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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press The Unbearable Presumptuousness of Right-Wing Elites

The Unbearable Presumptuousness of Right-Wing Elites

Monday, 20 January 2014 20:24

The NYT treated its readers to the French version of Le Grande Bargain, with a column by Sylvie Kauffman, the editorial director and former editor in chief of Le Monde. Ms. Kauffman's piece, "the unbearable lightness of Hollande," is devoted to the indecisiveness of the French president both in his policies and apparently in his personal life.

Her main complaint is:

"Perplexed by their president’s economic indecisiveness since he took office, the French now learn that he is equally indecisive in his private life. And they have found out at the worst moment. After hesitating to address squarely the issue of radical economic reforms, after avoiding to cut public spending to reduce the fiscal deficit, after procrastinating on measures needed to restore the competitiveness of French companies, the president, having lost 20 months, finally decided that it was time to do all of the above."

Hmmm, Hollande put off Kauffman's radical economic reforms and spending cuts for 20 months and this perplexed the French? Well if Hollande ran on an agenda of cutting social spending to go along with tax cuts, it certainly was not widely reported in the United States. I haven't checked back issues of Le Monde (my French is mixed at best), but my guess is that Ms. Kauffman's paper did not report any such commitments from Hollande either.

In fact, what was reported on Hollande's campaign was a promise to break with austerity and to follow the precepts of modern economics. This means increasing deficits in a downturn, not cutting them. There is no evidence that the private sector will make up for the demand lost due to reductions in the deficit. In fact, there is now a large body of evidence, much of it produced by the International Monetary Fund, showing that the program demanded by Kauffman will lead to slower growth and more unemployment.

In effect, Kaufman is telling NYT readers that she finds it unbearable that a French president, who was elected on a platform going 180 degrees in the opposite direction, waited 20 months to embrace the economic policies that she favors; policies that have been shown to slow growth and raise unemployment.

Undoubtedly being the editorial director or editor in chief of Le Monde is a very important and prestigious position in France. Just as people like Peter Peterson and his fellow corporate chieftains in Fix the Debt feel that their policy perspectives should over-ride the views of the vast majority of the public and the state of knowledge in the economics profession, Ms. Kauffman feels the same way with respect to the French people.

I suppose elites everywhere never had much use for democracy or inconvenient truth. Get me some freedom fries.

Comments (4)Add Comment
She does have one good point
written by Shawn Wilkinson, January 20, 2014 11:33
While the world cares more about where his penis has been, there is more coverage in France about his current political endeavors than his penis. Contrast that to our media's infatuation of the sex lives of celebrity-politicians, and she is correct there.

He is still pursuing a stupid path, though.
Law of Gravity ... and Economics Too
written by Last Mover, January 21, 2014 5:24

It's a common refrain among condescending conservatives, told as a story of childhood fantasies when they were young and naive and wanted to help everyone, and animals too, like stupid liberals do today as adults.

It's always the same story. Over time they came face to face with (economic) "reality". Nothing is free. Everything has an opportunity cost. Taking from others and even yourself to act out those childhood fantasies just makes everyone worse off, including the claimed "beneficiaries".

Having home schooled themselves in all of economics with these personal experiences, they proceed to project it onto everyone around them. With absolute certainty. As if they were describing some life changing event like living through an earthquake in which they discovered the law of gravity.

Now as redeemed adults experienced in original sin, they are here to show you how gravity really works, how you can use it to your advantage, how you can avoid its pitfalls, and be saved from sin.

They prey on the indecisive with their decisive certainty, even to the point of projecting indecisiveness about gravity onto their strawman targets, in order to take credit for setting them straight onto the certain irrefutable path of gravity.

Supply and demand is a law of economics equivalent to the law of gravity.

Debt cannot go on forever.

Unfunded liabilities are real.

Taxes and government borrowing to pay debt reduce growth.

The only real jobs are created by private sector spending, including government jobs.

All unemployment is voluntary.

Look, over there. Another indecisive stupid liberal caught in the uncertainty trap. Come, sit on my knee so I can tell you a story about how gravity and economics works.

I want to help you, so you can defend yourself against economic predators who are trying to take from you as the maker we all know you really are.

Let's start with the Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood, shall we?
written by dax, January 21, 2014 6:18
I think your understanding of the French election is correct. Up to now Hollande has, as best he could, tried to keep the promises of his campaign, with the notable exception of the increase in VAT. Higher taxes on the rich, check. No great changes in the rights of workers, check. Increased spending in education, check. The problem is that none of this has worked for the two statistics the French care about most: the unemployment rate and real income. The first is up and the second is down. So Hollande will try something different, by improving French competitiveness, i.e. giving breaks to French firms so they can hire more, and raising the money by cuts in spending (this is an obligation he has vis-a-vis the EU). This, it is hoped, will cut unemployment. The French are pragmatists, indeed far more than Americans, who cling to free-market doctrine whether it works or not. Keynesian stimulus hasn't worked or is no longer an option. They will try to replicate what Germany has done.

Reply to Dax
written by sherparick, January 21, 2014 9:35
There are two problems with what you wrote. First, if there had been a true Keynesian stimulus there would have been no tax increases, at least in the mid-term. France under Hollande has continued to be a "good" Euro country, reducing its primary deficit even in the middle of the slump. http://research.stlouisfed.org...HBLFRA188A The criticism from Rehnn and others is that it was using tax increases on the rich to cut its deficit, and not cuts of spending on the poor. http://www.reuters.com/article...4A20130825

So France has been practicing fiscal austerity, just not the the austerity the way the elite of Europe wants it implemented. But however austerity is implemented, the result in a a depressed economy will be higher unemployment and lower growth over what would have been if correct Keynesian counter-cyclical spending policy had practiced (which also means cutting spending and raising taxes once the economy has recaptured the growth loss during the slump and approaches an economy's NARIU.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.