Reflections on the candidacies of François Fillon, Benoît Hamon (and his Universal Basic Income pitch) and Martin Schulz
It is hard to keep up with everything that is happening in international politics at this time. And yet there are important developments unfolding as we speak that under normal circumstances would require elaborate attention. We don’t have enough time though to provide you with individual write-ups for each of them. So we may be forgiven if we address all of them in one general overview.
Let’s start with the predicament that the center right candidate for the French presidential election François Fillon finds himself in these days. The various revelations that have surfaced in Le Canard Enchainé and in Le Journal du Dimanche about his questionable management of public funds have hit his campaign hard. He has already made it clear that he would retire from the Presidential race if a criminal investigation were to be opened against him. If that were to happen it would frankly be a disaster since the center-right would likely be left without a fully endorsed candidate in the upcoming election. (The runner-up to M. Fillon in the Republican primary, Alain Juppé has already made it clear that he would not enter the race again, in case M. Fillon were to stand down.) Consequently Republican voters who want to avoid a Le Pen victory would have no other choice but to support Emmanuel Macron, the maverick candidate from the center-left who refused to participate in the Socialist Primary. After all, he would then be the only moderate candidate left with a credible chance of beating the ultra-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the second round of the Presidential election. In any case, the upcoming French Presidential election will turn into a nail-biting experience precisely because of the likely presence of Marine le Pen in that second round voting. In the context of Brexit and Trump a Le Pen victory would effectively spell the end of the EU project with devastating consequences for the world in general. We trust nevertheless that reason will prevail and that it won’t come to that, with or without M. Fillon.
Meanwhile Benoît Hamon has won the Socialist Primary in France. This is noteworthy not so much because he left behind ex-Prime Minister Manuel Valls and industrial policy champion Arnaud Montebourg but mostly because he won because of his endorsement of the Universal Basic Income (UBI) concept. Noah denkt™ itself has recently come around to understanding the relevance of the UBI idea. Obviously, M. Hamon’s version of the UBI is a little too generous for our taste. But we nevertheless believe that the UBI might be a viable way forward to counteract some of the worst distortions that the digital revolution has created. More discussion on this is certainly warranted. Unfortunately, the general public is reacting mostly negatively to the Mr. Hamon’s UBI pitch. In large part that is because it has not yet understood the reality of the new digital labor market and stays beholden to yesteryear’s notion of industrial 8 to 5 jobs instead. These traditional office and industry-based jobs, however, are disappearing rapidly. The new employments that are being created at this time are neither 8 to 5 jobs nor do they come in the well-structured and non-volatile shape that traditional work tended to come in up until now. It may take more time to educate yesteryear workforce members about the need to update their views on employment. But we are confident that even pensioners will eventually come around to understand that changes in social policy are inevitable.
Meanwhile in other news, the Socialdemocrats in Germany have decided to chose the former president of the European parliament Mr. Martin Schulz over sitting party boss Sigmar Gabriel as their leading candidate for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Germany. This came as a surprise to us since we do not believe that Mr. Schulz has grinded his teeth enough to be a viable opposition candidate to Mrs. Merkel. It is not enough to speak French and English well to be considered a heavyweight power broker. You also have to inspire an element of gravity and even fear and respect if you want to impose your will on an unwieldy government bureaucracy on one hand and a multifaceted public debate on the other. Alas, Mr. Schulz is a little lightweight an all of these matters. And it may have a lot do with the European parliament itself that he can’t come across more forcefully. Unfortunately, the European parliament continues to be a political sideshow that mainly attracts elder statesmen who want to stay involved with politics albeit it in a more sedated second-row environment. It is simply impossible to gain first-row stature there if you haven’t already had that before you joined the parliament. We hence presume that this decision to elevate Mr. Schulz into a front-row position may be good for centrist policies in Germany but bad for the Socialdemocrats as a Party. Generally speaking, Germany is one of the few countries where fears of substantial upheaval against free trade and EU policies are still somewhat far-fetched. Even though the AfD has made some inroads into mainstream politics chances for a major upset in the upcoming election are remote. That is welcome relief for all of us who are otherwise being kept on our toes by the Brexiteers, the Trumpians and the Front National sympathizers.