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Oui, the People

Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the downfall of France’s elites.

May 30, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 35 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
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Strauss-Kahn’s departure from the IMF comes at the worst possible time for Europe. The director’s position has traditionally gone to a European, just as the job of heading the World Bank has gone to an American. In fact, in 39 of the years since the IMF was founded in 1946, its director has been a Frenchman. In recent years, the job has involved imposing “structural adjustment programs” on debtor countries in Latin America and Southeast Asia to ensure that they pay back Western banks. But today the deadbeats are in Europe and North America, and the countries of the old Third World—from Mexico to South Africa to Singapore—are putting forward their own credible candidates for the top IMF job. Europe may soon find itself taking orders from those it used to lecture.

The Strauss-Kahn episode is spectacular, but it fits a pattern. France missed the Arab democracy movement last winter because it was mired in scandal. At the height of the demonstrations, it emerged that Foreign Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie had accepted improper favors from Tunisia’s ousted government and Prime Minister François Fillon had taken hospitality from the Egypt of Mubarak. France’s leading candidate to succeed Strauss-Kahn at the IMF, Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, must first face an inquiry over a court-ordered settlement paid to former crooner, businessman, and Socialist minister Bernard Tapie. Strauss-Kahn’s alleged crime points to a personal failure, but it is also an episode in the collapse of a political elite. Faced with a record of hubris among the governing classes, the people are losing patience with “les people.”

Christopher Caldwell is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.

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