National Front’s Missed Golden Opportunity
As the French gear up for their presidential run-off election, it is easy to look at polls and prepare for a Macron presidency.
Macron, a former Rothschild banker, has many good ideas for liberalizing the French economy and kicking down some doors, but sadly, he also embraces a policy approaching open borders. Considering the events since the Charlie Hebdo attack in January of 2015, one would think this was the opportune time for Marine Le Pen’s National Front (FN) to take the reins. Despite structural issues stacked against Le Pen, this election will still be viewed as the lost golden opportunity for France and the National Front.
Media in the West have hinted at Le Pen’s potential to win, but continuous French presidential polls show Le Pen behind Macron, or even Fillon had he advanced, by double digits. As it stands, the FN are hoping to crack 40%, with Le Pen currently a 25% point challenger. If Le Pen were to win, she would pull off an upset that would make Brexit and Trump’s election win look small in comparison.
Le Pen faces a media environment stacked against her immigration stance. Le Pen faces the potential for prosecution if she uses specific turns of phrase the authorities dislike. Le Pen faced all parties announcing support for Emmanuel Macron in the second round. Le Pen also faces the label of far-right, despite the fact she supports a basket of policies that are definitely not far-right. Her labeling as far-right was a foreshadowing of the media labeling any party in the EU far-right for simply being immigration restrictionists.
But there is one unnecessary obstacle Le Pen should not have had to deal with: her socialists advisers who pulled her leftward even as the socialist experiment in Europe was found lacking.
High-up in FN is an economic policy manager named Florian Philippot who pulled Marine Le Pen and FN’s economic policy leftward after the financial shock of 2008 showed that the money was gone in the EU and a reckoning was coming. Philippot is a far-left graduate of the ENA that trains the French elite. Philippot’s rise coincided with the FN’s move leftward on economics. Philippot’s rise allowed for a cabal of Marxist advisers, paid handsomely in the capitalist spirit, to shift FN from a pro-market and France first economic mindset to a France first and socialist mindset. Philippot, an outed homosexual, also helped change the public perception of FN as a far-right party by being a high-profile gay member.
These advisers also needed a home, as Fillon and Macron rejected their Marxist fantasies. The failed socialist policies are being tossed out by older parties and rejected by voters. There is an element of entryism at play, as Florian brought his brother Damien Philippot on in early 2017 as a special adviser to spruce up the messaging (and also collect a check). Sexual orientation aside, these men all are dyed-in-the-wool socialists, with only their degree of Marxism being the difference.
Their monthly fees are exorbitant for peddling ancient policy recommendations.
These advisers are ignorant of the reality of Europe existing in a negative interest rate policy environment. Central banks have artificially suppressed rates by eliminating the risk premium on sovereign debt. Any normalization of rates will force retirement ages to increase, social welfare to be cut back, and hard decisions to be made. The idea that Gaullism can be resurrected or outright socialism with the king’s approval (or queen’s in Marine Le Pen’s case) will not work with the precarious nature of EU finances. The EU bailout programs for different nations involve contributions from the remaining ‘solvent’ nations. France’s portion is rather large, due to its GDP. This is all floating along because the Federal Reserve has American rates at near zero.
In the Philippot crowd’s defense, these advisers have been trained since school in socialist and Marxist policies. Similar to American advisers and policy makers, they are caught in a credibility trap. The trap in America involves the FIRE economy funding candidates and economics departments that say the neoliberal basket of policies is what works, so even if they know it does not, they cannot stop because of the funding sources.
France has a similar problem, but with the government purse. No one declares the purse should stop because it is how they were trained and paid. On top of this, parliamentary-style coalitions mean even the slightest change can slice 5% off of your voter bloc, which cuts you out of the next round. Leaders coming from the outside run into a problem where the adviser class of France is so steeped in socialism they cannot offer an alternative. Like the fish when asked about being in water, they are trying to save France, but in the perfectly socialist manner.
What these true believers in socialist economics fail to see is that les trente glorieuses are gone and are never coming back. The social welfare programs created that formed part of the glory of that era were based on protection and investment from the American Empire at its apogee. The free flow of capital, as well as the competition of skilled labor not just in Asia but in formerly closed off Warsaw Pact nations, render those old socialist assumptions obsolete.
France is left with the labor infrastructure and costs of an era that has melted in time.
One could argue that this is why the establishment economically prefers open borders, as the ossified structure of France’s labor market will not withstand it for much longer. Unlimited migration of low-quality human capital will cause the system to collapse, due to a Cloward-Piven overload, or prompt the government to create new job classifications circumventing regulations, so that migrants are employed and not on welfare to soothe the natives. This will indirectly break the union heavy system. The system cannot have the natives get to restless to give Le Pen 50% of the vote.
A fatal flaw in this change in economic policy was running into a policy area that was proven foolish by the EU crisis of the last decade. In conjunction with this, it flies in the face of what Le Pen states elsewhere with a desire to have Frexit, leave the euro, and attempt to regain sovereignty for France. Leaving the euro would cause borrowing rates to rise versus the pooled risk of being part of the euro bloc, but the devaluation would be a boon to its industries. France is not attracting foreign investment. Taxation and regulation are too off-putting for foreign money. Philippot’s advisers are holding onto a socialist sandcastle to reward friends and themselves, rather than combine immigration restriction, deportations, devaluation and de-regulation to boost the welfare of French people.
This created a situation in the election where Marine Le Pen’s framing of the election did not boil simply down to: “Are we France, or a cog in the globalist machine?” The success of Brexit was not simply leaving the EU, but an implied notion that this was an exercise in sovereignty and controlling British destiny. Does England remain England with all of the immigration connotations involved? Most of Trump’s electoral success was based on nationalist populism based on restricting immigration. We are America, not the dumping ground for the globe.
Le Pen’s advisers pulling her leftward economically created different contrasts, which allow voters to slide over to other candidates and not face the French question. Fillon’s platform was technically as immigration restrictionist as Le Pen’s, but economically to the right. Had Le Pen not drifted leftward, she could have portrayed Fillon as a ‘me too’ candidate who cribbed off her bold outsider positions to appear fresh and new. By being both opposite of Macron in immigration and economics, Le Pen allows voters that think with their pocketbook, only to slide to Macron even if it means France becomes a bazaar by 2022. Voters can compartmentalize and block out the changing nature of France if they can say, “I won’t vote for her socialist nonsense,” even if the nature of the game has changed to an existential crisis that they fail to see.
Had Le Pen stayed to the right economically as her father had, or even positioned her platform to do what is best for France first with a heavy lean toward economic freedom, she could have framed the entire election as a referendum on immigration. This was a winning message, as polls show 61% want immigration to end, only 16% disagree. The power of the French presidency is that Le Pen can call a snap referendum and allow the people to vote on immigration if the bureaucracy proved immovable. Breaking down the election to “Are we France or a bazaar?” would have made the presidential election and implicit referendum on immigration. Currently, Marine Le Pen can push that message while simultaneously being forced to pitch well worn socialist lines.
This did not have to be. It is useless to predict what the election in 2022 will reveal as who could have predicted the France of the last two years back in 2012: Michel Houellebecq, reactionaries, and some immigration hawks, but few outside that small circle. France’s near future is full of unknowns and danger, as Emmanuel Macron has said the borders will remain open.
One line of hope is that FN receives roughly 40% of the vote for French men and women age 18-24, which is startling considering the more demographically mixed the youth of France are. The Generation of ’68 still clings to its old mainstream parties that offer the same solutions to entirely new problems created by those mainstream parties. Marine Le Pen and her party had the choice to make this election about national survival. In an environment of weekly terror incidents and a never ending flood of migrants, this would be a powerful message to frame as the choice for Frenchman this election. They may have no choice but to focus on it the next time.