Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
December 19, 2008

Emmanuel Todd on Europe

In 1976 Emmanuel Todd predicted the down fall of the Soviet Union. In After The Empire, first published in French in 2001, he predicted the (relative) decline of the United States. From a 2003 review:

Todd makes the following key points:
3.  The United States economy is headed for a crash and is only buoyed up by foreign investments. The United States trade deficit is a disaster that is fed by US firms which push their factory jobs overseas and gut the nation’s industrial base. Some 10% of American industrial consumption depends on foreign goods for which there is no corresponding balance in national exports. America no longer has the economic and financial resources to back up its foreign policy objectives. The United States is becoming a nondemocratic, arch-conservative society split between the very rich and the service sector;
5. The United States is economically dependent on those countries which hold its bonds and debt–China, Japan and Europe. The US needs a certain amount of global disorder to offset this dependence in order to maintain the US political-military presence in the Old World; and,

Seems like he got some things right.

Now Todd published a new book, this time on Europe. I have not yet read it, but this from a Financial Times review sound interesting:

In his latest book, Après la démocratie (After Democracy), [Todd] conjures up the alarming possibility of a post-democratic Europe reverting to ethnic scapegoating and dictatorship.
Mr Todd paints a picture of a collusive political-media elite that benefits from globalisation while being disconnected from the people who suffer from it. As arrogant as the aristocracy on the eve of the 1789 revolution, this elite blithely ignores the views of voters whenever it suits them. French voters rejected the European Union’s constitutional treaty, but a modified version was later adopted by parliament. Britain’s voters protested massively against the war in Iraq, but the government sent in the troops regardless.

Ordinary workers blame cheap-wage China for killing jobs and compressing wages. Instead, France’s leaders scapegoat Muslim immigrants and target militant Islam, justifying an unpopular intervention in Afghanistan. Employees want Europe to protect their jobs but, in spite of his increasingly protectionist rhetoric, Mr Sarkozy – and the opposition Socialist party – still adhere to the free-trade dictates of the EU and the World Trade Organisation.

In Mr Todd’s reductionist view, globalisation is simply the exploitation of cheap workers in China and India by US, European and Japanese companies. He is therefore an unabashed champion of European protectionism. Erecting trade barriers would increase European wages which, in turn, would increase demand and boost trade, he argues. The “social asphyxia” that is sucking the breath out of democracy would disappear.

The British, whose very identity is wrapped up in free trade, will never buy protectionism, Mr Todd suggests, but Germany and the rest of the EU could be persuaded.

Hmm ... Possible? Likely? What do you think?

Posted by b on December 19, 2008 at 12:04 UTC | Permalink


Protectionism, nationalism and military flash fires around the globe to keep the populace distracted all seem possible. Didn't Sarkozy already vow to protect France's auto industry? Didn't Germany protest at the possibility the US would bail out its own auto industry? The GATT rules certainly seem likely to be ignored in the coming months. Even mild measures like currency devaluation are supposed to be bad form, but the US, Japan and Britain are already doing it.

Posted by: seneca | Dec 19 2008 13:23 utc | 1

Oh, I just read about his last book earlier this week. Looks like there's some food for thought there, as usual.
According to what I read, he basically states that mainstream "center-left" in Europe isn't much different from capitalist right, and both are wrong on the economy. Since both are aware that most people want protectionism and an end to globalised free-trade that gut their economies, he fears that both sides will growingly try to suppress democracy (and it could go quite far in his view, even close to Latin America junta style). And of course he's definitely promoting protectionism on a continental level - Europe having a more or less even trade balance, it should work for EU, but there should be top-level agreements to ease growing protectionism's issues with US and China.

Posted by: CluelessJoe | Dec 19 2008 13:37 utc | 2

I say we should pay close attention to Chavez in Venezuela. I say what's happening there may well be the wave of the future. I say so because out in the provinces, small communities are collectivising. People are coming together voluntarily to help each other and the nation as a whole. A split is coming there between urban and rural populations. What shakes out of that conflict of interest will determine the fate of resurgent socialism.

Posted by: Jimmy Montague | Dec 19 2008 14:55 utc | 3

The British (and the Americans as well) have never cared that much if trade is "free", as long as it is profitable.

Posted by: ralphieboy | Dec 19 2008 17:15 utc | 4

The growing distance between the political parties at the helm and the people who voted for them is a fact. And it undermines democracy - even though I did not read any of his books, I have to agree. (I think I will get this one ASAP - as Joe said: Food for thought)

Protectionism is possible, even likely. There would be better ways to ease the pressure on workers in western factories, but they are difficult to implement: Basically the workers are pressured the same way wherever they are, so bringing about wage increases around the world would benefit everyone. (As I said: difficult to implement, as long as there are hundreds of millions or billions of people without any kind of income at all...just waiting to be ripped off)

Posted by: No So Ana | Dec 19 2008 17:21 utc | 5

"he basically states that mainstream "center-left" in Europe isn't much different from capitalist right, and both are wrong on the economy"

I'am French and I agree, though this crisis is the crisis of neo-liberal ideology (European meaning) the socialist have nothing to say and nothing to propose.
It's rather the right (Sarkozy) who is changing his mind.

I think that UK like USA is heading to huge economical problem, the british trade deficit is huge and unlike Spain they are not in Eurozone, I'll be not suprised if they join the Eurozone next year, or in 2010. So I think they could agree on protectionism, though historically they are very free trade.

Germany is much stronger, they are with China the biggest export country in the world, are they are more reluctant to lean towards protectionism than British.

Posted by: JLS | Dec 19 2008 19:39 utc | 6

Uh, geez. The Eurozone impose tariffs on everything from tennis shoes from indonesia to biofuels from brazil.

Any attempt to inflate wage rates via trade barriers is accomplished at the expense of development elsewhere. Trade is good.

Posted by: slothrop | Dec 19 2008 20:35 utc | 7

The Eurozone impose tariffs on everything from tennis shoes from indonesia to biofuels from brazil.

How good that the U.S. would never do such. The 2,965 pages of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule
of the United States - 2008
(pdf) will certainly attest to that.

Any attempt to inflate wage rates via trade barriers is accomplished at the expense of development elsewhere. Trade is good.

If you are part of the winning side. If not the "good" simply doesn't apply?

Posted by: b | Dec 19 2008 21:00 utc | 8

Tariffs put in place soley for protectionist reasons lead to corruption and inefficiency we know that but nevertheless we must find a way to prevent the greedheads from leveraging off the lousy infrastructure and services in countries which don't have quality free freely available education, healthcare and welfare systems.
Why? - because we know the alternative is corporations will seek what they so charmingly call competitive advantage by going to those countries lacking in adequate social services and building their manufacturing base there. This has forced those nations which do take care of their citizens to reduce health, education, and welfare systems to remain competitive.
The solution is simple and needs to be pushed at the leaders. The ideal time will be when the DOHA GATT round which seeks to repay the agricultural and other commodity producers for opening their markets to the corporations by opening up europe and amerika to tariff free commodities and ceasing agricultural subsidies, fails once more, as it inevitably will as pressure mounts, particularly from within europe.
The solution is a type of universal tariff set by independent assessors based on the real costs of providing education, health and welfare is placed on all goods from countries which don't provide those basic rights to life.
The revenue from those tariffs would not go into subsidising local produce as it usually does, because not only does that contribute to inefficiencies, the result is to the detriment of global development, instead it would go into providing the services the manufacturing nation lacks.

Obviously delivery mechanisms which reduced the ability for elites to 'cream' the aid would need to be instituted.

The leaders of those nations whose health education and welfare had been eroded in the hunt for profit would eventually suffer the embarrassment of having their exports tariffed and independent bodies come in to repair the damage they had wreaked.

All of this would truly provide the level playing field the neo-libs boasted they were creating as they took advantage of the differences they denied existed in their abuse of competitive advantage.

It is a simple plan, an obviously workable plan but it could only be made to succeed if citizens everywhere insist, otherwise the usual half assed compromise that all 'free' trade has been thus far would ensure that it was just another failed idea.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Dec 19 2008 21:17 utc | 9

Tariffs can play a role in maintaining a national economy: if an exporting country has lower environmental or safety standards than in importing country, then the importers are cutting their own throats if they do not impose a tarrif that would balance out the difference in costs if the exporter were producing up to standards.

The tarrif could then be used as leverage to encourage the exporting countries to raise their environmental & safety standards in exchange for removing the tarrifs.

It is a shame that tarrifs are not used for this purpose.

Posted by: ralphieboy | Dec 20 2008 0:08 utc | 10


Comparative advantage is true. The problem is one of unequal exchange caused by such policies as barriers to trade. Protectionism is required in the OECD to preserve economic dominance.

But, there is less and less reason to believe that global capitalists care about the continued health of northern standards of living. The synopsis of Todd's book seems to suggest as much. I'll read the thing, even though his last book was a pile of junk.

Posted by: slothrop | Dec 20 2008 0:40 utc | 11

I'm french, like Emmanuel Todd and I have read his books. He was right about predicting the downfall of the Soviet empire and again right about predicting the downfall of the US one.

But I think he is wrong when he says that there is a risk for a rise of dictatorship in Europe. Europe is quite prosperous today. It is the world leading economy, even according to the CIA's World Fact Book.

Rather this risk exists in the US. And there is a good reason for this.

The US is and has always been a non united nation. It is today still very divided between the few rich and the many poor. It is even divided between the North and the South.

The US, as a people, has two nightmares that it has tried to fight against and push back off its mind. And when I say nightmare I mean it in the psychological sense. The negated troubling reality.

One is the Great Depression. This economic crisis had almost taken down the US. It struck a fear in the people, a fear that lives to this day. Truman as US president was telling the boys still stationed in Europe after the end of the war that they'd prepare to fight another war, this time back home, a war against the looming specter of the coming back of the Great Depression. Since then the US has resorted to every imaginable means to prop up its economy. Entering World War 2 was one, starting a cold war with the Soviets by inflating their menace was another, financializing, petro dollarizing and globalizing the economy were still others. This US military industrial complex warned about by outgoing president Eisenhower has had the role of military keynesiasm. It saved the bankrupt aircraft industry in 1948. It created jobs to sustain the nuclear standing armies. And today to serve some 800 foreign bases and send troops abroad.

The other nightmare is the civil war. That war was brought on by the North against the South for purely economical reasons. It's only later in the tragedy, when things were going very bad for the North that an ideological push was decided and tunnelled within the noble pretense of abolishing slavery. Lincoln is on the record stating he had absolutely nothing against the slave trade and never wanted to put an end to it. But when push came to shove the North transformed the civil war into the first absolute total war of modern history, a war against not only armies but an entire people of the South. Today, at the first sign of economic toughening, we can see the same patterns of division, the North arguing for a bailout of their auto industry in Michigan and accusing the South, which is harboring foreign car makers from Germany and Japan, of being unamerican by refusing it.

It will be interesting to see if the fault lines of the past are still at work today, what action is the US tempted to take, if it will be war to justify a furthering of its military keynesianism and unite its fractured society, unlikely due to the massive deficit, or absent any war scheme, if it will be a deepening of its domestic divisions, be they North against South or rich against poor.

An historical time we are given to enjoy!

Thank you America for this great show. It sure beats Hollywood!

Posted by: Stephane | Dec 20 2008 1:17 utc | 12

Huh. I woulda thought by this point even the most jaded euro-centrists here have discovered that the recession is global, not "a show" made by america.

Posted by: slothrop | Dec 20 2008 2:26 utc | 13

I often disagree with things I read here (and I do read this blog pretty regularly in the "knowing your enemies" spirit ;)). I generally don't buy hysterical theories about American "imperialism," but most of the criticism about the U.S. economy is 100% valid. It is/was becoming a society where a tiny elite make a sport of extracting as much value as possible, while the vast majority struggles just to stay afloat. I would go so far as to call this behavior treasonous, when American globalized elites conspire to benefit foreign nations at the expense of their own countrymen. There are still plenty of small entrepreneurs and innovators, but their goal is almost always to sell out as quickly as possible and retire in their 20s or 30s, rather than building new global enterprises.

I hope that protectionism comes back into force. Free trade benefits exporters at the expense of importers, and when capital is mobile, labor costs the only "factor of production" that really matters. How little can you pay your workers, and what are the minimum living standards they'll accept? You can always go too far in the other direction, but basically our options are to accept lower returns on capital (with protectionism) or accept the instability, inequality, and steady economic rot that free trade brings. Continental Europe has found a socio-economic model that is sustainable in the long run, or at least more sustainable than what we have in the USA, and protectionism (EU-wide if not national) is a big part of that.

To the guy who talked about Venezuela as "the wave of the future"... Chavez is just a wannabe dictator, like so many that we've seen throughout history, who uses revolutionary rhetoric and political patronage (vote-buying in the guise of socialism) as tools to sustain his regime.

Posted by: Matt | Dec 20 2008 4:40 utc | 14

It will be interesting to see if the fault lines of the past are still at work today, what action is the US tempted to take, if it will be war to justify a furthering of its military keynesianism and unite its fractured society, unlikely due to the massive deficit, or absent any war scheme, if it will be a deepening of its domestic divisions, be they North against South or rich against poor.

An historical time we are given to enjoy!

Good to see that you derive such pleasure from others' troubles. America is and always will be united by our dislike of "preachy, provocative, condescending, and up your nose" foreigners. Other countries have endured long wars, military occupation, economic collapses that make the Depression look like a mild cold, fascism, communism, Stalinism, genocides, purges, death camps - all that good stuff. Just a week ago, riots exploded across Europe for no apparent reason. Yet the USA always seems to dodge the worst of it and has always come out stronger and better in the end. If we put an end to rule by the globalized financial elite and adopt some export-oriented (or at least import-substitution) policies, those changes will be entirely positive and any dislocations will be worth it. If we decide to pull our troops back from all those overseas bases, that would represent an economic gain for us, while the affected countries would suddenly find themselves without an American defensive umbrella for the first time in fifty years.

What is NATO without the USA, and what is Europe without NATO? I wish you luck - my ancestors were from Europe after all, including a few Frenchmen in the mix. But I don't think Europeans who talk eagerly about a weak and chaotic USA really know what they're asking for.

Posted by: Matt | Dec 20 2008 5:06 utc | 15

Trade is always good, even if much of the trade coming into and out of a country is merely transshipment (as in the cases of Hong Kong and Singapore). Yes, it is better to export rather than import, but a country like the US that predominantly imports often isn't trying hard enough to be competitive. Selling goods based on low costs is merely one tactic; a popular theme for Asian management books is to apply the 36 classic Chinese military strategies to business.

Stop griping and start selling.

Posted by: JDsg | Dec 20 2008 6:32 utc | 16

His comments on US balance of payments problem & exported industrial base, media ignoring voters & a few other things... all true.

But his socialist/protectionist stuff offers no fundamental vision of economic health, rather just a shift from one head of the hydra to another. Your FT article concludes:

Too many questions are left hanging. Does globalisation not benefit western consumers? Why would Germany, one of the great exporting nations, turn its back on free trade? Has Mr Sarkozy not performed well in the crisis?

but last sentence there...

But there is no doubt that the intellectual assault on free trade is intensifying.

yah, sure... ok. Like after converting US/world economies to speculative paper consisting mostly of junk bonds, utterly eradicating any sensible standards for anything... whether labor, production quality, long term planning, speculative "investing" of entire world's wealth (etc etc.), sure seems to me statement that "assault on free trade is intensifying" is a little late to the party.

One thing to rant off on an obvious problem, much less reconsider our languaging (free trade has never been what the term suggests), quite another to set out a very well reasoned & principled course for the future. Personally, I don't see that in little bit FT wrote there.

Posted by: | Dec 20 2008 13:19 utc | 17

america is like israel, take the land and build a transcendant nation state.

exceptionalism is just a away of begging civilization for more time before the
toilet flushes. this experiment in north america is a sad whimper that can only
stir the collective ant hill into wars of conquest for something has lame as petrol.

much like the american auto industry, wars of conquest are so september 10.

the future is poised with a strong smattering of mandarin.

Posted by: chucky-dee | Dec 20 2008 22:21 utc | 18

protectionism comes in different guises: tariffs, weakened currencies, bailouts, bullying smaller countries, forming favored economic alliances, dubious restrictions via health/quality standards, dumping goods, collusions, supporting foreign puppets, bribing foreign leaders to back off or to sign, or threatening them, imposing globalization on foreign peasants ...

and every nation that seeks to ramp up its production in order to approach, match or exceed that of others will have to resort to some form of protectionism at lest on the short to medium term.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Dec 21 2008 8:17 utc | 19

Comparative advantage is true.

I disagree. Comparative advantage as stated by Ricardo assumes that goods, but not capital or labor can move freely across borders. If you remove one or both of those restrictions you end up with absolute advantage. If both can move freely both capital and labor relocates to where absolute advantage can be found, leaving some areas abandoned (perhaps not big problem, but still not comparative advantage). If only capital can move, it will. So the means of production ends up where absolute advantage can be found leaving some countries to export only what raw materials they have absolute advantage for. And import everything else.

Posted by: a swedish kind of death | Dec 22 2008 1:15 utc | 20

Free trade is not just free movement of goods, it must include free movement of labor. This is not my opinion. Look up Adam Smith and other intellectuals who first analyzed world-wide trade. Incidentally, there was actually free trade (and remenants remain) for European labor within the Euro and North/South America about 100 years ago.

Posted by: poorman | Jan 10 2009 4:45 utc | 23

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