Monday, April 17, 2017

Response to Another Reader on Macron

In response to my previous post on Mélenchon, another reader writes:
I'm sure that I speak for many of your readers when I say I would appreciate a clear, affirmative presentation of the case for Macron on this blog sometime before the first round of voting. My sense from what you have written so far is that you support him more or less the way I do: faute de mieux, and with considerable foreboding.
The writer seems to want something I cannot provide: assurance that in marking his or her ballot for Macron, he or she will be doing "the right thing." We are in a moment of great uncertainty. No one can say for sure what "the right thing" is.

I am fairly confident that the programs of certain candidates are the wrong thing, however. Yesterday, I said why in the case of Mélenchon. It does not need saying why I think Le Pen's program is wrong: some of the reasons (her anti-European stance, her faith in protectionism and devaluation) are similar to the objections I raised against Mélenchon; others (national preference in hiring, hostility to minorities) are unique to her. Hamon, though personally and morally more appealing than either of those rivals, proposes a radical experiment in social and economic reform that I think would tip the balance against France in what I believe is a precarious early stage of recovery (see, e.g., this article on France's high-tech renaissance).

Macron would seek to push that recovery along by doing what centrist technocrats always do: making gestures friendly to business to improve the investment climate, spending money on education and R&D in areas that seem promising to young entrepreneurs with profiles similar to his own, and helping to position French firms to compete more successfully in the global economy by moving them up the value chain and shifting emphasis away from labor-intensive activities like autos and steel and toward industries where France enjoys a comparative advantage. To people who lose jobs he will offer retraining, which will be painful for some and ineffective for many. There will be pain in the future as there has been in the past. It is hard to predict how he will respond to those cries of pain. Compassion does not seem to be his long suit (I use the word "suit" advisedly, as he advertised the limits of his compassion when he told unemployed workers that the best way to afford a suit like his was to go to work). He will have to learn on the job to curb the asperities of his personality.

What he will not have to learn on the job is what it takes to engage in fruitful dialogue with other powerful economic actors. This is his milieu. Some of you hate this milieu. You don't like Davos men in expensive suits. You don't like successful exam-takers who make millions on their first flyer in the world of mergers and acquisitions just because having the right credentials and the right contacts put them in the right place at the right time. You don't like the way this social hierarchy reproduces itself by securing the best schooling for its sons and daughters.

I don't like these things either. But I do not see an alternative at the moment. Nor do I think this reality is the greatest horror, the most oppressive order, the world has ever known. The Google campus (or its French equivalent) may not be my idea of utopia, but neither does it represent a return to the dark satanic mills of old, as one might think from the hyperbolic rhetoric of candidates of the far left and far right, or even from the amorphous grumbling of the chattering classes about the ravages of "neoliberalism." With Macron the trains may not run exactly on time--that was a fascist promise, after all, to discipline society as one disciplines an army--but when they run off the rails, he will shake up the management of SNCF and follow up by appointing competent monitors to measure the progress of the new managers toward meeting his 14-point improvement program for better rail service. That is the kind of politician he is, for better or for worse.

With Macron you wont get les lendemains qui chantent, but you'll get to work more or less on time aujourd'hui et demain, and you'll need to keep getting to work until you're 65 or perhaps 67, because that's the way things are headed. Some of you won't be wanting to break out the champagne to celebrate prospects such as these. But I've been around a while and have stopped looking to politics for intoxication or even inspiration. Just keeping the train on the tracks is enough, even if it's fifteen minutes late. That I think Macron can manage; with the others a wreck is imminent.

Some of you think Macron won't fare any better with Germany or the CGT than Hollande did. I have more confidence in the German leadership, among whom many have recognized that something has to change and are looking for a French leader in whom they too have confidence to make the necessary adjustments. Regardless of whether Schulz or Merkel is the next chancellor, the Germans have signaled that Macron is the French leader they prefer to work with and, I'm reasonably sure, compromise with. So I have hope on that score. The CGT and the Right and Far Right and the Far Left at home will of course be looking to put spokes in Macron's wheels, but in this area (as opposed to others, such as foreign policy) he actually has acquired the requisite experience through his stewardship of the Macron and El Khomri laws. Despite his youth, he is one of the most experienced French politicians in dealing with the unending guerrilla warfare that is French domestic politics, and temperamentally he is better equipped for it than Valls and surpassed only by the wizened Juppé, whose career is over.

The writer suggests that I prefer Macron faute de mieux. Perhaps, but I think it's rather that of the choices on offer I prefer Macron to manage the world as it is, faute de pouvoir en imaginer un autre. Perhaps that failure of imagination is mine, but for now I think, alas, that Margaret Thatcher was right: There is no alternative. When one presents itself, I might consider voting for it. Macron is a manager, not a magus. But politics is the wrong place to look for magi.