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Taming “Speculative Capitalism”

Nicolas Sarkozy, the leading contender in the French presidential election, recently lashed out against what he called “speculative capitalism,” and says he wants to “moralize the financial zone” created by the euro. What does Sarkozy mean by “speculative capitalism?” Something immoral, apparently, but what? The term has rarely been used before, and seems to be redundant. After all, capitalism is practically a synonym for speculation, isn’t it?

Sarkozy is expressing a wave of sentiment that is neither unique to his party nor to France. At stake with his comments are emerging ideas and attitudes that will inform the twenty-first century economy. So we should think hard about what “speculative capitalism” means.

Sarkozy has called free trade “a policy of naiveté,” and wants to take a number of steps that would stand in the way of economic globalization. Although he does want to make the French labor market less rigid, he would block foreign takeover bids of French companies and protect Airbus workers from possible job losses. Protecting France from speculative capitalism seems to mean interfering with free trade to protect local jobs.

To be sure, Sarkozy is right to note the enormous risks that workers and their communities face in this rapidly globalizing world. But putting this problem center stage should not mean protecting existing jobs come what may.