Sunday, February 12, 2017


Commenters have been asking me to write about the Macron candidacy. I had originally intended to wait until he released his "detailed program" in early March, but I realized that this would be a cop-out. As Macron himself says, "programs are meaningless."

In any case, we do not need figures and spreadsheets to know what Macron's program will look like. He has a track record. He is a social liberal supply-side reformer. He favors deregulation of product and labor markets, including professional labor markets (like notaires and pharmacists). He is a pragmatist, who will retreat on matters of principle, such as eliminating the 35-hour week, in favor of "negotiated" arrangements where the balance of power is likely to result in change in the direction he desires. He thinks globalization and free movement of capital and labor have been on balance beneficial to France, and he is the most outspokenly pro-European of all the candidates.

What this means in practice is that he will continue the supply-side, pro-business reforms inaugurated by Hollande (with a good deal of advice from Macron himself). These are the very policies that made Hollande so unpopular that he could not run again. And yet Macron is at this writing favored to win the presidency (by default, as it were, Fillon having pulled off the remarkable feat of stabbing himself in the back, while Hollande's self-proclaimed heir Valls succumbed to the abrasiveness of his own personality, allowing the more likable Hamon to seduce the jonesing left primary electorate with a heady pipeful of the intellectuals' opium).

Macron will come into office with one advantage that Hollande forfeited: He will be introducing the reforms he ran on rather than reneging on all his campaign promises. We now know from Hollande's own confessions to Davet and Lhomme, as well as from the book of Aquilino Morelle, that he was a social liberal supply-sider, just like Macron, as early as 1985, when he wrote articles for Le Matin advocating the same kinds of measures that Macron favors today. But Hollande camouflaged his true beliefs in order to hold the divided Socialist Party together as its first secretary and later as its candidate and president. Macron never joined the Socialists and never pretended to be anything but what he is.

But will the country follow him as president? The CGT is unlikely to be any mellower in its opposition to future Macron reforms than it was in its resistance to the Macron and El Khomri laws. Business has already manifested its receptiveness to Macron's message and supported his campaign with substantial contributions. Macron, no fool, will move quickly and decisively as soon as he takes office, as even Hollande now recognizes he should have done. If he wins, as I think he will, he will have at least a temporary mandate to do what he promises. More than that, he will reap the benefit of Hollande's "turn" to social liberalism, which, as I have noted, was not really a turn at all. Hollande failed, but his very failure has drawn the venom from the opposing forces. France is at last ready for Macronism.

But of course Macronism may fail to solve France's problems. He will have a couple of years to show what he can do, after which all bets are off. A change in the German leadership is possible (polls now show Martin Schultz with a chance to become the next chancellor), and that could help. But uncertainty reigns at the moment, not least because Trump is such a volatile presence.

If the "radical center" fails, the likely alternative, with both mainstream "parties of government" in total disarray, will be a turn to one of the extremes. If the Front National's time is to come, it won't be this year but 2022, with five more years of party building in full-throated opposition to everything Macron stands for: neoliberalism, globalization, and the European Union. There will also be some sort of realignment on the left, but I don't think it will be led by either Hamon or Mélenchon.

One final word: imagine what the French political scene would look like if Macron had not jumped ship last summer and had not remained outside the Socialist Party. With Fillon discredited and the Socialists led by the untried and unconvincing Hamon (notwithstanding his enlistment of Thomas Piketty to the Hamon team), I think the likelihood of a Le Pen victory would be substantially greater than it now is. Macron likes to think of himself as a latter-day de Gaulle: a bit presumptuous, no doubt, but in this limited sense, yes, he may well be the savior of France's honor in 2017. Faute de mieux. I am not an enthusiastic Macron supporter--I have too many doubts about all aspects of his position and what seems to me his relative unconcern with the least well-off and identification with the rich and successful--but of the options on offer, his is the least bad alternative. Not a ringing endorsement, I know.


Rédaction Contreligne said...

Arthur, there is one cultural aspect that you forget, if I may. You are right that Macron is a kind of supply-sider - which does not mean much here if you take into account the situation of the French economy. He is no more à supply-sider than Obama But here is another thing: he has solid roots in the "Esprit" tradition and shares many things with Delors (includind his views on Europe). Even more : Macron will be the first "catho de gauche" in the 4th and 5th republics to be elected as Président or Prime minister (since 1958 at least, we have had many conservative catholics, two protestants, one prime minister with jewish ancesters, and free masons). No risk that we end up with any kinds of Reaganonics. Rgds. St. A.

Rédaction Contreligne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bernard said...

In your para "if the radical centre fails" you imagine the time for the NF would come in 2022. If we were to project ourselves that far, I imagine that the Trump presidency would have failed by then, and also that the Brexit consequences for the UK would have started to manifest themselves. That, if I am right, would also be a factor, and could diminish the attractiveness of social nationalism. I actually think that the time for them if at all was actually now, riding on the coattails of the foreign nationalist wave, and its not happening. You may want to reflect further on this in my view.

All in all, though, it's a fair post in my view.

Art Goldhammer said...

Bernard, Yes, you have a point. On the other hand, France is 30 years late in making the neoliberal turn, so maybe it will be 5 years late in making the neofascist turn :).

Stéphane: No, you won't end up with Reagonomics, you'll end up with Delors bis. Delors was also a social Catholic. I'm sympathetic to the point of view, but they tend to get rolled by the hard-core neo- and ordoliberals (Schäuble, for example). Macron may prove tougher than that, however. He's more out of the school of Rothschild than the school of Mounier, in my view.

Art Goldhammer said...

And then, of course, all bets are off if Fillon is mis en examen, as he may well be:[ObsActu17h]-20170212

He has said he would withdraw in that case, and the LR Plan B would then be activated, possibly undermining the Macron candidacy.

Rédaction Contreligne said...

Arthur, Macron is going to be tougher against the French economic establishment than you think (at least because he knows what it is made of, which is not the case for the usual socialist ministers, too naïve, too incompetent), and closer to your E. Warren than to Tim Geithner... More reforms, less pseudo-revolutionary talks. we'll see !

Rédaction Contreligne said...

Arthur, Macron is going to be tougher against the French economic establishment than you think (at least because he knows what it is made of, which is not the case for the usual socialist ministers, too naïve, too incompetent), and closer to your E. Warren than to Tim Geithner... More reforms, less pseudo-revolutionary talks. we'll see !

Anonymous said...

Art, assuming Macron wins the election, what parliamentary majority will he be working with - to the extent the National Assembly is interested in working with him at all? Who will control the Assembly? Les Republicains, in spite of the Fillon scandal? Socialists, in spite of the Hollande quinquennat? Presumably not "En Marche," right?


Art Goldhammer said...

JCW, I've been discussing this with various readers on Facebook. My best guess is that LR will have a majority in the Assembly. Macron will have to find a way to work with them and with deputies of the center-left in order to create a working majority. He will probably choose a figure from the LR (assuming they have the majority) as his prime minister. Perhaps Xavier Bertrand, but who knows. The political landscape will reorganize itself around Macron. A part of LR and a part of the PS will repudiate him, but he will be able to carve a broad coalition out of the center. It's a gamble, and the government will be fragile, but this kind of realignment has been a possibility for some time.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the analysis of Macron's strengths presented in the blog post. I wonder why the published rumor about Macron's affair with a man at one of the television stations was not part of it. Not because the story is anything other than a smear, but rather, that its release reflects an effort by someone or some group to hurt Macron by revealing a supposed secret about something that has never been a preoccupation of French voters: a candidate's sex life. So the question I'm raising is not "Will the smear hurt Macron?" but "Who is behind the smear?" The Russian government is spending money advancing Marine Le Pen's campaign; the smear against Macron, "Could it have been planted by Russian interests seeking to help Le Pen?" It all sounds like something out of John le Carre to me, although it is a side-show under present conditions, and will ultimately do little to hurt Emmanuel Macron, is my guess. Incidentally, although the DSK Meridien hotel affair raised the consciousness of the French as to how male politicians exploit their power to extract sex from women subordinates, it was not about consensual acts between adults, as the Macron gay smear is. In France, sexual acts --homo-or-heterosexual-- between consenting adults still merit only a "Gallic shrug", if I know the French. On the other hand, secrets about politicians and money --those are always good weapons against a political opponent, as Francois Fillon is learning, to his cost. Does anyone disagree?

Alexandra Marshall said...

I've been heartened by the so-far big "so what?" about the gay rumors. There was Russian media pickup that went nowhere, making me think those trolls weren't French. That said, I hope team Macron has the world's best cybersecurity because he's denied it now.

My biggest worry about Macron's chances is reflected in a story I saw on Bloomberg this morning, that Macron still has yet to penetrate much in the countryside. Since the presidential here isn't region by region, one can still ostensibly win without a ton of rural support, but for the legislatives after... The PS is making threats to anyone considering backing EM, this could hurt in June. If he wins, his claims to be a rassembleur will be tested right away. Can he play nicely with others? So far there is no indication he can or can't.

As to the prochain quinquennat, it's a bit soon, no? Since the FN is still 99.99999% brought to you by the Le Pen family, do we place any hope in their ongoing legal woes? Or has it been ever thus?

FrédéricLN said...

Hello all,

To qualify Macron as a "social catholic" would create some urban legend: I never heard about links between him and that milieu or school of thought (as opposed to Hollande). Almost everything I heard about him qualifies him as a "liberal" in the French meaning of the word, i.e. a supporter of free enterprise with proved commitment against monopolistic situations, so, in favor of free and unbiased competition: Main Street liberalism. That might connected with protestantism according to Max Weber, not much with social catholicism.

"Main Street liberalism" is not a core belief in French public opinion (even if more that 50% of people certainly support free enterprise), so, I would not think that "France is at last ready for Macronism." For Macron maybe, not for his agenda.

I think furthermore that France is ready for LePenism, but maybe not for Le Pen (I wonder).

norman ravitch said...

The French deserve Marine LePen!