As I watch the events unfold in France and across the EU, I can’t decide if I am watching actual history being made or a simply a repeat of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
As an interested bystander, I am intrigued to note today’s political and civil unrest in France and their correlation with events leading up to the French Revolution in 1789, the only apparent exception in that alignment being that the French monarchy has been replaced with a bureaucratic government entity (that performs exactly the same autocratic function as a king). The peasants are still revolting over bread as they were in 1787, just this time their righteous ire is directed at accountants in darkened office cubicles and not a Sun King in a gilded palace.
What many in America don’t realize is that this change from Sarkozy to Hollande, while undoubtedly a move to the left, is not a move that started from the right – or even the middle. The US media has created a caricature of President Mr. Carla Bruni of him being a right winger, a kissing cousin of our conservatives, when in fact the Sarkozy government was already solidly on the left. In the Daniel Hannan piece that I previously noted here, he identifies the characteristics of the recent candidates and the current state of l’état de la France :
The truth, of course, is that France has already pushed tax-and-spend to its limits. The government accounts for an extraordinary 56 per cent of the economy, and the French budget was last in balance in 1974. If state expenditure really had a stimulus effect, France would be the wealthiest country in Europe.
Yet every one of the ten presidential candidates there demanded even greater state intervention. Nicolas Sarkozy promised to make France ‘stronger than the markets’. Three of the other contenders were Trotskyists and one was a Green.
The National Front’s Marine Le Pen, while retaining her father’s anti-immigration platform, offered an economic programme well to the Left of Sarko’s and Hollande’s.
Not a single candidate argued for smaller government, freer competition or greater international trade. All ten offered more of the medicine that had sickened the patient.
This wasn’t a case of right versus left, it was left versus farther left. That is s significant distinction to make.
So the peasants are in revolt against the benevolent government for “austérité“. Don’t give us bread, they say – we want cake! You have given cake to us for our entire lives, how dare you substitute day old baguettes! How dare you demand we work more than 35 hours a week! Mon Dieu! We cannot be responsible for ourselves, we are French!
This isn’t the France that Ben Franklin loved and our Founding Father’s drew on for inspiration. There is a reason that French is not the language of diplomacy as it was in Franklin’s time.
In reality, it isn’t just France, this reverse Marie Antoinette moment is growing across the whole of socialist Europe as this Telegraph article points out:
With unemployment in Europe at its highest level since the creation of the single currency, resentment has been growing over whether strict budgetary discipline is the best way to brace a spiral of debt.
Street protests have been seen across Italy, Spain and Portugal as people reacted to spending cuts that have slowed economies across Europe.
Savings have been wiped out and in Spain, a real estate crash has helped swell unemployment to 25 per cent of the workforce.
Many economists have advocated a greater emphasis on growth, but it has only gained traction among European policy-makers and politicians in the past few weeks.
Our national embarrassment, Paul Krugman, finds a lot to love in this socialist movement upheaval:
Paul Krugman, an economics Nobel Prize winner, welcomed the anti-austerity groundswell in Europe, saying the bloc’s voters proved “wiser than the Continent’s best and brightest”.
He said the health of the German economy was “an argument for much more expansionary policies elsewhere, and in particular for the European Central Bank to drop its obsession with inflation and focus on growth”.
If there was any doubt that Krugman is a communist, this should squelch that feeling. He is firmly in the Hollande camp, calling for even more government involvement and spending. I guess that government accounting for 56% of the economy isn’t enough for Krugs.
The Telegraph continues:
Anti-austerity momentum came to a head on Sunday night, when voters in France and Greece spectacularly ousted governments seen as towing the fiscal discipline line too strictly.
In France, new Socialist president-elect Francois Hollande said his victory marked “a new departure for Europe and hope for the world” because it showed “austerity can no longer be the only option”.
Meanwhile in Greece, where over 60 per cent of voters support anti-austerity parties, parties who reject the extreme belt-tightening that comes with international bail-outs were the big winners in parliamentary elections on Sunday.
This situation in Europe, a cancer far more metastasized than in the US, is an apt illustration of the words attributed to the 18th century history professor at the University of Edinburgh, Alexander Fraser Tytler:
A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.
Leftists can never even conceptualize that government could ever be the cause of these issues, as Hannan relates:
Without any alternative narrative to explain their present discontents, Europeans blame the downturn on ‘cuts’, ‘bankers’ and ‘deregulation’. The politician who tries to point out that spending is massively higher than it was three years ago, that we could expropriate every banker entirely and still make barely a dent in the national debt, and that financial services are perhaps the most regulated sector of the economy, is liable to have dead animals lobbed in his direction.
And don’t even think about making my slice of the government cake smaller:
Hannes Swoboda, leader of European Socialists and Democrats, said yesterday: “This radical austerity policy has pushed Europe into recession and brought about the explosion in unemployment. It has led to the votes for extremists in Greece and the upsurge in the National Front in France.” “The process of stabilisation must be based on a growth pact to stimulate investment and job creation”.
They say that the problem is austerity, folks, that we simply can’t stop spending and you ingrates are just not paying enough taxes for us to give to other people and spend on our “projects”. Damn you people who work hard and pay taxes, you aren’t working hared enough for the glory of the State! Just appreciate that we haven’t already taken all of your money – that’s a nice paycheck, it would be a shame if anything happened to it. The floggings will continue until morale improves!
You will notice that in the discussions in Europe and America today, spending is never put forth as a causal factor – it is always put forth that we simply don’t pay enough taxes – the Buffet Rule for everybody! Why is it that there can never be a realization on the left that economies cannot be planned, they fluctuate through cycles and government is a fixed cost that national economies must overcome to grow? The history is there for the price of a book.
The only reason that these governments are in so much debt now is that the “progressives” cannot conceptualize those basic facts and understand that government profligacy has had a role in creating this crisis but their believe in the primacy of government just won’t let them. As a result, they continue to build governmental fixed costs in a global environment where revenues are variable, and when they can’t tax enough, they borrow to make up the difference. This is like your neighbor running up his debt by buying all the nice things he wants on credit and then blaming you for his inability to pay because you don’t make enough. Get a second job, will you? Pay my debt, you slacker, I want to keep my boat.
Borrowing works as long as costs are frozen to the point where future revenues will exceed the fixed costs plus the cost of borrowing including the principal. That is why debt must be controlled and used appropriately or you wind up with the EU. America is on a trajectory to get to where the EU is today.
The only reason that western governments borrow is that it is still illegal to confiscate the wealth of their citizens – but that is coming in Hollande’s France, mark my words. Coincidentally, this is also the populist message of Obama’s campaign to make “the rich” pay “their fair share” (even though the top 1% already pay almost 40% of all income tax and the top 5% are in at 58.7%).
Euro-socialists have been selling a Ponzi scheme to their citizens since WWII, just as Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt and FDR sold in the US prior to. They have always counted on the capitalist segments of the economy to generate growth and the revenues necessary to fund their adventures even as they attacked and attempted to throttle the very entity, free enterprise, necessary to keep them flush in cash. They seek to take more and more people off the tax rolls and shift the burden to fewer and fewer people. They seek to make more and more people dependent on government (think Obama’s Life of Julia where the only theme is what the government can do for poor little Julia).
Many have never learned that the French Revolution was largely precipitated by a financial crisis as well. Louis XVI ascended to the throne amidst this crisis; the state was nearing bankruptcy because outlays outpaced income due to the costs of his wars. Regardless of your position on war, rampant waste and social; spending has exactly the same effect, money is money and debt is debt, no matter what is purchased with it.
In another similarity to today, it was instigated by leftists who sought to “free the people”. What many also ignore is that while a lot of great philosophy was espoused, the “freedom” was short lived. The Committee for Public Safety was created to insure the “freedom of the people” but as Wikipedia notes, things didn’t really work out so well:
When war went badly, prices rose and the sans-culottes — poor labourers and radical Jacobins – rioted; counter-revolutionary activities began in some regions. This encouraged the Jacobins to seize power through a parliamentary coup, backed up by force effected by mobilising public support against the Girondist faction, and by utilising the mob power of the Parisian sans-culottes. An alliance of Jacobin and sans-culottes elements thus became the effective centre of the new government. Policy became considerably more radical, as “The Law of the Maximum” set food prices and led to executions of offenders.This policy of price control was coeval with the Committee of Public Safety‘s rise to power and the Reign of Terror. The Committee first attempted to set the price for only a limited number of grain products but, by September 1793, it expanded the “maximum” to cover all foodstuffs and a long list of other goods.Widespread shortages and famine ensued. The Committee reacted by sending dragoons into the countryside to arrest farmers and seize crops. This temporarily solved the problem in Paris, but the rest of the country suffered. By the spring of 1794, forced collection of food was not sufficient to feed even Paris and the days of the Committee were numbered. When Robespierre went to the guillotine in July of that year the crowd jeered, “There goes the dirty maximum!”
The Committee of Public Safety came under the control of Maximilien Robespierre, a lawyer, and the Jacobins unleashed the Reign of Terror (1793–1794). According to archival records, at least 16,594 people died under the guillotine or otherwise after accusations of counter-revolutionary activities.A number of historians note that as many as 40,000 accused prisoners may have been summarily executed without trial or died awaiting trial.
The French got the Reign of Terror.
Those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.
Today, the EU is stomping on the “replay” button with both feet.
I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries. Now go away or I shall taunt you a second time…