Streetwise Professor

April 23, 2017

European Elites: Vicious in Victory, Bitter in Defeat

Filed under: Politics — The Professor @ 7:17 pm

The first round of the French presidential election occurred today, with Marine Le Pen winning by about two points, with Emmanuel Macron coming in second. These two will face off in a few weeks, with Macron universally considered to be the inevitable winner, and by a large margin.

It is hard to imagine a more vapid political figure than Macron. His eventual win will therefore be quite gratifying to the Germans, and to the EU, who will have the empty vessel that they desire as French president.

The relief of elite France, and elite Europe, is palpable. Although Le Pen made the final round, the belief that she will be defeated has convinced the elites that the scourge of populism–which they all too often characterize as the second coming of Nazism (thereby gravely insulting their own fellow citizens and trivializing the evils of the Nazis)–has been defeated, and that the European project can continue to sail along, with no correction in course necessary.

A more reflective elite would ask why populism has been so resurgent, and why they have to keep beating it back in country after country–sometimes just barely, and sometimes not at all (e.g., Brexit). A more reflective elite would recognize that their triumphalism, and their insulting of those they have defeated–in this election–will only stoke resentments. A more reflective elite would recognize that populism is flashing a warning that a course correction is desperately in order.

But modern elites in Europe (and in the US too) are anything but reflective. They are smug, arrogant, and dismissive. The ideal is to be magnanimous in victory, gracious in defeat. Modern elites invert that. They are scornful and dismissive and even vicious in victory, and bitter and angry in defeat.

Which is why they may triumph in France in a few weeks, but risk a crushing loss in the longer run. Failing to respond to the rumblings of populism today greatly increases the risk that the EU will fail in the future.

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  1. President “Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated” is a more vapid political figure than Macron. More smug, arrogant and dismissive too.

    Comment by aaa — April 23, 2017 @ 7:46 pm

  2. Or, to put it more seriously, I don’t see anything wrong with a candidate that is not beholden to a bunch of dogmas formulated in the 19th century on the one hand, and does not give a short, simple, and wrong answer to every difficult question on the other.

    Comment by aaa — April 23, 2017 @ 7:57 pm

  3. Just a correction: Macron won by about two points over Le Pen, not the other way around.

    Comment by tegla — April 24, 2017 @ 7:00 am

  4. Macron quotes demonstrating extreme vapidity. A leftist pro EU insider that laughingly portrays himself as an outsider. A usual example of a leftist French politician with nothing new to offer except himself as an outsider to the extremely gullible.

    To create greater convergence, we need more intergration.

    We need young Frenchmen who want to become billionaires.

    We’ve created rigidities at the entrance point in artisanal occupations.

    I think when people have pudding and jobs, they vote for you.

    We can’t fix the real problems if we only cauterize and don’t treat the roots of evil.

    We have to provide more visibility, more certainty to the investors and reduce the cost of failure.

    We have to reconcile Europeans with Europe

    As to the euro zone avant-garde, it must go towards more solidarity and integration: a common budget, a common borrowing capability, and fiscal convergence

    The 28-member Europe must be simpler, clearer, more efficient, and continue to advance on digital and energy issues

    I’m in a left-wing government, unashamedly… but I also want to work with people from the Right who commit to the same values

    I have decided to create a new political movement

    Comment by pahoben — April 24, 2017 @ 7:23 am

  5. I have tried to lift France out of the mud. But she will return to her errors and vomitings. I cannot prevent the French from being French.
    Charles de Gaulle

    Comment by pahoben — April 25, 2017 @ 4:25 am

  6. Sorry but just one more-

    Going to war without France is like going hunting without an accordion
    Norman Schwarzkopf

    Comment by pahoben — April 25, 2017 @ 4:55 am

  7. more De Gaulle –

    How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?

    Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six variétés de fromage?

    Comment by elmer — April 25, 2017 @ 8:21 am

  8. You don’t understand – there is a LOVE STORY here between a 15 year old kid and his 40 year old teacher

    That makes everything OK

    And Commies still count in the country of the cheese-eating surrender monkeys (phrase borrowed from a friend)

    Comment by elmer — April 25, 2017 @ 8:35 am

  9. OMG!!!!! The Rooshans “hacked” the French elections!!!!!!

    The French use plastic boxes into which paper ballots are dropped. The Irish used cardboard boxes in some areas.

    But the Rooshans are hacking everything!!!!! Which is the only reason that Macron didn’t do better!!!!

    Comment by elmer — April 25, 2017 @ 9:04 am

  10. Elmer, you made me laugh. Thank-you.

    Comment by Tom Hend — April 25, 2017 @ 2:36 pm

  11. Wrong.

    résultats au 1er tour:

    Liste des candidats Voix % Inscrits % Exprimés
    M. Emmanuel MACRON 8 657 326 18,19 24,01
    Mme Marine LE PEN 7 679 493 16,14 21,30
    M. François FILLON 7 213 797 15,16 20,01
    M. Jean-Luc MÉLENCHON 7 060 885 14,84 19,58
    M. Benoît HAMON 2 291 565 4,82 6,36

    Comment by Tarik — April 25, 2017 @ 10:35 pm


    Comment by Tarik — April 25, 2017 @ 10:35 pm

  13. Agree with your post Professor. If anything the biggest winners of this election are: abstention (22% of voters) and extreme parties (combined >40%), leaving democracy or what is left of it as the biggest loser.
    Macron is an empty shell where every voter could comfort himself in seeing what he was hoping to see, but his triumph is an insult to a democracy that federates people around anything more than vacuum and fluffy references to openness and tolerance.

    Comment by Tarik — April 25, 2017 @ 10:43 pm

  14. @elmer
    Props to you and your friend-good description.

    Comment by pahoben — April 26, 2017 @ 3:22 am

  15. Given the USA’s record of defeats since 1945 in every war lasting longer than one battle – with the exception of Korea, which was a draw – I think that you might be wise to find some other topic on which to disparage the French. It’s not as if there’s any shortage.

    Comment by dearieme — April 26, 2017 @ 4:39 am

  16. I believe there are about 50,000 US soldiers buried in France from WW1 and WW2 and no recent German invasions that the US had to repulse.

    Comment by pahoben — April 26, 2017 @ 6:10 am

  17. @pahoben

    That’s because our war aim was unconditional surrender, not some exit plan with nation building as dessert.

    Comment by The Pilot — April 26, 2017 @ 8:23 am

  18. @The Pilot
    Truer words were never spoken. If not killed in battle then hanging from the gallows.

    Comment by pahoben — April 26, 2017 @ 9:14 am

  19. “I believe there are about 50,000 US soldiers buried in France from WW1 and WW2 and no recent German invasions that the US had to repulse.” So? The French won the battle of Yorktown for you; do they get no credit for that? Do you have any idea how stupid you sound banging on about the French in this way?

    Comment by dearieme — April 26, 2017 @ 11:56 am

  20. @Dearime/Phaoben: There is that famous quote when De Gaulle quit NATO and demanded that all American soliders leave France – the American representative is reported to have asked “Does that include those buried in it?”.

    @Pahoben: To somebody who lives in France, most of those quotes are not nearly as vapid as they may otherwise seem. For example:
    – “We need young Frenchmen who want to become billionaires”. That might be self-evident in other countries, but the French do not aspire to become millionaires or billionaires in the same numbers as do other nationalities (when taken in aggregate – there are, of course, many exceptions). After all, they would say, why would you want to be a millionaire if it means you don’t have time to go to the park with your kids after work? It’s a valid point, IMHO, at least on an individual level. But it means that the economy becomes dependent on the corporate and state sectors for employment, which is very stable but does not offer enough employment growth, hence the unemployment.
    – “We’ve created rigidities at the entrance point in artisanal occupations”. Just try to find a plumber in France, I dare you. There are huge shortages of skilled trades-people (what the French mean by the word “artisan”), yet somehow France has high unemployment. Macron is right to identify this an avenue toward employment which is in need of unblocking.

    I could go on, but I suspect I’m being boring, so I’ll finish by disagreeing with the Prof: What do you think of Le Pen’s economic policies? In particular, what is their likely effect on the stagnating French hinterland which has voted so strongly for her? Keep in mind that they only noteworthy economic reform that has happened in France in the last two decades bears Macron’s name – so if you want to see that desperately needed course correction, then you want to see Macron in power instead of Le Pen. If not, she will just drive the French economy further into the mud, and drive voters to even further extremes…

    Comment by Hiberno Frog — April 27, 2017 @ 3:34 am

  21. @Hiberno
    Very sorry to hear you suffer through French residency-it cannot be at all easy. Your comments are not boring but sad that you believe the French would be better served by EU control but if true any place in Europe I guess it would be France.

    No I don’t know how stupid I sound (sic) and appreciate your objective insight. Stupid as in James VII stupid or at the extreme of the scale Nancy Pelosi stupid. Thanks.

    Comment by pahoben — April 27, 2017 @ 3:56 am

  22. @dearime
    It would be helpful when communicating ideas like this if there was a commonly recognized stupidity scale that a person could reference to better communicate how stupid they think I sound (sic). If you have an analogous well known person you can reference then much appreciated.

    Comment by pahoben — April 27, 2017 @ 4:07 am

  23. @Pahoben:
    Suffer? Not likely 🙂 If (and I grant you that it is a big “if” for the under-30s) you have a full-time contract in a good company then life here is very, very good indeed. Wouldn’t want to do what a lot of other expats do though, and start a business – I’m sure that does involve quite some suffering, but I digress…

    The EU can be tremendous tool to increase prosperity: Just look at the Eastern European states who have made huge strides away from the failures of communism. That growth hasn’t come at the cost of other countries’ prosperity: Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, the UK, Finland, Denmark, Switzerland (who are in the EU in all but name)… these countries (and others) have all prospered as part of the EU and now have new (and growing) new markets to operate in. In fact, France also used to do so until they took their foot of the gas in the early 90s and piled up ever more left-wing economic and social policy on top of their capitalist economy.

    To get to the point: Even if leaving the EU were a long-term benefit (and I’m not convinced that leaving a single market of 500-millon consumers ever would be), it would un-arguably be a short-term cost. At the same time, Le Pen is proposing to compensate for this by dumping even more left-wing economics (taxes, public jobs and protectionism) on top of an already overburdened “productive” economy. I worry that this double-whammy would harm Le Pen’s voters. Then she would have to:
    – Acknowledge responsibility and step aside (yeah, right…)
    – Do an economic U-turn (didn’t exactly work out for Mitterand or Hollande, who both did this)
    – Whip up ever more nationalism and xenophobia.
    I wonder what she would choose, and I wonder whether it would actually help the economy.

    On the other hand, Macron talks about easing the self-imposed burdens on the economy. France desperately needs somebody brave/foolish enough to stand up and present some basic economics to the French people. His feelings about the EU are, for me, secondary. France needs economic reform, and only Macron and Fillon were offering it.

    There is a case to be made about whether France belongs in the Eurozone, but the EU… it’s harder to see.

    Comment by Hiberno Frog — April 27, 2017 @ 6:20 am

  24. @Hiberno
    I guess you have to keep a stiff upper lip and not complain about where you live. Just make the best of it. 🙂

    Someone mentioned to me recently that Total’s overhead charges are astronomically high due to French employment laws.

    I have puzzled over your screen name. Is it because you are Irish but live in France?

    Comment by pahoben — April 27, 2017 @ 9:17 am

  25. I was in the Everest region and overnighted at a tiny lodge and a small group of French arrived. I hadn’t had much conversation for a while and so asked one member of the group where he was from in France. He looked at me like I was an insect and said Paris. I thought-not much for conversation eh. I wondered how they commented on the menu at the lodge comprised of local Everest Whiskey and simple garlic soup.

    Comment by pahoben — April 27, 2017 @ 9:39 am

  26. OK, since Eastern Europe was mentioned, I will take the liberty of mentioning one country – Ukraine – and the perspective of Ukrainian people not only on Brexit but also on France.

    Ukraine was just approved for a visa free regime. Ukrainians were very, very eager to have the benefits of the Schengen Zone. Today, there are about 1 million Ukrainians working in Poland.

    Ukraine itself is still being choked by corruption; there is a stranglehold on Ukraine by a very small number of “elites,” and it is brutal.

    So Ukrainians looked with a bit of alarm at the anti-EU efforts in the Netherlands, and elsewhere, because moving towards the EU, with an Association Agreement, was viewed as an impetus or means towards breaking brutal corruption in Ukraine.

    But if the EU is going to fall apart – then what do Ukrainians do?

    The EU most definitely has stupid overbearing trade regulations as a huge problem. Hence, Brexit, for example.

    My understanding is that the idea was to promote trade, not squish it.

    Otherwise, Europe could go back to medieval times when assorted nation states had “purity” laws for beer, or other goods, specifically for the purpose of squishing trade.

    Comment by elmer — April 27, 2017 @ 9:52 pm

  27. @elmer Unless your friend is a script writer for The Simpsons he borrowed ‘cheese eating surrender monkeys’ from Groundskeeper Willie.

    Comment by noir — April 28, 2017 @ 2:31 am

  28. @pahoben:

    Correct! Not many get that.

    I do complain extensively about France, but there’s a lot to recommend too. If they could only manage to untangle their economy they’d do very well for themselves…

    Comment by Hiberno Frog — April 28, 2017 @ 3:45 am

  29. @Hiberno Frog
    >> Keep in mind that they only noteworthy economic reform that has happened in France in the last two decades bears Macron’s name

    Given that, unlike other people with strong opinions here, you seem to actually know a thing or two about France: do you have a theory on why France does not seem to be capable of course corrections towards less dirigisme? Is it really down to the arrogant elites from the Grands Ecoles “knowing best”, or would you say that the French are generally satisfied with the state of the economy and have other priorities?

    Comment by Ivan — April 29, 2017 @ 9:54 am

  30. Macron? Forget the politics, guys, check out the psychology. Strict Jesuit school. Committed Catholic families both. And, then, adultery and divorce. Wow! This wasn’t just a fling with a MILF. This was a meeting of ‘souls’. And they’re still together! TWENTY-FOUR years later.

    One has to wonder who is pulling the strings here: Macron or Brigitte?
    Can you remember what you were like when you were 15? Is there any emotional development? Maturation? Or are they still locked in the same bond of a semi-illicit, semi-secret liaison? Fascinating stuff.

    TBH, reading the story of their affair, I was put in mind of Rousseau’s Confessions. His first mistress he addressed when approaching her bed as “maman”. We’re going into the inky depths where myth, the unconscious and human desire meet.. This is very heavy duty -not for the squeamish. Jean-Jacques was an interesting chap: he was a pedophile who groomed a girl of eight … his numerous bastards (borne by his washerwoman if I remember rightly) were consigned to the orphanage because he did not consider them worthy of being raised in his household … All round, quite the charming fellow.

    What then dwells at the bottom of Macron’s soul?

    Comment by Simple Simon — April 30, 2017 @ 2:24 am

  31. @Simple Simon
    His aides should never leave him alone with Merkel-only God knows what would happen.

    Comment by pahoben — April 30, 2017 @ 11:36 am

  32. @Hiberno Frog
    For me I prefer Dublin to Paris but haven’t been in Dublin for 25 years. At that time anyway Dublin had to be the most courteous city in the world. I have read that the Garda have become more hard core but never any experience with them fortunately. One time in partcular glad I didn’t have to blow a test.

    Comment by pahoben — May 1, 2017 @ 5:44 am

  33. I’m a bit late, but anyway:

    @Ivan: The “grandes ecoles” types are often as you say – pretty arrogant (even by French standards 😛 ). But the grandes ecoles run the only competitive-entry university-level education system (the much larger “université” system accepts all-comers) so sometimes that arrogance is actually well-justified by the quality of some of the individuals who have been there. Like anything, the trick is in telling the difference… but I digress: Both the Chirac and Sarkozy governments did attempt to loosen up the economy but the instant they proposed anything, the unions were out on the streets in force, blocking or destroying anything that moved (and quite a few things that didn’t). People often point out that union membership is actually higher in the USA, but this isn’t the full story. In France, if the unions call for a strike, many non-union employees will join, so the unions still wield great power. Also don’t forget that some of the biggest unions are literally Communists, which does not make them will-disposed to liberal economic ideas. This effect was particularly pronounced for the Hollande government, which was elected on a very protectionist, very left-wing platform, so the population was not prepared when the Macron law was introduced (Imagine: They want to allow some shops to open on a Sunday. A SUNDAY man! The outrage it!).

    What is interesting this time is that Macron and Fillon both campaigned explicity on themes of economic liberalisation, so if Macron gets a large share of the vote (As seems likely) then it will be harder for the unions to justify dictating terms to society at large. Not that it will stop them…

    Another effect is indeed that people are pretty content: Anybody with a permanent job is almost impossible to fire, so even if unemployment is at 10%, it means that 90% of people are well-protected and aren’t terribly motivated to give that protection up. Those who do not have that protection want, someday, to also have it, so there is little pressure from the population to change it.

    Another is their disbelief in conventional economics. Surveys consistently show that the French believe that the best way to reduce poverty is by increasing unemployment benefits, rather than increasing opportunities to work. They also believe that the government has a duty to create employment by offering state jobs – I’ve tried arguing the point to people that taking that civil-servant salary and giving it to a business-person as seed capital would create more employment overall (as well as earning a return on investment) but they’re having none of it. Making a profit is, I kid you not, considered to be a highly morally dubious activity.

    But as I’m fond of saying: France has been around a long time, and she is very stable (if declining) in population, military power, wealth and social cohesion.

    Sorry for the rambling – but it is a Friday evening!

    Comment by Hiberno Frog — May 5, 2017 @ 11:42 am

  34. So after all these comments, my read on the situation in France is that they want to keep their little quasi-syndicalist dirigisme, but there is widespread acknowledgement that the population outside the major cities needs some sort of accommodation. Macron’s solution is conventional incremental thinking with artisanal training and some economic liberalization on the margins, while LePen’s is limits on immigration. I don’t know functional France’s legislature is, or how much the bureaucratic auto-pilot effect of EU membership permits it to function, but it looks to me like a scenario best served by an good old-fashioned legislative compromise.

    Comment by M. Rad. — May 6, 2017 @ 5:32 am

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