The title is an exaggeration, I’m referring to one post on one website, ‘Contenir de Chine: le mauves calcul d’Obama’ at telos. Sorry it’s only available in French, but Google translate, and similar online services, should give a fair version in English. The post caught my eye, because stereotypically the Americans are in favour of free trade and the French are in favour of protecting trade, putting politicised protection of privileged sectors of the economy above consumer driven competition. That French attitude is often known as Mercantilism, which is traced back to the seventeenth century French finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert. To hear some American libertarians (and British free market Eurosceptics) talk you would think that America is always ahead of France on this issue, and that France is always the bad object for classical liberal thinking. Well the time I’ve linked to appears in a very centrist French source, and complains that American policy in eastern Asia is an example of Mercantilism on a gigantic scale, attempting to create an American dominated economic zone to exclude China, in a massive subordination of the market to supposed strategic rivalry. As the article points out, the policy is something of a flop since America’s satrap states (or so some ‘strategic thinkers’ in Washington would like to think) are increasingly trading with China. Market liberals, and in fact most economist of various political persuasions, think free trade is a good thing which benefits both sides. The attempts at a Mercantilist encirclement of China does not benefit the American economy, though the idea that trade with China is an attack on the American economy has been accepted by both Romney and Obama so sadly we can expect to hear a lot about it during the presidential campaign.
Going back to those American libertarians, who despite protestations to the contrary, seem just as sovereigntist-nationalist as any French Jacobin, I’ve seen a prominent French libertarian in America, Veronique de Rugy, claim that she was the only French libertarian, when she was a postgraduate student, and condemn Obama for saying that America could learn from France. Well I’d probably agree with Rugy on the specific issues where Obama might think America can learn from France. Still what America might profit from looking at the French example, from a libertarian point of view, is the existence of gay partnerships, the lack of death penalty, and the much milder penal system in general. America might also learn from French critiques of super inflated Mercantilism as we have seen! There are of course libertarians in France. In fact there are not just one, but two liberal parties which are liberal in the classical sense, so are in the same spectrum band as American libertarians: Partie Libéral Démocrate and Alternative Libérale. They are very small parties, but then so is the Libertarian Party in the US. Of course the French economy is much more state dominated than the American economy, but at least in mitigation we can point out that the most extreme forms of statism, the military apparatus and the prison apparatus, are smaller in France. There is a lot of immigration, much of it Muslim, putting France ahead of America in that aspect of diversity. Nevertheless, Americans across the political spectrum seem convinced that American is unique in the world in having large scale immigration. I guess any French liberals/libertarians who chance across this post will protest that it is so statist and everything is so bad. No doubt, I wouldn’t disagree with any of it, just don’t think there isn’t a lot of it in American as well, particularly in the areas you should want to keep it limited to genuine needs (the military) or just very small (prisons).
So America, learn from your French critics and give up on the Mercantilism.