Last weekend, the people of France took a sharp turn to the left, and the rest of Europe may be on the brink of rebuking its recent tack toward fiscal responsibility. With Sunday’s election of French Socialist leader Francois Hollande, France has leapt backward toward the policies that have helped sink the continent in a sovereign debt crisis. Disturbingly, the big government platform Hollande campaigned on is all too familiar to the American people, and if the United States is not careful, it could suffer the same fate as its European allies.
Hollande sailed to victory by appealing to an electorate dissatisfied with having to face necessary cutbacks, proclaiming that he is “proud to have been capable of giving people hope again.” That brand of hope called for a change from President Nicolas Sarkozy’s relatively conservative policies — in his first term, Sarkozy worked to reduce the number of public sector employees, eliminate the 35-hour work week, reform the university system and cut taxes.
Hollande, by contrast, promised to raise taxes on big corporations and wealthy individuals, implement a top rate tax of 75 percent, increase public spending by 20 billion euros, raise the minimum wage, hire 60,000 more teachers, and lower the retirement age from 62 to 60 for some workers. He says he is “president of the youth of France” and believes that government stimulus, not cutting spending, is the right way to achieve economic growth.
If you’ve been a student of President Obama’s presidency, much of this should sound familiar. President Obama came into office on a promise of hope and change, appealed to young Americans and promised renewed prosperity. His solution was more government spending to the tune of a near-trillion-dollar stimulus, a government-run health care plan, a bailout of government unions, and a call for higher taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations.
The difference between the United States and France is that the latter is much further down the path of a social welfare state. Hollande’s proposals are not a new direction, they’re merely a return to form. France is notoriously emblematic of the European way of life. As Daniel Hannan, a member of the European Parliament, describes in Why America Must Not Follow Europe, “Long vacations, paternity leave, a higher minimum wage, a short working week: What’s not to like? The trouble is that eventually the money runs out.”