State profligacy, not state austerity, has weighed down the French economy. The unemployment rate currently stands at ten percent—a mark not eclipsed since the late 1990s. The European Commission forecasts a growth rate of a half percentage point for 2012, after the economy expanded by an anemic 1.7 percent last year.
The real lesson of Sarkozy’s loss seems lost in translation. “The defeat of French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Sunday’s French elections provides a clear lesson to America,” Jesse Jackson writes in the Chicago Sun Times. “So does the fall of the conservative Dutch government, the rebuke of the British conservative government in local elections, the defeat of the establishment parties in Greece and the turmoil in Spain. Europeans are using democratic elections and demonstrations to send a message: Austerity is spreading unacceptable human misery.” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman offered the similar interpretation that Sarkozy’s defeat means “time is clearly running out for the strategy of recovery through austerity—and that’s a good thing.”
Alas, the clock never started on austerity in France. So strong is socialism’s grip that even when it fails it convinces its adherents that its opposite has failed. So recalcitrant are socialists that the disaster of socialism in France, like the disaster of socialism in the former French colonies of Tunisia and Syria, gets blamed on something else entirely. A government that pursues socialist policies deserves a socialist president. At least then the correct ideology can be faulted for the entirely predictable results of it.
In his victory speech, Francois Hollande oxymoronically proclaimed “an end to austerity” as he announced that “change is coming.” Change would mean cuts, not stopping spending cuts that haven’t even been started. The people who preach change are the most averse to changing.
Austerity is the boogeyman of Europe. It is always terrifying and everywhere talked about. But ultimately it’s not real—at least for the French government.
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