The crisis sends in its calling card
The forthcoming elections in France are being watched as a bellwether, not just of France, but of Europe itself. David Goldman (Spengler) writes: "the surge in support for ultra-leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon to 19% in the French presidential polls -- from just 11.4% on March 13 -- shows how dangerous the French political situation has become." Dangerous in what way?
There are two risks. One is that National Front leader Marine Le Pen and Mélenchon win the first round, giving France a choice between an extreme right and extreme left who agree about leaving the European Union. Both also are friendly with Moscow. The other is that Le Pen will face either the traditional conservative Francois Fillon or the synthetic centrist Emmanuel Macron, with the likelihood that the left will support Le Pen rather than -- as in the past -- obediently align itself with the center in order to defeat the National Front. A Le Pen victory would mean the end of Europe's institutions as we know them.
The problem the election is trying to solve, Spengler explains, is recovering Europe from a spin that traditional political parties are powerless to fix. Voters are desperate to pull out and may try something desperate. Desperate may be ugly. Christopher Caldwell writing in the City Journal describes how this crisis 'unexpectedly' came to front and center. Globalization he argues, had slowly deconstructed the French social compact; divided the nation into flyover country and elite enclaves -- a phenomenon Americans may be familiar with -- until it finally became a society of barons and busboys with nothing in between. The old French middle class had been declared surplus to requirements because the work they used to do is outsourced.
Sixteeen ... urban areas are home to all the country’s educational and financial institutions ... Cheap labor, tariff-free consumer goods, and new markets of billions of people have made globalization a windfall for such prosperous places. But globalization has had no such galvanizing effect on the rest of France. Cities that were lively for hundreds of years—Tarbes, Agen, Albi, Béziers—are now, to use Guilluy’s word, “desertified,” haunted by the empty storefronts and blighted downtowns that Rust Belt Americans know well. ...
When France’s was a national economy, its median workers were well compensated and well protected from illness, age, and other vicissitudes. In a knowledge economy, these workers have largely been exiled from the places where the economy still functions. They have been replaced by immigrants. .... While rich Parisians may not miss the presence of the middle class, they do need people to bus tables, trim shrubbery, watch babies, and change bedpans. Immigrants—not native French workers—do most of these jobs. Why this should be so is an economic controversy. Perhaps migrants will do certain tasks that French people will not—at least not at the prevailing wage. Perhaps employers don’t relish paying €10 an hour to a native Frenchman who, ten years earlier, was making €20 in his old position and has resentments to match. Perhaps the current situation is an example of the economic law named after the eighteenth-century French economist Jean-Baptiste Say: a huge supply of menial labor from the developing world has created its own demand.
A France where "a quarter of French teenagers are Muslims, and one-third of them hold fundamentalist views" and the old working class is facing extinction is unsurprisingly one where anything can happen as Goldman points out. The giant 'protective' bureaucracies of Europe appear to have magnified the effects of globalization by creating a two-tier insider-outsider job market. Young entrants into the labor market are stuck in dead-end jobs while those lucky enough to have protected and overpaid insider positions hang onto their shrinking sinecures for dear life. Twenty four year old philosophy graduate Ema Zelikovitch from Madrid typifies the trend. The Economist describes her fate:
While at university she worked as a dance teacher, waitress, street fund-raiser for NGOs, call-centre operator and greeter at political conferences for Podemos, a far-left party. Since graduating she has juggled jobs at two restaurants, but one recently sacked her. Every job was on a temporary, or "fixed-term" contract. And while some paid her a living wage, none came with a path to promotion. ...
Dead-end, fixed-term jobs have haunted southern Europe for decades. In 2015 over half of employed 15-to-29 year olds in Spain were on temporary contracts, compared to two-fifths in Italy and just under a quarter in Greece; the average across the European Union is 14%.
In France the percentage of such dead end jobs is at 40%. An entire generation of Europeans is facing economic stagnation and internal cultural exile in their own countries. That is surely explosive and would normally lead obviously to what Spengler calls an extraordinarily dangerous French moment. What is truly scandalous is how long it has taken to recognize the smash. The crises of globalization is only belatedly being acknowledged after years of denial by the mainstream press. A Narrative that stubbornly characterized Brexit as an irrational aberration and Trump as joint product of Russian hacking and bigotry may now reluctantly face the fact that a genuine challenge to the world order now exists.
Coming on the rise of authoritarianism in Turkey, a victory by Jean-Luc Mélenchon or Marine Le Pen would leave the European project is dead in the water. The first piece of baggage they are likely to pitch overboard to lighten ship would be the Euro. CNN reports that while "the threat to the euro is most acute in France ... it's now under threat from politicians on both the left and right who want to bring the lira, drachma, peseta and French franc out of retirement." Many southern European economists can see no way out of the prison of flyover country and catastrophic youth unemployment without the right to print their own currencies.
The center may hold in France but it is unlikely to hold for long. The long and agonized effort rearguard effort to explain away the challenge posed by Brexit, Trumpism and now France as just the result of yahoos hearing themselves hog calling have been one futile exercise in self delusion. There's a hole in the bottom of the Titanic and the water has reached F Deck and now gurgling up the staircase. It's time for the passengers in first class to seriously consider they may actually actually drown before the night is out. Sneering comedy skits on the Daily Show, Full Frontal, and Last Week Tonight won't cut it any more.
Perhaps the most appropriate cautionary tale of danger seen too late comes from Hillary Clinton's failed presidential campaign. Until the very last moment Hillary could not accept that the man with the orange complexion could beat her. On the night she lost the election it was Bill who finally saw the truth.
"It was like standing on a beach and seeing a slow-moving tsunami from the middle of the ocean moving towards you, and you never move," Allen told Yahoo.
According to Allen, populism was a concept Clinton could not adjust to. The co-author said former President Bill Clinton frequently talked about the Brexit vote, Britain's decision to leave the European Union, which many observers said was bolstered by a populist movement.
Populism in Great Britain concerned Hillary Clinton as well, but "she really never had the feel for what was going on in this country and how to adjust for it in the right way," Allen said.
After Clinton's loss on election night, her husband said, "It's like Brexit … I guess it's real."
It could be real.
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