It occasionally sends a frisson of political fear down the backbone when you hear about a centrist politician like Macron booed in affluent areas of Paris. Especially when he is all that stands between France and Marine Le Pen.
It is also a surprise to conventional politicians, of which we have rather more than out fair share in the UK. The right assumes they were always on the side of the middle classes – which they are not, as I explained in my book Broke. The left assumes they are fighting them on behalf of the working classes. It unnerves them when both sides make common cause, as they have on the streets of Paris the last few weekends.
It is one symptom, not just of the disastrous decisions taken over the past generation or so, but of a potentially terrifying theory about what is actually happening in our economies. It may not be true but it ought at least to be debated. It is known as ‘surplus energy economics‘.
TH blog of that name, by energy economist Tim Morgan, says that the moment he predicted has now arrived – where global prosperity per person has turned down. It isn’t just us, in other words.
His theory is a rather more effective version of the Peak Oil theory. Morgan argues that what drives economic prosperity is the amount of energy which it requires to generate energy. When the gap is wide, we can all prosper. When it narrows, as it has done hugely in recent years, the surplus simply isn’t there. Which is where we now are.
You can cover this up for a decade or so with reckless borrowing, but there comes a point when something has to give, the stock markets crash again. And, unless you can rewrite the economic rules hugely at that point, then we all risk Keynes’ “perigrination in the catacombs with a guttering candle”.
Since watching the riots in France, and wondering to myself how long before the long-suffering UK middle classes feel they have also been taken for a ride – as they have, I believe – and whether this is linked to Morgan’s predictions.
Is there a solution? Serious investment in renewable energy perhaps. Preparations to inject new money direct into the economy (no more quantitative easing, thank you). But my main question is whether our politicians are capable of recognising this new problem if the evidence mounts, or whether they will just keep fighting the Brexit war before last. I am not, I have to admit, terribly hopeful.