In his latest column for the New York Times, award-winning economist and best-selling author Paul Krugman excoriates French President François Hollande for supporting the EU’s German-led policy of economic austerity, and, in the process, “failing France [and] Europe as a whole.”
“François Hollande … coulda been a contender,” Krugman begins, nodding to the famous line delivered by Marlon Brando in Elia Kazan’s “On the Waterfront” and, by implication, calling Hollande’s political career kaput. “He was elected on a promise to turn away from the austerity policies that killed Europe’s brief, inadequate economic recovery,” Krugman eulogizes. “But it was not to be. Once in office, Mr. Hollande promptly folded, giving in completely to demands for even more austerity.”
The reason Hollande’s acquiescence matters so much in particular, Krugman argues, is because the French economy, contrary to what you may have read, is actually doing relatively all right — at least in the European context. “France hasn’t done well since 2008,” Krugman grants, “but its overall G.D.P. growth has been much better than the European average, beating not only the troubled economies of southern Europe but creditor nations like the Netherlands.”
After blaming the country’s bad press on a neoliberal bias against the kind of old-fashioned 20th century welfare statism that France represents, Krugman laments that Hollande seems to be among the misinformed, despite his nominal leadership of one of the most powerful socialist political parties in Europe. Describing it as “a very sad story,” Krugman writes that Hollande “has fallen into a vicious circle in which austerity policies cause growth to stall, and this stalled growth is taken as evidence that France needs even more austerity.”
But as bad as this is for Hollande’s legacy, what Krugman really cares about is the future of the anti-austerity movement, and the European project itself:
Europe desperately needs the leader of a major economy — one that is not in terrible shape — to stand up and say that austerity is killing the Continent’s economic prospects. Mr. Hollande could and should have been that leader, but he isn’t.
And if the European economy continues to stagnate or worse, what will become of the European project — the long-term effort to secure peace and democracy through shared prosperity? In failing France, Mr. Hollande is also failing Europe as a whole — and nobody knows how bad it might get.