President Nicolas Sarkozy’s re-election campaign in France is getting a little desperate, and more than a little ugly. Although new polls show him the likely top vote-getter in next month’s first-round voting, they also show him running well behind François Hollande of the Socialist Party in the decisive May runoff. To try and close that gap, Mr. Sarkozy has been fishing for far-right voters by assailing foreign immigrants, foreign imports and even the dietary laws of French Muslims.
Mr. Sarkozy may think it is smart politics to pander to racism and xenophobia. He has done it before. And, sadly, his harsh new tone has given him a quick boost in the polls. But it is damaging to French society. And it may prove a mixed political blessing in May. Many French voters already think that he lacks presidential dignity.
Times are tough in France, but Mr. Sarkozy could have run a more elevated campaign. He has domestic achievements (pension reform) and international achievements (Libya). His main opponent, Mr. Hollande, has vague ideas and unrealistic economic proposals.
Instead, Mr. Sarkozy has chosen the low road. At a packed rally on Sunday, he attacked European Union trade rules, which he said had opened French markets to “savage” competition, and called for a protectionist “buy European” rule for public spending that would raise costs and invite retaliation. He also threatened to suspend French participation in Europe’s 25-nation open border agreement unless others did more to keep illegal immigrants and refugees out of Europe. A few days earlier, he had attacked legal immigration, promising a 50 percent cut in admissions for family reunification.
In a particularly vile gambit from a man who already brags about banning the burqa in public and Muslim-style street prayer, Mr. Sarkozy now pledges to protect French consumers from unknowingly eating halal meat, slaughtered in accordance with Muslim dietary codes. He called for legislation requiring all meat labels to note the slaughtering methods used. This proposal originally came from Marine Le Pen, the presidential candidate of the unabashedly xenophobic National Front. Mr. Sarkozy first rightly called it frivolous. Then he adopted it.
Five million to six million Muslims now live in France, almost a tenth of the total population. It is cruel to keep family members from joining them and cruel and destructive to subject their religion to mockery. Ms. Le Pen is currently running third in the polls. Regrettably, Mr. Sarkozy has no problem being frivolous or cruel if it means he can peel away some of her voters.
This is an Op-Ed written by Dr. Amartya Sen for the NYTimes. Dr. Sen is Thomas W. Lamont University Professor, and Professor of Economics and Philosophy, at Harvard University and was until 2004 the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. He is also Senior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. Earlier on, he was Professor of Economics at Jadavpur University Calcutta, the Delhi School of Economics, and the London School of Economics, and Drummond Professor of Political Economy at Oxford University. To top this already impressive resume, Dr. Sen Nobel was awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize in economic sciences for his work on welfare economics and social choice theory. Briefly stated, Dr. Sen is an authority in the field.
The Crisis of European Democracy
By AMARTYA SEN
May 22, 2012Cambridge, Mass.
IF proof were needed of the maxim that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the economic crisis in Europe provides it. The worthy but narrow intentions of the European Union’s policy makers have been inadequate for a sound European economy and have produced instead a world of misery, chaos and confusion.
There are two reasons for this.
First, intentions can be respectable without being clearheaded, and the foundations of the current austerity policy, combined with the rigidities of Europe’s monetary union (in the absence of fiscal union), have hardly been a model of cogency and sagacity. Second, an intention that is fine on its own can conflict with a more urgent priority — in this case, the preservation of a democratic Europe that is concerned about societal well-being. These are values for which Europe has fought, over many decades.
Certainly, some European countries have long needed better economic accountability and more responsible economic management. However, timing is crucial; reform on a well-thought-out timetable must be distinguished from reform done in extreme haste. Greece, for all of its accountability problems, was not in an economic crisis before the global recession in 2008. (In fact, its economy grew by 4.6 percent in 2006 and 3 percent in 2007 before beginning its continuing shrinkage.)
The cause of reform, no matter how urgent, is not well served by the unilateral imposition of sudden and savage cuts in public services. Such indiscriminate cutting slashes demand — a counterproductive strategy, given huge unemployment and idle productive enterprises that have been decimated by the lack of market demand. In Greece, one of the countries left behind by productivity increases elsewhere, economic stimulation through monetary policy (currency devaluation) has been precluded by the existence of the European monetary union, while the fiscal package demanded by the Continent’s leaders is severely anti-growth. Economic output in the euro zone continued to decline in the fourth quarter of last year, and the outlook has been so grim that a recent report finding zero growth in the first quarter of this year was widely greeted as good news.
There is, in fact, plenty of historical evidence that the most effective way to cut deficits is to combine deficit reduction with rapid economic growth, which generates more revenue. The huge deficits after World War II largely disappeared with fast economic growth, and something similar happened during Bill Clinton’s presidency. The much praised reduction of the Swedish budget deficit from 1994 to 1998 occurred alongside fairly rapid growth. In contrast, European countries today are being asked to cut their deficits while remaining trapped in zero or negative economic growth.
There are surely lessons here from John Maynard Keynes, who understood that the state and the market are interdependent. But Keynes had little to say about social justice, including the political commitments with which Europe emerged after World War II. These led to the birth of the modern welfare state and national health services — not to support a market economy but to protect human well-being.
Though these social issues did not engage Keynes deeply, there is an old tradition in economics of combining efficient markets with the provision of public services that the market may not be able to deliver. As Adam Smith (often seen simplistically as the first guru of free-market economics) wrote in “The Wealth of Nations,” there are “two distinct objects” of an economy: “first, to provide a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people, or, more properly, to enable them to provide such a revenue or subsistence for themselves; and secondly, to supply the state or commonwealth with a revenue sufficient for the public services.”
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Europe’s current malaise is the replacement of democratic commitments by financial dictates — from leaders of the European Union and the European Central Bank, and indirectly from credit-rating agencies, whose judgments have been notoriously unsound.
Participatory public discussion — the “government by discussion” expounded by democratic theorists like John Stuart Mill and Walter Bagehot — could have identified appropriate reforms over a reasonable span of time, without threatening the foundations of Europe’s system of social justice. In contrast, drastic cuts in public services with very little general discussion of their necessity, efficacy or balance have been revolting to a large section of the European population and have played into the hands of extremists on both ends of the political spectrum.
Europe cannot revive itself without addressing two areas of political legitimacy. First, Europe cannot hand itself over to the unilateral views — or good intentions — of experts without public reasoning and informed consent of its citizens. Given the transparent disdain for the public, it is no surprise that in election after election the public has shown its dissatisfaction by voting out incumbents.
Second, both democracy and the chance of creating good policy are undermined when ineffective and blatantly unjust policies are dictated by leaders. The obvious failure of the austerity mandates imposed so far has undermined not only public participation — a value in itself — but also the possibility of arriving at a sensible, and sensibly timed, solution.
This is a surely a far cry from the “united democratic Europe” that the pioneers of European unity sought.
No Mr. Wolfgang Schäuble, the euro won’t survive Greece’s exit
The German minister of Finance, Wolfgang Schäuble, stated in an interview with the “Rheinische Post” on 11 May 2012 that Europe has the capacities to cope with a Greek euro area exit. He went on to say that Germany and its partners have learned a lot during the last two years and have put in place several protection mechanisms. Basically, this is a strong signal from one of the highest German officials stating that the euro can survive without Greece. Let me say this upfront: No, the euro—and probably the whole European Union project–cannot survive Greece’s exit from the Eurozone. Schäuble’s statement could have been correct if it was given 2 years ago. But now, his statement is tantamount to a Eurozone suicide. And this is why.
However, before we get to why Greece’s exit from the Eurozone would lead to the total collapse of the euro as a currency and probably to the collapse of the European Union as an ambitious yet salutary political project, we need to briefly remember how we got to this point.
The project of the European Union started or was imagined as a purely political project by its founding fathers. On the ruins of the disastrous and destructive second World War, Robert Shumann, Jean Monet, Alcide De Gasperi, Paul Henri Spaak and Konrad Adenauer (two Frenchmen, an Italian, a Belgium, and a German respectively) began imagining a political project that would knit together the different European countries and make the prospect of another destructive war between European countries an impossible endeavor. Of course, this started with a closer economic cooperation limited to a certain number of goods and services and just between a small numbers of countries, which would later on represent the core countries of the European Union. This limited economic cooperation created a spillover effect, and over time, more goods and services were included and more countries wished to join. Long story short, this economic cooperation spilled over into a political cooperation and led to the necessity of creating a common currency—i.e., the euro.
After the Maastricht Treaty (also know as the Treaty on the European Union) was adopted and ratified by most of the countries, the euro was introduced. It was first introduced to the financial markets as an accounting currency in 1999 (it replaced the old ECU) and then introduced in circulation in 17 of the 27 EU member states replacing their national currencies in 2002. The introduction of the euro caused a certain euphoria in the financial markets. Suddenly, countries that were deemed risky for investment saw a drastic influx of cheap capital—i.e., loans. Basically, cheap money started pouring in southern European countries like Greece, Italy, Spain, and even in Ireland and Austria. Belonging to the Eurozone made these countries safe places, though some of them had deep structural flaws (as we came to discover that later on). This influx of cheap capital financed huge housing boom-like bubbles and increased trade deficits. And then, the 2007-2008 financial crisis hit. It started in the U.S., but soon migrated to the European continent. The influx of cheap money dried up. This caused severe economic slowdowns and downturns in almost all of the Eurozone.
Since the European Union is an unfinished economic integration project topped by an even more unfinished political integration, countries like Greece, Spain, and Italy were literally up the creek without a paddle. The economic crisis of 2008 led to a huge fiscal crisis in these countries since they had no control over their monetary policies, and they were obliged to keep their budgetary spending within the 3% allowed by the EU agreements. However, in a time of severe economic crisis, one needs to engage in fiscal deficit spending in order to get out of the hole. The last thing a country needs is drastic cut in public spending. Why? Because drastic cuts in public spending lowers consumption, which lowers demand, which leads to less investments, which leads to less revenues. And the more austerity measure a given country adopts, the more it reinforces this infernal downward spiral. But what did the EU leaders do? They did exactly what they should not have done.
Germany and France (Sarkozy’s France) forced most of the EU members to engage in drastic public spending cuts hoping that fiscal discipline would calm financial markets and stop speculations. However, these EU leaders misread completely the message that most financial markets have been sending. They were not looking for strict fiscal discipline, though some discipline doesn’t hurt. They were looking for serious economic growth prospects. Since spending cuts depress economic growth (just look at the economic growth in the Eurozone countries in the last 2 years and you notice that cuts caused economic stagnation and recession in France, Spain, the UK, Italy, Greece, and so forth), investors and bond markets lost confidence in the Eurozone, and that led to higher interest rates on short term borrowing. Not only are these countries killing their economic growth with all those drastic cuts, but also they can’t even find cheap capital to fund short-term operations. Consequence: 3 European countries—Greece, Spain, and Italy—are on the verge of total economic collapse and serious political turmoil.
So, what if we let Greece out of the Eurozone like Wolfgang Schäuble wants? What would happen to the rest of the Eurozone?
Let us game this scenario for a second.
As we speak, Greece is under a slow-moving financial blitzkrieg. There is a slow moving bank-run on the Greek banks (or what the bankers call a bank-jog). What does that mean? It means that depositors are pulling out their capital to anticipate a possible Greek default or an exit from the Eurozone. This bank-jog has been going on at a very low rate for the last 2 or 3 months, but it has accelerated since the last legislative elections. However, the ECB is backstopping, or for the lack of a better word, financing this bank-jog through lending to Greek banks the necessary capital. More accurately, the Greek banks are using the emergency liquidity assistance until the EFSF (European Financial Stability Facility) agrees to release its bonds, so they can use them as collateral.
However, when the ECB decides to stop financing Greek banks (and that’s what the German minister of Finance, Wolfgang Schäuble, means), Greece would effectively be forced to leave the Eurozone and abandon the euro as a currency, and revert to issuing again its own national currency, the drachma.
The first fallout of such a move is that financial markets would lose total confidence in every Eurozone countries. Greece leaving the Eurozone means that the euro is reversible, and any country could decide to abandon it. Do you remember that bank-jog we just talked about in the previous paragraph? Well, that bank-job would turn into a bank-run on Spanish, Italian, Irish, and possibly French banks. All investors and all financial markets would pull out all of their money at once. Ladies and gentlemen, no bank in the world and in the history of banking has had enough cash or securities in its vaults to face a cataclysmic event like this one. This means that most banks in Spain and Italy would collapse overnight. A large numbers of banks in France, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, and Belgium would also collapse. This would trigger a worldwide chain reaction and some U.S, Japanese, and Russian banks exposed to Eurozone debts would also be severally affected.
What we would be looking at is a total blow-up of the European Union and a severe global depression.
This is what it means to let Greece leave the Eurozone now. On top of the financial and economic global calamity, we would also have a political one. The rise of extreme right and left political parties in Europe and elsewhere would surely be the most likely political outcome. Mainstream parties would be blamed for the catastrophe and would be completely discredited in the eyes of most voters, which would directly benefit the extreme right and extreme left political leaders.
What to do then to avoid such a calamity? Not only must Greece stay in the Eurozone, but also a more encompassing political economy must be devised. First, the mutualization of the debt must be organized. Second, the ECB must be restructured to issue euro-bonds so member states can directly borrow from the ECB at low rate instead of borrowing from banks. Third, a serious economic growth agenda must be considered so countries like Spain, Italy and others could trigger decent economic growth rates and emerge from the infernal cycle of austerity and depression.
Finally, the ECB must increase the Eurozone inflation rate to at least 4%. Why? In a recession, you expect average wages to adjust to a lower level. As the unemployment rate increases, workers are willing to accept lower wages, and as wages decrease, employers become more willing to hire more workers. If this does not occur, the recessionary cycle deepens and becomes persistent. There are several ways to fix this problem, but let us concentrate on the one most suited for the Eurozone. One of the problems in Spain, Italy, Greece and most of Europe is that their workers have become increasingly uncompetitive over the past decade—higher wages, high unemployment rates, and low investments leading to a highly uncompetitive Eurozone worker. One way to correct this is by devaluing the currency, which would effectively reduce wages in a country compared to the rest of Europe. But this solution is not available to most Eurozone member states because they do not have control over their monetary policies. The Eurozone monetary policy is dictated by the ECB. So how do you reduce wages in those countries when you can’t manipulate your currency? Well keep wages constant, but allow a higher inflation rate. If the ECB allows the inflation rate to run at a 4% level, you effectively get no wage increase, but an effective drop by 4%. This would increase the competitive edge of the European worker.
This is the only way out. But to reach these set of solutions, the ECB and the Germans need to get over their obsession about spending, inflation, price stability, and moral hazard. If Angela Merkel keeps on doing what she has been doing and keeps on bullying the rest of the Eurozone member states into these suicidal austerity programs, she would literally cause the collapse of the European Union. Lastly, the ECB needs to embrace its function as an independent central bank facing drastic economic crisis with a possible political and economic collapse of the whole area. The ECB needs to get over its rigid ideology of price stability and face reality. Otherwise, there will not be an ECB in a couple of years.
FRANCOIS HOLLANDE EST ELU PRESIDENT
Ambiance à Tulle à l’annonce des résultats
More detailed results: Paris
- François Hollande l’emporte dans le 2e (57,6%), le 3e (61,35%), le 4e (54,96%), le 5e (56,22%), le 9e (54,19%), le 10e (69,39%), le 11e (67,76%), le 13e (65,27%), le 14e (60,26%), le 18e (70,31%), le 19e (67,64%) et le 20e arrondissement (71,83%).
- Nicolas Sarkozy arrive en tête dans le 1er (52,17%), le 6e (57,66%), le 7e (71,76%), le 8e (72,47%), le 15e (54,50%), le 16e (78,01%) et le 17e arrondissement (58,22%).
More detailed results:
- A Sablé (Sarthe), la ville de François Fillon, Nicolas Sarkozy recueille 52,89% des voix, contre 57,16% en 2007.
- A Saint-Quentin (Aisne), ville dont Xavier Bertrand est maire, François Hollande (54,18%) devance largement Nicolas Sarkozy (45,82%).
- A Troyes (Aube), où François Baroin est maire, Nicolas Sarkozy (50,39%) compte seulement 171 voix d’avance sur François Hollande.
- A Nancy (Meurthe-et-Moselle), fief de Nadine Morano, où Nicolas Sarkozy était arrivé en tête il y a cinq ans, François Hollande (55%) compte dix points d’avance sur le président sortant.
- Au Puy-en-Velay (Haute-Loire), ville dont Laurent Wauquiez est maire, François Hollande (55,89%) arrive très nettement devant Nicolas Sarkozy.
- A Chaumont (Haute-Marne), ville de Luc Chatel, François Hollande arrive également en tête avec 51,85% des voix.
UPDATE 26: (RTS) Comme l’annonçaient tous les sondages, François Hollande deviendra bien le nouveau président de la République française à l’issue du deuxième tour du scrutin présidentiel ce dimanche. Il a remporté, selon les premières estimations (pas encore définitives), entre 52,5% et 53,3% des voix contre 46,7% à 47,5% pour son adversaire, Nicolas Sarkozy, le président sortant qui devrait donc quitter donc l’Elysée le 15 mai prochain.
UPDATE 25: EXPLOSION DE JOIE RUE SOLFERINO
UPDATE 24: 19H09– AGENCE FRANCE PRESS (AFP): FRANÇOIS HOLLANDE ÉLU PRESIDENT DE LA REPUBLIQUE
UPDATE 23: (LE MATIN) NOUVEAUX CHIFFRES CONFIRMANT, VOIRE AFFINANT LA VICTOIRE DE LA GAUCHE: ENTRE 52,7 ET 53,3% DES VOIX POUR VOIX POUR FRANÇOIS HOLLANDE, SELON LH2 (LOUIS HARRIS), 53,3% POUR INTERACTIVE, 52% SELON CSA.
UPDATE 22: 19:01 (RTBF) LE JOURNALISTE DE LA RTBF DECLARE, “C’EST PLIE, FRANCOIS HOLLANDE LE PROCHAIN PRESIDENT DE LA FRANCE”
UPDATE 21: 18h55 (RTBF) : FRANÇOIS HOLLANDE AURAIT GAGNÉ LES ÉLECTIONS PRÉSIDENTIELLES. La fourchette reste a déterminer quand même
UPDATE 20: 18h51: La foule crie victoire rue de Solférino, le siège de PS, alors que l’ambiance est plus tendue à la Mutualité, où Nicolas Sarkozy doit s’exprimer.
UPDATE 19: 18H49: RTBF CALLED THE ELECTION FOR FRANCOIS HOLLANDE. THE ONLY THING THAT STILL TO BE DETERMINED IS THE EXTENT OF THE VICTORY.
UPDATE 18: 18H47: Pierre Moscovici, directeur de campagne de François Hollande: «On ressent de l’émotion, on attend».
UPDATE 17: 18h37: Selon le journal Suisse, Le Matin, “La victoire de François Hollande se confirme”
UPDATE 16: 18h01: selon l’entourage de François Hollande, le socialiste s’envolera de Brives à destination de Paris à bord d’un avion privé aux alentours de 22h, quel que soit le résultat.
UPDATE 15: 18h00: des proches de Nicolas Sarkozy arrivent à l’Elysée: sa porte-parole Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet et son conseiller spécial Henri Guaino.
UPDATE 14: 18h00–LES TENDANCES DES 3 INSTITUTS DONNENT TOUJOURS FRANCOIS HOLLANDE EN TETE AVEC 52% ET 53%.
UPDATE 13: 17h00 (selon RTS et RTFB) SONDAGES DES SORTIES DES BUREAUX DE VOTE SELONG LES 3 GRANDS INSTITUTS DE SONDAGE.
HARRIS: FRANCOIS HOLLANDE 53%, NICOLAS SARKOZY 47%
IFOP: FRANCOIS HOLLANDE 52.5%, NICOLAS SARKOZY 47.5%
SOFRES: FRANCOIS HOLLANDE 53%, NICOLAS SARKOZY 47%
UPDATE 12: Selon le Ministere de l’Interieur, le taux de participation a 17h00 etait de 71.96%
A bit of humor to relax the tension of this electoral night
En directe de la frontiere Franco-Suisse
UPDATE 11: On commence à s’affairer devant le siège du Parti socialiste, rue de Solférino à Paris.
UPDATE 10: 16h52 (Tweets des correspondants de la RTS) Des militants commencent à arriver à la Bastille, où François Hollande avait prévu de faire la fête en cas de victoire. Des écrans géants commencent à être installés
UPDATE 9: (source: Le Monde, RTBF, RTS) François Hollande, s’il est élu président, devrait avoir dans la soirée un échange avec la chancelière allemande Angela Merkel, a indiqué un de ses plus proches ami, Jean-Marc Ayrault, le maire de Nantes (ouest).
UPDATE 8: a 16h30 (source RTS) On commence à s’affairer devant le siège du Parti socialiste, rue de Solférino à Paris, comme le montre ce cliché de France Télévisions:
UPDATE 7: a 16h10 (source RTS) Nicolas Sarkozy se trouve à son bureau de l’Elysée, où il doit attendre les résultats du scrutin en compagnie de ses conseillers.
UPDATE 6: RESULTATS DES AMERIQUES (SOURCES: RTBF, RTSINFO)
Voici un premier apercu des résultats partiels des Amériques. La participation a augmentè en moyenne de 3 a 4% par rapport au 1er tour. En règle générale, François Hollande fait le plein des voix de gauche et gagne environ le tiers des voix de François Bayrou.
FRANCOIS HOLLANDE gagne à Montreal (près de 57,74%), à Toronto (51% – la gauche n’y avait jamais triomphe), au Pérou (55%), en Argentine (51,7%), en Colombie (58,82%) et au Honduras (56%). Il comble l’ecart avec la droite au Mexique (47,3%), au Bresil (47% – ou il gagne à Rio, Brasilia et Recife), au Costa Rica (44,1%) et au Chili (44%).
UPDATE 5: (SOURCES: RTBF, RTSINFO) Selon les premières tendances et les sondages de sortie des urnes de 3 grand instituts de sondages, François Hollande serait en tête
UPDATE 4: (SOURCES: RTBF, RTSINFO) RESULTATS DES DEPARTEMENTS D’OUTRE-MER
Nous avons les premiers résultats pour le second tour de la présidentielle française en provenance des départements d’Outre-mer.
Saint-Pierre et Miquelon: François Hollande 65%, Nicolas Sarkozy 35% ;
Martinique: Francois Hollande 68,5%, pour Nicolas Sarkozy 35.1%
Guadeloupe: François Hollande 72%
Guyane: Francois Hollande 62%
Saint-Martin: François Hollande avec 51,5 %, tandis que Nicolas Sarkozy ne serait en tête que dans la petite île de Saint-Barthélémy, avec près de 83% des voix exprimées.
UPDATE 3: INFORMATION RTBF–Trois grands instituts de sondages annoncent donc le candidat socialiste François Hollande en tête avec entre 52,5 et 53% des voix. Cela dit ces résutats ne portent que sur les votes du matin (jusqu’à 11h) et il faut encore tenir de la traditionnelle marge d’erreur. Ces résultats sont donc encore à prendre avec précautions à ce stade.
UPDATE 2: RTSINFO– Selon des sondages effectués à la sortie d’une série de bureaux de vote, deux instituts donnent actuellement François Hollande vainqueur de l’élection présidentielle française avec une majorité de 52,5 à 53% des voix.
UPDATE 1: Le taux de participation était, dimanche à midi, de 30,66% en métropole, selon le ministère de l’Intérieur. Ce taux est en baisse par rapport à celui enregistré à la même heure en 2007 (34,11%, marqué il est vrai par une forte mobilisation). Au premier tour le 22 avril dernier, ce taux avait atteint les 28,29% à midi.
We welcome our readers from all over the world. I see that you are already hit the “refresh button” hard and i think there will be thousands of you from France, Europe, and Africa. I promise you that we will be starting our live coverage of the first estimations and exit polls now. Buckle up, this is going to be a “close” right. Let’s Go!
Comme nous l’avons fait pour le premier tour, Nous allons aussi publier les résultats du premier du deuxième tour des élections présidentielles françaises le 6 Mai à 18:30 heure françaises et 12:30 heure Americaine.
Dès que les résultats (ou résultats partiels) seront disponibles, nous les publierons et les posterons sur ce blog.
Alors restez à l’écoute et venez sur le blog le 6 Mai autour de 18h30 pour avoir les deuxième résultats du tour avant tout le monde.
We did it for the first round, and we were successful in getting the results and publishing there before almost everyone. Well, we are doing it again for the second around. We will be publishing the results of the second round of the French presidential elections at 18:30 or as soon as we have them. We are not bound by the French law banning the publication of partial results before 20:00, and therefore there is no justification for us to hold on to the results until 20:00 (or 14:00 EST).
So as soon as we have partial results (and we expect to have them at 18:30 French time and 12:30 EST), we will post them right the way on this blog.
So, stay tuned and check our blog on Mai 6 at 18:30 (if you live in France) and at 12:30 American EST.
If you read some of my previous posts on the economy and the crisis of the eurozone, you would know already my opinion about the stupidity of fiscal austerity during recessionary cycle. Well, i hate to say it, but i have been right all along. This past week, however, more and more European policymakers have been softly whispering another tune and getting themselves ready to leave the sinking austerity policy ship to board the demand-side one. It warms my heart that they have finally seen the light.
Of course, i wasn’t the only person highly critical of fiscal austerity. Paul Krugman, one of the most brilliant economists out there, has been arguing the same point since the beginning of the crisis.
Those of you who do not know Dr. Paul Krugman, well he is Professor of Economics and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, Centenary Professor at the London School of Economics, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics (aka Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences) for his work on New Trade Theory and New Economic Geography. Since the beginning of the crisis, Dr. Krugman has been writing a series of articles in the New Times explaining the origin(s) of the crisis and advocating for the soundest way of getting out of it. Needless to say that Dr. Krugman has been right on almost everything he has said.
Here is his latest article that he could’ve titled it, “I told you So!”
Death of a Fairy Tale
By PAUL KRUGMAN
This was the month the confidence fairy died.
For the past two years most policy makers in Europe and many politicians and pundits in America have been in thrall to a destructive economic doctrine. According to this doctrine, governments should respond to a severely depressed economy not the way the textbooks say they should — by spending more to offset falling private demand — but with fiscal austerity, slashing spending in an effort to balance their budgets.
Critics warned from the beginning that austerity in the face of depression would only make that depression worse. But the “austerians” insisted that the reverse would happen. Why? Confidence! “Confidence-inspiring policies will foster and not hamper economic recovery,” declared Jean-Claude Trichet, the former president of the European Central Bank — a claim echoed by Republicans in Congress here. Or as I put it way back when, the idea was that the confidence fairy would come in and reward policy makers for their fiscal virtue.
The good news is that many influential people are finally admitting that the confidence fairy was a myth. The bad news is that despite this admission there seems to be little prospect of a near-term course change either in Europe or here in America, where we never fully embraced the doctrine, but have, nonetheless, had de facto austerity in the form of huge spending and employment cuts at the state and local level.
So, about that doctrine: appeals to the wonders of confidence are something Herbert Hoover would have found completely familiar — and faith in the confidence fairy has worked out about as well for modern Europe as it did for Hoover’s America. All around Europe’s periphery, from Spain to Latvia, austerity policies have produced Depression-level slumps and Depression-level unemployment; the confidence fairy is nowhere to be seen, not even in Britain, whose turn to austerity two years ago was greeted with loud hosannas by policy elites on both sides of the Atlantic.
None of this should come as news, since the failure of austerity policies to deliver as promised has long been obvious. Yet European leaders spent years in denial, insisting that their policies would start working any day now, and celebrating supposed triumphs on the flimsiest of evidence. Notably, the long-suffering (literally) Irish have been hailed as a success story not once but twice, in early 2010 and again in the fall of 2011. Each time the supposed success turned out to be a mirage; three years into its austerity program, Ireland has yet to show any sign of real recovery from a slump that has driven the unemployment rate to almost 15 percent.
However, something has changed in the past few weeks. Several events — the collapse of the Dutch government over proposed austerity measures, the strong showing of the vaguely anti-austerity François Hollande in the first round of France’s presidential election, and an economic report showing that Britain is doing worse in the current slump than it did in the 1930s — seem to have finally broken through the wall of denial. Suddenly, everyone is admitting that austerity isn’t working.
The question now is what they’re going to do about it. And the answer, I fear, is: not much.
For one thing, while the austerians seem to have given up on hope, they haven’t given up on fear — that is, on the claim that if we don’t slash spending, even in a depressed economy, we’ll turn into Greece, with sky-high borrowing costs.
Now, claims that only austerity can pacify bond markets have proved every bit as wrong as claims that the confidence fairy will bring prosperity. Almost three years have passed since The Wall Street Journal breathlessly warned that the attack of the bond vigilantes on U.S. debt had begun; not only have borrowing costs remained low, they’ve actually fallen by half. Japan has faced dire warnings about its debt for more than a decade; as of this week, it could borrow long term at an interest rate of less than 1 percent.
And serious analysts now argue that fiscal austerity in a depressed economy is probably self-defeating: by shrinking the economy and hurting long-term revenue, austerity probably makes the debt outlook worse rather than better.
But while the confidence fairy appears to be well and truly buried, deficit scare stories remain popular. Indeed, defenders of British policies dismiss any call for a rethinking of these policies, despite their evident failure to deliver, on the grounds that any relaxation of austerity would cause borrowing costs to soar.
So we’re now living in a world of zombie economic policies — policies that should have been killed by the evidence that all of their premises are wrong, but which keep shambling along nonetheless. And it’s anyone’s guess when this reign of error will end.
One thing has be said about Jean Luc Melenchon: without him, the French presidential would be boring to death. Not only does he infuse a super dose of enthusiasm in the campaign with his speeches, demeanor, and charisma, but his supporters are also uber fervent and active on the net. And they have a very wicked sense of humor. Look at what they did with the official posters of almost all other candidates. Just sit back, watch and laugh.
France: Après “Nicolas Le Pen” du Wall Street Journal, voici “Sarkozy sur la route de la bassesse” du New York Times.
In less than 2 days, Nicolas Sarkozy performed a miracle; he brought the editorial page of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal together. Something that we have not seen in a while and we are not about to see any time soon. Indeed, the WSJ editorial page, a bastion of the right and conservatism, has rarely agreed on anything with the editorial page of the NYTimes. Well, Sarkozy’s awfully xenophobic campaign was something that the American left and right agreed to disagree with. Ugly, xenophobic, desperate, racist, radical, divisive, anti-Muslim, frivolous and so on are only a few adjectives used by the NYTimes and the WSJournal editorialists to describe Sarkozy’s campaign. These are journalists and columnists who are used to the rough and tumble American style of politics, and yet they stand bewildered by what Sarkozy and his team have been doing and saying during this campaign.
March 14, 2012
Mr. Sarkozy on the Low Road
Yesterday, in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, i read one of the most damning Op-Ed pieces that i have ever read about a politician. The Wall Street Journal, which can hardly be accused of sympathizing with the left or described as a bastion of liberalism, especially its editorial pages, literally indicted Nicolas Sarkozy as an extreme right candidate. Their reasons? Well, Sarkozy has gone so far to the right in his rhetoric that he is no longer a representative of the mainstream right, but a representative of the radical right. According to the WSJ, Sarkozy can no longer be distinguished from Marine or Jean Marie Le Pen.
Instead of summarizing the editorial piece, i let you read it and make up your mind.
- REVIEW & OUTLOOK EUROPE
- March 13, 2012
Nicolas Le Pen
Even by local standards, the French President’s recent burst of xenophobia is pretty cynical.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has ramped up the anti-immigrant rhetoric in recent days, telling a TV audience last week that France has “too many foreigners” and offering to cut the number of immigrants admitted to France by half should he be re-elected to a second term. Then on Sunday, before a monster rally in a stadium near Paris, he threatened to suspend France’s participation in Schengen, Europe’s internal borderless-travel zone, unless it is reformed to better keep out the great unwashed.
Even in France, it rarely gets more cynical than this. The attacks on immigration are an attempt to woo supporters of Marine Le Pen’s xenophobic National Front ahead of the first-round poll on April 22. Mr. Sarkozy trails his Socialist rival, Francois Hollande, 29% to 27%, according to a recent poll for Paris Match magazine. Ms. Le Pen comes in third at 17%. Little wonder that’s where the Sarkozy camp is now mining for votes.
Associated PressFrench President Nicolas Sarkozy
Still, the immigration talk is mainly a cover for French anxiety over their increasingly rickety welfare state. Mr. Hollande’s answer for keeping the system afloat is a 75% top marginal income-tax rate, which may do something for emigration but won’t do anything to improve France’s budgetary health. Mr. Sarkozy, by contrast, argues that “at a time of economic crisis, if Europe doesn’t control who can enter its borders, it won’t be able to finance its welfare state any longer.”
This is an ugly thought, not only for the ugly sentiments on which it plays but also as a textbook example of economic illiteracy. Not least among the threats to France’s welfare state is an aging (and increasingly long-lived) population and a birth rate that—while the highest in Europe—is still below the replacement rate. Barring fundamental cultural changes, only immigration can maintain an active work force large enough to pay for the growing rolls of pensioners and dependents.
The real task for the French government is to ensure that those immigrants are assimilating properly, and to create economic conditions in which they can thrive with the rest of France. Mr. Sarkozy no doubt understands that. But we wonder if Mr. Sarkozy also understands that transparent displays of cynicism like this one have brought him to his current political predicament.
For months, I have been arguing that economic austerity in time of severe economic downturn is highly counter-productive. The last thing the economy of a country needs when a country is going through a recessionary cycle (or experiencing a contraction of its economic activities like in many European countries) is a drastic reduction of public spending. The reason for that is very simple: when the economy is in a recessionary cycle, an influx of spending (even deficit spending) is a must to boost and trigger economic growth, consumption, create jobs, and restart the economic engines against. Once those economic engines are restarted, then an increase in taxes (on the highest brackets) and progressive cuts in spending (spending in non-economic growth sectors) can be established again. Cutting spending when spending is needed the most is like depriving a patient of a blood transfusion when that patient is heavily hemorrhaging from every orifice, which would ultimately lead to the death of the patient.
Well, European countries of the eurozone such as France, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and i add to them the U.K (I am not even going to talk about Greece in this post. My position on Greece has been clearly stated in previous posts here and specially here) have been engaged in drastic reductions of their public spending since the beginning of this crisis. These are the infamous austerity policy packages that most eurozone countries (and the U.K) have put in place to calm down financial markets. The result is an economic growth close to zero in almost all the eurozone (and the U.K). The economic forecast for 2013 and 2014 if the same policies are followed is even worse–i.e., an economic growth around 0% leading to a long lasting recession, high unemployment, and even higher public deficits. These countries fundamentally misunderstood the demands of the financial markets. What markets (across the globe) have demanded since the beginning of the euroze crisis is not an immediate and a drastic reduction of public deficits, but credible plans and policies for generating positive economic growth again. Most markets have already factored in and digested the fact that the eurozone countries have high deficits and those deficits won’t be reduced anytime soon, and the debt won’t be repaid in the foreseeable future. There is nothing that can be done about that in the short-term, and worrying about balancing budgets and cutting spending during a recession is an economic suicide.
This fundamental misunderstanding of the crisis led most European political leaders (best example of this misguided strategy is David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy) to engage in crafting crazy austerity packages to reduce the yield on government bonds and securities (which means in everyday language, borrowing money at a lower interest rate). And in doing so, these political leaders sacrificed long-term economic growth for short-term financial gain and an ephemeral stability. At the end, they pretty much got nothing (most eurozone countries lost their triple-A rating–except Germany–and most eurozone banks are in a bad financial situation). This strategy would only lead to the deepening of the economic downturn on the short-term, and turning it into a long-term economic stagnation.
This is what has been happening in the eurozone countries (and England), and the data recently released by the IMF, OECD, and the Government Growth & Development Center illustrate that clearly. Countries engaged in cutting spending (what i call slash-and-burn-economics) and austerity policies are performing worse than countries that did not. In fact, the data show that countries that adopted austerity packages have worsened their economic situation.
For a better understanding of this, i yield the floor to Dr. Paul Krugman, Professor of Economics and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, Centenary Professor at the London School of Economics, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics (aka Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences) for his work on New Trade Theory and New Economic Geography. Since the beginning of the crisis, Dr. Krugman has been writing a series of articles in the New Times explaining the origin(s) of the crisis and advocating for the soundest way of getting out of it. Needless to say that Dr. Krugman has been right on almost everything he has said.
January 22, 2012
Is Our Economy Healing?
By PAUL KRUGMAN
How goes the state of the union? Well, the state of the economy remains terrible. Three years after President Obama’s inauguration and two and a half years since the official end of the recession, unemployment remains painfully high.
But there are reasons to think that we’re finally on the (slow) road to better times. And we wouldn’t be on that road if Mr. Obama had given in to Republican demands that he slash spending, or the Federal Reserve had given in to Republican demands that it tighten money.
Why am I letting a bit of optimism break through the clouds? Recent economic data have been a bit better, but we’ve already had several false dawns on that front. More important, there’s evidence that the two great problems at the root of our slump — the housing bust and excessive private debt — are finally easing.
On housing: as everyone now knows (but oh, the abuse heaped on anyone pointing it out while it was happening!), we had a monstrous housing bubble between 2000 and 2006. Home prices soared, and there was clearly a lot of overbuilding. When the bubble burst, construction — which had been the economy’s main driver during the alleged “Bush boom” — plunged.
But the bubble began deflating almost six years ago; house prices are back to 2003 levels. And after a protracted slump in housing starts, America now looks seriously underprovided with houses, at least by historical standards.
So why aren’t people going out and buying? Because the depressed state of the economy leaves many people who would normally be buying homes either unable to afford them or too worried about job prospects to take the risk.
But the economy is depressed, in large part, because of the housing bust, which immediately suggests the possibility of a virtuous circle: an improving economy leads to a surge in home purchases, which leads to more construction, which strengthens the economy further, and so on. And if you squint hard at recent data, it looks as if something like that may be starting: home sales are up, unemployment claims are down, and builders’ confidence is rising.
Furthermore, the chances for a virtuous circle have been rising, because we’ve made significant progress on the debt front.
That’s not what you hear in public debate, of course, where all the focus is on rising government debt. But anyone who has looked seriously at how we got into this slump knows that private debt, especially household debt, was the real culprit: it was the explosion of household debt during the Bush years that set the stage for the crisis. And the good news is that this private debt has declined in dollar terms, and declined substantially as a percentage of G.D.P., since the end of 2008.
There are, of course, still big risks — above all, the risk that trouble in Europe could derail our own incipient recovery. And thereby hangs a tale — a tale told by a recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute.
The report tracks progress on “deleveraging,” the process of bringing down excessive debt levels. It documents substantial progress in the United States, which it contrasts with failure to make progress in Europe. And while the report doesn’t say this explicitly, it’s pretty clear why Europe is doing worse than we are: it’s because European policy makers have been afraid of the wrong things.
In particular, the European Central Bank has been worrying about inflation — even raising interest rates during 2011, only to reverse course later in the year — rather than worrying about how to sustain economic recovery. And fiscal austerity, which is supposed to limit the increase in government debt, has depressed the economy, making it impossible to achieve urgently needed reductions in private debt. The end result is that for all their moralizing about the evils of borrowing, the Europeans aren’t making any progress against excessive debt — whereas we are.
Back to the U.S. situation: my guarded optimism should not be taken as a statement that all is well. We have already suffered enormous, unnecessary damage because of an inadequate response to the slump. We have failed to provide significant mortgage relief, which could have moved us much more quickly to lower debt. And even if my hoped-for virtuous circle is getting under way, it will be years before we get to anything resembling full employment.
But things could have been worse; they would have been worse if we had followed the policies demanded by Mr. Obama’s opponents. For as I said at the beginning, Republicans have been demanding that the Fed stop trying to bring down interest rates and that federal spending be slashed immediately — which amounts to demanding that we emulate Europe’s failure.
And if this year’s election brings the wrong ideology to power, America’s nascent recovery might well be snuffed out.
January 26, 2012, 11:04 am
The Greater Depression
One thing everyone always says is that while this Lesser Depression may be bad, it’s nothing like the Great Depression.
But this is in part an America-centered view: we had a very bad Great Depression, and have done better than many other countries this time around. As Jonathan Portes at Not the Treasury View points out, the ongoing slump in Britain is now longer and deeper than the slump in the 1930s (the figure shows how far real GDP was below its previous peak in various British recessions; the red line is 1930-34, the black line the current slump):
I believe that when I began criticizing the Cameron government’s push for austerity, some right-leaning British papers demanded that I shut up. But the original critique of austerity is holding up pretty well, if you ask me.
January 28, 2012, 1:47 pm
The Worse-than Club
No, it isn’t.
The NIESR has developed a monthly GDP series for Britain, which lets it use real-time data for the comparison. I can’t replicate that, but I can use the Maddison historical data and IMF data — including projections for 2012 and 2013 — to do some comparisons. When you do this for the UK, the worse-than pops right out (I use annual data; year zero is 1929 or 2007, and real GDP is expressed as a percentage of the pre-crisis peak in each case):
France and Germany are doing much better than in the early 1930s — but then France and Germany had terrible, deflationist policies in the early 1930s. (It was the Brüning deflation, not the Weimar inflation, that brought you-know-who to power).
With two of Europe’s big four economies doing worse than they did in the Great Depression, at least in terms of GDP — and that’s three of five if you count Spain — do you think the austerity advocates might consider that maybe, possibly, they’re on the wrong track?January 29, 2012
The Austerity Debacle
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Last week the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, a British think tank, released a startling chart comparing the current slump with past recessions and recoveries. It turns out that by one important measure — changes in real G.D.P. since the recession began — Britain is doing worse this time than it did during the Great Depression. Four years into the Depression, British G.D.P. had regained its previous peak; four years after the Great Recession began, Britain is nowhere close to regaining its lost ground.
Nor is Britain unique. Italy is also doing worse than it did in the 1930s — and with Spain clearly headed for a double-dip recession, that makes three of Europe’s big five economies members of the worse-than club. Yes, there are some caveats and complications. But this nonetheless represents a stunning failure of policy.
And it’s a failure, in particular, of the austerity doctrine that has dominated elite policy discussion both in Europe and, to a large extent, in the United States for the past two years.
O.K., about those caveats: On one side, British unemployment was much higher in the 1930s than it is now, because the British economy was depressed — mainly thanks to an ill-advised return to the gold standard — even before the Depression struck. On the other side, Britain had a notably mild Depression compared with the United States.
Even so, surpassing the track record of the 1930s shouldn’t be a tough challenge. Haven’t we learned a lot about economic management over the last 80 years? Yes, we have — but in Britain and elsewhere, the policy elite decided to throw that hard-won knowledge out the window, and rely on ideologically convenient wishful thinking instead.
Britain, in particular, was supposed to be a showcase for “expansionary austerity,” the notion that instead of increasing government spending to fight recessions, you should slash spending instead — and that this would lead to faster economic growth. “Those who argue that dealing with our deficit and promoting growth are somehow alternatives are wrong,” declared David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister. “You cannot put off the first in order to promote the second.”
How could the economy thrive when unemployment was already high, and government policies were directly reducing employment even further? Confidence! “I firmly believe,” declared Jean-Claude Trichet — at the time the president of the European Central Bank, and a strong advocate of the doctrine of expansionary austerity — “that in the current circumstances confidence-inspiring policies will foster and not hamper economic recovery, because confidence is the key factor today.”
Such invocations of the confidence fairy were never plausible; researchers at the International Monetary Fund and elsewhere quickly debunked the supposed evidence that spending cuts create jobs. Yet influential people on both sides of the Atlantic heaped praise on the prophets of austerity, Mr. Cameron in particular, because the doctrine of expansionary austerity dovetailed with their ideological agendas.
Thus in October 2010 David Broder, who virtually embodied conventional wisdom, praised Mr. Cameron for his boldness, and in particular for “brushing aside the warnings of economists that the sudden, severe medicine could cut short Britain’s economic recovery and throw the nation back into recession.” He then called on President Obama to “do a Cameron” and pursue “a radical rollback of the welfare state now.”
Strange to say, however, those warnings from economists proved all too accurate. And we’re quite fortunate that Mr. Obama did not, in fact, do a Cameron.
Which is not to say that all is well with U.S. policy. True, the federal government has avoided all-out austerity. But state and local governments, which must run more or less balanced budgets, have slashed spending and employment as federal aid runs out — and this has been a major drag on the overall economy. Without those spending cuts, we might already have been on the road to self-sustaining growth; as it is, recovery still hangs in the balance.
And we may get tipped in the wrong direction by Continental Europe, where austerity policies are having the same effect as in Britain, with many signs pointing to recession this year.
The infuriating thing about this tragedy is that it was completely unnecessary. Half a century ago, any economist — or for that matter any undergraduate who had read Paul Samuelson’s textbook “Economics” — could have told you that austerity in the face of depression was a very bad idea. But policy makers, pundits and, I’m sorry to say, many economists decided, largely for political reasons, to forget what they used to know. And millions of workers are paying the price for their willful amnesia.February 19, 2012
Pain Without Gain
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Last week the European Commission confirmed what everyone suspected: the economies it surveys are shrinking, not growing. It’s not an official recession yet, but the only real question is how deep the downturn will be.
And this downturn is hitting nations that have never recovered from the last recession. For all America’s troubles, its gross domestic product has finally surpassed its pre-crisis peak; Europe’s has not. And some nations are suffering Great Depression-level pain: Greece and Ireland have had double-digit declines in output, Spain has 23 percent unemployment, Britain’s slump has now gone on longer than its slump in the 1930s.
Worse yet, European leaders — and quite a few influential players here — are still wedded to the economic doctrine responsible for this disaster.
For things didn’t have to be this bad. Greece would have been in deep trouble no matter what policy decisions were taken, and the same is true, to a lesser extent, of other nations around Europe’s periphery. But matters were made far worse than necessary by the way Europe’s leaders, and more broadly its policy elite, substituted moralizing for analysis, fantasies for the lessons of history.
Specifically, in early 2010 austerity economics — the insistence that governments should slash spending even in the face of high unemployment — became all the rage in European capitals. The doctrine asserted that the direct negative effects of spending cuts on employment would be offset by changes in “confidence,” that savage spending cuts would lead to a surge in consumer and business spending, while nations failing to make such cuts would see capital flight and soaring interest rates. If this sounds to you like something Herbert Hoover might have said, you’re right: It does and he did.
Now the results are in — and they’re exactly what three generations’ worth of economic analysis and all the lessons of history should have told you would happen. The confidence fairy has failed to show up: none of the countries slashing spending have seen the predicted private-sector surge. Instead, the depressing effects of fiscal austerity have been reinforced by falling private spending.
Furthermore, bond markets keep refusing to cooperate. Even austerity’s star pupils, countries that, like Portugal and Ireland, have done everything that was demanded of them, still face sky-high borrowing costs. Why? Because spending cuts have deeply depressed their economies, undermining their tax bases to such an extent that the ratio of debt to G.D.P., the standard indicator of fiscal progress, is getting worse rather than better.
Meanwhile, countries that didn’t jump on the austerity train — most notably, Japan and the United States — continue to have very low borrowing costs, defying the dire predictions of fiscal hawks.
Now, not everything has gone wrong. Late last year Spanish and Italian borrowing costs shot up, threatening a general financial meltdown. Those costs have now subsided, amid general sighs of relief. But this good news was actually a triumph of anti-austerity: Mario Draghi, the new president of the European Central Bank, brushed aside the inflation-worriers and engineered a large expansion of credit, which was just what the doctor ordered.
So what will it take to convince the Pain Caucus, the people on both sides of the Atlantic who insist that we can cut our way to prosperity, that they are wrong?
After all, the usual suspects were quick to pronounce the idea of fiscal stimulus dead for all time after President Obama’s efforts failed to produce a quick fall in unemployment — even though many economists warned in advance that the stimulus was too small. Yet as far as I can tell, austerity is still considered responsible and necessary despite its catastrophic failure in practice.
The point is that we could actually do a lot to help our economies simply by reversing the destructive austerity of the last two years. That’s true even in America, which has avoided full-fledged austerity at the federal level but has seen big spending and employment cuts at the state and local level. Remember all the fuss about whether there were enough “shovel ready” projects to make large-scale stimulus feasible? Well, never mind: all the federal government needs to do to give the economy a big boost is provide aid to lower-level governments, allowing these governments to rehire the hundreds of thousands of schoolteachers they have laid off and restart the building and maintenance projects they have canceled.
Look, I understand why influential people are reluctant to admit that policy ideas they thought reflected deep wisdom actually amounted to utter, destructive folly. But it’s time to put delusional beliefs about the virtues of austerity in a depressed economy behind us.
Norway’s Massacre: Blurring the Lines Between Mainstream Politics and Extreme Right Politics
By: La Septieme Wilaya
We all sat in our living-rooms watching in awe the horrific images of young boys and girls killed in their prime by another extremist. This time, this one is Norwegian. He could have been French or British or German or Italian or Dutch and the same horrific feelings would have grabbed us in the pit of our stomach. In fact, with all the extreme and poisonous political rhetoric of late, it is a wonder that images like these have not become part of our daily routine. When mainstream politicians like Merkel or Sarkozy or Geant or Fillion or Boris or Ruttle or Berlusconi embrace extreme right racist and radical rhetoric, make that rhetoric part of their daily political speech, desensitize it, trivialize it and elevate it to the highest spheres of power, then that toxic, venomous, and spiteful speech tend to have consequences. And those consequences tend to be measured in body count.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, images like these have the tendencies to be seared in our collective memory, and before senseless acts like these, we tend ask ourselves again and again, why? Why did he do that? Why did all these young people have to die like this? But deep in our hearts, we all do have an answer, or just the beginning of it. We all know that although Anders Behring Breivik committed this crime alone, he had many accomplices throughout Europe who helped him select the target, find the place, choose the time, and pull the trigger. But these accomplices are not going to stand trial or face a jury, and be held accountable for their acts. These are the kind of accomplices who walk between raindrops like magicians, and dance on razor blades like tightrope walkers from hell. These acrobatic politicians, these wordsmiths of modern political rhetoric, gently yet viciously, maleficiently, and systematically attack Europe’s multiculturalism, Europe’s Muslim community, immigrants, and colored Europeans and hold them responsible for all Europe’s ills and sufferings.
We all are used to hearing extreme speeches in the mouth of Jean Marie-Marine Le Pen or Guus Looy or Roeland Raes or Pia Kjaersgaard or Nick Griffin or Jorg Haider or Geert Wilder or any other two-bit extreme right politician. We are not and we cannot be surprised to hear Geert Wilder say that Al-Hijab is a form of terrorism or hear Nick Griffin and Marine Le Pen argue that Muslims have invaded Europe and are changing its cultural character, or hear Pia Kjaersgaard declare that multiculturalism is a death sentence to Europe’s superior culture. We expect extreme right politicians to hold speeches like these consistent with their political ideology. However, what we do not expect is when mainstream conservative politicians start shopping in the extreme right grocery stores of hate and intolerance. Faced with their political failures, and their inability to create jobs and a sustainable economic growth, mainstream right politicians slowly started a systemic radicalization of their political rhetoric. We all heard Berlusconi’s prejudicial description of Italian Muslims and all Muslims as backwards people with backwards culture. We all heard Sarkozy’s attacks on French Muslims. We all heard Geant’s Nazi like declaration about multiculturalism. We all heard Merkel, Boris Johnson, and Cameron declaring multiculturalism a failure and a danger to Europe’s “mainstream identity.” We also all witnessed racist (and unconstitutional in most instances) laws passed by French, Belgian, German, Dutch, Italian, and Swiss parliaments banning the Islamic scarf, banning Al-Niqab, banning the construction of mosques, curbing asylum demands from Muslim countries and so on.
All of this political radicalization took place in an environment rife with hate speech and extreme rhetoric. The speech that used to be taboo has become trivialized and banalized. The lines between the extreme right parties and the mainstream right parties have been blurred. In an attempt to attract the extreme right vote and courting the extremists, mainstream politicians prostituted themselves on the extreme right sidewalks. It became almost impossible to distinguish between and extreme right politicians talking on television and a mainstream politicians, unless we read the nametags.
It is in this poisonous environment created by mainstream conservative politicians that Anders Behring Breivik evolved. He saw what used to be taboo become mainstream. He witnessed his leaders validating all his sick extremist theories. He saw that his beliefs are no longer shameful or outside societal boundaries. This comfort that all these mainstream conservative politicians have given him pushed him to act out his psychopathic fantasies. And act out he did. And he did not do it alone.