The Entrepreneurial Left vs the Extreme Center
Taking more inspiration from Steve Jobs and Richard Stallman
The first round of the election does not let us with much to applaud in the first-round election results.
Marine Le Pen’s success confirms that the National Front will remain an important force in French politics for the foreseeable future. Its anti-Europe positions will continue to impact the political debate from more respectable parties.
But, more surprisingly, politicians from across the spectrum had trouble endorsing Macron against Marine Le Pen in the name of the the “republican front”. The dynamic of 2002 that crushed her father is not there anymore. Working-class and other traditionally left-wing voters seem to be turning their backs on the Socialist Party. It’s probably in great part thanks to François Hollande’s failed presidency, but even his former opponent Benoît Hamon failed to reverse the trend.
The vote and the legislative election that will follow in June will give rise to a coalition between center-left and center-right politicians. Without resorting to the exaggerations of Tariq Ali, this could well be a French equivalent to the “extreme center” that has ruled in Europe for some time now, with the promotion of bold reforms, “no alternative,” and classical neoliberal policies from the 60s.
As Dissent has it, Emmanuel Macron could become what Americans call a cultural liberal. His coalition will support gay marriage and will be willing to condemn their own country for its past imperialist ventures. But on economic matters they will be much more of a bunch of technocrats and free-marketers who will do little to redress growing inequalities or guard against the effects of globalization. They will push ahead with attempts to loosen a range of economic regulations, notably the substantial protections French workers presently enjoy against layoffs, under the guise to promote more “entrepreneurial dynamism”.
Indeed, much of Macron’s previous legislative work was destined to deregulate protected sectors such as transportation, notaries, etc. These reforms were hard to pass under Hollande, and most of them failed. It will be worse under Macron who will face a strong opposition right from the beginning of his mandate.
These extreme center economic positions will make it impossible for much of the left to support them, even when they have already gained the endorsement of leading Socialists including many former Hollande supporters and former Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
As explained by Jean-Louis Gassée, bold reforms won’t be accepted, nor work. A year after the election, this extreme center coalition will run out of ideas. It will follow the dismal example of President Hollande, whose approval ratings fell so far that he became the first president in the history of France’s Fifth Republic not to run for reelection after his first term.
Still, there is no contradiction between the values of the Left and the entrepreneurial spirit of the 21st century. It is no mistake that much of the public debate of today reminds people from the debates of the beginning of the industrial revolution. How to deal with automation? How to redistribute productivity gains? How to ensure that most people will live longer and in better shape? What to do with their new spare time? Etc.
Indeed, most social reforms of the past can easily be described as entrepreneurial ventures instead of political ones. As an example, go read the description of the “invention” of the Federal Income Tax in “Business Adventures”, one of the favorite books of Bill Gates. When described with the right words, fostering ambitious public policies does not seem very different from inventing the Xerox copier.
Many former French socialist leaders, such as Thierry Mandon, are chosing to go back to the private sector rather than insisting on a strictly public career.
Many French entrepreneurs have no problem identifying themselves as leftists. They support social protection, free healthcare, free education and a better society for all.
Even the members of the famous “pigeons movement” of 2012 ended up working hand in hand with the former socialist government.
I’ve already explained that the next French President won’t be so powerful anymore. But given how French people are fascinated by politics and how they made it the main topic of both 2016 and 2017, they know “why they vote”, and it is certain that the political landscape will be the scenery of huge fights and transformations.
So, how come there is no leftist discourse on these new entrepreneurial values? Why can’t we take more inspiration from Steve Jobs, Richard Stallman or Linus Torvalds? Don’t they have something to teach us when it comes to designing public policies?
They might even address the rural and post-industrial bubble with new ideas and solutions.
So how come there is no entrepreneurial left?