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From the Economist ( I was reading it on my vacations, what a great read to kick start my vacations...) Charlemagne Among the dinosaurs France’s Socialists have yet to come to terms with the modern world Aug 27th 2011 | from the print edition BLISS is it in a financial crisis to be a socialist. Or so it ought to be. In speculators and ratings agencies, Europe’s left has a ready cast of villains and rogues. In simmering social discontent, it has an energising force. A recent issue of Paris-Match inadvertently captured the mood: page after full-colour page on Britain’s rioting underclass were followed by gory visual detail of the bling yachts crowding into the bay near Saint-Tropez. Time, surely, to put social inclusion before defiant decadence. The oddity is that almost everywhere the European left is in decline. Among the large countries, Socialist parties rule only in Spain, where they look likely to lose November’s election. The only big place where the left has a good chance of returning to power is France, at next spring’s presidential election. Yet France’s Socialist Party also stands out as Europe’s most unreconstructed. Hence the contorted spectacle of a party preparing for power at a time when the markets are challenging its every orthodoxy. For a hint of French Socialist thinking, consider recent comments from some of the candidates who will contest a primary vote in October. Ségolène Royal, who lost the 2007 presidential election to Nicolas Sarkozy, argued this week that stock options and speculation on sovereign debt should be banned. Denouncing “anarchic globalisation”, she called for human values to be imposed on financial ones, as a means of “carrying on the torch of a great country, France, which gave the world revolutionary principles about the emancipation of the people.” Ms Royal, believe it or not, is considered a moderate. To her left, Arnaud Montebourg, a younger, outwardly sensible sort, argues for “deglobalisation”. He wants to forbid banks from “speculating with clients’ deposits”, and to abolish ratings agencies. Financial markets want “to turn us into their poodle”, he lamented at a weekend fete in a bucolic village, celebrating the joys of la France profonde with copious bottles of burgundy. No one seems to have told him that there is a simple way to avoid the wrath of bond markets: balance your books and don’t borrow. Next to such patent nonsense, promises by the two front-running candidates, Martine Aubry and François Hollande, seem merely frozen in time, circa 1981. They want to return to retirement at the age of 60 (it has just been raised to 62), and to invent 300,000 public-sector youth jobs. Each supports Mr Sarkozy’s deficit-reduction targets, but refuses to approve his plan to write a deficit rule into the constitution. More taxes, not less spending, is their underlying creed. The party is not out of tune with public opinion. The French are almost uniquely hostile to the capitalist system that has made them one of the world’s richest people. Fully 57% say France should single-handedly erect higher customs barriers. The same share judge that freer trade with India and China, whose consumers snap up French silk scarves and finely stitched leather handbags, has been “bad” for France. The right has held the presidency since 1995 partly by pandering to such sentiments. The causes of French left-wingery are various, but a potent one is the lingering hold of Marxist thinking. Post-war politics on the left was for decades dominated by the Communist Party, which regularly scooped up a quarter of the votes. In the 1950s many intellectuals, including Jean-Paul Sartre, clung to pro-Soviet idealism even after the evils of Stalinism emerged. Others toyed with Trotskyism well into the 1970s. François Mitterrand, who mentored Ms Royal, Ms Aubry and Mr Hollande, was swept to the presidency in 1981 by offering a socialist Utopia as a third way between “the capitalist society which enslaves people” and the “communist society which stifles them”. Given such a tradition, it is possible that today’s Socialist leaders believe what they say. At any rate, there is a debate to be had about the right amount of market regulation and fiscal consolidation. Yet the problem with their promises is this: for every bit of conviction, there is a shameful share of pure posturing. In truth, France’s Socialists have often had to be pragmatic in power. As prime minister between 1997 and 2002 Lionel Jospin, himself an ex-Trotskyist, privatised more assets than any of his right-wing predecessors. Even Mitterrand was forced to abandon nationalisation and embrace austerity. Should the Socialists win in 2012, it would take them “about a month, or maybe a week” to confess that they “have no choice but to keep the deficit under control”, says one well-placed party figure. Retirement at 60? Nice idea but, quel dommage, we can’t afford it. Please allow us a moment of madness All this requires heroic faith among centrists considering voting Socialist that reason will triumph over fiscal folly. Moreover, experience suggests that the Socialists, if elected, may feel compelled to introduce some signature policy as a sop to their disappointed base. Under Mitterrand, it was the wealth tax. Under Mr Jospin, it was Ms Aubry’s 35-hour working week. With France’s recovery fragile, the prospect of more such lunacy is chilling. A further danger touches Europe, where France traditionally generates many ideas for integration. At a time when leaders are inching towards more economic co-ordination, with oversight of budgets and even tax harmonisation, a Socialist victory would put the shaping of such a project into uncertain hands. With Dominique Strauss-Kahn out of the running there is just one French Socialist primary candidate who understands all this. Manuel Valls, a deputy and mayor with a refreshingly modern view of the left, says Socialists are not being straight by promising retirement at 60. He dares utter such truths as “we need to tell the French that the [budgetary] effort…will be as great as that achieved after Liberation”. Alas, the 49-year-old Mr Valls is considered too young to be a serious contender. The day the paleo-Socialists of the Mitterrand generation allow such figures to emerge would be the dawn of a real revolution. http://www.economist.com/node/21526894
This is super socialist...taxes need to decrease, not increase. «Ce n'est pas une balloune que l'on lance, là.» Le premier ministre Philippe Couillard envisage sérieusement l'implantation d'un système de revenu garanti au Québec. http://www.lapresse.ca/le-soleil/actualites/politique/201602/05/01-4947858-couillard-serieux-sur-le-revenu-minimum-garanti.php
VISIT the euro zone and you will be invigorated by gusts of reform. The “Save Italy” plan has done enough for Mario Monti, the prime minister, to declare, however prematurely, that the euro crisis is nearly over. In Spain Mariano Rajoy’s government has tackled the job market and is about to unveil a tight budget (see article). For all their troubles, Greeks know that the free-spending and tax-dodging are over. But one country has yet to face up to its changed circumstances. France is entering the final three weeks of its presidential campaign. The ranking of the first round, on April 22nd, remains highly uncertain, but the polls back François Hollande, the Socialist challenger, to win a second-round victory. Indeed, in elections since the euro crisis broke, almost all governments in the euro zone have been tossed out by voters. But Nicolas Sarkozy, the Gaullist president, has been clawing back ground. The recent terrorist atrocity in Toulouse has put new emphasis on security and Islamism, issues that tend to favour the right—or, in the shape of Marine Le Pen, the far right. Yet what is most striking about the French election is how little anybody is saying about the country’s dire economic straits (see article). The candidates dish out at least as many promises to spend more as to spend less. Nobody has a serious agenda for reducing France’s eye-watering taxes. Mr Sarkozy, who in 2007 promised reform with talk of a rupture, now offers voters protectionism, attacks on French tax exiles, threats to quit Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone and (at least before Toulouse) talk of the evils of immigration and halal meat. Mr Hollande promises to expand the state, creating 60,000 teaching posts, partially roll back Mr Sarkozy’s rise in the pension age from 60 to 62, and squeeze the rich (whom he once cheerfully said he did not like), with a 75% top income-tax rate. A plethora of problems France’s defenders point out that the country is hardly one of the euro zone’s Mediterranean basket cases. Unlike those economies, it should avoid recession this year. Although one ratings agency has stripped France of its AAA status, its borrowing costs remain far below Italy’s and Spain’s (though the spread above Germany’s has risen). France has enviable economic strengths: an educated and productive workforce, more big firms in the global Fortune 500 than any other European country, and strength in services and high-end manufacturing. However, the fundamentals are much grimmer. France has not balanced its books since 1974. Public debt stands at 90% of GDP and rising. Public spending, at 56% of GDP, gobbles up a bigger chunk of output than in any other euro-zone country—more even than in Sweden. The banks are undercapitalised. Unemployment is higher than at any time since the late 1990s and has not fallen below 7% in nearly 30 years, creating chronic joblessness in the crime-ridden banlieues that ring France’s big cities. Exports are stagnating while they roar ahead in Germany. France now has the euro zone’s largest current-account deficit in nominal terms. Perhaps France could live on credit before the financial crisis, when borrowing was easy. Not any more. Indeed, a sluggish and unreformed France might even find itself at the centre of the next euro crisis. Browse our slideshow guide to the leading candidates for the French presidency It is not unusual for politicians to avoid some ugly truths during elections; but it is unusual, in recent times in Europe, to ignore them as completely as French politicians are doing. In Britain, Ireland, Portugal and Spain voters have plumped for parties that promised painful realism. Part of the problem is that French voters are notorious for their belief in the state’s benevolence and the market’s heartless cruelty. Almost uniquely among developed countries, French voters tend to see globalisation as a blind threat rather than a source of prosperity. With the far left and the far right preaching protectionism, any candidate will feel he must shore up his base. Many business leaders cling to the hope that a certain worldly realism will emerge. The debate will tack back to the centre when Mr Sarkozy and Mr Hollande square off in the second round; and once elected, the new president will ditch his extravagant promises and pursue a sensible agenda of reform, like other European governments. But is that really possible? It would be hard for Mr Sarkozy suddenly to propose deep public-spending cuts, given all the things he has said. It would be harder still for Mr Hollande to drop his 75% tax rate. 1981 and all that Besides, there is a more worrying possibility than insincerity. The candidates may actually mean what they say. And with Mr Hollande, who after all is still the most likely victor, that could have dramatic consequences. The last time an untried Socialist candidate became president was in 1981. As a protégé of François Mitterrand, Mr Hollande will remember how things turned out for his mentor. Having nationalised swathes of industry and subjected the country to two devaluations and months of punishment by the markets, Mitterrand was forced into reverse. Mr Hollande’s defenders say he is a pragmatist with a more moderate programme than Mitterrand’s. His pension-age rollback applies only to a small set of workers; his 75% tax rate affects a tiny minority. Yet such policies indicate hostility to entrepreneurship and wealth creation and reflect the French Socialist Party’s failure to recognise that the world has changed since 1981, when capital controls were in place, the European single market was incomplete, young workers were less mobile and there was no single currency. Nor were France’s European rivals pursuing big reforms with today’s vigour. If Mr Hollande wins in May (and his party wins again at legislative elections in June), he may find he has weeks, not years, before investors start to flee France’s bond market. The numbers of well-off and young French people who hop across to Britain (and its 45% top income tax) could quickly increase. Even if Mr Sarkozy is re-elected, the risks will not disappear. He may not propose anything as daft as a 75% tax, but neither is he offering the radical reforms or the structural downsizing of spending that France needs. France’s picnickers are about to be swamped by harsh reality, no matter who is president. http://www.economist.com/node/21551478