With yet another week of Brexit posing, spinning, sabre-rattling and promise-breaking ahead of us, we would do well at the outset to ignore the gothic horror fantasies of the Remoanoids, and focus instead on the data available about the real state of affairs in Europe’s most hardline anti-Brexit leadership, that of Young Napoleon in France.
We’ve reached that mid-Spring point in Aquitaine where the days consist of early pullovers and firelighting followed by afternoons in shorts, opening the windows in the early evening because the fire’s too hot, and then an extra log and taking the sweater before bed. These are not so much nice as wonderful problems to have, because I can afford logs for the fire, I have a roof over my head – and the bed is big, comfy and topped by a thick duvet.
Ten per cent of all people in France over sixty years old are now living below the poverty line. It is quite valid to say “poverty is a relative measure”: in India, those people wouldn’t qualify for welfare at all. But on the other hand, in most of that country, it is only very rarely cold. There are now officially 143,000 homeless French citizens. Even down here in the South West, temperatures of -5°C are not uncommon from December to February.
Now one can observe that 143,000 is a fraction of the population; or one can put on four layers of clothing, thermal gloves and a woollen hat along with heavy boots and sit in the garden all night in early January. The latter of these actions is somewhat more grounded in sensory reality.
The French refer to the homeless poor as les SDFs – which stands for ‘sans domicile fixe’. No fixed abode is a euphemism for At the Mercy of the Elements. It refers to those who inhabit pavements and doorways, but only rarely the thoughts of those who have everything they need to partake in the normal social intercourse of life.
A little throat-clearing: I have no ideological agenda here. I detest those politicians who exploit the plight of the homeless in order to further their catechisms of violent revolution. One doesn’t solve the needless deaths of vulnerable citizens by the needless slaughter of powerful rulers. The answer, in my book, is to ask why people wind up on the streets, and then to question the priorities of the political class via intelligent use of the ballot box.
The political class in France (as with almost everywhere on Earth now) is considerably less prone to electoral pressure than it used to be. But one of the great things about the French citoyens is their willingness to get out there and – variously – spray the local prefecture with rotten tomatoes, take over the autoroute péages and generally engage in becoming ground level saboteurs. From such motivation have the Gilets Jaunes been fashioned.
In the light of such realities, this is what French President Emmanuel Macron is up to. Today, he proposed that that April 7th should become an annual day for remembrance of the victims of genocide in Rwanda 25 years ago. In a statement to the media, he proclaimed his “solidarity with the Rwandan people and his compassion for the victims and their families”.
Excuse me while I vomit.
Earlier this year, Macron confirmed his addiction to Blairite virtue signalling by calling for A Great Debate about why the Gilets Jaunes are objecting to his policy of rapidly raising the price of petrol, motorway tolls and land taxes, while privatising big business in order to further enrich his mates.
An opinion poll published three days ago suggested that the public was not entirely impressed with the debate idea: Of 1,002 surveyed, 68% felt ordinary people’s concerns would not be addressed, and four out of five dismissed the idea that it would solve any of the country’s crisis issues.
The Macron government is about to release the “results” of the Great Debate, but just to make the irrelevance of it as clear as possible, yesterday – from Rouen via Paris to Lyon – protesters took to the streets carrying banners denouncing the French President.
And yes, this is the very same Emmanuel Macron who judges himself qualified to insist that the EU doesn’t need the United Kingdom making a nuisance of itself by questioning the authoritarian plans of France and Germany to deal with Europe’s economic doldrums.
The economic doldrums are real enough. The European Central Bank is still charging eurozone banks a negative interest rate of 0.4% for holding their reserves. Draghi the Desperate wants banks to move the reserves off his books, and use them instead to offer new loans to European businesses.
What Mario’s monetarist instincts seem unable to grasp is that the demand for loans isn’t there, because the demand to buy stuff isn’t there. Consumer demand is being held back by State stealth taxes, falling real incomes, and ludicrously understated eurozone inflation….especially in France.
Thus, although these surreal negative interest rates were originally billed as “a temporary emergency measure”, nine days ago Draghi suggested they could be, um, permanent. Well, you read it here first – normalisation of rates is impossible as long as personal and corporate debt is this high – but the key point is that such pitiful growth as we can see in the eurozone is being achieved despite the fact that Draghi is making it easy & cheap for entrepreneurs to borrow money.
Understated inflation in France – and a growing determination to evade neoliberal tax increases among the populace – is giving President Macron all the problems we have come to expect from bonkers monetary theory and consequently sociopathic welfare policies. I’ve twice reported here that the current deficit between government spending and tax income three months into 2019 is running at 35%. That attracted guffaws far and wide, but last week the Daily Telegraph finally caught up with events to reveal that La France en Marche is now on course to overtake Italy as the fourth most indebted nation on Earth.
So much has the Great “Centrist” MacroNapoleon pushed his neoliberal agenda on hidden tax, France collects 46% of its income from it: the highest taxation level in the developed world. The OECD average is miles behind at 34%. The related problem here is that the President’s wired-in fiscal monetarism takes no account at all what, in my experience, has always been France’s central problem: the poor quality and high price of exported goods. Little Banker Boy’s schooling didn’t include the human reasons for poor exports – lack of interest and low productivity from the craftsmen watching machines take over their jobs – but it is precisely the same issue that dogged the USSR during its existence.
The French farce is not going down awfully well in Berlin. For now, all is love and solidarity as The Mafia focuses on humiliating Britain. But France’s long-standing inability – on both the Left and Right of politics – to face up to its problems as a member of Federated Europe is an existential problem at the centre of the flawed EU vision.
It’s not so bad if you’re indebted but, like Japan, owe most of it to your own citizens. Even Italy (which is both economically and fiscally a basket-case to dwarf Greece) has two-thirds of its debt in the hands of Italians. The French government debt is owned 56% abroad….making it acutely prone to the attentions of bond vultures.
And last but not least, neither Japan or the US is part of a currency Union. Thanks to the euro, France cannot inflate away its debt or unilaterally devalue. It is trapped in that most marvelous of ideas, Fiskalunion.
Quietly, the Macronites are busy demolishing every cultural service they can find in order to pay for the mess – the most recent being a whopping €0.2 billion of cuts in public broadcasting services.
Once the mammories start flying skywards, I give it three months at most before Macron and then the entire EU lay the blame for this at the clay feet of Brexit. For in the wacky world of Yvette Cooper and Baron Adonis, any lie will do. And there will always be plenty of useful idiots to believe them.