The leading expert in the French media and, from the flank of the left, demands not to put Macron on the same plane as Le Pen, although their economic policies do not differ much. The electoral battle being waged today will not bring a more social future for the republic.
After having achieved great commercial success with the book Treatise on heretical economics (2018), Thomas Porcher he established himself as one of the economists with a fixed position in the public debate in France. A regular on television and radio sets, this left-wing intellectual does not usually bite his tongue when criticizing the president’s economic balance Emmanuel Macronbut also the proposals of the extreme right Marine LePen. Both face today in the second round of the presidential elections on Sunday in France.
How do you analyze Macron’s economic balance?
It is full of chiaroscuros and contrasts. In the early years, Macron carried out a very liberal agenda, applying reforms that until then the right had not dared to apply. He promoted a deregulation of the labor market, reduced taxes on the richest with the partial abolition of the tax on real estate wealth or lowering the taxation on the benefits provided by the shares. He also reformed the statute of the workers of the state railway company (SNCF). But all this battery of measures was stopped with the revolt of the yellow vests at the end of 2018 and then it invested some 10,000 million in measures of a social nature. But when at the beginning of 2020 he seemed to resume this liberal agenda with his reform of the pension system, the pandemic arrived.
Then he promoted whatever the cost policies, with a significant amount of public spending aimed at protecting companies, but also workers.
Exact. What saved Macron politically was the pandemic, especially due to the economic protection measures during the economic reconstruction plan in France, promoted in September 2020 and valued at around 100,000 million euros. But we must not forget that many of the measures that allowed the French to resist against covid-19 were based on the pillars of the country’s social model. Everything that Macron claimed to want to change in 2017. That is, the civil service, public health or public spending – a few years earlier he had told a nurse that there was no “magic money” -. Despite this, the pandemic served to make a 180-degree turn in his policies and that he now presents himself as a pragmatic leader, who is “neither left nor right.”
The French left often portrays Macron as “the president of the rich”. Is it a cartoonish label, taking into account the economic measures applied in the pandemic?
I don’t think it’s a caricature. Macron continues to maintain a very liberal economic agenda and the pandemic represented a parenthesis. In fact, if he wins re-election, he will likely apply tough economic measures. In fact, the Economy Minister, Bruno Le Maire, has already said that one of the priorities in the coming years should be the reduction of the public debt. Taking into account that in a context marked by covid-19 and the war in Ukraine, the states must invest more in defense and health, I fear that the cuts will be made in the items destined for the poorest and the elderly .
Two of Macron’s main electoral promises go in this direction: the fact of extending the minimum retirement age to 65 years and conditioning the granting of the Active Solidarity Income – the equivalent of the Minimum Vital Income – to working or training for 15 or 20 hours. We must not forget that the profile of those who receive this minimum income is usually young people who have finished their studies and have not yet found a job, divorced mothers or people over 50 who have lost their jobs.
How do you explain that a part of the left-wing electorate hesitates to vote for Macron despite the unlikely but real possibility that Le Pen will win?
First of all, it seems essential to me that we do not put Macron and Le Pen on the same level. The leader of the National Regroupment is committed to right-wing economic policies like those of Macron, but xenophobia and racism must be added.
But it is true that a part of the left-wing voters who in recent years opposed the president’s reforms now find it very difficult to cast a vote with their name. They fear that, as happened in 2017, he will use his victory to say that all the votes are synonymous with support for his project, instead of understanding that it is a cordon sanitaire against the extreme right. Nor do you believe Macron’s promises in recent weeks that he would be more ambitious in the fight against climate change and that he would carry out “ecological planning”, the French equivalent of the Green New Deal.
Born in Drancy, on the outskirts of Paris, in 1977, he is son of a Vietnamese immigrant dedicated to management and a tailor of Italian origin. He studied at the Sorbonne and teaches at the PSB Paris School of Business.
He is a member of The Economists Atterrés (Terrified), a collective in rebellion against the hegemony of neoliberal orthodoxy in economic thought.
Omnipresent in the French media, is among the 100 most influential economists in the world and is the author of books such as ‘Treaty of heretical economy’ (2018) and ‘The abandoned’ (2020).
Marine Le Pen’s economic program has been described as social-populist.
It seems to me a mistake. Le Pen defends a right-wing economic program. He is opposed, for example, to increasing the minimum wage, he does not want to combat economic inequalities by increasing taxation on large fortunes. One of his star measures is to abolish income tax for those under 30 years of age. The reality is that young people tend to pay very little taxes, because most of them have precarious jobs. In this sense, Le Pen defends the same startup nation as Macron.
Regarding the European Union, aren’t they two opposing views?
Macron has a more federalist vision, while Le Pen is more nationalist, but we must not forget that the leader of the RN has greatly moderated her discourse regarding the EU in recent years, she no longer talks about France leaving the euro. If she came to power, she would end up doing like Salvini, she would accommodate herself to the framework of the European institutions and not much would change.
How do you explain Le Pen’s support among the lower classes?
Le Pen has dedicated herself to blaming immigrants for all those problems caused by neoliberalism and the decline of the welfare state. When a French person who earns less than 1,000 euros is told that if he does not find a place in the nursery, his salary is not increased or he is not given social assistance, this is the fault of foreigners. A simplistic and understandable answer to more complex political problems. In reality, Le Pen has found an ideal culprit, but it is a false culprit. Contrary to what is often said, immigrants are not dedicated to gobbling up all the social benefits. If someone wants to collect the minimum French insertion income, he has to have lived in France for at least five years. And he must justify a residence of three years to receive the minimum income for the elderly.
Has France gone right in recent decades?
This theory of the rightization of French society deserves at least to be nuanced. What the results of the first round showed us is that in France there are three blocks and each one of them represented almost a third of the electorate. The liberal center bloc led by Macron, the ultra-nationalist bloc led by Le Pen and Zemmour and a socio-ecologist left bloc.