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What's Left

How the pendulum swings! In the past two decades we have seen Marxism, even "Marxism with a human face," lose not only the cold war but also the war of economic ideas to Thatcher/Reaganism. In France that victory was acknowledged by the old Socialist fox, Franois Mitterand. He made a U-turn from nationalizing to privatizing industries and banks.

Thus did the leader of France's left hold power by espousing the Market Left.

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Next, two bright young men who were barely left of center, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, adopted Market Leftism and called it New Democrat or New Labour.

In Paris, though, the victory of Lionel Jospin's Socialists and their allies Sunday seems a move back toward an older left. Jospin even promises to remedy 12 percent unemployment by creating more state jobs. He thus spurns the trend set by the Anglo-US new left. Even in Canada, the center-left Liberals have had to rein in the budget of their welfare state in the face of economic reality.

If M. Jospin keeps his campaign pledge he may give French voters short-term relief, but at a cost of long- term problems. To create government jobs, he will have to desert the budget austerity Paris has practiced to qualify for the next stage of uniting Europe. That will mean either delay or dilution of moves toward a single currency and greater mobility of job-seekers across Europe's borders. It would also encourage nations such as Italy and Belgium to abandon the belt-tightening that is beginning to show they can work off huge national debts and thus lower their unproductive interest bills.

Competitive experiments are often welcome. It will be interesting to compare the impact on ordinary citizens' lives of the Clinton-Blair Market Leftism versus the old State Leftism Jospin promises.

One side of the competitive experiment is already well under way. Once Bill Clinton's supplementary government jobs program was defeated in 1993, he essentially allowed the private sector to be his job-creator. He had little choice, given a budget squeeze forced on him by Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats, the rightmost wing of the left. Clinton has been rewarded with the lowest unemployment rates in more than a quarter century, and rising prosperity.

Britain's new prime minister, Tony Blair, likewise makes it clear he has no intention of damaging the private sector that has been an engine of growth for jobs and incomes.

How far will Premier Jospin be willing to diverge from this Market Left success story? All evidence to date indicates he will put France's economy at risk if he returns to State Leftism.

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