France: Understanding the Gilets Jaunes Uprising
The vast majority haven't been told the truth about life for ordinary citizens, in France. As a result, they don’t understand the significance of the violent ‘gilets jaunes’ protests across the country. Having lived in France for years, REX explains why these are the most important protests in France since 1968 - and likely a beacon for citizens all across Europe.
Millions of French citizens have been violently demonstrating across France for the last month.
They are known as the gilets jaunes, or "yellow jackets". The protestors wear the yellow high-viz jacket, that is common on building sites and airports.
It’s a powerful totem for the French deplorables, a unifying symbol of ordinary, working class folk across the nation.
France is no stranger to organized protests, or as they are called, manifestations. These are a dime-a-dozen in France. Typically they are union-engineered strikes, used as a weapon in the never-ending negotiation between organized labor and the French state.
Forget what FakeNews is telling you. This is no ordinary manifestation.
This is a genuine uprising by millions of city and country folk, young and old, crossing different ethnic and cultural lines.
Macron’s diesel tax hike wasn’t the cause of the gilets jaunes movement. It was the spark detonating a bomb, that has been building for decades.
It is the first time since 1968, that France has seen such a genuine and uprising popular uprising, against the French state.
This protest is different. And it has very specific, historic reasons, as this article will reveal.
The Real France
Think you know the real France? Here are a few facts that may shock you:
- • The French state has been bankrupt since 2004. A minister finally admitted it in 2013.
- • French GDP hasn’t risen above 2% in 50 years. Yes - FIFTY. The average annual GDP growth rate between 1949-2018? 0.78%.
- • In 2018, 14% of the population in France live below the poverty line (they earn less than 60% of the median income).
- • Worse, more than 50% of French people have an annual income of less than €20,150 a year (about $1,900 US per month).
- • The 'official' unemployment rate is 10% - about 3.5 million citizens (in reality, it's much higher).
- • The youth unemployment rate is 22%. Yes, you did read that right.
- • Astonishing but true: the French government employs 25% of the entire French workforce...and it's impossible to fire them.
- • Because the citizens make such little money, they pay no tax. Less than 50% of French pay any income tax at all; only around 14% pay at the rate of 30%, and less than 1% pay at the rate of 45%.
- • The government can't deliver services without taxes, so it borrows money. France's debt-GDP is now 100%.
Another revealing statistic: "structural unemployment" is now at 9 -10%. That statistic measures when it is impossible to find people who have the skills and qualifications, to fill available positions. Why? French kids aren't being educated to participate in the workforce. So even if France has a growth spurt (it won’t), they won’t have the labor to fill the new jobs.
So how did this epic disaster happen? And if blame is to be allocated, who bears the most of it?
In other words - why are millions of French citizens on the rampage, right now?
Because there’s a real France, that few ever see.
The France of the gilets jaunes. Or as we might label them, les deplorables.
And they are in a state of fury at a ruling class who not only let the population suffer, while enjoying a life of luxury and wealth, but who also blame ordinary people for their own suffering.
The French Ruling Class
Many still understand France through the lens of Vogue magazine covers: a nation of affluent, happy people who live in elegant homes, with endless holidays, wine and food.
A 24/7 utopia of chic, elegance and style.
Important to note: that France does exist. It is the world of the French ruling class, less than 1% of the population.
This small group of citizens have dominated the business, banking, legal and political scenes for decades.
The ruling class comes from a small group of grandes ecoles, or elite colleges. There are only 3 or 4. The top of the top? L’Ecole d’Administration Nationale (ENA).
Emmanuel Macron’s journey is typical of the ruliing class. He completed a Master's of Public Affairs at Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris (called "Sciences Po"), the #2 elite college, before graduating from ENA in 2004, age 27. He then worked as a senior civil servant at the Inspectorate General of Finances (The Treasury), before getting a high paid gig ad an investment banker at Rothschild & Cie Banque.
See how fast Macron worked his way into the senior civil servant position in the Treasury, before flipping into an exclusive investment bank? That is normal in France. It's a never-ending protected cycle of patronage, promotion, favors and cronyism.
Here’s another French word: parachutage. It is normal for young ENA graduates to be "parachuted" into senior civil service positions at a very young age, some as young as 25 years of age, without even interviewing for positions.
Imagine this. You’re an American, working in a French corporation. You're a very talented executive with 20 years experience and stellar performance reviews. Suddenly, your boss’s position becomes available. You apply.
A week later, a 26 year old is sitting in your old boss’s chair. Your new boss has been "parachuted" into the position.
This happened to one of my best friends in France, a bi-lingual MIT/Stanford graduate with 21 years of superb work experience across the world.
The French kid? A graduate of ENA.
ENA has a complete stranglehold on the French state. Only 100 students graduate every year.
Set up by de Gaulle just after WW2, the original concept was sound - to pool students of extreme talent and ability in one place, in order to create a new civil service that could re-build France.
It worked. Very talented patriots flocked to enter ENA and within a decade, the new French civil service had successfully rehabilitated France as a leading nation-state. From 1946 through 1973, France experienced what they describe as their trente glorieuses, nearly 30 years of economic success.
But by 1970, ENA’s meritocracy had become a self-replicating elite caste - and a ticket to the French ruling class. Astonishingly, every French President since de Gaulle has been an ENA graduate, excepting Georges Pompidou, who attended Sciences Po. Eight of the last ten French Prime Ministers have been enarques. All key civil service/government departments are run by enarques. How about business? 84% of the 546 top executives in France’s 40 biggest companies are graduates of a handful of elite colleges. 48% come from ENA and Sciences Po.
Get it? If you want to be part of the French ruling class, graduate from ENA or Sciences Po.
Otherwise, screw you.
Arrogance & Ignorance : A Toxic Mix
Notice Macron's age, when he became a senior civil servant - 27 years of age. That’s important.
The French elites are young men and women, who have been told that they are not just the intellectual creme de la creme, but morally superior. Better human beings, than their inferiors.
These people are arrogant. But they are also ignorant. Raised in very wealthy families and cosseted in the networks those families are part of, they have no understanding of ordinary people and their real lives.
Arrogance and ignorance is a very toxic mix. Macron’s tone-deaf appeal to climate change to justify the rise in diesel taxes, as well as his outrageous suggestion that ordinary French folk must drive less, is a classic example of the problem.
Just 27 years old.
Young people without life experience, are suggestible. They believe what they are told by superiors and haven’t yet had time to test their opinions, against reality.
Macron simply doesn’t have a clue.
What makes the gilets jaunes protests unique?
Their main gripe? Elites blaming ordinary people, for problems that the same elites have caused.
Elites never being held accountable for their incompetence. And elites never having to experience the conditions, that their failed ideas cause.
French people are sick of being held in chains by a ruling class. They are sick of being poor and unemployed.
They want a new direction, for their beloved nation.
Those Who Forget History, Are Condemned to Repeat It
In my opinion, despite their education, a lot of these elites aren't too bright.
They are intelligent. They can absorb what they're told at a very high level of complexity and then spit it out in an exam.
But they're not smart. They lack the ability to make decisions in situations that are ambiguous, or where the outcomes are out of their control.
There's no critical thinking skills. No skepticism, or testing what they are told is true, against their own enquiry.
As Macron proves, they lack common sense.
History demonstrates that a population will tolerate being led by an elite caste, as long as the same elite case can supply benefits to them, on an ongoing basis.
Once the ability of the elite to 'buy' consent starts to decline, civil unrest and disobedience is guaranteed.
But when an incompetent elite switches from depriving the deplorables of benefits, to punishing and blaming deplorables for the incompetence of elites, uncharted territory beckons.
Another lesson from history, that French elites appear to have forgotten? National identity and character doesn’t die easy. The French have always been a revolutionary culture. They still are.
Somehow, I doubt that these lessons of history were ever taught at ENA, or in any of the French elite schools.
Almost every western cultural and political revolution, started in France. If there was ever a European ‘hub’ to kickstart a nationalist uprising that started in America, what nation would be the likely candidate?
In my opinion, it is obvious. That nation is France.
Oh, another lesson. December 10, 1792 was the first day of Louis XVI's trial, exactly 226 years ago today.
Emmanuel Macron, take note.