What the French Foreign Legion Can Teach Us About Candidates

by AnotherClioBeliever

By 1904 the French Foreign Legion had survived Mexico, Tonkin, Dahomey (modern Benin, which occupies the western border of Nigeria on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa), Madagascar, several European wars (including their extended stay in post-Napoleonic Spain fighting Carlists as well as the bungled Franco-Prussia War) and innumerable conflicts in Algeria. For the first time in its existence the Legion had earned, or perhaps forced, the acquiescence of both the Assembly as well as metropolitan France in general. Life had other plans, however, and the Legion faced an almost crippling inability to fill out its ranks: unheard of. Why?

Several theories were advanced and have been advanced by scholars. Alsace-Lorrainers, the backbone of the outfit, stopped showing up. Failed revolutionaries weren’t as numerous. A good deal of the novelty, as well, had died along with the thousands who succumbed to disease in Madagascar. Most of all, however, was that ‘bad money chased out good.’

A reader mildly steeped in economics, or one who has read ahead, will recognize Gresham’s Law as one of those old warhorses brought out to bolster arguments by sensitive writers who don’t like seeing their opinions splayed out across the page without a few ‘facts.’ Or gems, as I call them. Fair point. Now you, dear reader, you can’t say you left with nothing.

Point being, Gresham’s Law is the rule that when currency is mandated to be of equal worth (regardless of its market value) the currency with the highest market value will be horded or exported. The cheaper stuff will stick around ‘pushing’ out the better quality currency. One can see this dynamic in the recently released Sacajawea gold dollars. To the consternation of many stress toys in the Treasury, the ‘bad’ money of the flimsy cotton Washington-emblazoned notes have easily managed to push out the gold dollars with little effort. Most are horded or otherwise removed from the domestic market (where the ‘bad’ Washington currency is most prevalent).

One can see the dynamic in the Legion at the turn of the century. Recruits are recruits are recruits; according to the highest echelons within the labyrinth of French politics. The quality, sadly, of the worst only got worse. In May 1905, the colonels of the two Legion regiments were asked to list measures that would bring an improvement in service conditions. One infantry director insisted “The presence of this sort of bandit… has sent away the honest people from the Legion… men who have lost hope.” These complaints became almost universal, and “Even for the least informed observer,” wrote General Trumelet-Faber in 1913, “this magnificent unit is degenerating and soon will resemble the [Penal Battationals].”

Is it any surprise, then, that the current batch of American political candidates are so uninspiring? President Obama’s new motto, to replace ‘Change/Hope,’ is ‘Forward.’ Presumably, he doesn’t want the electorate to focus on what he has done and not what his Administration is doing currently. Eyes straight ahead. Romney, on the other hand, has seemingly given up on the idea of single phrase encapsculating his campaign. The idea of even one word that cannot be changed later on sends shivers of fear up his spine.

Oh well. Bad money chases out good.