French Revolution?

What does Sunday’s election mean?

Photo: Lorie Shaull. Source: Wikipedia

On Sunday the reformist candidate Emmanuel Macron defeated populist Marine LePen by a landslide, 66% to 34%. The 39-year old will become the youngest French head of state since Napoleon. Macron has been described as a social democrat, who supports liberal social policies but who wants to enact conservative fiscal reforms, along the lines of the “third way” advocated by Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and Gerhard Schröder.

It’s astounding that Macron was elected. He did not come up through normal political channels. His opponent, Marine LePen, has been in politics for decades, as had her father before her. While she has been labeled a populist because of her anti-Euro and anti-immigrant views, in many ways she is more a product of the political establishment. Macron promises he will upend the French economic system, which has a larger government sector than any other country in Europe – over 60% of the economy.

And the economy has been stagnant – growing 0.8% per year for the past 5 years, with 11% unemployment. The French electorate voted decisively to reject the established order. And – if he can assemble a government – Macron will do just that. He has no allegiance to France’s dirigist and corporatist heritage. His greatest difficulty may come from his sudden, astounding success.

Because it will be impossible for him to please all of his supporters. People voted for Macron for many reasons, and because he has almost no political history, he is a blank slate upon which they project their hopes for reform. In that way, he’s a lot like Barak Obama – a symbol to many of hope and change. But symbols don’t run things.

Photo: Claude Truong-Ngoc. Source: Wikipedia

The challenge now comes in formulating and enacting an agenda. As George Washington says to Alexander Hamilton in the hit musical:“Winning was easy, governing is a lot harder.”

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA

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