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Macron Talks with TIME
In December, if they accept the invitation of the President of France, leaders of 100
countries will descend on Paris to ramp up the global fight against climate change.
But in a striking omission, one major name is not on the list: U.S. President Donald
Trump. When TIME sat down with President Emmanuel Macron in the Élysée Palace
on Nov. 7, he said the U.S. leader would not be among the guests at his Dec. 12
summit, “except if you get this big announcement coming from himself that he has
decided to join the club.” The “club,” of course, comprises every other country on the
planet, now that even Syria has pledged to join the Paris Agreement on climate
change, which was negotiated in the French capital in 2015 to drastically rein in
carbon emissions and stave off disastrous global warming. Since Trump alone has
rejected the agreement and vowed to cancel the U.S.’s climate commitments, much
of the responsibility for leading this club has fallen to an erudite young Frenchman
who has only just begun his career as an elected politician.
Climate change is the most global of all the world’s problems, but it is hardly the only
one: there are nuclear threats, far-right nationalism, jihadi terrorism and
technological disruption. For all those, too, the French President is eager to discuss
what his country can offer. And although he says he’s not seeking to become the
leader of the free world, he can sound like he is.“Today, de facto, we are part of the
global leadership on climate change,” he says, speaking in his excellent English, a very
rare thing for French leaders. “I want us to be part of the global leadership on the
economy and on finance, on the digital environment. I think we have a very important
leadership to play on multilateralism.”
Six months to the day since Macron swept to power in the most astonishing election
in modern France, he welcomed TIME to his office to weigh what his presidency
might mean, not only for the 63 million people in France or even for the European
Union’s 508 million, but around the world. When TIME asks him about his ambitions
to lead the Continent. “But I think it would be a mistake … I don’t want to be the
leader of Europe. I want to be one of the leaders, and this new generation of leaders,
totally convinced that our future is a European future.”
The very fact that such a role is even possible for Macron was thought exceedingly
unlikely just 18 months ago, when he was the Economy Minister with not much more
than ambition to his name. Shockingly young in a land of gray-haired political
grandees, Macron nonetheless rose to the top in less than a year. He quit the
government in August and formed his own movement, En Marche! (On the Move),
to replace President François Hollande, who declined to run again as his popularity
flatlined. Macron campaigned on an ambitious message no French citizen had heard
in generations: forging an entirely new system for a modern France.
A former investment banker, Macron argued that the country’s economic system—
including heavy state regulation and watertight protection for labor—needed a
radical overhaul. Sprung from the mobile Internet generation, he felt free to reject
the orthodoxies of left and right. “I decided to react, to say the current organization
of the political world is no more relevant,” he says. Nonetheless, millions of people
responded to him. Macron surged ahead of the traditional socialist and conservative
parties in the first round of voting in April, going on to defeat the far-right, anti-E.U.
Marine Le Pen in a second round. “He was the new kid in town, bright and
charming,” says Edouard Lecerf, deputy director general for the French consulting
firm BVA.
“From the beginning, it was a fairy tale.” One part of that fairy tale was Macron’s
personal life, which has drawn much attention. As a teenager, he fell in love with
Brigitte, the (then married) drama coach at his high school, who is 24 years his senior.
They married in 2007, after she had divorced her husband, with Macron thanking the
guests at their wedding reception for supporting their “not completely normal” love
match. Brigitte Macron, now 64, has seven grandchildren, a head-snapping version of
the modern blended family.
Asked why he thinks the world is so fascinated with his marriage, Macron shifts on the
couch and draws his legs close as he ventures into a more personal subject. “It is my
life. That is it,” he says, his voice softening. “And I think that when you decide to run
for such a campaign, you owe your people the truth.” In his relationship, he was
guided by a principle he had set for himself at a tender age: to follow his own
counsel, no matter what others believed. “I decided on my own what I considered
fair, good and even when the current convention was not consistent with my choice,”
he says of his marriage. “And I did the same in politics, and I still do the same.”
So far, Macron’s plan to transform France has looked deceptively simple as he signs
executive orders and as France’s economy experiences a noticeable uptick after
years of near-stagnation—partly a factor of businesses’ optimism over Macron and of
the world’s general economic rise. Even so, popular dissent has simmered over
Macron’s first six months as he brings in what he calls a “profound transformation” in
the “mind-set” of the French. In September tens of thousands of outraged Parisians
marched against the centerpiece of Macron’s program: overhauling the watertight
labor rights that have been in place for decades and which companies call a huge
disincentive to hiring. “He is totally reversing social protections,” a far-left member
of Parliament, Bastien Lachaud, said, standing amid the crowds. “He has to listen to
But does he? Macron has no immediate need to compromise. His new political
party, named La République En Marche!, won a large majority in parliamentary
elections in June, ensuring that his executive orders find easy passage into law. The
protests have had no discernible effect on Macron; one day after the Paris march, he
signed the most far-reaching changes to French labor laws in decades, including one
allowing companies to negotiate directly with employees rather than through labor
unions, and drastically scaled back the country’s unwieldy labor code. “Everything
will be in place by the end of the year,” he announced as he signed the new measures.
But not everyone in France cast their vote for Macron out of love for his platform.
Many did so out of fear and disgust at Le Pen, whose nationalist platform included
favoring France’s withdrawal from E.U., ditching the euro and virtually halting
immigration. Even so, she won an impressive 10.6 million votes. And the far-left
leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon captured more than 7 million votes in the knockout round
by campaigning for a 32-hour workweek and public retirement at 60. While Macron’s
power at the moment appears unimpeachable, the map shows alienation across the
struggling industrial areas of France’s northern rust belt, where towns have seen
factories shuttered and jobs move to low-cost countries in Eastern Europe. Strong
support exists there for the far right—a mirror image, perhaps, of Trump’s
“forgotten” Americans. That is a sobering thought as the French President attempts to
create millions of jobs. Yet Macron is optimistic, saying that with his changes, France
could hugely benefit from the economic disruption. “We have everything to succeed
in this new environment if we deliver in changing some of our rules,” he says. “Part of
the political elites, unions, part of the economy were dead against this change. But
people were waiting for that.”
It could take years before the world knows the full scope of Emmanuel Macron. If his
ideas are proved wrong and his free-market style fails to bring France the economic
revival he promises, the angry populism that stirred France earlier this year, and
which led to Brexit, could return in force. But if Macron is proved right, France could
emerge as a far more important global power than it has been in decades. If he wins
re-election in 2022, after his first five-year term as President, he would leave the
Élysée Palace in 2027 at a sprightly 49 years of age—with plenty of time to form a
radically different post-presidential role for himself. That is a long way in a future that
remains shrouded in the mists. But if Macron pulls off his transformation at home,
the ambitions he has to change the world—not just France—could be within reach.
Whitney Huston
THE year was 1985, the scene Whitney Houston's second sellout concert in Carnegie
Hall in New York. There were almost 3,000 in the audience, and from somewhere
among them, as she launched into “I am Changing”, a voice rang out: “Sing it,
Whitney honey! Sing us the truth!”
But what was the truth? Apparently it blazed before them, a huge, pure, beautiful
voice from an impeccably poised young woman who had strode out in an evening
gown, radiating self-confidence. She didn't move much on stage: every ounce of
power was reserved for filling the hall with spine-tingling ballads of longed-for
love. Her fans could see that this was God-given, a gift hauled up from deep inside, as
when the little girl in the New Hope gospel choir had closed her eyes tight and
soloed “Guide me, O thou Great Jehovah” in church, and the Holy Spirit had rolled
out over that congregation. Others, though, could see she was a product of careful
packaging by Clive Davis of Arista Records, who had spotted her in a New York night
club, signed her at 19 and then waited two years for the right string-lush ballads to
come along; who had cut back the frizzy hair, lightened the make-up, changed the
dress, and launched her on the world so perfect that by 1986 she was Billboard artist of
the year, an instant sensation.
Like Cinderella, she said. And, like Cinderella, she claimed her ambitions were small.
All she wanted was to go to the mall and find true love, like any other 21-year-old.
But as a soul singer her heritage was already royal rather than rags: daughter of Cissy
Houston of the Sweet Inspirations, cousin of Dionne Warwick, god-daughter of
Aretha Franklin (“Auntie Ree”), all of whom she'd learned from when her braids still
got in the way of the microphone. Hard-headed, she had chosen to build her career
the way Mr Davis advised her: “Longevity, that's what it's all about.”
Besides, she enjoyed being a princess—possessor of multiple platinum discs, holder
of six Grammys, earner of more money and seller of more records than any female
star before her. She would order her entourage around and sack them repeatedly,
trusting only her mother not to “talk shit to my ear” or “blow smoke up my ass”. Fame
brought her a five-bedroom house in the New Jersey countryside, with a built-in
recording studio and an Olympic pool. It also brought a train of big-voiced imitators,
from Mariah Carey to Celine Dion to Beyoncé; she never worried about any of them,
because “whoever comes got to come after me”. Even after 1992, when she took to
disappearing for years at a time, her giant voice went on reverberating. Songs such
as “I Will Always Love You”, “I'm Every Woman” and “One Moment in Time” stayed
so long in the charts and in wine-bar Muzak that they seemed to get into the
bloodstream of the world.
For some years she held the post of America's Sweetheart, pretty, God-fearing and
patriotic. She went to the White House to discuss youth projects, and set up a
foundation to fight illiteracy. Her rendering of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the
Superbowl in 1991, during the Gulf war—cuddly as a teddy-bear in a white
tracksuit—was so joyously rousing that it was reissued in the wake of the
September 2001 attacks. But she was bad, too. She liked to shock and cuss, saying that
anyone who claimed that recording songs was creative, rather than commercial, was a
fucking liar. Her private life grew raunchy, with marriage to bad-boy Bobby Brown
in 1992 propelling her into a whirl of boastful sex, violent rows and cocaine. Her
sequinned act was just a performance, she said; Bobby, by contrast, she could be real
with. As for what “real” meant, she was either her own best friend or her worst
enemy, she said once. “The biggest devil is me.”
Through it all, there remained an anodyne constancy about the songs. Miss
Houston had placed herself—or been placed—so solidly in the mainstream that she
could not easily wriggle out of it. There was a point to this: it allowed her to break
onto MTV and the late-night chat shows, forging a new path for black women as
Michael Jackson had done for the men. It also proved, to many blacks, that she was
not black enough, showing none of their fury and very little of the soulful gospel
depths of Auntie Ree and Cousin Dionne. The cutting urban hip-hop of the 1980s she
found ugly, like listening to her brothers boast of the women they'd laid. When she
tried angrier songs herself—as in “It's not Right But it's Okay”, in 1998—they still
seemed as cool and glossy as her blue sheath dress. The scratchy defiance of later
albums (such as “I Look to You”, her last, in 2009), owed more to the drug-ravaged
thinness of her voice than the miseries of her recent life.
Who she was, and what she really wanted, remained as unclear as her bathtub death in
a Los Angeles hotel on the night before the Grammys—at which Adele, another big
belter in the Houston style, carried away most of the prizes. She needed the give and
take of an audience, Miss Houston said. Besides, God had given her this gift to use.
Yet told by Oprah Winfrey in 2009 that her voice was a national treasure, and that
some people thought she had squandered it, she could only whisper, terror-struck,
“That's heavy.” Too heavy, was perhaps the truth.
Deep Trouble
EARTH is poorly named. The ocean covers almost three-quarters of the planet. It is
divided into five basins: the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Indian, the Arctic and the
Southern oceans. Were all the planet’s water placed over the United States, it would
form a column of liquid 132km tall. The ocean provides 3bn people with almost a
fifth of their protein (making fish a bigger source of the stuff than beef). Fishing and
aquaculture assure the livelihoods of one in ten of the world’s people. Climate
and weather systems depend on the temperature patterns of the ocean and its
interactions with the atmosphere. If anything ought to be too big to fail, it is the
Humans have long assumed that the ocean’s size allowed them to put anything they
wanted into it and to take anything they wanted out. Changing temperatures and
chemistry, overfishing and pollution have stressed its ecosystems for decades. The
ocean stores more than nine-tenths of the heat trapped on Earth by greenhouse-gas
emissions. Coral reefs are suffering as a result; scientists expect almost all corals to be
gone by 2050.
By the middle of the century the ocean could contain more plastic than fish by weight.
Ground down into tiny pieces, it is eaten by fish and then by people, with uncertain
effects on human health. Appetite for fish grows nevertheless: almost 90% of stocks
are fished either at or beyond their sustainable limits (see Briefing). The ocean
nurtures humanity. Humanity treats it with contempt.
Depths plumbed
Such self-destructive behaviour demands explanation. Three reasons for it stand out.
One is geography. The bulk of the ocean is beyond the horizon and below the
waterline. The damage being done to its health is visible in a few liminal places—the
Great Barrier Reef, say, or the oyster farms of Washington state. But for the most
part, the sea is out of sight and out of mind. It is telling that there is only a single
fleeting reference to the ocean in the Paris agreement on climate change.
A second problem is governance. The ocean is subject to a patchwork of laws and
agreements. Enforcement is hard and incentives are often misaligned. Waters
outside national jurisdictions—the high seas—are a global commons. Without
defined property rights or a community invested in their upkeep, the interests of
individual actors in exploiting such areas win out over the collective interest in
husbanding them. Fish are particularly tricky because they move. Why observe
quotas if you think your neighbour can haul in catches with impunity?
Third, the ocean is a victim of other, bigger processes. The emission of greenhouse
gases into the atmosphere is changing the marine environment along with the rest of
the planet. The ocean has warmed by 0.7°C since the 19th century, damaging corals
and encouraging organisms to migrate towards the poles in search of cooler waters.
Greater concentrations of carbon dioxide in the water are making it more acidic.
That tends to harm creatures such as crabs and oysters, whose calcium carbonate
shells suffer as marine chemistry alters.
Some of these problems are easier to deal with than others. “Ocean blindness” can be
cured by access to information. And indeed, improvements in computing power,
satellite imaging and drones are bringing the ocean into better view than ever before.
Work is under way to map the sea floor in detail using sonar technology. On the
surface, aquatic drones can get to remote, stormy places at a far smaller cost than
manned vessels. From above, ocean-colour radiometry is improving understanding of
how phytoplankton, simple organisms that support marine food chains, move and
thrive. Tiny satellites, weighing 1-10kg, are enhancing scrutiny of fishing vessels.
Transparency can also mitigate the second difficulty, of ocean governance. More
scientific data ought to improve the oversight of nascent industries. As sea-floor
soundings proliferate, the supervision of deep-sea mining, which is overseen by the
International Seabed Authority in areas beyond national jurisdiction, should get
better. More data and analysis also make it easier to police existing agreements.
Satellite monitoring can provide clues to illegal fishing activity: craft that switch off
their tracking devices when they approach a marine protected area excite suspicion,
for example. Such data make it easier to enforce codes like the Port State Measures
Agreement, which requires foreign vessels to submit to inspections at any port of call
and requires port states to share information on any suspected wrongdoing they find.
Clearer information may also help align incentives and allow private capital to reward
good behaviour. Insurance firms, for instance, have an incentive to ask for more data
on fishing vessels; if ships switch off their tracking systems, the chances of collisions
rise, and so do premiums. Greater traceability gives consumers who are
concerned about fish a way to press seafood firms into behaving responsibly.
Sunk costs
Thanks to technology, the ocean’s expanse and remoteness are becoming less
formidable—and less of an excuse for inaction. A UN meeting on the ocean next
month in New York is a sign that policymakers are paying more attention to the state
of the marine realm. But superior information does not solve the fundamental
problem of allocating and enforcing property rights and responsibilities for the high
seas. And the effectiveness of incentives to take care of the ocean varies. Commercial
pay-offs from giving fish stocks time to recover, for example, are large and welldocumented; but the rewards that accrue from removing plastic from the high seas
are unclear.
Above all, better measurement of global warming’s effect on the ocean does not make
a solution any easier. The Paris agreement is the single best hope for protecting the
ocean and its resources. But America is not strongly committed to the deal; it may
even pull out. And the limits agreed on in Paris will not prevent sea levels from rising
and corals from bleaching. Indeed, unless they are drastically strengthened, both
problems risk getting much worse. Mankind is increasingly able to see the damage it is
doing to the ocean. Whether it can stop it is another question.
The Bitcoin Bubble
There may be good reasons for buying bitcoin. But the dominant reason at the moment is that
it is rising in price
PUT the word Bitcoin into Google and you get (in Britain, at least) four adverts at the
top of the list: "Trade Bitcoin with no fees", "Fastest Way to Buy Bitcoin", "Where
to Buy Bitcoins" and "Looking to Invest in Bitcoins". Travelling to work on the tube
this week, your blogger saw an ad offering readers the chance to "Trade Cryptos with
Confidence". A lunchtime BBC news report visited a conference where the
excitement about Bitcoins (and blockchain) was palpable.
All this indicates that Bitcoin has reached a new phase. The stockmarket has been
trading at high valuations, based on the long-term average of profits, for some time.
But there is nothing like the same excitement about shares as there was in the dotcom
bubble of 1999-2000. That excitement has shifted to the world of
cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. A recent column focused on the rise
of initial coin offerings, a way for companies to raise cash without the need for a
formal stock market listing—investors get tokens (electronic coins) in businesses
that have not issued a full prospectus. These tokens do not normally give equity
rights. Remarkably, as many as 600 ICOs are planned or have been launched.
This enthusiasm is both the result, and the cause, of the sharp rise in the Bitcoin chart
in recent months. The latest spike was driven by the news that the Chicago
Mercantile Exchange will trade futures in Bitcoin; a derivatives contract based on a
notional currency. More people will trade in Bitcoin and that means more demand,
and thus the price should go up. But what is the appeal of Bitcoin? There are really
three strands; the limited nature of supply (new coins can only be created through
complex calculations, and the total is limited to 21m); fears about the long-term value
of fiat currencies in an era of quantitative easing; and the appeal of anonymity. The
last factor makes Bitcoin appealing to criminals (although this is even more true of
cash) creating this ingenious valuation method for the currency of around $570.
These three factors explain why there is some demand for Bitcoin but not the recent
surge. The supply details have if anything deteriorated (rival cryptocurrencies are
emerging); the criminal community hasn't suddenly risen in size; and there is no sign
of general inflation. A possible explanation is the belief that blockchain, the
technology that underlines Bitcoin, will be used across the finance industry. But you
can create blockchains without having anything to do with Bitcoin; the success of the
two aren't inextricably linked.
A much more plausible reason for the demand for Bitcoin is that the price is going
up rapidly (see chart). As Charles Kindleberger, a historian of bubbles, wrote
There is nothing so disturbing to one's wellbeing and judgment as to see a friend get rich
People are not buying Bitcoin because they intend to use it in their daily lives.
Currencies need to have a steady price if they are to be a medium of exchange.
Buyers do not want to exchange a token that might jump sharply in price the next
day; sellers do not want to receive a token that might plunge in price. As Bluford
Putnam and Erik Norland of CME wrote
Wouldn’t you have regretted paying 20 Bitcoins for a $40,000 car in June 2017 only to see the
same 20 Bitcoins valued at nearly $100,000 by October of the same year?
Indeed, the chart is on a log scale to show some of the huge falls, as well as increases,
that have occurred in Bitcoin's history. As the old saying goes "Up like a rocket, down
like a stick."
People are buying Bitcoin because they expect other people to buy it from them at a
higher price; the definition of the greater fool theory. Someone responded to me on
Twitter by implying the fools were those who were not buying; everyone who did so
had become a millionaire. But it is one thing to become a millionaire (the word was
coined during the Mississippi bubble of the early 18th century) on paper, or in
"bits"; it is another to be able to get into a bubble and out again with your wealth
If everyone tried to realise their Bitcoin wealth for millions, the market would dry up
and the price would crash; that is what happened with the Mississippi and the
contemporaneous South Sea bubbles. And because investors know that could happen,
there is every incentive to sell first. When the crash comes, and it cannot be too far
away, it will be dramatic.