What does Gilets jaunes mean?

Rumblings on the hustings, the corporate global economic order has Always been predicated on sacrificing the working class. Always:

It’s obvious now, however, that the new model not only weakened the fringes of the proletariat but society as a whole.The paradox is this is not a result of the failure of the globalised economic model but of its success. In recent decades, the French economy, like the European and US economies, has continued to create wealth. We are thus, on average, richer. The problem is at the same time unemployment, insecurity and poverty have also increased. The central question, therefore, is not whether a globalised economy is efficient, but what to do with this model when it fails to create and nurture a coherent society?

In France, as in all western countries, we have gone in a few decades from a system that economically, politically and culturally integrates the majority into an unequal society that, by creating ever more wealth, benefits only the already wealthy.

The change is not down to a conspiracy, a wish to cast aside the poor, but to a model where employment is increasingly polarised. This comes with a new social geography: employment and wealth have become more and more concentrated in the big cities. The deindustrialised regions, rural areas, small and medium-size towns are less and less dynamic. But it is in these places – in “peripheral France” (one could also talk of peripheral America or peripheral Britain) – that many working-class people live. Thus, for the first time, “workers” no longer live in areas where employment is created, giving rise to a social and cultural shock.

Switch out France périphérique for the Rust Belt. They are interchangeable, except that the former has not, as yet, voted straight fascist and retains the habit of taking to the street – as well as tearing up parts of it to throw at the police. It’s how different cultures tackle the same problem: the left-behindness, debt, low pay, high taxes, inequality, and ignorance upon which the limited successes of late capitalism depend. It’s certainly not pleasant, but people have long-understood this and attempted to warn us from the dragons – Dr. K, Joe Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty – nor it is unrelated to the bizarre vortex we’ve been documenting here for ten(!) years. And the Gilets jaunes are not solving this problem. But they are making us look, and we’re not even used to that.

Image: Author photo of a different type of inundation, near Pont Neuf, 2016

Then What?

So, I guess it’s pretty sure bet that we will run out of petroleum before we fatally poison the planet, at least by burning oil for energy. In other words, the planet would be much worse off if there was an unlimited supply. Hence will the Earth save itself by running out of easily accessible fossil fuel deposits.Peak oil hysterics aside, you can tell this is true by how oil companies were reacting to war planning in 2002, verified by a recent document dump:

The British daily, The Independent, has been given 1,000 documents detailing talks between the British government and oil companies such as BP and Shell in fall of 2002 about their share in Iraqi petroleum. The memoranda were gained through Freedom of Information requests over five years by the activist Greg Muttitt, who has a book forthcoming. The documents flatly contradict denials 1) by Shell that its representatives met with the Blair government on Iraq at that time; 2) by BP that it had “no strategic interest” in Iraqi petroleum, and 3) by Tony Blair himself that it was a “conspiracy theory” that he was interested in Iraq’s petroleum as a motive for war.

In every decade since the 1950s, fewer and fewer big new petroleum fields have been discovered. Companies such as BP and Exxon-Mobil are desperate for new fields to exploit and fearful for the future if global oil production has peaked or is about to do so. Iran and Iraq hold most of the likely big reserves of unexploited oil known or suspected to exist in relatively easy-to-get-at regions.

That, plus ads for the Nissan Leaf and it all adds up to a bit too much protesting while the companies maneuver behind the scenes, as much as there remain scenes and any ability or desire to orchestrate behind them.

BUT, even with all of this and the planet saving us and it from ourselves, it still does nothing to change the fundamental predicament: How to get around? This has to be plugged into where and how we live, even outside of the resource scarcity environment we have entered. Indeed it is the namesake and patron of said environment, and these would tend to be only signifiers of a, if not the, greater issue.

If this is optimism…

Too Late, Soon Enough

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Finally. After 400 years, the Northeast Passage appears. Some background.

Despite the riches in the New World, most European nations were focused on trade with the Orient. The lure of spices, silks, gems and other luxury items was more compelling than mundane fish and furs that required more work to obtain. Worse, the New World was full of aggressive natives – “savages” – who fought with the Europeans and often won their battles. But geography was in the way. There were only two maritime trade routes to the Orient and the Spice Islands known: around the southern tip of Africa or the bottom of South America. Both voyages were long and dangerous. Pirates and privateers straddled both routes and could steal both cargo and the ships carrying it. Crews often got mutinous or sick on the long voyages. A long journey meant lower profits – more money was required to pay crews, ships needed more refits and repairs. A shorter passage through the north would both reduce the dangers and the time, as well as increase the profits. It was very attractive to the merchants who invested in the expeditions.

Europe’s economy was rapidly changing in this period, nowhere more so than in England and Holland. The sudden increase in gold and silver caused both to become devalued: the more that arrived, the less valuable it became. The middle class of merchants was on the rise and land ceased to be the basis of wealth as trade propelled incomes. Bills of exchange began to replace cash as the staple of business transactions, and banks began to open in major cities. Businessmen combined their resources to become joint shareholders in large companies, rather than venture merely their own capital – a new concept for capitalism.