The Independent reported yesterday that Marine Le Pen has taken a sizable lead over former French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the run up to the French general election next year. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ms. Le Pen, she is the leader of France’s Front National, a far-right political party founded in part by former Nazi collaborator Roland Gaucher. Among other things, Ms Le Pen promises to end immigration, strengthen French prestige and international influence, and pursue a slew of “France First” economic and social policies. If the margin of victory is strong enough, Le Pen is poised to deal another serious blow to European and global integration schemes such as the EU, the WTO, and others.
She is not currently projected to win the election, but those are the same sources which predicted that the Brits wouldn’t Brexit and that the Donald hadn’t a prayer of seizing the Oval Office. However, the French are far more liberal than the Brits or the Yanks, and polling data has Le Pen losing the race in the second round by more than 10 points. Still. The polls have been wrong about these things before. The rising tide of European nationalism and American populism has made many people (myself included) worried about the future of Western Liberal Democracy. Some have even gone so far as to lament that this is the beginning of the end for the West.
In the post WWII era, quality of life for most people around the globe has gone up. This is due primarily to the benefits of international free trade, and the democratic institutions which encourage entrepreneurship, creativity, and efficiency. But, despite the easily observable growth in living standards, many in the west favor globalization much less so than their former colonies and protectorates (see graph). It’s difficult to pin down exactly why this is, but some have opined that the growth of so-called 3rd world economies has left the working class in the West feeling like they’re being left behind. This is demonstrably false. Larger and larger slices of pie are going to the developing world, but the pie as a whole is also getting much larger. Everyone’s slice is bigger. That doesn’t seem to matter though. For the former great Empires, seeing a Cambodian prosper must mean that that has come at the expense of their own prosperity because, for hundreds of years, it was true the other way around.
During the age of the great European Empires, the economic principle of Mercantilism (that world wealth is fixed, and in order to have more wealth, one must take it from someone else), guided the policies of the British, French, Germans, Austrians etc. But Mercantilism was never the guiding economic policy of the United States. Instead, America pursued a system of (mostly/usually) free enterprise- the Smithian system. Freedom and liberalization is what leads to broad-based economic prosperity. The West can be saved if we keep that in mind.