Newt Gingrich has an interesting column in which he tries to tie together two books, Nicolas Sarkozy’s “Testimony: France in the Twenty-First Century” and Amity Shlaes’s “The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression.” Gingrich’s thesis is that Sarkozy’s success in rallying the change-averse French around the theme that France must work harder provides hope that an unspecified American politician can rally the U.S. around a call to pre-New Deal free-market liberalism.
I’m not optimistic on this score. Gingrich overlooks several related facts about France. First, it never had a Reagan or a Thatcher. Second, the French, with their 35-hour work-week, don’t work nearly as hard as the Americans. Third, France is in much worse economic shape than the U.S.
France’s willingness to embrace Sarkozy, at best a very watered-down version of Thatcher or Reagan, and his “work” theme must be understood in this context. It may mean that France will start to catch up with the U.S. and England, but it doesn’t suggest that the U.S., whose economy has performed very well for decades, is going to return to pre-New Deal principles.
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