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A Frenchie travelling the world...

17 November 2006

Ségolène, Milton and the others...

Dear readers,

I have difficulties today to chose a topic. For this reason, you'll be treated with two in one... Isn't that great? The two main topics being related, that won't be this difficult. The first is the fact that Ségolène Royal was elected as Presidential candidate of the French Socialist Party for the 2007 elections. The second is the death yesterday of Economics Nobel Prize-winner Milton Friedman.

Ségolène Royale got an unexpected whopping 60.62% first round victory in the first ever primary elections ever organized in France. The significance of this is disputed, maybe as much as the candidate herself. The socialist new candidate is highly popular amongst French electors, and far beyond her own political party. However, it was suspected that she wasn't so highly regarded within the left leaning electorate. Indeed, what is known about her ideas (and that is admittedly not much) is much more social-democrat and centrist, some say "Blairist", than the official program of the "Parti Socialiste". So how did she manage. Some say (especially her supporters, including her spouse, the party's General Secretary) that she had simply more support than the left media would admit. My take in this is that it is not as simple as it may look. It is certainly true that a part of the media overestimated the influence of Laurent Fabius, the most leftist of the candidates in the Socialist Party. It is also very clear that some socialists wanted to punish him for having tried to exploit for his own interests the outcome of the negative answer to the European Constitution referendum. He presented himself as the most prominent "noniste" (as they were dubbed), but proposed an interpretation of this no which could only hurt the feelings of mainly pro-European socialist militants.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn proved a better contender for Royal, fighting her "on her own turf", which is the social-democrat field. But I suspect in the end that socialist militants put a very opportunistic vote in the ballot. They knew that the only chance for them to have a condidate present at the second round of the French presidential election was to send Ségolène Royal to the contest. She is the only left wing candidate to have any chance to beat the right wing UMP party rising star, Nicolas Sarkozy, current Interior Minister.

But what has all this to do with Milton Friedman? Well, the famous neo-liberal economist is publicly denounced by all socialists in France as the founder of a school of Chicago that they see as not only wrong but even morally evil... Friedman was the proud defender of less state intervention in the economy to provide growth as well very strict monetary policies to fight inflation. This is all what very Keynesian French socialists have ever opposed. Represented in France by economists such as Bernard Soulage, they believe in more regulation, more state and more redistribution of wealth. The fact that this has been proven wrong in 50 years of History is not enough for them to renounce this... at least publicly. Their electorate, totally ignorant in terms of economic policies, much as the French general public and media, would immediately vote them down if they would admit any change of line. This said, things are not that simple anymore. Surprisingly enough the assumed Blairism of Ségolène Royal, now freed of the socialist primary hurdle, could change the way French people understand economics, or at the very least blur the situation a bit. All for the better, one might hope...

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