidate (Fillon). This will mean that the presidency and parliament are controlled by different parties, a state of affairs that the French call cohabitation. The reformist instincts of Les Républicains are sharper than Macron’s, which will drag him in the right direction, although probably not far enough.
These domestic policies are directionally correct but insufficiently aggressive. Conversely, with respect to the EU, Macron takes the opposite tack: aggressive moves in the wrong direction. He thinks that the EU’s troubles demand greater integration, something that he hopes to wrangle out of Germany after demonstrating that France can reform itself. He wants greater fiscal authority, including an EU-wide infrastructure program funded by common borrowing, something that he calls a “New Deal” for Europe. His solution for a demoralized EU is more beatings.
All of this suggests that, although France and the EU dodged a couple of bullets in the recent election, with Macron the most likely scenario is five more years of muddling through. And after that…le déluge?
It looks like Conservative Party will win in a romp in the snap parliamentary election called for June 8th, especially after its very strong showing in the local elections held on May 4th. The Liberal Democrats will likely strongly improve their results, but they have a long, long way to go from their current nine seats. The only question with the Labour Party is whether they will be able to shoot the laughable Jeremy Corbyn immediately after a smashing defeat, or whether he will be able to stick around long enough to change party rules so that future generations of leftist incompetents won’t need his luck to become party leader.
But all is not good with the Tories. The Economist has noted that Theresa May, in her campaign and with the Brexit negotiations, is being “worrying vague.” Her campaign is based on “trust her to get the best possible deal” and “put your faith in the negotiator.” As for Brexit, she refuses to give details of her “secret negotiating position.”
Sound familiar? Add to this Macron’s platform, which is also light on details. What does it say about modern democracy that the road to electoral success is increasingly based on policy vagueness combined with calls to trust the great leader? Nothing good, that’s for sure.
Brexit Update: A Rock and a Hard Place
The EU is talking about a “divorce bill” of upwards of EUR 60 billion. The EU is also saying that it will not discuss the future trade relationship between the UK and the EU until the Brits accept responsibility for the bill. The Brits are not that stupid and will not agree anything until they know what the future relationship will be.
Rock. Hard place. Here we come.
Foreign Policy has recently published a very good article entitled “Kim Jong Un Is a Survivor, Not a Madman” by Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul and the author of several books on North Korea. This article is a strongly recommended read for those interested in America’s greatest foreign threat.
Lankov convincingly argues that the three generations of Kims have been ruthlessly and very successfully dedicated to only one goal: the preservation of their rule and themselves. The Kims see nuclear weapons as the guarantee of their survival against foreign attack and, to a lesser extent, military coup. The Kims have very well learned the lesson of Libya, where Gaddafi was persuaded to terminate his nuclear weapons program by the West and then thrown under the bus – thank you, Hillary Clinton – at the earliest opportunity.
The take away for US policy is that, when trying to deal with the Kims, the phrase “regime change” should be far from anyone’s lips.
A Short Primer on Trade
George Shultz, former Secretaries of Labor, Treasury and State, and Martin Feldstein, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, have written an article entitled “Everything you need to know about trade economics, in 70 words” for the Washington Post.
This article very succinctly explains why Trump’s plans for an expansionary fiscal policy and a reduction in the trade deficit have a severe problem. It’s called arithmetic.
(A longer, but still concise, exposition about why Trump is asking the wrong questions on trade can be found here.)
I started watching this National Geographic series last night on the life, loves, times and thoughts of Albert Einstein. If the quality of the first two episodes continues, this will be a classic. Geoffrey Rush, playing Einstein, shows why he is one of only 23 people to have won the Triple Crown of Acting: an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony. Rush deserves the title of this series almost as much as the man he portrays.
Weybridge, United Kingdom
“These days, the American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina, where incomes are actually more equal today than they are in the land of Horatio Alger. Who’s the banana republic now?” by Bernie Sanders in 2011, who got a larger percentage of Democratic primary voters than Trump got among the Republicans
I Wish That I Had Said That…
“You have one right: to do what you want. And one duty: to take the consequences” by PJ O’Rourke, the libertarian humorist
“I believe the risks I take are justified by the sheer love of the life I lead” by Charles Lindbergh
 To be fair, I think that this is mostly related to the Iraq war.
 Macron has claimed that his recently formed, and newly renamed, La Republique En Marche! (Onward the Republic!) party will field a full slate for the parliamentary election, but so far it has only announced 12 candidates for the 577 seats. Moreover, in the absence of huge defections, it will be fighting against local incumbents who have large electoral advantages. It is hard to see how Macron makes much headway.
 The backstory here is that Corbyn had to be nominated by at least 15% of Labour’s MPs and MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) in order to stand for the leadership. He got to this number because there was only one other person standing and the MPs wanted some competition; they have regretted it ever since. Corbyn wants to reduce the percentage to 5%. Limited details of this calculation have been released, but I won’t go into these. On the face of it, however, the number is either absurdly inflated or it proves the Brexiteers’ case that the EU was a financial disaster for the United Kingdom. There is no middle interpretation possible.