The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Le Pen Is Delusional But Macron Deserves To Lose

So, Macron has dissolved his government and a French legislative election is on. The Harris Interactive June 9/10 poll shows La Pen with the highest support at 34%, with the left wing Nantes coalition at 22% and Macron’s ENS coalition at 19%. Macron is not on the ballot, but if his party loses power, the Prime Minister of whatever group has the majority will be in control of French domestic policy, leaving Macron to foreign affairs.

Macron has been a terrible President. He got in only because of strategic voting. In the second round, people were too scared to give Le Pen a chance, so they went for him. During his tenure France has been rocked by repeated and massive protests. Economic performance has been bad and his signature move was to increase the age at which people can retire.

This is the Brexit/Trump/Javier problem. To whit, when things are bad for a long time and nothing seems to help, people reach for something extreme. They know the status quo isn’t working and that things keep getting worse no matter who they vote for among the mainstream, so they look for someone or something completely different. Trump is a billionaire, but he doesn’t parse the same as normal politicians. The EU was adopted around about the time Britain went into a severe multi-generational slump manufactured to hurt the working class. The EU wasn’t mostly responsible for it, but the status quo was “things are going to get worse, but if you stay in the EU more slowly than if you leave” and people were willing to throw the dice.

Javier is a libertarian loon who looks and talks nothing like a normal politician, so Argentinians gave him a shot: neither ordinary right nor ordinary left had been able to fix Argentina.

Of course, Javier is a loon, so:

La Pen is delusional, and not a solution. As an illustration:

Le Pen – who calls wind turbines “horrors that cost us a fortune” – would end all subsidies to the solar and wind energy sector, apply a moratorium on both and dismantle already existing turbines.

Solar is substantially cheaper than fossil fuels. Wind varies, in France it seems to be slightly more expensive than fossil fuels, but prices continue to drop, and thanks to Europe’s geopolitical stance the price of fossil fuels is higher than it once was. Even if you don’t want to build more turbines, dismantling already existing turbines is expensive stupidity.

Ending subsidies is questionable, in the sense that if you want to end subsidies and allow “true” competition, you’d also have to end fossil fuel and nuclear subsidies.

But a moratorium is beyond stupid. If solar is cheaper, why not build it?

There’s a lot of this sort of nonsense on the right, “liberals and left wingers like renewable energy and acknowledge climate change, therefor we must oppose renewable energy and deny climate change.”

It’s driven by tribal nonsense, science denialism and desire to keep things the same.

But sticking your head in the sand doesn’t change the fact that climate change is real and happening, or that solar is now cheaper than fossil fuels in most cases.

We can’t fix our problems is we deny reality. It’s that simple. It afflicts the center as well, with their “we’ll win in Ukraine” nonsense and their complete unwillingness to recognize the consequences of austerity and neoliberal politics. They want lots of rich people, so anything that would mean less rich rich people is anathema.

But the right, like Le Pen, are equally delusional. She may do some good things. Perhaps she’ll undo the increase in pension ages, for example. I hope so.

But the right isn’t the answer to real problems. Everything but climate change and ecological collapse, in 20 years, will seem like a sideline, completely meaningless. Any politician who isn’t taking it seriously and preparing for it shouldn’t be in office. Macron was not doing enough, not even close. Le Pen wants to make it worse.

France’s only real chance is to go left: fix the social and economic problems at the same time as dealing realistically with environmental problems.

Perhaps that will happen. If it doesn’t, as with Britain rejecting Corbyn, they will pay a frightful price. The European era is over, but how well France adjusts to its new place in the world will matter a great deal to those who live there, and, indeed, to all of Europe.

Right now the French seem determined to accelerate their decline rather than adapt to new circumstance in a way which is beneficial to them.

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 09 2024

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20 Comments

  1. Mark Level

    Excellent summary & take as usual, Ian.

    I will add one word to your closing, as I believe it is mistaken as written:

    “Right now the French ELITES seem determined to accelerate their decline rather than adapt to new circumstance in a way which is beneficial to them.”

    I think those who are voting anti-Macron are rational actors for the most part. It’s good to see the actual left getting over 20%.

    And though I don’t much sympathize with Le Pen voters, I think different motives than an opposition to Solar & renewable power is the main reason. Her voters are obviously xenophobic and there is a clear refugee crisis in Europe due to all the Mideast & African refugees that the US’s endless wars thru Bush, Obama, Trump & now Biden have created.

    The Duran guys maintain that Rishi Sunak on being displaced from power will flee Britain for the US. I believe they are well informed. Macron hates the majority of the French people (they have also noted) & wants to work in globalist war projects, he never had any interest in bettering the French public’s conditions. As you note, the Elites set him up to run against Le Pen the first time to usher in the hard Austerity projects he enabled. That didn’t work with HRC v. Trump, but it’s central to the script.

  2. mago

    All spot on observations here.
    However, if any European population can deliver a revolution it’s likely to be the French.
    Remember the relatively recent Yellow Jacket movement.
    Remember Bastille Day this July and forget the 4th.
    Of course it’s so addled from over under sideways and down these days one might expect more sense from fleas, rats and cockroaches.
    They’re the ones most likely to survive any coming conflagration.

  3. nobody

    It seems to be a hardwired defect in the human condition that populations respond to hard times by selecting leaders who make hard times harder by weakening society in favor of violent but fragile individualism.

    From an evolutionary perspective, this makes complete sense. Humans evolved to live in small groups whose fortunes are completely dependent on uncontrollable outside forces. It is an entirely valid evolutionary strategy for small groups to respond to shortages by selecting leaders who we would now call conservatives, i.e. those who believe in killing the weak and stealing their resources.

    Human civilization fails because our evolutionary hardwiring is unsuited to maintain groups large enough that their fortunes are very often of their own making, and civilizational misfortunes are usually self-inflicted. Our collective response to hard times caused by shortages is not to fix the shortages, but rather to identify classes of victims/scapegoats, take their resources, and, frequently, kill them. We are collectively incapable of recognizing that this strategy does not work.

    When victim persecution fails to deliver prosperity, the only solution we can imagine is to find more victims to persecute. This is why people respond to destruction of living standards at the hands of conservatives by re-electing conservatives: persecuting our way to prosperity will work this time, if only we persecute enough people. Collectively, we are no different from the believer in a cargo cult who, upon receiving no cargo, decides that his radio was made out of the wrong kind of wood.

    Our response to a shortage of housing isn’t to build more housing, it’s to use the free market to ensure that lower social status individuals (‘the poor’) have no access to housing to save what is available for those with higher social status. Our response to a shortage of energy isn’t to find/build new energy sources, it is to use the free market to deny energy to lower social status individuals to save energy for those with higher social status. And so on. The idea of actually fixing problems is fundamentally not part of our evolutionary makeup, because doing something about hard times was categorically impossible during the evolutionary period when our mindset developed.

    This is why the Germans wound up with Hitler, the Italians with Mussolini, why the French will eventually be ruled by Le Pen, why the UK is ruled by the cancerous infestation known as the Conservative Party, why Canada will be ruled by a backwoods idiot after the next election, and why the Americans will re-elect Trump.

  4. ....

    Cheaper wind and solar will make both even more unsustainable especially if consumption shifts substantially to those “alternatives” to fossil fuels. Don’t forget planned obsolescence and technological obsolescence that will both shorten the useful lives of the wind turbines and solar panels.

    Michael Moore certainly has his share of flaws and foibles but he got it right with Planet of the Humans when it comes to this subject of the myth of a sustainable future.

    I agree La Pen is a pig and her feigned disdain for climate change and sustainability is purely political. Both the right and the left, like so much else, are wrong-headed and delusional when it comes to this existential ecological crisis and they make it impossible to have an honest, intellectual discussion about this.

  5. Ian Welsh

    Without substantial other changes, renewables will not be sufficient. Agreed. I’ve written about planned obsolesence, in particular, many times.

    Still, they’re better than coal or natural gas plants.

  6. StewartM

    France’s only real chance is to go left: fix the social and economic problems at the same time as dealing realistically with environmental problems.

    Perhaps that will happen. If it doesn’t, as with Britain rejecting Corbyn, they will pay a frightful price.

    Yep. And everywhere in the West, in the US and Europe both, it seems our “sensible” centrists want to ‘do something’ about climate change and ‘fix’ the problems of their country, but not to do it in any way that hurts their rich.

    That. Cannot. Be. Done.

    In fact, breaking the power of the rich is an intricate part of fixing things and mitigating climate change. The sad thing that breaking the power of the rich, making them far less rich, actually won’t hurt them—if the Bezos, Musks, Gates, Zuckerburgs, etc. of the world lost 90 % of their wealth, or more, they’re not going to end up sleeping on park benches or getting their meals in soup kitchens. They’ll not have to go without medical care, housing, or the necessities of life; in fact, they’ll still have plenty of luxuries. They’d be fine.

    What they wouldn’t have is the power to corrupt our politics and unduly influence our economies, or to escape justice for any crimes they may have committed. That’s all.

    As for these rich, many of them flirt with fascism as their solution to avoid the horrors of, say, social democracy. I’ve heard those of Austrian economic school bent decry fascism as ‘socialism’ (it wasn’t, and isn’t) but it’s probably true that submitting to a fascist regime may involve the rich submitting some control over their business operations to the direction of the government, in a deal that if you submit, “we’ll make sure you profit handsomely”. But if you resist, “you may have an ‘accident’ where you fall out of an upper-story window” [or get poisoned if you flee abroad]. In short, you lose the rule of law, law that has protected you and which you took for granted, and exist at the whim of the fascist state. It’s a fool’s bargain, but many rich support it because they are by nature stupid people who can only calculate short-term consequences (as they have mightily resisted thinking about the long-term ones).

  7. Adam Eran

    One correction: Renewables may be cheaper than conventional sources out of context, but within context such developments fail to be as profitable as conventional sources, so their up-front costs often prove insurmountable. For the full story, see “The Price is Wrong: Why Capitalism Won’t Save the Planet” by Brett Christophers.

    Conventional sources of electricity typically have modest land requirements, and are already hooked up to the grid. The land–often far from the consumers of the electricity–and the costs to hook renewables up to renewable developments are not trivial. The fact that the vast majority of the costs of renewables are up front, coupled with the “marketization” of power generation, which means prices per KWh vary widely are often enough to discourage investors and bankers from funding such projects without government guarantees.

    So, yes, renewables’ costs out of context are lower than conventional sources, but here context is responsible for killing very large renewables developments.

  8. mago

    @Adam Eran.
    Renewables have to pass through pre existing conventional channels.
    Seldom discussed Big problem there.

  9. Ian Welsh

    And that’s why government intervention is required to ensure that capitalism doesn’t continue to destroy the environment.

    Nonetheless, I know of no study showing that solar isn’t now cheaper than fossil fuels, and in Europe’s geopolitical context, the transition is especially sensible even if climate change didn’t exist.

    Since France is losing access to its cheap uranium, well, that makes it even more important.

  10. NR

    I’m old enough to remember the 2002 (?) election where La Pen’s father made it to the runoff election to face off against the deeply corrupt Chirac. The people sensibly chose to have a crook in office rather than a Nazi, and Chirac won a (absolutely undeserved) landslide. Most elections since then in France have followed that same pattern, but the far right candidate keeps getting closer to winning.

    It sure would be nice if the French left could get their shit together for once and take advantage of the opportunity Macron has given them. Sadly I don’t think this is very likely, the left in France (as in many places around the world) has been in a sorry state for a long time. Hamon tried to unite them in 2017 and the far left ended up actively working for his defeat.

    So it looks like this will be another case of center-right vs. far right. And we can never make any progress as long as that’s the paradigm.

  11. ....

    These so-called leaders are not “selected” by the majority of the population, nobody. They are selected by a handful, the wealthy elite, and offered up as choices or options when they are no such thing. People can delude themselves and believe they selected their “leaders” but it’s just that, a delusion. Hell, people are so bamboozled they will actually cheer for and support these so-called “leaders” and at times even die for them — in droves.

    Let’s face it, civilization is the problem. It always has been. Civilization has always been serfdom in one form or another. Occasionally, the serfs rise up and slaughter their masters and then like prairie dogs or the Phoenix if you prefer, up pop/rise the rich again. And again. And again. Rinse and repeat ad nauseum until human is no more or in the least civilization is no more but jesus, it’s like kudzu. Civilization, I mean. It simply can’t be eradicated. It’s pernicious. It capitalizes on all things. It exploits any and all. Even its own ultimate collapse and demise. Ravaging and pillaging until the very bitter end whenever that will be.

    Still, to this day, it’s anathema to frankly discuss the nucleus of the existential ecological crisis. Growth. Growth is the cornerstone of civilization. Civilization is a leviathan. It’s massive and complex and intractable.

    To mitigate the existential ecological crisis in any way no matter how inadequate such futile attempts are, growth must be addressed and an entirely radical way of living MUST BE conjured and adopted. It would be a global Manhattan Project. Who would be Oppie? Who would be Groves? Fuchs? No takers, I’m afraid. Why? Because it’s anathema. Growth is sacrosanct and can never be abolished when in fact it is precisely growth that SHOULD BE anathema.

    Is that interminably cynical? Check. But it’s also all too real and real is the only chance we have if we have any chance at all and yet real is as rare as honesty from a politician.

  12. Jan Wiklund

    Mainstream has been preparing a rightist identitarian takeover for some time, says MondeDiplo – it’s not only the extermist outlets that think the genocide in Gaza must be supported because Israel defends the West against the barbarians, so say many into the centre-right also, and it is now illegal i France to quote the International Court and call the genocide a genocide, you can get jail for it. See https://mondediplo.com/2024/02/04french-journalism-gaza, and https://mondediplo.com/2024/06/11freedom-of-speech.

    And concerning delusions. I live in a small French town and have my home heated by gaz which is extremely expensive. So of course I want to go over to a heat pump run by a solar panel. But I am not permitted to. All houses in this town core and every other town core and village in France must stay outwardly exactly as they are, for antiquarian reasons. But one is permitted, even encouraged, to spread out and build a new house outside the town.

    Which will of course not only increase emissions but also drown the municipality in costs for infrastructure, and load the economy in general with diminishing synergies – and since nobody will want to heat houses with gaz when there are cheaper methods the city cores will die.

    It’s not French because it is stupid, said Talleyrand about Charles X’s law on censureship, but that was 200 years ago.

  13. Feral Finster

    The far right are winning support because they are the only political forces that even pretend to take an interest in the average frustrated europeon and his problems.

    The Responsible, Respectable, Sensible and Credentialed Centrists openly flaunt their indifference to their own citizens and their petty little concerns, instead focusing on showing their American Master who is the most loyalest little bitch, who deserves a treat, who get a think tank slot, who, who?

    The left either ape the center or have basically diappeared up their own proverbial asshole, debating burning issues of state such as “how many LGTBQXYZPDQ+ can dance on the head of a pin?” and crucifying each other over mostly imaginary PC violations.

    The voters are told daily that the Far Right is Bad. Very Very Bad, and they are. And the voters may in fact not like a lot of their prescriptions. But they are the only ones even discussing the issues.

    Anyway, it doesn’t matter. LePen has already signaled that, if elected, she will acquiesce to American hegemony in general and the War On Russia in particular. A generation ago, the Greens were given a similar choice in germany and their knees resolutely hit the floor. Europeans like being slaves.

    It’s an offer LePen can’t refuse. The CIA will make sure of that.

  14. Feral Finster

    @ StewartM:

    “Yep. And everywhere in the West, in the US and Europe both, it seems our “sensible” centrists want to ‘do something’ about climate change and ‘fix’ the problems of their country, but not to do it in any way that hurts their rich.

    That. Cannot. Be. Done.

    In fact, breaking the power of the rich is an intricate part of fixing things and mitigating climate change. ”

    Even forgetting climate change, breaking the power of the oligarchs is necessary, lest the oligarchs get more entrenched and any change not in their favor becomes impossible.

  15. Purple Library Guy

    On pretending climate change isn’t a thing and renewable energy doesn’t work, the article says “It’s driven by tribal nonsense, science denialism and desire to keep things the same.”

    That’s true as far as it goes, but mostly it’s driven by gobs and gobs of fossil fuel cash. We know intellectually that PR drives people’s opinions on a ton of stuff, but we tend not to internalize that and still unconsciously discount it in any given case. And again, there’s still this tacit assumption that if something is happening primarily on social media, it must be somehow an organic grassroots thing, but nothing could be further from the truth. PR money has been poisoning the grassroots since before the internet existed.

  16. Purple Library Guy

    “Three Dots” is in my opinion categorically wrong. So is Adam Eran. The fact is that renewables are growing at an exponential rate, and it is a sizable exponent. In the abstract, the idea that renewables should be unsuitable for our current capitalist economic structure seems plausible, but in practice it doesn’t seem to be the case. Maybe it’s because it now takes less time and money to build a solar or wind farm than to build a new oil refinery or offshore drilling rig, let alone a nuke plant. Maybe it’s the way it’s easy to tailor the scale of such projects to the available finances, because they’re very modular. Maybe it’s because they don’t seem prone to cost overruns the way many other big projects are, so with modern financial engineering it’s pretty easy to finance them–they have predictable costs and predictable revenue, the costs being up front really isn’t a big issue. Lending money to fund things with up-front costs and hopefully predictable revenue later is what banks DO. Whatever the reason, that theory has been left in the dust by events. It’s clear the transition to renewable power, and electric vehicles for that matter, is happening and is going to be fairly complete except in places that actually ban it . . . and even that will not last once they become islands in a sea of shifted technology. The question is not whether it will happen, the question is whether it can be speeded or slowed by a few years. Those few years are very important, because however hot we get before we end greenhouse gas emissions is about how hot we will stay for a long time, give or take a few feedback loops. But still, the transition as such is not in doubt.

    As to planned obsolescence–that’s always just been a consumer thing, it’s never been a thing in power generation, I don’t see why it should start now.

    And, I think it’s pretty clear that the transition to renewable energy and electrification of transport and industry and heating/cooling of buildings will end up stopping the progress of climate change. It won’t solve everything, like agriculture will still be a big issue, but anything that’s left will be isolated–everyone will be looking at them going “We solved the big important stuff and the fossil fuel lobby is dead. You guys better get with the fucking program!” People who say the transition will not work IN THAT SENSE are wrong. I don’t get their logic. Climate change is caused by the emission of greenhouse gases. If you change the technologies you use to ones that do not emit greenhouse gases, climate change will stop. This is obvious. And all the stuff about how stuff like building EVs or wind farms emits CO2 . . . well yeah, NOW–but if the grid is renewable and the transport is electrified and the industry is electrified, obviously it won’t. Technological fixes cannot fix (many, many things), but some things they can fix; they’re good at simple, and the problem of climate change is fundamentally simple–we’re emitting these few things, so a technology that doesn’t emit those few things . . . fixes it!

    That said, the transition will NOT solve our environmental problems in general, and they are very bad. It will help with a few (e.g. air pollution), but fundamentally we will still have a very wasteful growth-oriented economic system; we will still be fishing out the oceans, dumping plastic everywhere (I suspect the oil biz will survive for a while as the petrochemical biz), poisoning the air and the water and the soil, razing all the forests, and generally vastly exceeding the carrying capacity of the earth and causing widespread ecological collapse. When we’ve got a handle on climate change we will start having our noses rubbed in all the problems we forgot about. And THOSE cannot be solved without seriously changing our political economy.

  17. Curt Kastens

    Meanwhile next door in Germany Parties that fully support the war against Russia (CDU, SPD, Greens, FDP) got 61% of the vote. Parties that are clearly opposed to waging war against Russia (FDP, BSW, Linke) got 26% of the vote. Parites whose position is not easy to know because they are so small got the remainder. Support for Ukraine may have fallen somewhat over the past two years in Germany. But it looks to me like it is still very strong. In my estimation 61% represents a strong majority of ____________________.(Term of undearment)

  18. Forecasting Intelligence

    Not a single comment about the rise of Islamist ideology, terrorism and the wider issue of crime caused by the ever rising numbers of illegal and legal migrants from some of the more troubled parts of the world.

    That is what is driving much of Le Pen’s support. Basic security and the failure of the French state to protect its own people.

    As for climate change, sure, its a long-term challenge but truth is mitigation is the only realistic option now. Nobody is planning for that.

  19. Jan Wiklund

    Purple Library Guy: I think the main reason why renewables are getting so much cheaper is that they are industry, i.e. economies of scale apply, while the old sources are extraction where there is very little economies of scale.

    That said, I believe much more has to be done than just put in a lot of windmills and solar panels. There are also a lot of infrastructure and institutions around them, that have to be put in place. See for example Alfred Chandler’s article about that written in 1980, at https://www.jstor.org/stable/3823248, where he compared it to the new infrastructures and institutions that were needed to start big industry. And that is traditionally the role of states. And states seem powerless against well entrenched capitalists today.

    In fact, Chilean Cambridge economist José Gabriel Palma thought that the neoliberal turn was put in place by the “car-oil-complex” as he called it, see https://academic.oup.com/cje/article/33/4/829/1736365, in order to keep its predominance. In that they failed, but they almost killed those that would have replaced them.

  20. Occasional Contributor

    Capitalism is a system that prioritizes private ownership and profit over everything else. When centre-left neoliberals like Macron et al do “climate policy” it will always be done half-assed and geared to fit into the market economy. So you get a few wind turbines, perhaps some sonar panel farms, promotion of electric cars and heat pumps and politicians telling people to buy “green.” Well, poorer people and people who don’t live in urban centres where biking, transit and e-cars are feasible (setting aside the issue of greenwashing and the matter of this stuff being too little, too late) quickly learn that these incentives privilege wealthier folk and people who live in cities.

    The Yellow Vests movement began after Macron’s proposed fuel tax. It’s not that the protesters were climate change deniers it’s that they resented being forced to pay more to get to work and do their daily tasks because they have to drive gasoline or diesel powered cars while rich Parisians could buy an e-car/bike, take the subway to work or pay the tax and continue driving their ICE powered cars without it unduly affecting their finances.

    A similar thing happened during COVID. Governments made rules that theoretically applied to all people but it quickly became apparent that wealthy people could buy themselves exemptions and that lower paid workers still had to expose themselves to a deadly disease while higher paid workers could stay home.

    The political right are experts at exploiting people’s grievances and resentments. And the two-tiered moralized policies enacted by the centre-left where everyone is told they have to pay more in order to “save the planet” or stay home to “protect grandma” while wealthy people and privileged elites can opt out or simply absorb the extra costs, while poorer people have to pay real money and/or risk their health just to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table understandably causes a lot of resentment.

    So you get right wing politicians and political parties that tap into these resentments by being against masking up or anything “green” like bike lanes, public transit and higher density housing while promising to open more coal fired power plants (although the idiot Green Party in Germany has also done the latter but for a different reason).

    What the right doesn’t do is offer any real alternatives. Even the fascists of yesteryear promised their adherents a better future.

    Today, nobody has a vision for any kind of future. The neoliberal centrists want to preserve the status quo at any cost while the right just wants to mindlessly tear it down and the far-left argues impotently amongst itself. Meanwhile the planet continues to burn, capitalism’s internal contradictions intensify and western society continues its downward spiral.

    What we have is Potemkin politics and kayfabe. You can vote for the assholes in power – or for the assholes challenging the assholes in power – but, to steal a quote from one such asshole, nothing will fundamentally change.

    Go ahead and vote if it makes you feel better but be aware that this won’t change the trajectory the west is on. Maybe a bunch of far-right parties winning will galvanize the left and breathe new life and ideas into it, but I doubt it.

    A global industrial civilization that relies on endlessly extracting finite resources, while cooking the planet in the process, is not sustainable and simple physics says it can’t continue indefinitely. On top of that the economy is already on life support and has been for a while. This too can’t last forever.

    So start thinking about what you would do if you wake up one morning and there’s no power, no water comes out of your taps and your money is worthless. Everything collapsing rapidly all at once is the stuff of Abrahamic religions and sci-fi (unless you’re, say, in Gaza) but a Russia in the 90s type scenario happening in the next 20 years, with climate disasters thrown in, and no capitalist rebound on the horizon, is not that far-fetched. And know that the Macrons and Le Pens of the world won’t help you when it does.

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