Global Economics

Is 2013 Our 1968?


Student protests in Paris, 1968

Photograph by AP Photo

Student protests in Paris, 1968

In Paris in May 1968, massive confrontations between police and students brought workers out on a general strike and brought the government to the point of collapse. The background to these events included: the Collapse of the Bretton Woods Arrangements, the successful Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the suppression of the Prague Spring, the growing influence of Maoism after the Sino-Soviet Split and the growth of Euro-communism, as well as the earlier crisis over Algeria. The May 1968 events in Paris would be followed by clashes between police and students in countries all around the world, and would have a lasting political impact.
—Paris May-June 1968, France History Archive, www.marxists.org.

In May 1968 my parents had their second biggest fight of all time. (The trophy went to whether I would enjoy Ursula Andress in “Dr. No” circa autumn 1962. My mother won.)

The frenzy was over whether I would go to communist, riot-riven, hot, and anti-American France. My mother won.

Being in Paris the summer of 1968 was life-forming. I was too young to really get it, but the sweat, the adult fear, and the clash of generations and nations was truly and daily palpable. For me it was a sequence of unrelated and interrelated and somewhat-related events wrapped in a foundational gauze of distant war and a new regime of post-WWII economics.

The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy spanned April 4 and June 5. Averell Harriman and Xuan Thuy met in Paris, May 10.

I clearly remember the distance between adults, led by Charles de Gaulle dashing up a Bastille Day Champs Élysées, and a set of angered societies, students, and later workers.

I have learned to believe in a discrete sequence of unrelated events that choose to sprawl across given time, that in hindsight are assuredly correlated and, occasionally, in real time lead toward something bigger. (Call it t, t+1, t+2, t-3, t+3, t+4, t-5, t-2, t+5 … with a movable set of weightings.)

It is a June 2013 of grim European economic data, and the too many and global hockey-stick charts induced by quantitative easing and the financially repressed road taken.

I note a dis-related sequence of disorder in Paris, Stockholm, Frankfurt, Barcelona, and now Istanbul.

U.S. home prices rebound, 401(k)s heal, the Red Sox are playing .600 ball. Pocketbook-adjusted median household income, from just west of Manhattan to just east of Silicon Valley, is at early-1990 levels.

This weekend was Istanbul. What of next weekend? Is 2013 our 1968? Discuss.

Keene hosts Bloomberg Surveillance 7-10 a.m. ET on 1130 AM in the New York metro area and nationally on SiriusXM 113.

Race, Class, and the Future of Ferguson
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