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Published: Thu, 26 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Thu, 26 Apr 2018 22:00:54 -0400


Brickbat: Take It Easy

Mon, 26 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0400

(image) A French employment commission has fined a baker €3,000 (about $3,700) for working too hard. Under a local law, bakeries in Lusigny-sur-Barse are supposed to close at least one day a week. This baker had previously been able to get an exemption during the summer tourist season, but when the city refused to renew the exemption, he continued to work.

Let's Go Ahead and Have a Military Parade in Washington, but Declare Victory in the War on Terror First

Wed, 07 Feb 2018 13:45:00 -0500

(image) Donald Trump's longstanding desire for a military parade in D.C. has turned into a presidential directive, according to a report in The Washington Post.

That led to the usual back-on-forth in the punditocracy. Liberals got a bit of collective amnesia about America's storied history of jingoism, claiming that a military parade doesn't reflect American values. In fact, like it or not, many presidents have found comfort in wrapping themselves in the flag and hiding behind service members and veterans.

Trump supporters, and even some conservatives who don't support Trump, lauded the idea. National Review's David French—the guy Bill Kristol once touted as a potential third-party candidate in 2016—said he was "fine" with a military parade because of the things he says the military has done since 9/11, like toppling the Taliban and Saddam Hussein and defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. He didn't note that American troops remain in Afghanistan more than 16 years after toppling the Taliban, and that they're also present in Hussein's old Iraqi stomping grounds and in Syria.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) may have had the most relevant take:

Reason's own Jesse Walker made a similar suggestion earlier in the day:

Trump's desire for a military parade is certainly on-brand. He's spoken highly of France's traditional Bastille Day Military Parade ever since being invited as President Emmanuel Macron's guest last year, and he made a big deal during his presidential campaign of saving a veterans' parade in New York in 1995.

At the same time, Trump has sometimes flirted with understanding that U.S. foreign policy is dangerously interventionist. A military parade would be a small price to pay for declaring victory and ending the war on terror, if someone could convince the president to link the two. It would certainly be an ego-booster.

Warning: The President Wants to Censor 'Fake News'! The President of France

Fri, 05 Jan 2018 13:45:00 -0500

President Donald Trump is commanding a lot of attention for his lawyers' attempts to scare Michael Wolff and Wolff's publisher out of releasing Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. This attempt to censor the press definitely deserves our attention and condemnation. But if their threats against Wolff stand out, it's not because there's something new about politically powerful people trying to suppress reports that make them look bad. The only norm Trump is breaking here is the one that says not to be so openly self-serving about it. If Trump had the sense to act as though his calls for censorship were about "preserving democracy," he'd be in much better shape. That's exactly what's happening in France. French President Emmanuel Macron, like Trump, is not happy about "fake news." Like Trump, he wants to stop it. But unlike Trump (so far), he's trying to use his power as president to actually censor the internet. Macron claims that he merely wants to protect the people from "fake news" during elections. The Guardian reports: In his new year's speech to journalists at the Élysée palace, Macron said he would shortly present the new law in order to fight the spread of fake news, which he said threatened liberal democracies. New legislation for websites would include more transparency about sponsored content. Under the new law, websites would have to say who is financing them and the amount of money for sponsored content would be capped. For fake news published during election seasons, an emergency legal action could allow authorities to remove that content or even block the website, Macron said. "If we want to protect liberal democracies, we must be strong and have clear rules," he added. Is it really liberal democracies that Macron wants to protect? The Guardian notes that Macron faced fake news stories during his presidential campaign that accused him of hiding funds in offshore accounts. Like many Hillary Clinton supporters in America, he claims that Russia-linked outlets spread propaganda to harm him. All this suggests that what Macron really wants to censor is "fake news" that threatens his political fortunes. Fake claims during political campaigns are hardly new. They're less a "threat" to liberal democracies than they are a natural, albeit frustrating, side effect of having campaigns in the first place. Meanwhile, there's not much evidence that "fake news" has had much of an impact on election outcomes. A new report from a trio of political scientists found that in the run-up to the presidential election in America, one out of four people who participated in their study had visited a site with fake news stories. But only a much smaller number, 10 percent, were regular consumers of fake news—mostly older, more conservative voters who weren't likely to vote for Hillary Clinton in the first place. While the report was not able to determine whether people actually believe the fake news the read, what did seem to be clear is that people's exposure to fake news seemed to track their desire to consume news about the candidate they already supported. The fake news was a complement to the rest of their news consumption. The fake news told them what they already wanted to hear, which probably tracks the experiences of anybody who has had a Facebook friend post a link to a report that was obviously false. There's something particularly reprehensible about trying to connect the preservation of democracy with the censorship of speech that makes a candidate look bad, regardless of whether that speech is true or false. Given the absence of evidence that fake news stories have been tipping elections, Macron's actions have the same whiff of self-preservation as Trump's. Macron is hardly alone. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has threatened to use her position as a lawmaker to force additional regulations of political speech on social media. By pure coincidence, Feinstein is running for re-election next year. Giving the government the power to censor fake political sto[...]

French President Vows Crackdown on 'Verbal Violence' Against Women

Mon, 27 Nov 2017 15:10:00 -0500

"We are not a puritan society," French President Emmanuel Macron claimed Saturday in a speech marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. He then called for the criminalization of wolf-whistling and gender-based insults, and for requiring France's TV and radio regulators to police video games and web content. That last item is aimed mostly at online pornography, which Macron sees (sans evidence) as a prominent cause of violence against girls and women. Porn is infiltrating French schools, Macron warned, and "we cannot ignore the kind that makes women an object of humiliation." If Macron gets his way, France's Superior Audiovisual Council will be tasked with monitoring online videos for "the protection of the young public," and schools will implement an awareness campaign about "stereotypes, domination, and violence" in porn. On Twitter, French porn star Manuel Ferrara pushed back against Macron's suggestion that exposure to porn is linked to a propensity to assault women. Rather than "demonize" porn, Ferrara suggested, the president should sit down with adult entertainers for a discussion. Ferrara later accused Macron of "faire un amalgame"—jumping to conclusions—about the supposed effects of online pornography. "It's the same with video games," Ferrara told France Inter. "It's like saying a teenager who plays Call of Duty is going to pick up a gun and kill everyone in his school." Macron also said Saturday that "legislative changes will be made not only to better prevent but also to prosecute those who act on the Internet to harass." And he promised penalties for IRL harassment, too, suggesting that that gender-based insults and catcalling should soon "be punishable by law" and that "offenders will face a deterrent fine." For a long time, people reacted with indifference to the "verbal violence" women frequently face on the streets, said Macron. This is unacceptable. Women must feel comfortable in public spaces. Women in the republic must not be afraid to use public spaces. This must be one of the priorities of the police. Not all of the ideas Macron touted were terrible. He also suggested a sensible system allowing sexual assault victims to file an initial complaint online or at a hospital instead of having to go in person to a police station. And he called for the country to set the age of sexual consent at 15. (France currently has no minimum age of consent.) To enact such measures, Macron promised to increase the budget dedicated to female and male equality to more than 420 million Euros next year. On Saturday, Macron tweeted that "the first pillar" in his fight for "equality between women and men" is "the fight against violence against women." However, he added, "I do not want us to fall into a society where every relationship between a man and a woman becomes a suspicion of domination."[...]

Brickbat: Oh, L'amour

Wed, 27 Sep 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to hire an additional 10,000 police officers and Equality Minister Marlène Schiappa wants them to fight sexism on the streets, which includes men talking to women they don't know. She also says a 5,000-euro fine would be appropriate for such behavior.

Emmanuel Macron an Intra-European Protectionist

Tue, 29 Aug 2017 07:00:00 -0400

Emmanuel Macron, the 39-year old French president, has had a difficult few weeks. First, the French voters rebelled against his attempt to give his wife, Brigitte, her own budget and staff. Over 200,000 citizens of the cash-strapped republic signed a public petition opposing the creation of the title and office of the First Lady and the proposal was put on ice. (If only the citizens of our cash-strapped republic could do the same.) Then it came out that Macron's personal makeup artist cost the French taxpayer over $30,000 in the last 100 days alone. The President's popularity has nosedived and that's before any of the blessed reforms that Macron promised to deliver to revive the moribund French economy unsettled the wasps' nest of the French public sector unions. And so, Macron has turned his sights to foreign policy and that most French of pursuits—protectionism. The advocates of the European Union have long argued that the EU is a force for economic liberalization. Beginning in 1958, the European Economic Community (i.e., the precursor to the EU) started to reduce barriers to the movement of goods throughout the Common Market. That has worked relatively well, although the total contribution of reduced intra-European tariffs to European growth is debatable, for it has taken place alongside global trade liberalization under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and, later, the World Trade Organization. Much progress was also made with regard to the movement of people. Unfortunately, many a European country is having second thoughts about the sustainability of the Schengen Treaty, which underpins that freedom. That's because in addition to facilitating the free movement of tourists and workers, Schengen is also facilitating free movement of Middle Eastern and North African terrorists, who have managed to sneak into Europe via relatively unprotected Greek, Italian and Spanish coastlines. Barbed wire fences have sprung up throughout Europe once more. When it comes to the provision of services, however, intra-European protectionism remains a serious problem. In the early 2000s, Frits Bolkestein, who was the EU Commissioner for the Internal Market, proposed the so-called Bolkestein directive, which would have greatly liberalized trade in services in the EU. His initiative failed, which was particularly disappointing, considering that services account for a majority of economic output in all EU economies area. That said, the EU member states did agree on a compromise measure, which "allows people from poorer EU states (e. g., Poland) to work on contracts that need only guarantee the host country's (e.g., French) minimum wage." Income taxes and social contributions owed by these so-called "posted" workers can be paid in the home country—at, presumably, lower rates—and that has become too much for the French to bear. Macron has called the current system a "betrayal of the European spirit" and said that "it created unfair competition in wealthier nations like France and Germany." "The single European market and the free movement of workers," the French President continued, "is not meant to create a race to the bottom in terms of social regulations." Macron's move comes on the heels of French and German attempts to force Eastern European trucking companies to pay their truckers French and German wages, while transporting goods from Eastern Europe to, for example, Spain via the territories of France and Germany. (That would be equivalent to forcing a trucking company from Wyoming to pay its truckers higher wages in Arkansas, while en route to Louisiana.) This is, of course, blatant protectionism. It aims to eliminate the competitive advantage that Eastern European workers, who are less productive (and, therefore, worse paid) than workers in the West, enjoy over their Western counterparts. If Macron succeeds in his efforts to undermine intra-European competition (such as it is), he will [...]

British, French Elections Show Battle of Ideas Not Over Yet

Tue, 13 Jun 2017 07:00:00 -0400

A lot of people, including yours truly, have been getting election predictions wrong lately, and so it is time to eat some humble pie. In a previous column, I wrote that the French economic malaise was likely going to continue, because "If Macron does become president [of France], he will likely face a Parliament constituted of political parties that owe him zero loyalty. The French Parliament will be elected in June and the center-right Republicans, the National Front of Marine Le Pen, and an assortment of socialists and communists, are likely to be abundantly represented as well." The future being difficult to predict, my take on the French election proved to be spectacularly wrong (I know now what Bill Kristol must feel like). President Macron's party, La République En Marche, appears to have won 32.3 percent of the vote in the first round of the French parliamentary elections. Alongside its centrist ally MoDem, Macron's group will have between 415 and 455 seats out of 577 in the lower house of Parliament once the second and final round of parliamentary elections is over next Sunday. Reforming France's sclerotic economy remains, of course, a very difficult task. Once the public sector unions take to the streets, Macron will have to hold his nerve and not succumb to pressure in the way that Jacques Chirac did in 1995. So far, the signs are promising. Macron has appointed a center-right politician, Edouard Philippe, as his prime minister, thereby indicating a break with the socialist policies of the former President Francois Hollande. Macron's snub of the U.S. President Donald Trump and criticism of Russian propaganda during Vladimir Putin's visit of Paris has played well at home and Macron's popularity is sky high. Let's see if it continues once Macron's reform proposals are announced. While France is on the verge of getting a stable government, across the English Channel, the British government got itself in a lot of trouble. Theresa May had called a snap election last Thursday to shore up her Conservative Party majority in the House of Commons. She lost seats instead. She may yet survive as Prime Minister by striking a quasi-coalition deal with a small Northern Irish Ulster Democratic Party (UDP). That said, the election complicates a number of matters. First, the election came within a whisker of enabling an unreconstructed socialist, Jeremy Corbyn, to become prime minister. By promising to nationalize parts of the economy, and increase taxes and expenditure, Corbyn was thought unelectable. Thanks to a very poor campaign by the Conservatives, who opted to attack Corbyn's zany foreign policy ideas, rather than his nutty economic proposals, he is now a credible Leader of the Opposition and firmly in charge of Britain's second largest political party, Labour. Second, the collapse of the Soviet empire notwithstanding, the battle of ideas is far from won. That is particularly true of the young, who remember neither the failures of British socialism in the 1970s nor the Cold War, and who turned out in massive numbers to support the Corynistas. According to one estimate, some two-thirds of 18- to 24-year-olds cast their ballots for Labour. The same poll found that 25- to 34-year-olds preferred the socialists by a margin of 36 percent. No doubt, Corbyn's promise to forgive student debt played a role in shoring up Labour support among the young, but May did not help herself by moving to the political middle by explicitly distancing herself from Margaret Thatcher's free market policies. Instead of making the elections about the economy, the prime minister engaged in the contest of "who can promise more free goodies to the electorate." That's not a battle that the Tories can win. Therein rests an important lesson for the United States. If the Democrats manage to replicate Corbyn's success among the young on this side of the Atlantic, the GOP can kiss their Congress[...]

Europeans Taking Their Fate in Their Own Hands? Quelle Catastrophe!

Tue, 30 May 2017 15:30:00 -0400

The foreign policy world is atwitter about German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying Sunday, in the wake of President Donald Trump's diplomatically discordant first visit with America's European allies, that "The times in which we could completely rely on others are over to a certain extent. That is what I experienced in the last few days….That is why I can only say: We Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands." Edward Snowden called Merkel's statement "an era-defining moment." David Frum deemed it a "catastrophe for U.S.-Europe relations." Foreign policy establishment lifer Richard Haass, in consecutive tweets, laid bare an underexplored tension at the heart of the very trans-Atlantic project he seeks to defend. "Merkel saying Europe cannot rely on others & needs to take matters into its own hands is a watershed-& what US has sought to avoid since WW2," Haas wrote. Yet also, "Would be ironic if one result of pro-Brexit, anti-European Trump foreign policy would be emergence of a stronger EU. Seems to be happening." Funny how that works. The day after this era-defining, catastrophic watershed, new French President and sudden Atlanticist heartthrob Emmanuel Macron, not content to rest on the laurels of his Trump-dissing handshake and Merkel-favoring head-fake, called out malicious Russian propaganda (and more besides) while standing right next to Vladimir Putin: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" height="340" frameborder="0" width="560"> New Republic tweetstormer Jeet Heer described it all as "the moment when Germany, joined by France, decided to fully take on the mantle of European leadership." To which one might archly add, sounds like a win-win! This being high-profile, head-to-head diplomacy, and Trump being a prior antagonist of Merkel ("What she's done in Germany is insane"), NATO ("obsolete"), the European Union ("basically a vehicle for Germany"), Brussels ("a hellhole"), and the "global power structure" ("meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty"), coverage has understandably focused on the style and substance of the president's performance, rather than on the effects that it helped produce, intentionally or not. But it might be worth holding up the two strands separately. First, yes, Trump did beclown himself on more than one occasion during the past week. For instance, this morning: We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2017 Bitching about trade deficits is one of lower forms of dull-witted mercantilism, no matter how popular the line of argument is now in both major political parties. And Trump's notion that, as he tweeted in March, "Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany," is at best a very inaccurate way (nobody "owes" any money to anybody in NATO; not in this sense) to make the plausible Transitive Property argument that Germany underspending on defense impels America to spend more than it otherwise would. But let's imagine that instead of coming on all blustery and EU-skeptical, Trump had couched his cup-rattling as more of a plea to have the other alliance members pay their "full share," in the name of a more robust European integration. Well, that's exactly—and I mean exactly—what Trump's predecessor did, all of 13 months ago: Barack Obama has accused Europe of being "complacent" about defence by failing to meet the Nato two per cent spending target. It came as he delivered a passionate plea for the European Union to hold together, saying it is one of the "greatest political and economic achievements of modern times". […] Mr Obama warned that states are[...]

Vive La Trump? Definitely Not Yet.

Thu, 11 May 2017 12:01:00 -0400

There is a lot of debate over President Donald Trump's record after his first 100-plus days in office. Defenders of the president point to his successful efforts on deregulation, the successful appointment to the Supreme Court of Neil Gorsuch and his steadfast desire to implement substantial tax reform. Critics point to his insistence on counterproductive immigration and trade policies, an incoherent foreign policy, and his overall lack of policy acumen. One thing is for sure, however: The United States is headed toward French-style economic sclerosis if Washington continues its reckless spending spree. My native France is an economic mess. It might sound wonderful to some that the French are "entitled" to health care, can retire at age 60, have to work for only 35 hours a week and get "free" education. But this spending comes at a cost; 57 percent of the French economy (as measured by the gross domestic product) is spent every year by the government. To pay for it, you need more taxes—and not just high marginal income tax rates and payroll taxes. The French also pay a 20 percent value-added tax, pay a 33.33 percent corporate income tax and have hundreds of other punitive revenue-generating measures. French policymakers have responded to the resulting sluggish economic growth and persistently high unemployment by making the market for labor horrifyingly inflexible and insulating workers from the competitive market forces that generate long-term prosperity. This results in stubbornly high unemployment rates, mounting debt and the exodus of intelligent French brains to other countries with brighter economic prospects. The mood has become so grim that more than 10 million French voters just turned to the National Front party of Marine Le Pen for hope. Although Le Pen lost to centrist Emmanuel Macron, little will change unless major reforms are made to the debilitating French welfare system, which pays people not to work while providing handouts for everything from the rent to subway tickets. It's admittedly hard for me to be optimistic, given how ingrained government dependency is in France. But my bigger concern is that the United States is on the same path—even if there's a substantial reduction in red tape here and Trump is able to implement reforms to a tax code that currently suffocates job producers and disincentivizes working, savings and investment. Although we can still pat ourselves on the back for not having fully embraced France's combination of big government and low growth, any hope for 3 or 4 percent annual economic growth that Trump officials are relying on will fade if federal spending—and its byproduct, debt—isn't curtailed. Unfortunately, there remains scant evidence that the Trump administration is interested in pursuing the measures necessary to bring federal spending and debt under control. Trump never misses a chance to tout his alleged deal-making prowess, but his administration's first budget negotiation just ended with higher spending and Democrats getting most of what they wanted. Then there's the American Health Care Act (already being labeled "Trumpcare"), just passed in the House. Despite what its apologists claim, even if it were to be signed into law as is, it wouldn't get rid of Obamacare. Sure, Trumpcare would cut taxes, but as we've seen in the past, tax cuts don't last long if spending continues to flow unabated. Indeed, if critics are correct, Trumpcare could end up making health care in this country worse. That outcome would most likely translate into more government spending (including potentially massive bailouts), and promised cuts to Medicaid could actually turn into an expansion of a program that is already a budgetary problem at both the federal level and the state level. Oh, did I mention the not-so-small problem of the fact that Social Security and Medicar[...]

Trump's Mouth, Rape as a Pre-Existing Condition, & Why Our Politics Is So Stupid [Reason Podcast]

Mon, 08 May 2017 14:30:00 -0400

"[The Republican health care bill] is quite likely to lead to an insurance-market meltdown even faster than under Obamcare," says Reason Features Editor Peter Suderman. "And [ultimately] it creates [incentives] for more government intervention in the market."

On the latest episode of the Reason podcast, Suderman talks with fellow editors Nick Gillespie and Katherine Mangu-Ward about why the Republican health care bill is tax legislation in disguise (check out Suderman's Sunday New York Times op-ed); our stupid debate over whether the law makes rape a pre-existing condition (it doesn't); the centrist Emmanuel Macron's big win in France (maybe populism isn't sweeping the globe after all?); the FCC's "investigation" of Steven Colbert's comic rant that Trump's mouth is only good as a "cock holster" for Vladimir Putin; and the agency's shifting stance on net neutrality (thank god we have a government bureaucracy protecting us from free YouTube, right?).

In both cases regarding the FCC, says Suderman, we've got "a 20th century mind-set that makes for really bad policy."

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Macron Victory Not Yet a Win for Globalization or Economic Reform

Mon, 08 May 2017 08:30:00 -0400

Emmanuel Macron, the former economy minister who pushed liberalization under President Francois Hollande, roundly defeated the National Front's Marine Le Pen, who campaigned on an anti-immigration, big government platform. Le Pen's candidacy was about more than membership of the European Union or the merits of an open society, but about the liberal, pro-market values that have lifted billions out of poverty in the last half century. Her defeat is not yet a win for globalization or economic liberalization. "The problems are still there," analyst Antonio Barroso told Reason last month. "And it's the challenge of these leaders, particularly Macron, to alleviate some of these problems in the next five years, otherwise we'll be in the same position next time." Neither is Macron's victory a victory yet for globalization or free markets. And it's certainly not a win for Barack Obama, the French media, or the West, as MSNBC's Joy Ann Reid suggested. It's barely a win for the EU, which is still bungling Brexit negotiations and facing a loss of popularity across the continent—even countries that have joined the EU more recently than Western European ones and have been historically enthusiastic, like Poland, have elected Euroskeptic governments. Macron must now commit to the kind of economic reforms that get the French government (which accounts for 57 percent of GDP and carries a GDP to debt ratio of 100 percent) out of the way, alleviating the economic pain it causes and dispelling the appeal of simplistic populists—these are reforms the EU has sometimes suggested, but they are not the kinds of reforms wholeheartedly supported by other factions commenters like Reid insist the French election is a victory for. Hollande becomes the first president in the history of the French Fifth Republic not to seek a second term. The Socialist started his presidency rejecting his predecessor's attempts at reform but eventually appeared to come to understand the need for reforms and liberalization to rehabilitate the French economy. In 2015, the Hollande government passed a set of reforms that were known as the "Macron Law," which included such provisions as making it easier to lay off employees and allowing more stores to stay open on Sundays and in the evenings. The law was passed without a vote in the parliament, which Macron defended from criticism of being anti-democratic. "Is it democratic to keep procrastinating?" Macron said at the time. "There is a moment when you have to act." Macron's proposed reforms during the presidential campaign were not as well-defined or bold as that of the Republicans' Francois Fillon, who became embroiled in a scandal over hiring family members for no-show government jobs. In the end, the second round presidential election was the first that did not include a member of either of France's major two parties, the Socialists and the party now known as the Republicans. Le Pen's loss was not unexpected—she trailed by about 20 points in head-to-head polling against Macron and ultimately finished nearly 25 percent behind him. Comparisons of Le Pen to both Brexit (because of her opposition to the EU) or Donald Trump (because of their shared rhetoric on immigration and radical Islamic terrorism) are misguided. Brexit was a referendum on British membership in the European Union—untethered from specific policy agendas, which will be worked out in the June parliamentary elections there and beyond. And Trump, despite his populist, pro-entitlement rhetoric, is not the kind of anti-capitalist that Le Pen made herself out to be. Le Pen was able to perform better than any previous National Front candidate (though in a strategic move she technically left the party weeks before the election) because in the last decade she has tried to distance herself [...]

France's Malaise Will Continue No Matter Who Wins the Presidential Election

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 07:00:00 -0400

Whatever the final outcome of the French presidential election, the actual consequences for France will likely be less dramatic than many people hope or fear. Emmanuel Macron is a political novice, who enjoys support of the French political establishment only in so far as it is necessary to beat Marine Le Pen. His political party is a year old and it is unlikely that Macron's personal appeal, such as it is, will translate into a parliamentary majority. Let's not forget that Macron was the first choice of just 24 percent of the French electorate.

If Macron does become president, he will likely face a Parliament constituted of political parties that owe him zero loyalty. The French Parliament will be elected in June and the center-right Republicans, the National Front of Marine Le Pen, and an assortment of socialists and communists, are likely to be abundantly represented as well.

Traditionally, French presidents have found it impossible to push through reforms even when they had parliamentary majorities (e.g., Alain Juppe's and Jacques Chirac's attempt to reform the French welfare system in 1995). Unlike his predecessors, Macron will be left alone to face the fury of special interests, such as the powerful public sector unions. That is not a recipe for a successful administration.

If Macron's limited reform agenda fails, France will suffer five additional years of decline and anguish. By 2022, Le Pen's radical platform will be even more appealing to the disgruntled populace.

Should she become president, Le Pen will face similar constraints to Macron's. "France's constitution says that proposed laws on the organization of state powers, reforms relating to economic, social and environmental policy, or a request for authority to ratify a treaty can be decided by referendums. But it stops short of providing the power to withdraw France from an existing international agreement."

To give the voters such power, the Constitution would have to be changed in accordance with Article 89 of the Constitution, which says that "any such change must first be approved by the National Assembly and the Senate." So that too is a non-starter in a Parliament united in opposition to Le Pen's agenda.

That, in any case, is the theory. In practice, Le Pen could try to emulate President Charles de Gaulle, whose 1962 electoral reform was backed by a majority of voters and became law. De Gaulle "did not get the required parliamentary approval for it. He went straight to the French people. It was a revision of the Constitution but he did not use the revision procedure because he knew the two chambers [of Parliament] would be against it."

The French legal community agrees that De Gaulle's action was unconstitutional, but Marine Le Pen could attempt something similar. If that happens, years of legal wrangling will follow.

France's choices aren't good not only because of the shortcomings of the two remaining candidates. Making matters worse is the poor shape of the French economy and national security concerns—both of which require radical changes that the French political system is ill-suited to actualize. No matter who wins in May, expect malaise to continue.

The Government Shutdown: What's the Point of Paul Ryan? [Reason Podcast]

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 18:00:00 -0400

"The European Union was created by France and Germany...which is integral to the French identity," says Reason's Editor at Large Matt Welch. "The flight towards [French presidential candidate Emmanuel] Macron is a way of saying we're not willing yet to [leave all that behind]."

In today's podcast, Reason editors Welch, Nick Gillespie, and Katherine Mangu-Ward talk about the likely victory of the moderate Macron in May 7's run-off eelction and what it means for France; the looming U.S. government shutdown (even though Republicans control both houses of congress and the presidency); Howard Dean's idiotic tweet about "hate speech" and Ann Coulter; how campus freakouts prop up the careers of fake conservative intellectuals; and the real meaning of David Brooks' recent column on the crisis of Western civilization (which, minus a few details, could easily have been written 30 years, 50, or even 100 years ago).

Mentioned in the show:

Veronique de Rugy's 2015 column on how Congress abuses the emergency-spending loophole.

Snoop Dog's 1996 "Doggfather."

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Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons.

No, the Le Pen-Macron French Presidential Match-Up Isn't Just Like Trump-Clinton

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 17:00:00 -0400

Emmanuel Macron, a former economy minister who founded the political party En Marche! last year, and the National Front's (FN) Marine Le Pen finished in the top two spots in the first round of the French presidential election, inviting ill-fitting comparisons to last year's U.S. presidential election. Donald Trump, who after the Brexit victory last year said by the end of 2016 he'd be called "Mr. Brexit," tweeted out ahead of the French presidential election that he thought Le Pen would benefit from the ISIS-claimed attack on a police bus in Paris because the nationalist Le Pen was "toughest" on borders and terrorism. As weak as the comparisons between Donald Trump and Brexit were, comparisons between Brexit, or Trump, and nationalist candidates in continental Europe like Le Pen are weaker still. Le Pen, unlike her father, the former leader of the FN, jettisoned any pretense to small government and embraced a far left, anti-business economic program to couple with her nativist political program. Nikolai Wenzel, a research fellow at the Center of Law and Economics at the University of Paris Law School, sees some similarities between Le Pen and Trump. "I think basically Le Pen is the wrong reaction to a real problem," Wenzel told Reason, "just the way Trump was the wrong reaction to a real problem." "We're looking at a somewhat extreme, out-of-the-mainstream candidate with bad economic ideas going up against a dull, mainstream candidate with bad economic ideas," Wenzel continued. But Le Pen is not an outsider candidate the way Trump may have appeared. "Trump was an outsider from the political system, Le Pen is not," Antonio Barroso, deputy director at political risk advisory firm Teneo Intelligence, told Reason. "It's the opposite; in this race, the anti-establishment candidate is very much part of the political establishment." Neither is Macron, a 39-year-old former investment banker who has never run for elective office before, a Hillary Clinton clone. "Macron was nobody, absolutely nobody two years ago," Barroso said. While he may be a member of the "institutional elite" because of his schooling and career in public administration, he's unlinked to any party, a "political nobody." Unlike Le Pen, or Clinton, he doesn't have any "political lineage" either. Kerry Halferty Hardy, a libertarian nonprofit consultant active on several boards who currently resides in Paris, tells Reason Macron is more like Barack Obama circa 2008 than like Clinton. Obama and Macron spoke on the phone recently, at the latter's request, but the former president insisted the conversation didn't indicate an endorsement. "Macron has some good points: he's not a friend of Vlad. He has actually worked in the private sector. Some potential reforms make sense," Hardy wrote on Facebook. "But there's no there there." Hardy notes that Macron's lack of a natural base in government will make implementing any reforms exceedingly difficult. "So, what's the upshot if Macron wins?," she asked. "France continues to slide downwards, sans reforms, sans capitalized banks, sans growth... but with a big fat helping of 'hope and change'. Which means nothing will change at all." Macron served as the economy minister for President Francois Hollande after the Socialist belatedly embraced the principle of economic liberalization. Macron's proposals, as French economist Emmanuel Martin told Reason last week, were a lot more nebulous than those offered by the center-right Republican Francois Fillon. He won the Republican primary by offering more intensive economic reforms than his rivals, and was the frontrunner in the race until a scandal involving his employment of relatives in no-show government jobs. He still managed to wi[...]

France Election Preview: Terrorism, Socialism, Nationalist Socialism, and the Prospects for Economic Liberalization

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 18:26:00 -0400

The attack on a police bus on the Champs-Elysee in Paris yesterday, which killed two police officers and for which ISIS claimed responsibility, came while France's presidential candidates were participating in their last televised forum, and President Trump said today that he thought the attack would help the National Front's Marine Le Pen. "She's the strongest on borders and she's the strongest on what's been going on in France," Trump told the AP. "Whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism, and whoever is the toughest at the borders, will do well in the election." After the police attack, Le Pen called for the expulsion of all foreigners on terror watch lists. The suspected gunman in yesterday's attack, Karim Cheufri, is a French national who was questioned in February for allegedly making threats to kill police officers. Meanwhile, the center-right François Fillon, once the frontrunner before a scandal over a no-show job for his wife yielded calls for him to drop out, said "Islamic totalitarianism" ought to be the next president's top priority. François Hollande declared a war on terror after multiple coordinated ISIS-linked terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015 killed 130 people. The French government followed up with warrantless raids, house arrests, limits on freedom of speech and assembly, and other security measures. The 2015 attacks helped the National Front outperform its polling in the first round of regional elections, but by the second round, a month after the attacks, the bounce appeared to have faded. Voters go to the polls Sunday for the first round and in early May for the second round—four candidates are polling at about 20 percent; Emmanuel Macron, Le Pen, Fillon, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon. And in fact, both Le Pen and Mélenchon, a former Socialist who created his own party and has been called the "French Bernie Sanders," support French withdrawal from the European Union and euro as well as more protectionism, and even closing the border to refugees and banning the veil. "This is a very good example like Hayek used to say, where extremes actually join together," Emmanuel Martin, a French economist involved with libertarian MOOC Ecole de la Liberté, told Reason earlier this week. "Mélenchon-LePen, their program is 90 percent the same." Martin, who also describes himself as a libertarian rocker, even has a song about the tendency for such confluence in what we call the far right and the far left. "Mélenchon is the new Robespierre," Martin explained, referring to the French revolutionary leader associated with the Reign of Terror, "and to some extent he's very much like Bernie Sanders, but I think he's more evil… They both share this total illusion of democratic socialism, which to me is a complete oxymoron, and to any libertarian obviously." While terror attacks in France grab more headlines, the country has long-standing economic problems caused by too many labor regulations, too much centralization, and a lack of accountability in government. President Hollande's tough talk and concomitant actions on the war on terror failed to shore up support in the face of his failure to execute on economic reform. The former economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, who was one of the architects of Hollande's belated turn away from socialism and attempt at some labor deregulation and other economic reforms, now has the highest polling average, at 23.6 percent. "He's trying to gather so many different people, that it's very difficult to find something solid, something really, he's just a basic politician, he's trying to please everyone," Martin explained. "And his speeches are completely hollow, just hot air, really, and s[...]