April 22nd, 2017

An overarching theory of what’s going on in France (and elsewhere)

Here’s an interesting article in City Journal.

I use that word “interesting” a lot. That’s because an awful lot of things are interesting. But some are more interesting than others, and this is one of them. It pulls together a great deal of information and tries to make sense of it, finding a widespread pattern that may account for similarities in the populist movements springing up around the Western world. That pattern is an economic one that has resulted from globalization and stratification.

The article focuses on the work of a French geographer names Christophe Guilluy:

He has spent decades as a housing consultant in various rapidly changing neighborhoods north of Paris, studying gentrification, among other things. And he has crafted a convincing narrative tying together France’s various social problems—immigration tensions, inequality, deindustrialization, economic decline, ethnic conflict, and the rise of populist parties…

At the heart of Guilluy’s inquiry is globalization…

A process that Guilluy calls métropolisation has cut French society in two. In 16 dynamic urban areas (Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Toulouse, Lille, Bordeaux, Nice, Nantes, Strasbourg, Grenoble, Rennes, Rouen, Toulon, Douai-Lens, and Montpellier), the world’s resources have proved a profitable complement to those found in France…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.

…Journalists and politicians assume that the stratification of France’s flourishing metropoles results from a glitch in the workings of globalization. Somehow, the rich parts of France have failed to impart their magical formula to the poor ones. Fixing the problem, at least for certain politicians and policy experts, involves coming up with a clever shortcut: perhaps, say, if Romorantin had free wireless, its citizens would soon find themselves wealthy, too. Guilluy disagrees. For him, there’s no reason to expect that Paris (and France’s other dynamic spots) will generate a new middle class or to assume that broad-based prosperity will develop elsewhere in the country (which happens to be where the majority of the population live). If he is right, we can understand why every major Western country has seen the rise of political movements taking aim at the present system…

France’s best-performing urban nodes have arguably never been richer or better-stocked with cultural and retail amenities. But too few such places exist to carry a national economy. 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.

And of course, that’s not just a description of France.

I could go on quoting, but it’s probably best that you read the whole thing.

Companies don’t do this sort of thing out of sheer meanness. They do it because it’s economically beneficial to them in the short run. Countries don’t seem to know what to do about the situation, either. But voters are reaching out to support leaders who at least seem to be noticing and labeling the situation as a problem, caring what happens to those who are falling by the wayside, and promising to implement solutions.

Guilluy’s work concentrates on France, and although some of it can be generally applied, some of it is particular to France. France is facing an election tomorrow (although not a final election), one in which these issues will be played out in ways we cannot predict at the moment. I certainly can’t predict it, anyway. That doesn’t stop others from trying. For example:

A French economist who correctly forecast Donald Trump’s US election win has predicted Marine Le Pen will sweep to victory in France’s presidential race.

Charles Gave said the number of voters yet to make up their minds – estimated at 40 per cent – was bad news for current frontrunner centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, and could see the Front National leader emerge victorious.

Mr Gave believes only scandal-hit Francois Fillon, who is currently polling in third place, could see off Ms Le Pen in the second round run-off on 7 May.

Interesting times, interesting times.

14 Responses to “An overarching theory of what’s going on in France (and elsewhere)”

  1. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Interesting indeed and, illuminating.

    “even if French people (unemployed) were willing to do the work that gets offered in these prosperous urban centers, there’d be no way for them to do it, because there is no longer any place for them to live.

    As a new bourgeoisie has taken over the private housing stock, poor foreigners have taken over the public—which thus serves the metropolitan rich as a kind of taxpayer-subsidized servants’ quarters.

    Public-housing inhabitants are almost never ethnically French; the prevailing culture there nowadays is often heavily, intimidatingly Muslim.

    The young men living in them (the northern Paris suburbs) feel a burning solidarity with their Muslim brethren in the Middle East…”

    Guilluy is describing a ticking time-bomb.

    I’ll venture to predict that if Le Pen fails to win and Macon is chosen, within 10 years the Muslim immigrants will arise and visit violence upon their bourgeoisie employers that shall rival the Nat Turner rebellion in the antebellum South.

    Whereupon the majority rural French will have their say. This cannot end well.

  2. parker Says:

    France, like much of Europe, is at a tipping point. When we visited Agen 20 years ago it was declining, but still had a feeling of vibrancy. The last time, 2008, it was truly in a serious decline. J’aime la France. Je pleure pour la France.

  3. Vanderleun Says:

    All animals are interesting. But some animals are more interesting than others

  4. LondonTrader Says:

    I wonder if Le Pen wins in the second round (assuming she gets through the first which isn’t certain) because Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s supporters (assuming he doesn’t make the second round) vote for her based on anti Europe feedings.

  5. Molly Brown Says:

    Read this first rate article earlier today. It’s linked at RCP. This is all so true, and so sad.
    I first went to Paris at 15, almost 50 years ago. I think the city must’ve cast some sort of magical spell over my usually protective parents because every day at breakfast they would give me, my 17 year old brother and my 11 year old sister a little money for food and the metro and tell us to stick together and be back at the pension by 6. Can you imagine? We ran loose all over Paris for two weeks and engaged with all sorts and ages of ordinary French people. It was a wondrous world for three California beach rats – like going to Hogwarts, or something. Heaven! Now I’m fortunate to have a husband that loves Paris and we get there once or twice a decade. The changes in the last 15 years have been enormous. Last year’s trip was almost depressing. The thought kept recurring; Where are all the French? It’s just tourists, the wealthy, and beggars. No children. Think about that.
    ‘Interesting’ that middle and working class towns that flourished for hundreds of years, surviving the Ancien Regime, the Revolution, Empire, Restoration, multiple Republics and the Nazis – are being destroyed by the global economy.
    Haven’t been to Britain for a while but I understand it is the same thing there.
    It seems the real point of unfettered immigration to is provide urban elites with cheap domestic labor and political power. I guess you could say; ‘La plus ca change…’ But I am hopeful they will learn the meaning of another saying; ‘All politics is local.’

  6. John Guilfoyle Says:

    I think what’s really interesting is that Andre the Giant got to be in a major motion picture…and that I still remembered who he was by just seeing his face.

    Oh…and France? They made their bed.

  7. AesopFan Says:

    No children. Think about that.

    * * *
    This is a major problem throughout the “first world” countries.
    When your primary political agenda is to avoid having descendants, you pretty much hang out the closed sign on your country.

    There aren’t enough fecund native couples to make up for it in the original populations; and Muslims are not having abortions.

  8. AesopFan Says:

    Another interesting article on France.

  9. expat Says:

    Claire Berlinski has put a very interesting piece up at Ricochet on Le Pen and her father. One of my main reasons for distrusting Marine is her admiration of Putin. Why have so many conservatives in the US jumped onto her boat? Ignorance, I guess.

  10. WeirdLore Says:

    @expat,I think that conservatives see someone that is against the elites and believe they have a French tea party person. Plus the media describes her as “right wing”. So yes ignorance wins in this case.

    In reading the base article in CJ it was interesting how much the French problems mirror our own. The elites in Europe and the US are using the same playbook and it is not working out so well.

  11. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    The corollary to yesterday’s poll numbers reveal much about the French public

    Only 20% of the French (indicated by support of Fillon) are willing to accept that a socialist welfare state is unsustainable. Which means that 80% of the French either support (43%) or condone (37%) France’s social welfare State.

    Only 22% of the French (indicated by support of Le Pen) are willing to face up to Islam’s inherent nature. Which means that 78% of the French are unwilling to identify their enemy and fight for their survival.

    What does that say for the likelihood that France will survive?

    Stick a fork in them, they’re done… they just don’t know it yet.

    “One of my main reasons for distrusting Marine is her admiration of Putin. Why have so many conservatives in the US jumped onto her boat? Ignorance, I guess.” expat

    Le Pen’s civility towards Putin may be a problem down the road. As for her support in the US, one word suffices; Islam. For all her faults, she at least identifies the mortal threat and wants to fight it.

    When faced with a distant forest fire slowly moving towards you, it takes second place to dealing with the serial killer breaking down your door.

  12. neo-neocon Says:


    You write of Le Pen:

    Why have so many conservatives in the US jumped onto her boat? Ignorance, I guess.

    I think it’s more likely to be lack of a better alternative among the leading French politicians.

  13. Frog Says:

    It should be pretty damn clear to us that globalism is a fatal disorder. Paris sounds like San Francisco. Or New York. They have the wealthy, the tourists and the poor, but no middle class. Plus a large number of immigrants who are people of color.
    This disease is spreading rampantly. The entire West has flyover country, Rust Belts not limited to America. We have the Zuckerbergs with their preposterous moral posturing, and millions of little i-pad and cell phone users, all cut off from one another though they see themselves as linked. I see families seated at restaurants for dinner; the kids are each using their cell phones, the parents are largely mute as if trying to figure out where their family went.

    Globalism is a disorder which will ultimately prove fatal even to its inventors and protagonists. We have got to stop this carousel and get off it; there are just a few brass rings, the rings that entitle one to great fortune. It is for this reason that I hope Le Pen wins round two.

  14. Frog Says:

    expat: Putin is a nationalist. In nationalism lies the defeat of globalism.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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