What the Americas Can Learn from Macron’s Political Battles
Macron's battle for fiscal discipline and limited spending may not be politically popular, but it is critical to France's future economic success.
The French public has soured on new president Emmanuel Macron, with just 29% approving of his performance in office. By comparison, global pariah Donald Trump, who consistently clocks in in the mid 40s, is doing a phenomenal job, according to the American public. Indeed, being in charge of a failing socialist economy and welfare state is hardly an enviable task.
Like the Old Testament prophets, who were more often harbingers of doom and gloom than messengers of good tidings, Macron is telling the French people the economic truth, regardless of how much his personal popularity may suffer. We here in the Americas, could stand to learn a thing or two from the French premiere.
No matter how things shake out, it is a safe bet that we won’t be reading the following headline any time soon:
France requests a bailout from the European Union
Unlike his counterparts in Southern Europe, Macron is serious about imposing fiscal order and discipline, and is not hellbent on merely telling French voters “lies, sweet little lies” to (mis)appropriate the lyrics of a Fleetwood Mac song.
As his outsider campaign was gaining steam, Macron was regarded as a pro-business centrist from something of a center-left background. He famously eschewed the socialist label, however, as his moderate persona quickly and resoundingly dispatched with both the Socialist Party, widely discredited under the disastrous tenure of Francois Hollande.
With the left collapsing, many French voters jumped ship and threw their support to far-left outside Jean Luc Melenchon, while the French right and center-right remained split between Marine LePen and Francois Fillon. Under French election law, in the absence of a first-round majority, the top two vote-getters move on to a second round.
In this case, Macron’s message of pragmatism won him the first round, albeit with less than a quarter of the total vote. Meanwhile, Marine LePen edged out Fillon and Melenchon by just a couple of percentage points, to face off against Macron in the second round.
And so…the choice was clear for France. Macron was the reasonable choice. He was the responsible choice. He had already vanquished the irresponsible voices of socialism and carefree reckless financial management. Now he would vanquish the anti-EU, anti-globalist, anti-immigration LePen. And he did.
Now, Macron has enraged certain sectors of the (non-working) French public by suggesting to an unemployed gardener that he look in other sectors and other cities. Former leftist presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon was outraged, claiming it was an insult to the French people. Macron was accused of painting his countrymen as lazy and complacent.
Yet, there are an estimated 300,000 unfilled positions right now in France…particularly in the construction and hospitality trades. The hotel and restaurant confederation has an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 unfilled positions right now. It would certainly appear that Macron is right to suggest that an unemployed gardener in a rural area broaden his horizons, both vocationally and geographically.
Macron has the guts to do what many Latin American politicians do not: tell the truth, regardless of its political cost.
In Colombia, where the restless and largely inefficient agricultural sector continuously clamors for government support to prop up their failing small businesses, no politician is willing to tell them the truth: It’s time to consider new vocational and geographic possibilities. The sad reality is that much of Colombian farming is simply not productive enough to justify its continued existence. It is a poorly paid, risky, and volatile profession…one which other countries can do much better.
In Argentina, excessive government spending, reckless expansion of the money supply, and devastating inflation, have doomed the economy for centuries. The Argentines progress from one serious economic crisis to another, but have never been able to elect a government to bring public finances under control. Mauricio Macri has tried, but has been unable to right the ship set on a disastrous course by his socialist predecessors Nestor and Cristina Kirchner.
Macron has a grand overarching objective: to make work pay. He has seen the writing on the wall. He knows that the current Western European welfare state model is simply unsustainable on its present course. It will collapse.
In fact, his finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, has been even more explicit with the French public on this front: “My objective is to create French prosperity that is no longer built on public spending but on the prosperity of businesses and creating jobs.”
In socialist France, it is almost astounding that a government could even utter these words. But they are no less true.
History has shown, over and over again, that the private sector, not the government, is better at creating jobs and prosperity. This fundamental truth may make for some unhappy voters. But politicians in the Americas would do well to heed the words of Macron, and speak truth to the electorate.
The alternative is financial crises and chaos.