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Twilight of the Elites: Prosperity, the…

Twilight of the Elites: Prosperity, the Periphery, and the Future of…

by Christophe Guilluy

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France is losing its soul, and the majority – the working class – is paying for it. Twilight of the Elites examines the differences between the cities and peripheral France. The cities are booming and buoyant and privileged – and totally out of reach of the majority. Christophe Guilluy says “A globalized society is a closed society in which the combined effects of class inbreeding, residential separatism, educational apartheid and a selfish determination to accumulate wealth and property have never been so powerful.” Twilight of the Elites is far more than a polemic. Guilluy uses the latest figures available from the OECD, INSEE and election results to back his claims and project trends. Globalization is killing traditional France.

Guilluy complains that the new so-called openness to multiculturalism is simple hypocrisy. The rich city dwellers praise it. They like seeing different races and nationalities in restaurants. But that’s about as far as integration goes. Meanwhile, poor immigrants don’t see any of the French Dream. They don’t get to go to the schools that result in jobs, they don’t get to live in apartments in town, and most will go no higher than minimum wage all their lives, assuming they can find work. If they do, it probably won’t be full time. They are not big consumers like white-collar city workers, so neoliberalism can just dispense with them.

This thinking led to leaders approving the free movement of workers throughout Europe, while allowing their employers to pay them at their home countries’ rates. So rather than pay a worker the 1300 euros a month minimum that France mandates, a Romanian worker in France gets 218. This callous, total abandonment of the working class does not sit well with French workers, and has caused them to vote massively for the National Rally (formerly National Front), despite, or perhaps because of its Trump-like simplicity and superficiality. The two centrist parties only offer more of the same – ie. nothing. As so-called socialist President Francois Hollande showed, they are simply two sides of the same coin.

The timing of the book is impeccable. The gilets jaunes (yellow vests) are in the news every day in France. They are a completely leaderless movement of the working class and working poor, who are fed up with all the new and improved taxes the government of Emmanuel Macron foists on them. They are so poor they can’t afford days or even hours off work. They can only come to Paris to demonstrate on Saturdays. They have had as much as 80% support throughout the country. So Guilluy’s prognosis (the original French edition was published in 2016) is beginning to play out.

This gilets jaunes movement plays directly to my own feelings. I had predicted that Emmanuel Macron was fooling everyone. He was not a man of the left, as everyone classified him, but someone who would simply create a new USA in France.

Guilluy says the mobility of the working class has been all but cut off. The ability to move to find a new job no longer applies to the lower classes (nearly 60% of the population). They cling to their areas of birth, because that is where they find support of family and friends in times of need and no money. They cannot chance a move. This is exactly what has happened in the USA, where mobility is now only for the well-off. It is capital that is mobile now, not labor.

The working class has been shut out of the (15) major cities in France. The closest they can get is the immigrant banlieues (subsidized suburbs) where they are unwelcome, not to mention fearful. The cost of living in French cities has become so unattainable that only the managerial class can afford it. Instead, laborers must remain in village and rural France, where jobs are few and closures many. In the vicious circle this has produced, government removes its local offices and services because of lower populations, leaving even fewer jobs, or hope for a middle class life.

Meanwhile, cities like Paris have contorted into totally unnatural places. They are filled with the empty apartments of rich foreigners, the private schools of the well off, and the lack of mixture that used to make great cities great. The produce markets are white middle class affairs, and tradespeople are impossible to find, because they can’t live there any more. The top universities are filled by favors and connections, Guilluy says, keeping them white and well-off. Their graduates go straight into lifetime career jobs, making the circle even tighter.

The things that make France France are going away. Liberty, Equality and Fraternity are just nice sentiments now. Solidarity has been split by the cities vs the periphery dichotomy. The country is as unequal as the USA, Guilluy says. The services that local communes provided have gone away because the central government has simply withheld funding. And given it to the cities. The concept of a job for life, the main employment contract used in France, is being shunted aside for an American-style right to work regime, where workers can be fired at will. The French are finding themselves forced into the ugly gig economy, pioneered by the USA. People have trouble putting aside even a hundred euros a month, making them insecure. The very fabric of France is simply becoming American. It is not an improvement.

David Wineberg ( )
  DavidWineberg | Dec 25, 2018 |
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