French sentences to ponder

The context is that fewer and fewer French people can afford to take summer vacations:

It helped give rise to the Yellow Vest movement, whose complaints included the inability to afford pastimes — and whose earliest issues included, symbolically, making the parking free at Disneyland Paris.

Here is the full NYT piece by Norimitsu Onitsu.


The world's middle classes are being destroyed. Only the populists acknowledge these problems exist while the usual suspects can only offer the usual talking points careful to steer away from the real issues. This doesn't work in today's world. Social media and the internet lacks the top-down editorial controls that old media had. So conversations can continue on topics which those in high places prefer not to be discussed. Like the rising costs of health insurance, housing, education and labor's lack of share in the spoils. Understandably, these are difficult issues that will require difficult decisions and in a democracy where the majority rules, the elites are afraid to see their position slip away like what happened to the middle class the last 40 years. The pawns of the establishment will try as they might to divert attention to Trump, social justice, the estate tax, or the virtues of deregulation, all favorite topics of that particular set. But it doesn't work anymore.

Tell that to the Chinese tourists I see everywhere I go


People are not fungible. That the Chinese middle class has grown does not imply that the middle classes of other countries have not been destroyed and that they are not rightfully angry at their waning economic fortunes when compared to their parents. I read an article once where the author expressed a very utilitarian view in saying that, if one person drops out of the middle class in the West in order for a Chinese or Indian to rise to the middle class elsewhere, then it is worth it. Leaving aside the obvious racial undertones, universalist utilitarianism like this is a reason for populist rebellions. People want economic advancement for themselves and the people around them.

When you say the middle class is getting destroyed in the West, how are you arriving at that conclusion?

Are you tracking groups of middle class people from a point in time like the the 1970’s and then watching them suffer as you move through the 2010’s? Or are you simply taking aggregate middle class income data from 1970 and comparing it to today?

There has been almost no productivity growth in the last 20 years. What growth there is has been in areas where the reserve banks have created money. Those who get the money first win and those who get it are the well connected elites. Those who work for a living get nothing except asset price increases and bubbles. Economists have done well by telling those who control the money what a great job they are doing. In reality they sell their intellect and integrity for 40 pieces of silver, pity most of them aren't as honourable as Judas at the end.

I think this is right---all over the developed world, the employee class says living standards are falling, while globalist-academics say they are not.

The real issues---declining labor shares of income, wage-reducing immigration, rent-hiking property zoning---are being sidelined.

If the centrist-globalists keep insisting everything is okay, then populists will win.

When you say declining labor share of income you are taking a population group from one point in time in 1970 and you are watching their wages go down over time?

Or are you taking one population group in one point in time and comparing them to another population group in another point in time. For my understanding, I am just trying to figure out how you are using statistics.

You could be right. The 1970's were the best years of my life (born in 1950). I remember my youth . . .

The 1970's were a decade of high inflation; the coming of age of the baby boomers; the Vietnam and Cold War; formidable/powerful organized labor; downward pressure on the dollar vs. gold (in 1970 the dollar was 1/35th of an ounce of gold, at one point in 1980 1/875th, today it's 1/1,557th - FOX Business - an ounce) gold; very high (15%) long bond yields (see high inflation above).

Things are different now. Low inflation (CBs fear deflation) - Jeff Bezos is a one-man cure for inflation; low/negative population growth; debilitated organized labor; near-zero and negative nominal and real interest rates.

I'm economically/financially better off than I was in 1970's and was my father at this point. My sons and grandchildren seemingly are not.

I don't buy it. "Life is harder than I was led to believe" is not the same thing as living standards falling.

With the advent of Trump and Bannon, both parties are now in the full-time business of pandering to the all too human suspicion that somehow, I'm getting the short end of the stick.

I grew up in the 1970s. We were middle class, but by today's standards, we'd be considered poor.

"I grew up in the 1970s. We were middle class, but by today's standards, we'd be considered poor."

+1, that's my experience. And more importantly it's the experience of all my non-college educated cousins, who are still better off than their parents were.

That being said, it's undeniable that the rising cost of housing, medical care and education are eating up the vast bulk of the lower 2 quintiles total compensation gains.

France's GDP per capita per hour worked in 2010 dollars:

1970 $22
1980 $32
1990 $43
2000 $52
2010 $57
2018 $62

And GDP per capita per hour for the U.S.

1970 $31
1980 $36
1990 $42
2000 $50
2010 $62
2018 $65

1. GDP per capita is a mean, not a median. If the critique is about the outcomes for the middle class, GDP can easily rise dramatically if the middle class is falling while the top 1% is rising.
2. GDP increases not just from zillionaires getting more zillions, but also from corporations, governments, and non-profits retaining larger percentages of total production without citizens consuming it.
3. Real household wages have risen only about 20-30%. Part of this is a change in household composition, but it bears out that individuals are likely not experiencing dramatic gains.
4. The prices of non-improving goods are handily beating these figures. Regardless of why, housing has dramatically increased price above and beyond the rise in household income. As too have things like education and vacation rentals.

For a lot of Americans there has been displacement, it has been significant, and it rarely appears to be getting better.

Wrong, Brian Donohue. See, this is why Trump was elected and will be re-elected in 2020. Mark my words.

And being not-poor is not the same thing as rising standards of living. In the 1970s how many relatives did you have living nearby (aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.)? What civic organizations did your parents partake in? How much of your childhood was taken up with resume padding endeavors? How many people in your family had mental illness? How many people in your family had committed suicide? How many of your parents had zero friends?

When people talk to me about the things they valued most or enjoyed the most in their lives it isn't being rich. But since the 70s society has shed many of the sorts of things that people most enjoy in life.

The wealthy, they buy their way out of these losses - nannies, regular flights back to the family, counseling, and fun excursions with talent hired to curate their experiences. The middle class lacks these luxuries. For them family is distant and increasing unreliable for childcare. Marriage counseling at ~$100 an hour is vastly less accessible than priests and ministers used to be. And kids today have worse psychiatric profiles than WWII combat vets; almost as though a natural period of developmental trial and error has become a minefield requiring flawless navigation (for the not rich and powerful).

GDP is easy to measure and moving in a great direction. The social habits of the wealthy and powerful (e.g. every poster on this site) are a bit harder, but still becoming more expensive. The social situation of the bottom? Contracting every year. Fewer friends, less likelihood of marriage, fewer children, less sense of meaning in life … and basically every major correlate of happiness and wellbeing we know about.

It is almost as though we consumed a bunch of social capital most valuable to the poor and powerless to create a bunch of economic capital for the rich and powerful.

And then blamed the poor and powerless for complaining due to ignorance.

The article was interesting. It reminded of a paper that said that poor people who were given enough aid for a healthy but bland diet spent the money on tastier, but non-nutritious food, and on TV and other forms of entertainment, confounding expectations regarding prioritization of needs.

This essay had some interesting points.

"This is not a frivolous nor a trivial concern. In smaller French towns, a person who does not spend time in cafés is deprived of an implicit but yet significant part of her humanity. The cup of coffee the woman cannot afford in a café may well be the concrete, humble, quotidian expression of liberty for many in other developed countries as well. (After all, Starbucks did not succeed merely by selling overpriced beverages.) The woman in the video cannot go to cafés because the social services she enjoys and supports – on a mandatory basis – leave no financial room for free choice, even about tiny luxuries. She suffers from the consequences of a broad societal pick that no one forced on her. In general, not much was imposed on her from above that she might have readily resisted. It was all done by fairly small, cumulative democratic decisions. In the end, there is just not enough looseness in the socio-economic space she inhabits to induce happiness.

She is an existential victim of what can loosely be called “democratic socialism.” It’s “democratic” because France has all the attributes of a representative republic where the rule of law prevails. It’s “socialistic” in the vague sense in which the term is used in America today. Unfortunately, there is no French Bureau of Missing and Lost Little Joys to assess and remedy her discontent. Democratic socialism is taking care of the woman but it leaves her no elbow room, space for recreation, in the original meaning of the word: “re-creation.”"

"the social services she enjoys and supports – on a mandatory basis – leave no financial room for free choice, even about tiny luxuries". Not sure what that means. She certainly pays no income tax (the lower half of the population in income don't). She probably receives some social aid, but in France it is almost entirely in cash -- no such things as food stamps for example --, so she could spend it in cafés and other "tiny luxuries" rather than say in clothing if she wants to.

There are many good argument to be made against (and also, for) "democratic socialism" in the French way, but this one is not convincing.

Cash is better from a freedom perspective. The government has no idea how much of your budget should go to food, housing, and all the other expenses of life. It gives the recipient the option to trade up in one area and trade down in another. It also allows for greater market dynamics like pricing. You don't get any of this with a one-size-fits-all food stamp.

Also from a bureaucratic perspective you don't need 10 different agencies with wildly diverging goals, turf wars, more potential for politicization, and higher organizational complexity when you can just have one department that is supposed to do just one thing.

The French are also just flat out poorer than Americans. The US has a population of 325 million. We inhale some of the poorest low skilled workers year after year. Yet our median income is about 46k a year. In France it is 31k.

In short they have a crappier, less dynamic economic system that can’t do what the American system does.

But Baron Von Hausmann was cool!

When you're poor you have to live in a poor town or neighborhood surrounded by poor people. I'd live in any low income French community before any poor American suburb. Much lower homicide rate to begin with.

>I'd live in any low income French community

Now here's someone whose never been to Paris.

True, but overlay the US demographic-immigration reality on to France and would you still be saying that?

Probably not....

"She certainly pays no income tax (the lower half of the population in income don't)".

No, but she pays 20 percent VAT on nearly everything she purchases. That's likely a heavier bite than a progressive income tax would be.

Prejudice: the contemporary French people are NIMBYs. Made a quick search and succumbed to confirmation bias ;)

The people who's still mourning the closure of iron mines 30 years ago is opposing the opening of a quarry today. They also hate the vehicle traffic generated by all the French workers commuting daily to Luxembourg (10km away).

The rich can afford to be NIMBY, the's complicate.

As someone to the right economically, I’d love to tell the French to role back their administrative state, stop blood sucking the private sector, lower taxes, ditch the nimbyism, and build more housing but all of that “American” economic model probably wouldn’t make them happier either.

At the end of the day, theirs is a civilization that loves protest and turns to the state for progress. Capitalism, markets, and entrepreneurialism are so ancillary to their state lead way of life. I honestly feel bad for them. They have a very intelligent populace but they are just so much poorer than they should be....

Yes, build more housing. Aumetz, the town from the article, could revitalize as low-rent exurb of Luxembourg. As you mentioned it, it's not sure a revitalized town would make them happier.

Thanks for the clarity in your words, they expect progress and change coming from the state. It is what it is.

I don't read the NYT - it would only encourage them.

But for those who have read the piece, is it as good as this free one from zman?

Thank you -- I forgot all about that guy. For years, he was the only reason to come to MR. And now he's gone.

He does have a lot of gems:

"A trip to your kid’s school or a visit to the doctor is like entering a secret world where nothing gets done, no one gets fired and no one cares."

"Hell hath no fury like a scorned, menopausal feminist clutching her dream catcher."

1. Stop coming to MR
2. Stop seeing doctors
3. Home school your kids

"Today, we are awash in media and most of it is terrible. How many times do you have to have a video start playing while you are reading the sports pages, before you are in a sour mood? Make that a constant state and it is easy to see how mass media immiserates us."

I'd never take advice from someone who cannot use AdBlock. This is a display of lack of practical knowledge. I know why he's bitter, he's not the brightest bulb on the box.

Wednesday, Feb 8, 1911

"Dear Mr. Brandeis, " Mary wrote,
"My horse's bill for feed
Is out of all proportion to
His wildest burst of speed."

-- Claimant No. 1

Hey, wait a minute. Those sentences aren't French!

Look at the pictures of those protestors. You have two guys on a tractor, blue collar white guys in front of a barn, another set in front of a church, one pointing at a picture of a closed steel mil he used to work at.

I believe Barack Obama would have called them bitter clingers and Hillary Clinton would have said they were deplorable.

Did you march in the Straight Pride Parade again this year, hun?

No, unfortunately it's hard to march in a Straight line when you live in a Maze.

Outstanding return of snark, I award 10 internet points.

"Afford" is not a very useful word.

Meanwhile, in a country far, far away,
"in 2018, 66% of French people went on holidays, a record"

Yes, the linked "study" does not prove its claim that fewer people are going on holiday, only that holiday options are getting more expensive. Which can only happen if people can afford them. Example: fewer kids are going to camps, which they say is because fewer kids are going on holiday, but could just as well be because parents have the time and money to personally take their kids on vacation.

The force of entitlements.

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