It's clear that Planet Progressive has a lot riding on new New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, who took control of Gotham yesterday. The Nation magazine has a dedicated blog to De Blasio's first 100 days, and is filled with excitable headlines like "How the rise of Occupy and decline of the neoliberal narrative helped shape the 'de Blasio moment.'" (Sample line: "It's far too soon, of course, to begin drawing comparisons between de Blasio's election and the epochal achievements of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery campaign….")
De Blasio's ascension is already being touted as a victory for income-inequality politics; now his administration will be the nation's leading laboratory for progressive economic policy ideas, such as jacking up taxes on the rich, expanding paid sick leave, universalizing public pre-K education, and giving a hearty middle finger to the politics of austerity. If all that sounds vaguely familiar, it's because the same song was being sung (and greeted with the same hallelujah choruses from the same lefty pundits) when French Socialist Francois Hollande swept into power in May 2012.
Here's how New York Times columnist Paul Krugman greeted the Hollande era:
The French are revolting….And it's about time. […]
It's far from clear how soon the votes will lead to changes in actual policy, but time is clearly running out for the strategy of recovery through austerity — and that's a good thing. […]
Europe's voters, it turns out, are wiser than the Continent's best and brightest.
What's wrong with the prescription of spending cuts as the remedy for Europe's ills? One answer is that the confidence fairy doesn't exist — that is, claims that slashing government spending would somehow encourage consumers and businesses to spend more have been overwhelmingly refuted by the experience of the past two years. So spending cuts in a depressed economy just make the depression deeper.
Finally, we had an old-fashioned macroeconomic laboratory experiment on our hands. On one side, the misguided "austerians" in London and Berlin; on the other, a Paris-led campaign of growth through government spending and equality through taxing the rich. The New York Times understood the stakes:
"Austerity need not be Europe's fate," Mr. Hollande declared after his victory was announced.
"You are much more than a people who want change," Mr. Hollande told a huge crowd in Paris gathered to celebrate his victory at the Place de la Bastille. "You are already a movement that is rising across all of Europe and maybe the world."
It's been 19 months since then. How's the experiment going? In honor of De Blasio's fondness for the tale-of-two-cities metaphor, here's a tale of two headlines:
Hollande's approval rating is lower than that of any president in the history of the Fifth Republic. Moody's has downgraded France's credit rating for the second time in two years. A "lost generation" of young French people have migrated to countries that actually provide opportunities for work. So ineffective has been Hollande's recipe of taxes and spending that he announced in his New Year's address a new program of tax and spending cuts.
So how will New York City's very own Hollande fare? Check back in 19 months. If history is any guide, the progressive commentariat will have moved on by then to the next shiny new populist.