The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Tag: Melenchon

Macron (Radical Neoliberal) vs. Le Pen (Reactionary Fascist) in France

So, this is probably the best commentary on why it’s close:

The current French retirement age is 62. Macron has said that, if re-elected, he will increase it to 65. Le Pen will decrease it to 60.

France has a run-off system. The top two candidates are pitted against each other in the second round. In the first round, results were approximately as follows:

Note that Jean-Luc Melenchon, the left-wing candidate, was less than three percent behind Le Pen.

Melenchon’s policies?

His manifesto includes lowering the age of retirement, hiking the minimum wage, and freezing food and fuel prices.

As a public denouncer of the free-market economy, Mr. Melenchon advocates “state intervention in the economy” to spread wealth, guaranteeing what he calls a “dignified life for all workers.” He told a campaign rally in Paris he would heavily tax the wealthy.

Mr. Melenchon said: “The free market, as you see, is chaos. Another world is possible.”

If he takes office, Mr. Melenchon hopes to pass a “social emergency law” as soon as possible, which would increase the minimum wage to €1,400 per month (from €1,269.03 at present) and cap salary differences between workers and CEOs at one to 20.

He pledged to enforce greater controls on the movement of capital, and guaranteed jobs for the long-term unemployed.

He also announced plans to give 800,000 public sector workers on temporary contracts a permanent tenure – as well as plans to prevent top companies listed on the French stock exchange from paying dividends.

He wants to lower the retirement age in France from 62 to 60, unlike Mr. Macron who currently wants to raise it to 65 to “balance the pension bill.”

As a keen proponent of mass wealth redistribution, Mr. Melenchon also wants to boost the capital gains tax up to the same level as income tax and introduce a progressive corporate tax, as well as seize inheritances greater than €12 million.

That’s a very left-wing program in the current context.

Meanwhile, as John Nichols points out:

If supporters of the French Socialist, Communist, Trotskyist, and Green parties had backed left-wing presidential candidate Melenchon, he would not merely have beaten Le Pen. Melanchon would have finished in first place, ahead of Macron.

So, because the left won’t cooperate with each other, they have wasted a good chance of a real-left wing government, and the French are now forced to choose between a nativist fascist (who, among other things, would not allow single women to have in vitro fertilizations), and an arch-neoliberal who wants to make everyone but the rich poorer.

Neoliberals have wanted to cut pensions for ages (true also in the US and almost everywhere else), so Macron is making the bet that people will hold their noses and vote for him, rather than for Le Pen. But the swing is five years; if Macron wins, you retire at 65, while if LaPen wins you retire at 60.

Strangely enough, old people prefer Macron, and young people prefer Le Pen:

Which is to say the strategy of forcing votes against the reactionary right-winger will work, until it doesn’t. Polls suggest it will work, again, this time, but polls have often been wrong in such close cases, and polls suggest it won’t keep working.

The Left will have one more chance to get its act together before the next election. It had best take that chance. Fortunately, Le Pen’s economic  policies are foolish and won’t entirely work (not because of the pension age, but because she still wants to make the rich, richer), but once reactionaries get in power, they tend to use their power to crush the Left.

France is one of the few places in the “developed” world where the Left still stands a good chance of getting into power. Once they do, if they run the economy well (which will be easy, because the world order which made it impossible is dying), then they can create generational change and lock in left-wing politics for 30 to 50 years.

If they don’t, however, the Right will set the new ideological terms.


Sterile Elites and the French Election

France has an electoral run-off system. The top two candidates in the general poll go on to a face-to-face election. This year, that is Macron and Le Pen. Melenchon, the left-wing candidate came up just short.

What is happening was inevitable, and predicted. Europe had been sclerotic before 2008, but enough people were doing well. After 2008, Europe, more than perhaps any other areas in the world, doubled down on austerity and neoliberal policies like “labor flexibility” (code for “fire for any reason, reduced (ideally no) protection from bosses.)

And so we now have the neo-fascist (in a much more real way) vs. the neoliberal who ran Hollande’s vastly unpopular economic policy.

The French establishment has reacted predictably.

Elites simply can’t pivot. They don’t know how to do anything but keep doubling down on neoliberal austerity. It is their entire playbook, and this default strategy may wind up costing them everything.

Polls currently have Macron winning, and Le Pen has been softening her rhetoric on leaving the EU, though it’s primarily, “We can wait a bit and have a referendum.”

I consider that a mistake, not because of electoral considerations this time, but because of the electoral considerations next time. As sometime-poster Mandos has pointed out, the EU has set up both membership in the EU and the Euro so that leaving them frontloads the pain onto whoever leaves. If you’re leaving, you need to get it over with right at the start of your term so you have time to recover from the pain.

(Leaving the Euro is clearly correct on policy terms, though whether Le Pen and her team have the chops to manage it properly is another matter.)

The other consideration is that if Le Pen doesn’t win this time (and the polls are unreliable, given past performance around similar candidates and issues), she’ll be on the final ballot in the next round, because the policies Macron will pursue will make the French worse off–just as they did when he ran them from Hollande. They aren’t going to miraculously work now that Le Pen is even more of a threat, or because Mercury goes retrograde or something.

But then there’s a very real chance Melenchon will be on the last round ballot next time, too, and he’s been pulling no punches. He refused to endorse Macron (he did not play Bernie Sanders Nice) and unlike Sanders followers, who overwhelmingly voted for Clinton, about two-thirds of Melenchon supporters refuse to vote Macron.

A Melenchon deputy explained:

We don’t want to help Marine Le Pen, but we don’t want to endorse Mr. Macron,” he said.

“He’s the candidate of free trade,” Mr. Coquerel said. “He’s going to assist in the Uberization of society. Everything we are going to fight against in the coming months. There’s no possible rapprochement.”

This is correct behaviour, as far as I am concerned. Melenchon is not a colleague, he did not run under the same party, and he disagrees with almost all of Macron’s economic policies.

If Macron can’t win against Le Pen without the left’s support, he doesn’t deserve to win, because he isn’t a left-winger on non-social issues. And while social issues are important, so is whether or not you have a good job. Freedom in poverty, as those of us who have been poor know, isn’t really freedom.

Besides, Melenchon is in the same position as Le Pen. He’ll almost certainly be in the next “last round” if Macron wins, because, again, Macron is going to hurt a lot of French. It is inevitable, he cannot avoid doing so because he genuinely believes in neo-liberal austerity as the road forward.

There are a large contingent of people who are “just hanging on.” The status quo sort of works for them, but they can see the abyss, and they don’t want change, yet, even though they aren’t happy.

They will only want change if the game of economic Russian roulette that is austerity happens to take them out, and dump them into a slum. Their numbers decline every election, as some eat that austerity bullet and others die (since they tend to be older) and a very few can no longer stomach buying their present with their children’s future. (This is rare, most don’t care, and I base that on the cold hard numbers. If they cared, things would have changed long ago. Their children are expendable to them.)

So we play the game out. Time’s wheel must grind on, bodies caught in the gears, till the last neoliberal has failed, and we get either the populist right or the populist left.

Those are your choices: populist right, populist left, or continued decline into what will become an increasingly obvious dystopian surveillance state; something out of an 80s cyberpunk novel, but without the actual cool tech (as yet).

But there is no other choice that moves away from current trends except populist right or left. Those are the choices. Choose.

Update (how LePen will win, if she does):

A false story of “I will help fix your awful life” wins against a true story of “I’m going to hurt you, but the other person is lying about helping you and will hurt you even worse.”

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