In the state of economic emergency, proclaimed last night by our fearless leader, we look for comedy where we can find it. I found it in this declaration signed by, among others, Bernard Henri-Levy and Miss France (of the two, of course, it it Miss France who has all the brains) that the gilets jaunes should immediately stop what they are doing, which has been successful, and begin debating, which would be utterly unsuccessful but would give Bernard Henri-Levy (and Miss France) a chance to appear on TV with a few random Gilets Jaunes and pontificate.
Miss France might gain an audience with the Gilets Jaunes, but not, I’m betting, the well coiffed, faux philosophe.
More seriously: we watched Macron’s speech last night. Macron started off with a song of love, and he ended like a Chanel commercial. The song of love was directed to the cops. As we know, from the Benalla affair, which involved Macron’s body guard donning police gear and beating the shit out of some passive protesters this spring, there is one exception to Macron’s general contempt for public sector employees: the cop. Macron’s handlers made a mistake in not cueing his words to music: surely this heartfelt paen to order and its masculine forces should have been backgrounded by Gang of Four’s “I love a man in a uniform”.
I had to regain my confidence/ so I got into camouflage
The girls they love to see you shoot…
The rest of the speech was a curious performance. The raising of the minimum wage by something like 75 centime per hour “without costing the employer anything” seemed like a magic act. In American terms, it is like raising the minimum wage by subtracting the amount from the Earned Income Credit. It was as if Mr. Burns on the Simpsons told his workers that they all get Christmas presents, and then deducted it from their paychecks. But it sounded good – it must have been rehearsed to have the feel good vibe, which is why it was announced as one hundred euros per month rather than 75 centimes per hour.
On the main point, though, Macron held firm. His supply side tax cut to the wealthy still stands. His reasoning still stands too: cutting that tax is supposedly going to bring investment money into France. It is what the late George H.W. Bush, in 1980, called voodoo economics. At least under Reagan the tax cut was made with a fine indifference to the deficit, since investment is not going to happen in an atmosphere of declining demand. The Reaganite solution was, in fact, to inflate two deficits: by easing regulations on credit, the medium household can take on a larger amount of debt in order to sustain a consumer lifestyles that feeds into an economic boom. The second step here, of course, involves mock horror about the government’s debt, which then leads to cuts in the social welfare system, which then leads to either further indebtedness by the household or bankruptcy. In France, the loosening of consumer credit on the American model has not happened, at least on the Reaganite scale. What has happened, especially as Macron is all about being a deficit hawk, is that his policies have essentially been deflating consumer demand. The carbon tax, with its exemptions for big carbon producers – the corporations – was a final straw. In France, one can actually see what taxes are paying for, in terms of healthcare, infrastructure, education and retirement: and what the people see is a decline in the degree and quality of all of these things. You can’t sustain Popular Front programs on a Thatcherite fiscal policy.
Since Macron doesn’t want to give an inch on the lousy way he’s been doing things, he had to turn up the spigots: thus, the ending on a rhetoric of love for France which is every bit as lubricious as his love for the cops. I would have liked this better if the lights had turned blue – as in the latest Chanel commercial. The effect aimed at, of course, was to posit Macron as Mr. France, and the Gilets Jaunes as a buncha hoodlums.
The real strategy here is to create enough inertia that the Gilets Jaunes just get tired. This might work. It is winter, and everybody has to get presents for the kids. Winter revolutions are difficult to pull off – there’s something about Spring that makes it easier to get out in the street and hoist a banner. But this way of thinking is conditioned by the managed demonstrations that have been so loud and so useless over the past thirty years. A million people marched through London, trying to convince Tony Blair not to be an idiot and invade Iraq. They failed. They were all very obedient. Licenses were applied for, etc. The Gilets Jaunes have dispensed with such niceties and simply seized things, like the right to access roads. Much less numerous, they’ve become much more threatening.
Ultimately, of course, questions of supply side and demand side economic policies have to be put in the perspective of class warfare – or, to speak softly, the division of the social product between Capital and Labor. Labor failed, in the twentieth century, to create a viable internationalism, an alliance across national boundaries of workers. Capital, on the other hand, rebounded in the late twentieth century with the form of globalism it likes best. This globalism has swelled the wealth of the wealthiest to an extent that would have amazed even the tycoons of the Gilded age. Capital’s resurgence came about through expanding credit, creating organizational efficiencies, and exploiting the surge of productivity in formerly less developed countries – while quietly engrossing more and more of the smaller productivity growth in the developed countries. Expertly leveraging this power into the purchase of the political system – which came amazingly cheap – over the whole spectrum, from the traditional right to the traditional left, we are now confronted with their mega-machines on, say, tv. I hardly ever watch TV news, but I did watch a little after Macron’s speech. It was the the same old same old. Here we have television personalities, whose incomes and assets most likely put them in the top 10 percent, overwhelmingly gatekeeping the perception of the politicians and the possibilities of politics. Those possibilities, unsurprisingly, hold nothing uncomfortable for those in the top 10 percent, which then defines the “extremes”. The media currently finds itself under siege, and seems clueless as to why – so it turns to the obvious answer, the great unwashed are gulls for fascism.
But what if the great unwashed have an intuition that the merge of news and entertainment has not been good for them? In an earlier period, journalists did not go to journalism school, but came off the street. The economic circumstances of even the great reporters was not that far removed from the economic circumstances of their readers. This hasn’t been the case for a long time, and that economic distance can be heard in every word the utter and smile they flash to the camera.
To sum up: the main story in the French press – whether Macron can “save” his presidency – is really the minor story. The major story is whether the precarity of the populace, forced upon it by an economic machine that overwhelmingly favors Capital, can be re-constructed so as to favor Capital by some lesser margin. And whether that project can converge with the project of mitigating the disaster the economic system has inflicted on the planet – or whether humans will disappear in the short term due to climate disaster, and the planet will adjust after a couple of tens of millions of years.
I’m not just an observer here. I think that the convergence of the two great projects -the first choice – is not systematically impossible. Which is a cue for Mekons Millionaire:
I love a millionaire