French voters booted out President Sarkozy Sunday in favor of Socialist Francois Hollande, a relative political newcomer who advocates economic stimulus in lieu of the austerity measures that the incumbent had engineered. Many in the U.S. view this outcome, or pretend to view it, as a reflection of world-wide, not just French, anti-incumbent sentiment.
That's one possible political interpretation, which isn't relevant here in the U.S. Obama is the incumbent, but not the one who created this mess; and he's not a socialist, no matter what reactionaries may claim. People weren't voting politics, they were voting for pragmatic and effective economic solutions. Facts worth noting:
- Experience in Europe and the U.S. has demonstrated that NO single country, government, or policy has fully succeeded in "curing" the economic ills of the past five years; progress back toward prosperity is slow everywhere.
- However, European countries that followed the path of austerity and cutbacks have seen almost no economic improvement (hence the political discontent in France, Greece, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and elsewhere).
- In the U.S., on the other hand, even the modest half-loaf of stimulative measures that conservatives allowed to pass before blocking further action has begun to generate encouraging signs of progress, albeit slow, in market recovery and employment.
- Given these different outcomes, one is compelled to wonder: Where might we be now, had the Republican Party not stonewalled almost all the Administration's efforts to revive the economy through stimulus?
Taken together, these points suggest the correct lesson of the French elections. Near-term, if we want to hasten recovery, we should choose the stimulus option and elect not just the President who advocates it, but enough members of his party in Congress, to ensure proposals can be realized.
Longer-term (e.g. for future crises), we have learned (once again!) that a government is not fiscally the same as a household, even if both do manage their money through "budgets." Short-term stimulus is essential to the quickest possible recovery.
What happens after the immediate recovery process is dicier. Yes, we really do need to consider critical issues of deficit, budget, and entitlements, and make difficult spending choices. But it's hard to get anyone to focus on those matters when a rising tide makes it appear that all boats can float forever.