Tuesday, November 08, 2005

France is burning / France is rising up

A lot of people are asking me what I think. I tend to give them a convoluted answer to the many problems in France. What is essential to understand is that France has exactly the same problems as the rest of the West, it is simply becoming "symptomatic," while we remain "asymptomatic," at least in the mainstream consciousness. (If we all understood that men in Harlem and Bangladesh have the same life expectancy, would we still be so convinced of our difference from France, Spain, England, Bolivia, Argentina and, of course, Bangladesh?).

Sterling Newberry has a great piece I completely agree with. I will cite in entirely here:

Mon Nov 7th, 2005 at 10:20:25 AM EDT :: Healthcare

The European political class is in crisis, filled with non-solutions, and unable to lead or persuade its own public, and hoping that another round of neo-liberalization will do what 25 years of it have not done - they now face an open revolt. One which is spreading. 10 officers were shot in last night's riots in France. This rioting is not going to move the core of French public opinion, but will instead harden the battle lines. This bodes ill for the right in France, which has governed because the center-right coalition was far more unified than the center-left coalition.


The reality of economics in Europe and the United States is that both places have the same problem, and they are dealing with it by making different choices on how to spread the pain.

The United States, with both more energy and more land, has taken the mode of generating sprawl to generate employment, and selling the US to other nations one barrel of oil at a time, hoping that the rate that the US can generate paper wealth will outpace the rate at which we import energy. This bet is failing, and is, in fact, falling further and further behind. In essence, the US is borrowing to generate employment.

The European core nations have selected an austerity route - higher unemployment, higher social safety net, lower accumulation of foreign debt, and therefore more local control.

However, both roads have been about managing depletion of extraction, most notably oil, and they interlock with the decision of extraction countries to do so as well. While there have been swings in the relative economic power of the different blocs, the road leads in the same direction.

It is dangerous to read too much into these riots, other than the reality that Europe's circulatory system is ebbing, they are having to cut at the margins of their social safety net, and they are under pressure to close the borders. But prosperity will be equalized, whether slowly or quickly, and the attempts to slow down that equalization by protectionism are only worthwhile if they are buying time for preparation. The difference between temporizing and procrastinating is what you buy with the time.

Right now there is little in the way of clear thinking about what to do in the coming post-extraction world, or even a realization that the post-extraction world is coming and it will be beneficial. Right now we are sketching the edges of that world, while people are trying to bring outmoded rental paradigms to bear.

These rental paradigms largely stem from arrangements made almost a century ago as our current economy was emerging in outline.

That economy was based on two important technological ideas - mechanization and broadcast. Our current economic struggles are largely a struggle over keeping the rent flowing on these two - now quite old - innovations in society. It is foolish to blame the French system for a global phenomenon of the playing out of an old economic order. Unrest is rising, because the increase in productivity that it provides is now much smaller than the number of people who want to be part of it. It is exploding in China as inflation is crushing those not attached to the export economy, and the government makes moves to keep wages down by swamping the cities with country dwellers. This is "the city problem," and it is a very poor idea to encourage it.

The unrest is in South America, in Iraq, and in a host of other nations. The amount of global growth available is shrinking, and most of it is consumed by the US, China's export economy, and the resource extraction sectors of a few other nations. The rest of the world is close to what would be
defined as a global recession.

Of course, there is a lot more to this than mentioned here. There are indeed some deep-seated cultural issues, but these are the issues that allow the Center-Right and Right-Wing government to exclude these areas from the current economic plan. The revolt is about exclusion, exclusion, and more exclusion. The Right in particular is interested in allowing these things to continue, just as Bush is interested in keeping America at war. Fortunately, the Left, and perhaps the Center-Left are begining to react, and, because the press in France is slightly more rational, these people actually have a voice and the public generally agrees with them--at least in the sense that they see Villepin, Sarkozy and Barloo manoeuvering to exploit this situation.

Update: Earlier I referred to this situation as Symptomatic. Well, I just read this piece on Tom Paine by Rami Khouri. He states an obvious truth:

Burning cars in Paris and interrupted terror bombings in Sydney may achieve that which a generation of indigenous, patient scholarship, analysis and activism in the Middle East and North Africa have not elicited: serious political and economic reforms that assert the basic rights of Arab citizens to live in societies defined by decency and equality, and the indelible humanity of Arab youth who have been deformed beyond recognition by the inequities of their own tortured political cultures.