22. Christine Lagarde
for pushing France on fiscal discipline.
Finance minister | France
In a year when austerity ruled, one woman managed to imbue an extremely unpopular set of policies with moral authority and intellectual heft: Christine Lagarde, President Nicolas Sarkozy's finance minister and the architect of France's response to the economic crisis. Lagarde, former head of the global law firm Baker & McKenzie, has been known in Paris as a deficit hawk and pro-growth capitalist for some time, earning her the unflattering-for-France nickname, "The American." In 2010, she played a key behind-the-scenes role in the Greek bailout, while bucking popular opinion in France with her plans to slash spending, raise the retirement age to 62, increase taxes for the highest earners, and shrink the government by 100,000 civil-service jobs. By September, she could boast of falling deficits and a projected growth rate of 2 percent for 2011. "We are in the middle of the beginning of the end," she said in July. "The crisis has really hit its peak."
Lagarde may not have been the most popular member of Sarkozy's cabinet this year, as rioters raged over her proposed measures, but she was certainly the most essential. Her goal entering office was to bully France into, as she put it in 2007, rolling up its sleeves and getting over its age-old antipathy toward work. The crisis has offered a petri dish to explore the impact of her ideas, and so far the experiment seems to be working.
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