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Macron v. Le Pen, A 200-Year-Old War Over Economic Philosophy

The French election coincides with the bicentennial of British economist David Ricardo's seminal work. Never has it been more relevant.

Coin flip
Coin flip
Jean-Marc Daniel

PARIS — It so happens that the presidential election in France is taking place almost 200 years to the day after the first publication of On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, by the legendary British political economist David Ricardo.

Indeed, it was on April 20, 1817 that the initial 750 copies of the arduous but influential book went on sale. It would be asking too much to summarize the work here. But among the many ideas it contained, one that stands out — and first appeared, actually, in the book's third edition (1821) — is that a country's economic evolution faces two obstacles: The first is the Luddites (as English textiles workers of that era were called), the workers, in other words, who worry about job loss due to mechanization and may be tempted to lash out and break the machines; the second is the landowners, or rent-seekers, who fear that competition, as encouraged and introduced by the public sector, will decrease their earnings.

With regards to rent-seekers, Ricardo was referring to a largely agricultural economy, as was still the case in that period. He advocated lowering rent prices by putting English land and landowners in direct competition with those of France and the United State, through free trade.

But even though his analysis was based on agriculture, a means of production that now plays a relatively small role, the economist's reasoning remains quite relevant today — and is on prime display in the very different economic programs put forth by Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, who face off May 7 in the race to become France's next president.

Competition isn't just something encouraged by political leaders: It's also a product of technological advances.

Back 200 years ago, Ricardo had several reasons to promote competition. It lowers prices, he reasoned, and thus improves the purchasing power of the Luddites. That, in turn, makes them more amenable to technological changes. As for the landowning class, it encourages improved performance, since earnings can no longer be guaranteed because of a monopolistic or oligarchic situation.

Economic changes taking place now, just as they did in the early 19th century, still involve the equivalent of Luddites and rent-seekers. Workers want to impose a tax on the use of robots, while the so-called rentiers defend policies of protectionism. The European Commission in Brussels is accused by both of being an extremist defender of neo-liberal competition, at their expense.

Except these days, in comparison to Ricardo's time, competition isn't just something encouraged by political leaders: It's also a product of technological advances. New information technologies accentuate competition, putting even more pressure on those looking to maintain their rent income.

Let's take the example of transportation. Up until now, the only real competition the French public train SNCF company faced was hitchhiking — almost nothing, in other words. But new technologies have changed the landscape. The emergence of ride-sharing mobile applications ultimately forced SNCF to compete.

sncf macron le pen economics train

SNCF train at Paris Gare de l'Est — Photo: Alfenaar

Pro-competition political leaders had something else in mind: They imagined opening the rail lines to other train companies. But technological progress pushed things in a whole new direction and public authorities, at the expense of SNCF, cleared the way for low-cost buses to be used. After the new companies failed to take off, they were dubbed "Macron buses," since the current candidate, when he was minister of the economy, had pushed for reforms to spur more open, technology-driven competition — what his detractors call the "uberization" of society.

Emmanuel Macron repeatedly tells crowds that the next generation of workers should be prepared to have clients rather than employers. Indeed, along with all the traditional drivers, we now have the salaried drivers of "Macron buses' plus the independent drivers who've attracted clients through various internet platforms, including Uber.

Firm with rent-seekers, understanding with Luddites.

Against the rise of this pro-competition logic, Le Pen has staked out a proudly conservative, anti-competition stance with the implicit goal of drawing rent-seekers and Luddites together. Like Donald Trump, with his promise of reopening coal mines, Le Pen's National Front explains its hostility toward free trade by pointing a finger at outsourcing, downsizing and layoffs of industrial workers, even if the latter is more the result of automation than globalization.

For the National Front, the goal is to protect jobs, particularly salaried jobs. For Macron's En Marche ! party, the goal is to establish a new labor framework that takes into account technology's inevitable role in an surge in competition.

Ricardo recommended being firm with rent-seekers and being understanding with Luddites. This was all the more important, he argued, since resistance by those living off rent is political in nature, while Luddite resistance is based on nostalgia. Nowadays, even if the rent-seekers try to establish a moral and political high ground for their opposition by denouncing the commodification of society, it's clear that they're also, in a sense, Luddites at heart. The situation requires, therefore, reforms that are carried with skill and understanding, but also with resolve.

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Feminists Infiltrate The “Incelosphere” — Where Toxic Content Warps Modern Masculinity

An increasing number of male teens and young adults who've experienced feelings of rejection wind up in what's been dubbed the “incelosphere,” a place where they can find mutual understanding in a world they think is against them. Two women Polish journalists spent two years on the online servers these “beta males” are flocking to in ever greater numbers.

Illustration of a man wearing a hoodie looking at a laptop, with two women watching over his shoulder.

Watching over "beta males" and their online toxic masculinity

AI-generated illustration / Worldcrunch
Patrycja Wieczorkiewicz

Welcome to Worldcrunch’s LGBTQ+ International. We bring you up-to-speed each week on the latest on everything LGBTQ+ — from all corners of the planet. This week, we feature an investigation by two women Polish journalists for daily Gazeta Wyborcza, who spent two years infiltrating the online “incelosphere” and its patriarchal gurus spreading toxic ideas about masculinity on young, impressionable young people. But first, the latest news…

✉️ You can receive our LGBTQ+ International roundup every week directly in your inbox. Subscribe here.

TW: This content may address topics and include references to violence that some may find distressing

🌐 5 things to know right now

• LGBTQ+ asylum seekers in the UK: Suella Braverman, the UK home secretary, says that fearing discrimination for being LGBTQ+ or a woman should not be enough on its own to qualify for asylum. But advocates have pointed out that Braverman is criticizing a policy that doesn’t exist: under the current system, asylum seekers must prove that they face persecution. Braverman also claimed, without evidence, that some asylum seekers pretend to be LGBTQ+, a suggestion which advocates have dismissed as baseless and “cruel.”

• Allies drown out anti-LGBTQ+ protests in Canada: Thousands of counter-protesters turned out in Canada to oppose demonstrations by self-described “parental rights” groups who are upset about sex education and trans-inclusive policies in schools. The conservative protests are part of a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment in Canada, inspired by similar movements in the U.S. and the UK. Pro-LGBTQ+ counter-protesters outnumbered conservative demonstrators in most Canadian cities – including in Toronto, where about 1,000 LGBTQ+ protesters and allies met just a few dozen anti-LGBTQ+ activists, reports Xtra.

• Turkish President confuses UN colors with pride colors: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan complained that he was uncomfortable with what he described as "LGBT colors" at the United Nations General Assembly – but the rainbow-colored decorations were actually intended to promote the Sustainable Development Goals.

• Romanian government may recognise same-sex marriage: Under a draft law proposed by the Romanian government, same-sex marriages in other European Union states would be recognised as legal in Romania. The decision comes five years after the Court of Justice of the European Union ordered Romania to allow same-sex spouses of Romanian citizens to live in the country. The law still has to be approved by the Romanian parliament.

• Malaysian PM doubles down on anti-LGBTQ+ views: In an interview with CNN, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said that his government “will never recognize LGBT rights.” In August, his government banned Swatch watches and other products with pride colors, threatening up to three years in prison for people caught with the products.

Feminists Infiltrate The “Incelosphere” — Where Toxic Content Warps Modern Masculinity

In her book For The Love Of Men: From Toxic To A More Mindful Masculinity, Canadian feminist writer Liz Plank explained that the struggle of women can never be one without confronting the crisis of manhood.

Plank is part of the forward-thinking feminist researchers and authors who've dedicated a significant amount of their work to the problems of men and masculinity, always sure to arouse suspicion. In reality, from a young age, we are forced into one of two oppressive patterns – masculinity and femininity – which in turn shape our behavior and our choices.

Thanks to the feminist movement, women now enter roles once reserved for men more frequently and eagerly than ever before, and teach their daughters that they can be whoever they want to be.

What has not changed nearly as much is our perception of masculinity.

The dominant image is still that of the strong, resourceful, male who pushes forward, takes risks and copes with adversities on his own. But today, they also must be sensitive, attentive, and empathetic as well (just not too much). Parents are still afraid of raising “weak” sons.

These are the roots of the so-called “masculinity crisis”. Usually, this phenomenon is reduced to some version of "men cannot keep up with emancipated women”. In reality, however, we as a society are the ones who cannot keep up with the need of dismantling toxic patterns of masculinity and creating new, healthy ones.

Instead, we leave young, lost adolescent boys at the mercy of patriarchal gurus who are preaching online.

Without anyone to talk to about their fears and uncertainties, and unable to count on their loved ones for understanding, these boys join internet communities, where they are taught that the “order” of certain men being naturally superior to them is natural, that it has been shaped by evolution, and that it cannot be changed.

In other words, they’ve already lost, so it’s better to get used to it and admit to their failures.

In March 2021, I was an exemplary feminist. I had several years of activist and journalistic work on behalf of victims of sexual violence under my belt, and my book about rape in Poland had just been published. Every day, I spoke to women who experienced sexual violence. With every story I heard, my aversion to men only grew stronger.

Only a few months later, I found myself in a closed internet server with a few dozen incels, exchanging messages and sharing observations from my experiences on a daily basis. My being there divided the feminist community.I received a lot of support, but I also read that I had “betrayed” the feminist movement, that I was a “guardian of the patriarchy”, that I was spending time with rapists, and that I wanted to force women to “bow down” to these men, or to sexually gratify misogynists.

Who are incels? In simple terms, they are men, typically young, living in what they call “involuntary celibacy”. They would like to have sex, but in their view they have no one to do it with. They blame women for their lack of luck in this area, believing that women do not view them as attractive enough. They also blame the society that they believe despises “beta males”, as they call themselves. Some of them blame their parents, who gave them “defective genes”. Oftentimes, they also blame themselves.

Online and in the news, incels are first and foremost associated with the misogyny on incel forums on the internet, and the terror attacks that several have been involved in, notably in the U.S., where self-described incels have opened fire on their peers and even strangers.

The harmfulness of the “incel mentality” should not be underestimated, especially since it regularly attacks specific people, usually women. Some people organize campaigns to expose girls on Tinder and create profiles of extremely attractive men, who they call “Chads”. When they match with women, they arrange dates and then randomly unmatch them, or tell the girls that they are ugly and should lower their standards when it comes to the appearance of a potential partner. I myself saw glorification of rapes and mass executions from the U.S. online, and was personally threatened two or three times.

Together with Aleksandra Herzyk, the co-author of the Polish book "Przegryw. Mężczyźni w pułapce gniewu i samotności" (Loser: Men In The Trap Of Shame And Loneliness), I spent an intense two years in the “incelosphere”. We began by setting up an account on Wykop, a portal where self-described incels and “losers” gather online. We did not intend to hide who we were, though it was obvious that, as feminists, we were unlikely to receive a warm welcome.

We wrote a post in which we assured those within the portal that we were sincerely interested in the difficulties faced by people posting with the #loser tag. Within a few hours, it managed to gain over 400 likes and about as many comments. One comment compared us to pedophiles luring children with candies or kittens. Some people called us names, like one comment that read "get the fuck out of the tag, p0lki”, while others were plainly sceptical. One commenter wrote, “this cannot work out”. The vast majority of commenters doubted our good intentions, believing that we wanted to build trust within the community in order to destroy it from the inside.

We were afraid of reading our private messages, which within the first day — over 70 on the first day itself. You can imagine our surprise that — apart from a few haters — the men actually wanted to speak with us. The majority's motivations boiled down to the fact that no one else was willing to listen to them, so feminists could do it for lack of anything else.

Read the full story here, translated in English by Worldcrunch.

— Patrycja Wieczorkiewicz/Gazeta Wyborcza

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