Reflections on the French Election

The election of Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande to the presidency of France epitomizes the sorry state of contemporary democracy. By that, I don’t mean to imply that the French people should have voted for the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy. Neither would be capable of solving France’s intractable problems in a way acceptable to French voters, nor are the problems with democracy unique to France. To varying degrees they exist throughout Europe as well as here in the United States.

The first problem is: widespread economic illiteracy. Hollande campaigned on a platform of economic growth and expanded job creation, to be accomplished by raising taxes on the rich and increasing government spending. Well, good luck with that one. Even Lord Keynes himself advocated lowering taxes rather than raising them to stimulate economic activity. And the record of net job creation via government stimulus is one of dismal failure. Hollande’s program can’t work, and yet a majority of the French electorate voted for it. How sad.

The second problem is the utter cynicism of today’s politics. One wonders whether Hollande himself truly believes his own campaign rhetoric. One senses that he knows that his socialistic policies would drive France’s struggling economy into the ditch: According to the World Socialist Web Site (—who were cheerleaders for Hollande’s campaign promises of more tax & spending—Hollande’s team has told Reuters that he is going to change course and “carry out reactionary policies … and intensify social cuts.”

The third problem is that people sometimes believe in fairy tales. Who knows what Hollande believes or understands about economics, but let’s give him credit for being politically astute. He understood that the key to electoral success is to tell voters what they want to hear. In France’s case (as in the recent elections in Greece and northern Germany) most people are opposed to “austerity.” Hollande sized up the public mood and won the presidency on the theme of, “You don’t want austerity, and under me, you won’t have it.” That’s bunk. There is going to be “austerity” (in France and elsewhere) whether the people want it or not.

The fourth problem is that the public is in denial about reality. What is commonly called “austerity” is more accurately termed “sobriety.” For years, people in the democracies have been voting themselves economic freebies and subsidies—getting high on the drug of government wealth transfers. They became addicted to politicians who promised and voted more and more monetary fixes for their present and future desires. That means that politicians who indulge voters’ fantasies and play along with the delusion that the government is a bottomless cornucopia of goodies will have the electoral advantage over those who are courageous enough to tell people the truth about the hard choices that must be made.

What the voters didn’t reckon on—and what they are still in denial about—is that just as a feel-good drug addiction eventually brings one to the point where additional fixes could prove fatal, so the democratic Santa Claus state has neared the breaking point. Either the binge stops—that is, government spending and promises of future benefits are trimmed back—or the system breaks down. The ineluctable fact is that there simply isn’t enough real wealth in existence to make good on all these government promises. The penalty for not facing up to this painful economic truth will be either a market rejection of sovereign debt or a central bank “quantitative easing to infinity” that debases the currency, either of which will convulse markets horribly.

The biggest problem underscored by the French election is the degenerate state of modern democracy (with apologies to Aristotle and our Founding Fathers, who would consider “degenerate democracy” a redundancy). Democracy today is both childish and cannibalistic. It is childish in the sense that masses of people believe that if they want something, all they need to do is vote for it and they will get it—as if economic reality can be transformed by a mere act of will, and government can conjure desired benefits out of thin air. It is cannibalistic in that so many have fallen into a state of moral depravity and pathetic impotence in which they believe that the only way they can have the comfortable life is for government to take other people’s wealth and give it to them.

Many people believe that government is the answer to their problems. They are about to learn the painful lesson that government isn’t the answer. I doubt many of them will recognize that their pain will be self-inflicted. As H.L. Mencken once put it, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.” The French, the Greeks, and a lot of other people living in democracies are about to get a jolt of economic reality and sobriety “good and hard.”


Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared at  Copyright 2012 The Center for Vision and Values

Mark W. Hendrickson


Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and fellow for economic and social policy with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.

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  • Paul Tran

    It’s typically French, they love their comfort too much and hence opted for the “soft” option which will only prolong the pain & keep their country uncompetetive.

    • kjd

      And Americans are any different?  Isn’t this exactly what Obama is offering us?

      • Smokescreek

        Let’s remember tht the whole French Assembly has to be elected and may well swing the government t the right come June.

      • Paul Tran

        You could well be right but let’s hope American national character is very different from that of the French.

  • Scottshie

    Well said Mr. Hendrickson.
    The USA is on a similar path of politically supported, economic delusion of unlimited governrmt gratuities are limit- less. Everybody wants to ride in the wagon but fewer want  to help pull it…  
    More importantly, a growing economy is not going to happen unless government spending/debt is  restrained permitting resources to stimulate the private sector, not just  the government sector, unions, and industries( i.e. pro sports, autos,  environmental,  select financial co’s. etc.) in political favor.

    Is there not also a moral and ethical issue of  socialist leaning governments? What about the oft forgotten commandments; we usually remember the ones about killing and coveting the neighbors wife, but disregard the coveting of  thy neighbors goods (resources)?  Where do the resources come from to support government?  From the toils of  private sector workers, and  businesses who create equity/capital goods, now pay progressively disproportionately higher taxes. Taxes that now reach the level of confiscation, by communist/socialistic government that re-distributes to the politically favored, disregarding religious and ethical standards.

     Your “addiction to government” freebies, analogy is well stated and the crash to economic normalcy, like a drug withdrawal will be painful one,  unless we change to politically responsible representation.  

  • Jorge Cerra

    These are the times for demagogues, those politicians who take advantage of the illiterate of life and human beings, and they foster the passions and promise to follow the whims induced to the masses, instead of showing the people the right direction. Those demagogues buy votes through subsidies and gifts paid with the taxes colected or with the wealth of the generations ahead. They are thieves; they take the property of others to buy votes. And they are thieves of the truth, because they lie  astronomicaly. That is theft and fraud, and perversion of society. 
    I think the common penal laws should be applied to those corrupticians of society. It would be sufficient.