The ur­ban citadels of the new rich

The French ge­og­ra­pher Christophe Guil­luy has spent decades study­ing the creep­ing gen­tri­fi­ca­tion of Paris. His ob­ser­va­tions, says Christo­pher Cald­well, can help us un­der­stand the back­lash against glob­al­i­sa­tion – and how it led to both Trump and Brexit

The Week - - The Last Word -

The prop­erty mar­ket in any so­phis­ti­cated city re­flects deep as­pi­ra­tions and fears. Christophe Guil­luy calls him­self a ge­og­ra­pher. But he has spent decades as a hous­ing con­sul­tant in rapidly chang­ing Paris neigh­bour­hoods study­ing gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, among other things. And he has crafted a con­vinc­ing nar­ra­tive ty­ing to­gether France’s var­i­ous so­cial prob­lems – im­mi­gra­tion tensions, dein­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion, eco­nomic de­cline, eth­nic con­flict, and the rise of pop­ulist par­ties. Guil­luy has pub­lished three books since 2010, with the new­est,

Le Cré­pus­cule de la France d’en haut

(roughly: “Twi­light of the French Elite”), ar­riv­ing in book­shops last au­tumn. They give the best ground-level look avail­able at the con­se­quences of glob­al­i­sa­tion in France, and an ex­pla­na­tion for the rise of the Na­tional Front (FN) that goes be­yond the usual im­pu­ta­tion of stu­pid­ity or big­otry to its vot­ers. Guil­luy’s work thus tells us some­thing im­por­tant about Bri­tish vot­ers’ de­ci­sion to with­draw from the EU, and the as­ton­ish­ing rise of Don­ald Trump – two phe­nom­ena that have drawn on sim­i­lar griev­ances.

At the heart of Guil­luy’s in­quiry is glob­al­i­sa­tion. In­ter­na­tion­al­is­ing the di­vi­sion of labour has brought sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic ef­fi­cien­cies. But it has also brought in­equal­i­ties un­seen for a cen­tury, de­mo­graphic up­heaval and cul­tural dis­rup­tion. A process that Guil­luy calls métropoli­sa­tion has cut French so­ci­ety in two. In 16 dy­namic ur­ban ar­eas (Paris, Lyon, Mar­seille, Aix-en-provence, Toulouse, Lille, Bordeaux, Nice, Nantes, Stras­bourg, Greno­ble, Rennes, Rouen, Toulon, Douai-lens and Mont­pel­lier), the world’s re­sources have proved a prof­itable com­ple­ment to those found in France. These ur­ban ar­eas are home to all the coun­try’s lead­ing ed­u­ca­tional and fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, as well as al­most all its cor­po­ra­tions and the many well-pay­ing jobs that go with them. There, too, are the in­di­vid­u­als – the en­trepreneurs, the fash­ion de­sign­ers and mod­els, the film di­rec­tors and chefs and other “sym­bolic an­a­lysts”, as Robert Re­ich once called them – who shape the coun­try’s tastes, form its opin­ions and re­new its pres­tige.

Cheap labour, tar­iff-free con­sumer goods and new mar­kets of bil­lions of peo­ple have made glob­al­i­sa­tion a wind­fall for such pros­per­ous places. But glob­al­i­sa­tion has had no such gal­vanis­ing ef­fect on the rest of France. Cities that were lively for hun­dreds of years – Tarbes, Agen, Albi, Béziers – are now, to use Guil­luy’s word, “de­ser­ti­fied”, haunted by the empty shopfronts and blighted down­towns that rust-belt Amer­i­cans know well. Guil­luy doubts that any place ex­ists in France’s new econ­omy for work­ing peo­ple as we’ve pre­vi­ously un­der­stood them. Paris of­fers the most strik­ing case. As it has pros­pered, the City of Light has strat­i­fied, re­sem­bling, in this re­gard, Lon­don, or New York. It’s a place for

mil­lion­aires, im­mi­grants, tourists and the young, with no room for the me­dian French­man.

The ur­ban prop­erty mar­ket is a piti­less sort­ing ma­chine. Rich peo­ple and up-and-com­ers buy the pri­vate hous­ing stock in de­sir­able cities and thereby bid up its cost. The laid-off, the less ed­u­cated, the mis­trained – all must re­build their lives in what Guil­luy calls (in the ti­tle of his pre­vi­ous book) la France pé­riphérique. This is the key term in Guil­luy’s so­ci­o­log­i­cal vo­cab­u­lary, and is worth clar­i­fy­ing: it is nei­ther a syn­onym for the boon­docks nor a mea­sure of dis­tance from the city cen­tre. (Most of France’s small cities, in fact, are in

la France pé­riphérique.)

Rather, the term mea­sures dis­tance from the func­tion­ing parts of the global econ­omy. France’s best-per­form­ing ur­ban nodes have ar­guably never been richer or bet­ter stocked with cul­tural and re­tail ameni­ties. But too few such places ex­ist to carry a na­tional econ­omy. When France’s was a na­tional econ­omy, its me­dian work­ers were well com­pen­sated and well pro­tected from ill­ness, age and other vi­cis­si­tudes. In a knowl­edge econ­omy, these work­ers have largely been ex­iled from the places where the econ­omy still func­tions. They have been re­placed by im­mi­grants.

Af­ter the mid-20th cen­tury, the French state built a vast stock – about five mil­lion units – of pub­lic hous­ing, which now ac­counts for a sixth of the coun­try’s house­holds. Much of it is hideous-look­ing, but it’s all more or less af­ford­able. Its pur­pose has changed, how­ever. It is now used pri­mar­ily for bil­let­ing not na­tive French work­ers, as once was the case, but im­mi­grants and their de­scen­dants, mil­lions of whom ar­rived from North Africa, start­ing in the 1960s, with an­other wave of new­com­ers from sub-sa­ha­ran Africa and the Mid­dle East ar­riv­ing to­day. In the rough north­ern sub­urb of Au­bervil­liers, for in­stance, three-quar­ters of young peo­ple are of im­mi­grant back­ground.

While rich Parisians may not miss the pres­ence of the mid­dle class, they do need peo­ple to serve ta­bles, trim shrub­bery, watch ba­bies and change bed­pans. Im­mi­grants – not na­tive French work­ers – do most of these jobs. Why this should be so is an eco­nomic con­tro­versy. Per­haps mi­grants will do cer­tain tasks that French peo­ple will not – at least, not for the pre­vail­ing wage. Per­haps em­ploy­ers don’t rel­ish pay­ing s10 an hour to a na­tive French­man who ten years ear­lier was mak­ing s20 an hour, and has re­sent­ments to match. Per­haps the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is an ex­am­ple of the eco­nomic law named af­ter the 19th cen­tury French econ­o­mist Jean-bap­tiste Say: a huge sup­ply of me­nial labour from the de­vel­op­ing world has cre­ated its own de­mand.

This is not Guil­luy’s sub­ject, though. He aims only to show that, even if French peo­ple were will­ing to do the work that gets

“Rich Parisians still need peo­ple to serve ta­bles, trim shrub­bery, watch ba­bies and change bed­pans. Im­mi­grants do most of these jobs”

of­fered in these pros­per­ous ur­ban cen­tres, there would be no way for them to do it, be­cause there is no longer any place for them to live. As a new bour­geoisie has taken over the pri­vate hous­ing stock, poor for­eign­ers have taken over the pub­lic – which thus serves the metropoli­tan rich as a kind of tax­payer-sub­sidised ser­vants’ quar­ters. Pub­lic-hous­ing in­hab­i­tants are al­most never eth­ni­cally French; the pre­vail­ing cul­ture there nowa­days is of­ten heav­ily Mus­lim.

Guil­luy has writ­ten much about how lit­tle con­tact the ab­stract doc­trines of “di­ver­sity” and “mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism” make with this morally com­plex world. In these neigh­bour­hoods, well-mean­ing peo­ple of all back­grounds “need to man­age, day in, day out, a thou­sand and one eth­no­cul­tural ques­tions while try­ing not to get caught up in ha­tred and vi­o­lence”. Last win­ter, he told the magazine Causeur: “Un­like our par­ents in the 1960s, we live in a mul­ti­cul­tural so­ci­ety, a so­ci­ety in which ‘the other’ doesn’t be­come ‘some­body like your­self’. And when ‘the other’ doesn’t be­come ‘some­body like your­self’, you con­stantly need to ask your­self how many of the other there are – whether in your neigh­bour­hood or your apart­ment build­ing. Be­cause no­body wants to be a mi­nor­ity.” Thus, when 70% of French peo­ple tell poll­sters, as they have for years now, that “too many for­eign­ers” live in France, they are not nec­es­sar­ily be­ing racist; but they’re not nec­es­sar­ily not be­ing racist, ei­ther. It’s a com­pli­cated sen­ti­ment, and iden­ti­fy­ing “good” and “bad” strands of it – the bet­ter to draw them apart – is get­ting harder to do.

Guil­luy came to the at­ten­tion of many French read­ers at the turn of the mil­len­nium, through the pages of the leftist Paris daily Libéra­tion, where he pro­moted the Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist David Brooks’s book Bo­bos in Par­adise. Guil­luy was fas­ci­nated by the fig­ure of the “bobo”, an acro­nym com­bin­ing “bour­geois” and “bo­hemian”, which de­scribed the new sort of up­per-mid­dle-class per­son who had emerged in the late-1990s tech-bub­ble econ­omy. For Brooks, “bobo” was a term of en­dear­ment. These hip­ster nou­veaux riches dif­fered from those of yes­ter­year in be­ing more sen­si­tive and cul­tured, the kind of folk who shopped at Restora­tion Hard­ware for the vin­tage 1950s Christ­mas lights that re­minded them of their child­hoods. For Guil­luy, as for most French in­tel­lec­tu­als, “bobo” is a slur – mean­ing a bour­geoisie more preda­tory and less trou­bled by con­science than their pre­de­ces­sors. They chased the work­ing­class pop­u­la­tion from neigh­bour­hoods it had spent years build­ing up – and then ex­pected the coun­try to thank them.

In France, as in Amer­ica, the bo­bos were both cause and ef­fect of a huge cul­tural shift. In most parts of Paris, work­ing-class French­men are just gone, priced out of even the foot­ball sta­di­ums that were once a bas­tion of French prole-dom. The metropoli­tan bour­geoisie no longer live cheek-by-jowl with na­tive French peo­ple of lesser means and dif­fer­ent val­ues. The pre­vi­ously work­ing-class hous­ing stock has been oc­cu­pied by a sec­ond layer of bour­geoisie. For ev­ery old-econ­omy banker in an in­her­ited high-ceilinged Sec­ond Em­pire apart­ment off the Champs-élysées, there is a new-econ­omy tele­vi­sion an­chor or high-tech patent at­tor­ney liv­ing in some ex­or­bi­tantly re­mod­elled mews house in the Marais. They have ar­rived through dif­fer­ent routes, and they might once have held dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal opin­ions, but they don’t now. As Paris has be­come not just the rich­est city in France but the rich­est city in the his­tory of France, its res­i­dents have come to de­scribe their pol­i­tics as “on the left” – a judge­ment that to­mor­row’s his­to­ri­ans might dis­pute. Guil­luy calls this the pol­i­tics of la gauche hash­tag, pre­oc­cu­pied with re­dis­tri­bu­tion among, not from, elites: “We may have done noth­ing for the poor, but we did ap­point the first dis­abled les­bian park­ing com­mis­sioner.”

Never have con­di­tions been more favourable for de­lud­ing a class of for­tu­nate peo­ple into think­ing that they owe their priv­i­lege to be­ing nicer, or smarter, or more hon­est, than every­one else. Why would they think oth­er­wise? They never meet any­one who dis­agrees with them. The im­mi­grants with whom the cre­atives share the city are daz­zlingly dif­fer­ent, ex­otic, even fright­en­ing, but on the cen­tral ques­tion of our time – whether the global eco­nomic sys­tem is work­ing or fail­ing – they see eye to eye. Those out­side the city gates are in­vis­i­ble, their wishes in­com­pre­hen­si­ble. It’s as if they don’t ex­ist. But they do.

For those cut off from France’s new-econ­omy citadels, the mis­for­tunes are se­ri­ous. They’re stuck eco­nom­i­cally. Three years af­ter fin­ish­ing their stud­ies, three-quar­ters of French univer­sity grad­u­ates are liv­ing on their own; by con­trast, three-quar­ters of their con­tem­po­raries with­out univer­sity de­grees still live with their par­ents. And they’re dy­ing early: in 2015, life ex­pectancy fell for both sexes in France for the first time since the Sec­ond World War. Their po­lit­i­cal alien­ation is strik­ing. Less than 2% of leg­is­la­tors in France’s Na­tional As­sem­bly to­day come from the work­ing class, as op­posed to 20% just af­ter the Sec­ond World War. The ex­cluded have lost faith in ef­forts to dis­trib­ute so­ci­ety’s goods more eq­ui­tably. The wel­fare state is now dis­trusted by those whom it is meant to help. France’s ex­pen­di­ture on the heav­ily im­mi­grant ban­lieues is al­ready vast, in this view; to pro­vide yet more pub­lic hous­ing would be to widen the in­vi­ta­tion to un­wanted im­mi­grants. In a so­ci­ety as di­vided as Guil­luy de­scribes, tra­di­tional pol­i­tics can find no pur­chase.

With its op­po­si­tion to free trade, open im­mi­gra­tion and the EU, the Na­tional Front has es­tab­lished it­self as the main voice of the anti-glob­alis­ers. Tra­di­tional par­ties now col­lude to keep out the FN as of­ten as they com­pete. French elites have con­vinced them­selves that their so­cial supremacy rests not on their eco­nomic might, but on their com­mon de­cency. Do­ing so al­lows them to “present the losers of glob­al­i­sa­tion as em­bit­tered peo­ple who have prob­lems with di­ver­sity”, says Guil­luy. One need not say any­thing racist to be de­nounced as a mem­ber of “white, xeno­pho­bic France”, or even as a “fas­cist”. To ex­press dis­con­tent with the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem is danger­ous enough. It is to faire le jeu de (“to play the game of”) the Na­tional Front.

Guil­luy sees deep his­tor­i­cal and eco­nomic pro­cesses at work be­hind the evo­lu­tion of France’s res­i­den­tial spa­ces. “There has been no plan to ‘ex­pel the poor’, no con­spir­acy,” he writes, “just a strict ap­pli­ca­tion of mar­ket prin­ci­ples.” But he is mov­ing to­wards a more po­lit­i­cally en­gaged view: that the rhetoric of an “open so­ci­ety” is “a smoke­screen meant to hide the emer­gence of a closed so­ci­ety, walled off for the ben­e­fit of the up­per classes”.

Christo­pher Cald­well is a se­nior edi­tor at The Weekly Stan­dard. A longer ver­sion of this ar­ti­cle was orig­i­nally pub­lished in the Spring 2017 is­sue of City Journal.

“Those out­side the city gates are in­vis­i­ble, their wishes in­com­pre­hen­si­ble. It’s as if they don’t ex­ist. But they do”

Christophe Guil­luy: “no­body wants to be a mi­nor­ity”

The ban­lieues house im­mi­grants who work for the Parisian mid­dle classes

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