Paul Krugman: How France Has Come to the Brink of Electing a Fascist

Compared to the United States, France offers a robust social safety net, replete with quality health care for all, ample paid leave for new parents and universal pre-K among other essential benefits. Adults ages 25-54 are significantly more likely to find gainful employment in France than Americans of the same age in the U.S. It may not be a model social democracy like those found in Scandinavia, but French government has, for the most part, held up its end of the social contract with its citizenry.

Why then did more than 21 percent of the country vote to elect as president Marine Le Pen, a right-wing extremist who has called for the mass closure of French mosques and named a Holocaust denier as her successor to lead the National Front?

Paul Krugman acknowledges that the socio-political forces fueling a resurgence of Western fascism are complex, including an acute "cultural anxiety over Islamic immigrants," but he lays a significant portion of the blame on the European Union and its free-market radicalism. In his Friday column, he derides the stunning "arrogance and callousness" that has marked the EU's treatment of Greece during its debt crisis and the union's present divorce proceedings with Britain post-Brexit:

Even though Brussels and Berlin were wrong again and again about the economics — even though the austerity they imposed was every bit as economically disastrous as critics warned — they continued to act as if they knew all the answers, that any suffering along the way was, in effect, necessary punishment for past sins.

That's why Krugman will take only so much solace if Emmanuel Macron, a centrist who cut his teeth in the banking industry, should prevail in the French runoff.

"We should be terrified at the possibility of a Le Pen victory," Krugman writes. "But we should also be worried that a Macron victory will be taken by Brussels and Berlin to mean that Brexit was an aberration, that European voters can always be intimidated into going along with what their betters say is necessary."

"Even if the worst is avoided this Sunday," he concludes, "all the European elite will get is a time-limited chance to mend its ways."

Perhaps there's a lesson here for the elites in the Democratic Party as well. 

Read Paul Krugman's column at the New York Times.

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