The Calculated Rise of France’s Emmanuel Macron

French presidential candidate skipped electoral politics, instead connecting with the elite and acquiring market experience; at stake, the future of Europe

Mr. Macron made friends in high places who propelled him to ever-higher echelons of French society. Along the way he acquired a repertoire of skills, from piano and philosophy to acting and finance, that helped impress future mentors.

.. Rather than run for office in his hometown, gradually building a constituency, he proceeded straight to Paris, where he became an expert on banking and European technocracy. He acquired a mastery of arcane regulations, from the 3,334-page French national labor code to the plumbing of the European Union’s single market
.. A Macron win would put Europe’s second-largest economy under an outspoken EU supporter who wants to establish a command center for the Continent’s defense, create a border police force, loosen France’s rigid labor rules, cut payroll taxes and reduce French public-sector employment by 120,000.
.. Mr. Macron met his future wife, Brigitte Trogneux, while he was in high school and she was his drama coach. She was more than 20 years his senior, a member of a prominent business family of chocolatiers, and married.
.. Mr. Hollande hired Mr. Macron as an aide, dispatching him to reassure investors and business leaders nervous about the candidate’s plan for a 75% tax on incomes above €1 million.After winning the presidency in 2012, Mr. Hollande brought Mr. Macron to the Élysée Palace as deputy chief of staff. As business leaders threatened to leave France, citing the tax policy, Mr. Macron warned his boss in an email that he risked turning France into “Cuba without the sun.”

.. Mr. Macron invited Sigmar Gabriel, then Germany’s economy minister and vice chancellor, to a private dinner in Paris. They agreed to commission a report from economists that could serve as a blueprint for a grand bargain Mr. Macron envisioned to revive the EU’s fortunes: Germany would provide stimulus by spending more, and France would become a European model of economic rectitude by paring back its generous labor protections.

.. In his view, France’s job market was hemmed in by a rigid educational system that set young people on a narrow career trajectory and by labor rules that discouraged companies from hiring them.

.. “When a president names someone minister,” he said, it’s “not to make him a servant.”

 

Xi Jinping’s Failed Promises Dim Hopes for Economic Change in 2nd Term

“I’m highly skeptical, since I don’t think it’s a lack of authority or the opposition of special interests that have kept him from moving in that direction so far,” said Scott Kennedy, the director of the Project on Chinese Business and Political Economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Rather, he’s operated according to his instincts in the face of economic challenges. And I don’t expect his instincts or those challenges to change much.”

.. “The boat sails best when the winds and waves are steady,” Liu Shiyu, the chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, said at a news conference last Sunday. “Without stable market conditions, no reform can make progress, and there may even be reversal of the strides that we’ve made.”

.. And while many economists, including some of Mr. Xi’s top advisers, continue to lobby openly for more market-oriented policies, the government has also become less tolerant of those who directly and publicly criticize it for not doing enough, including by censoring them on social media.

.. It is Mr. Xi’s own policies, though, that raise the biggest questions about his commitment to change. As more and more capital has left China, the government has restored restrictions on moving money abroad.

While taxes have been increased on service industries, promises to introduce a property tax and other fiscal changes have made little headway. That logjam has left the finances of local governments in many manufacturing-dependent cities dangerously dependent on land sales for revenue.

.. Some of the initial hopes that Mr. Xi would turn out to be a market liberalizer were probably never realistic. The Chinese government’s idea of reform has never been the free-market bonanza that some economists advocate.

Even Deng Xiaoping, who first injected elements of capitalism into the Chinese economy in the 1980s, stressed that the government must retain control.

.. Most experts expect Mr. Xi will stay much the same leader he has been for five years, unless slowing growth and rising debt produce a shock. Yet the cost of inaction could be an increasingly debt-ridden, inefficient economy.

“If the government keeps meddling in the markets to ensure growth, then this road will become impassable,” said Mr. Li, the professor in Shanghai. “The problems won’t be solved and will only get worse.”

Italy Just Handed the Global Economy Another Giant Variable

Even that possibility threatens Europe with trouble. If investors worry that Italy may leave the euro, they will demand greater rewards for continued lending. Those with the greatest debt burdens — Greece, Spain and Portugal — could see their borrowing costs rise beyond their ability to pay.

.. For now, such grim scenarios appear remote. The referendum maintains the power of the Italian legislature’s upper chamber, a potent check on the Five Star Movement, or any government pursuing radical change.

.. The consensus is that Italy can patch immediate holes in the banking system. But the referendum has destroyed what momentum existed to address the condition that is both cause and effect of the banking problem — a dire lack of economic growth.

Italy’s banks are stuffed with uncollectable debts in part because the country’s economy is smaller than it was a decade ago. Bad loans on bank balance sheets reflect that millions of people have lost jobs, eliminating spending power, while companies have seen sales evaporate.

.. Voters clearly did not trust Mr. Renzi to wield greater power. Now, they will be represented by someone with less power where it matters a great deal: Brussels and Berlin.

.. Brussels and Berlin argue, such countries must deliver so-called structural reforms, stripping away labor protections and trimming pension benefits.

.. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble effectively threatened to banish Greece from the euro if Athens did not deliver on reforms it promised as a condition of successive European bailouts.

.. Mr. Renzi was a rare leader who carried credibility in such quarters. He gained modest relief from European spending strictures in part by pointing at his reforms.

Renzi is the only leader in recent history who has advanced a structural reform agenda,” said Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at the Eurasia Group, a risk consultancy.

Are We on the Path to National Ruin?

I never really understood how fascism could have come to Europe, but I think I understand better now. You start with some fundamental historical transformation, like the Great Depression or the shift to an information economy. A certain number of people are dispossessed. They lose identity, self-respect and hope.

They begin to base their sense of self-worth on their tribe, not their behavior. They become mired in their resentments, spiraling deeper into the addiction of their own victimology. They fall for politicians who lie about the source of their problems and about how they can surmount them. Facts lose their meaning. Entertainment replaces reality.

Once facts are unmoored, everything else is unmoored, too. People who value humility and kindness in private life abandon those traits when they select leaders in the common sphere. Hardened by a corrosive cynicism, they fall for morally deranged little showmen.

.. New sorts of political leaders emerged. In city after city, progressive reformers cleaned up politics and professionalized the civil service. Theodore Roosevelt went into elective politics at a time when few Ivy League types thought it was decent to do so. He bound the country around a New Nationalism and helped pass legislation that ensured capitalism would remain open, fair and competitive.

This was a clear example of a society facing a generational challenge and surmounting it. The Progressives were far from perfect, but they inherited rotting leadership institutions, reformed them and heralded in a new era of national greatness.