French press review 12 September 2018

Climate change is making more people hungry. French standards of living have climbed back to precrisis levels. And most of us are doing jobs that are either useless, ridiculous or plain dangerous for society.


Le Monde's main story is not exactly joyous.

Hunger is spreading on a global scale, with more people short of food for the third consecutive year according to the latest figures from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Eight-hundred-and-twenty-one million human beings did not get enough to eat last year, making the prospects for the United Nations' plan to wipe out famine by 2030 look worse than bleak.

And the sudden surge in hunger comes down to climatic change. Drought, flooding and storms have seriously affected 34 of the 51 countries currently needing food aid.

France finally returns to pre-crisis living standards

Things are slightly more cheerful over at right-wing Le Figaro. There we learn that French consumers have finally clawed their way back to the living standards they enjoyed before the global financial crisis, all of 10 years ago.

But the poor remain always with us, sharply divided from the better off. While the bottom 10 percent of the French population is getting by on less than 900 euros per month, the top 10 percent have an average of nearly four times that.

French children are watching too much television

Le Figaro reports on the results of a study of the viewing habits of over 13,000 two-year-olds. I remind you that most doctors, psychologists and anyone with a squidgeon of common sense advise against any TV at all before the age of three.

Far from it! Two-thirds of French two-year-olds are already daily viewers, half of them getting into the habit at 18 months. The only good news is that most of these young viewers give up after 30 minutes or less, showing they have, at least, a certain discernment. Only eight percent of two-year-olds put in more than two hours per day before the small screen.

Let the little brats listen to the radio!

The truth about the African invasion

There's no risk that Europe is going to be overrun by African immigrants.

Despite the prediction earlier this year by Africa specialist Stephen Smith that Europe will be home to 150-200 million Africans in 30 years, François Héran, the man who keeps an eye on migration at the Collège de France research centre, says the threat of an African invasion is a dangerous mirage.

In the name of scientific accuracy, Héran says a realistic estimate of African migrant numbers is actually five times smaller than the alarmist picture painted by Smith, which was eagerly repeated by far-right political figures from Hungary to Sweden.

Far from enough Africans reaching European shores for them to become 25 percent of the continent's population between now and the year 2050, says François Héran, the real figure is more likely to be of the order of three or four percent.

Earning your bread by the sweat of your brow

Does your job give you personal satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment?

If you just answered "No" then maybe you should read a new book by David Graeber, professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics. The book is called Bullshit Jobs and it looks at the ways in which we humans have failed to use the potential of information technology to make our lives richer, instead condemning millions to work that is useless, ridiculous or even dangerous for society.

There are consultants right now slaving over reports which will never be read, assistants whose only function is to bolster the standing of their immediate bosses, lawyers making fortunes simply because business systems frequently make mistakes . . . the list goes on.

You'd expect market forces, the great leveller of the liberal model, to have made such people extinct. But no, says Graeber, because management is still run on feudal lines and most profits are generated by the finance sector. The few really big beneficiaries allow a tiny amount of their take to trickle down through a complex hierarchy, ensuring that they go on making ever greater profits.

Worse, says Graeber, the contemporary financial system produces very little that can be called "real", since it is based on the resale of debt as a positive value, or on penalising account holders for getting into debt in the first place.

Only 20 percent of modern Western workers (doctors, teachers, chefs, hair dressers) do anything genuinely useful, according to Graeber. Those of us in the communications, finance and information sectors are mostly wasting our time.

Graeber says society needs to wake up, emerge from the theological nightmare that imposes work as a necessary evil and be paid by the state to stay at home. Then, he says, we can write poetry instead of staring vacantly at office computer screens.

David Graeber is sure we'll all be much happier. Just wait till he reads the poetry!

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