Bring Out Your Coal Buckets This Halloween

Heating with coal
Source Pexels

Shivering in their hovels, the serfs huddle. After all, body warmth is still free. Cold and humidity is everywhere, the Little Ice Age is around the corner. They dream of the day when wood can be collected. Soon now. Charcoal is for lords and ladies, their betters. Like horses, carriages, and any means to leave the hamlet, the village. For the dark months of winter, cold and humidity reign supreme. Plague doctors, flagellants, manic dancers are in the town squares, looming, screaming, dancing their dire warnings of War, Disease or Famine. Humanity waltzes with Death. From their pulpits, the spiritual leaders blame the wickedness of men, and women. Yet, for all this, at the end of the day, the serfs are still taxed anything between 33% and 50% of their revenue. That’s literally what they are for, what the Third Estate is for. 

Welcome to Europe 1323. 

Or 2023. It is more and more confusing. 

Energy is now a luxury. Healthcare is crumbling. Pensions become unaffordable. Education? Transportation? It looks to me that Europe is ungracefully aging. And this, despite many Europeans working more than 1 day out of 2 to pay their taxes. How would you call this? It leaves you wondering where the money went. Clearly not much was spent on maintenance, and even less on upgrades. Like a nuclear plant. 

The social and economic infrastructure built over the past 70 years is cracking at the seams. There seem to be no solutions offered, except to give up and go back to the Middle Ages. 

This erosion is not only in the institutions themselves, but their output – and the last weeks gave us a wonderful insight. It shapes also the leadership, and even allows to sketch out the probable outcomes of each issue whenever they go critical. Bring out your coal buckets this Halloween!


The most common stance is that every failure has to be borne by the public alone. After all, we already know that European leaders don’t feel responsible for their own actions and decisions (cf. my previous article Who? Me?). Today they are literally outdoing themselves.

Take the latest one on the list: energy. It started off obviously with the War, yet, further than that, anything else seems to have happened organically. Nuclear plants closed by their own accord, they stopped being maintained or upgraded somehow. And ultimately, as known since years in Germany, as decided by Angela Merkel, charcoal power stations are not as bad as Atom Kraft! Ja, bitte. 

Anyhoo, people can always be trusted to do the necessary effort, in their own interest.

Where else to start but with the obvious? Energy prices rocket because… the War. Of course. Not because some put their personal interest before Europe strategic dependency. Nah, that would be impolite. And well, living without heating is anyway much better. Millennia of sheltering in caves taught us that much. Living in the cold and damp is good for our health. It will make us stronger, maybe even more free.

But hey, once the obvious has been swept under the carpet, there is still a solution to find. And a public to educate. 

No one is as good as the French government to educate its people 

Forget that the French cut the head of feudalism and absolute monarchy. Forget they seem to have laid the foundations of modern political debates. 

Look at their latest decrees and bask in the underlying political philosophy. 

They have a global significance. 

Their fall 2022 collection is just fascinating. 

No idea what I am talking about? Let’s kick off with a French decree that basically gives permission to block water heating in your home. Of course, there are some conditions, some wrapping, well laid out, reasonable, logical, that gives it a respectable veneer. At its heart? A wartime measure. Earlier, after all, private cars had to be fuelled with gasogene in the Second World War. Well, then as now, the French government felt the need to “educate” its public.

People can be such children! And from there, on to the Future. Not a figment of an overactive imagination, not an episode of Black Mirror. 

Be a French patriot, install your digital meter, join the future. We will help you control your home temperature. Starting with your radiators. Then, we will help you by telling you how to dress, then how you should drive. Tomorrow? Well, maybe you do not need to fly that much? In the meantime though, seriously now, the French are asked to literarily swap shirts for turtle necks and wash their hands with cold water… 

The only surprise here is that it has not been taken up in the press anywhere. Not even in the Sun, despite the UK joining the great French plan. Europe learnt from the best for energy supply and power cuts. Healthcare was known to be busted, energy… so what next? 

What motivates the teacher?

These decisions seem absurd, dangerous, inefficient or both. Yet, they are taken by highly intelligent, competent people, through checks and balances, processes, that should weed out such issues. Neither does. The output, on the contrary, seems to be straying further and further away, while fewer and fewer people appear to be in charge. 

Leaders think that getting elected is in itself the KPI, the measure of success

Such was Macron caught saying two weeks back, as published in Le Canard enchaîné of 5/10/2022, page 2.

If the greatest success of a politician is to be elected, it is not a problem as such, but naturally precludes any needs to achieve anything else. And truth be told, this is not their personal choice, it is how the system works. Since Obama got a Nobel Peace Prize even before his presidency, the need for actual results drifts further and further away. In the meantime, Macron gets the prize for getting the French in the streets, whether on pensions, or gas, or both like in 2022. Not that the French need triggers.  Yet, “Let them eat cake”, did not work then, will not work today. 

Enough on France? 

If it was only some self-absorbed French political decision, this would actually matter only as a comical aside. Beyond France, fewer and fewer leaders seem to have a plan, any plan. Most seem to slowly lose the plot, and wait for their term to finish. 

Bloopers, pratfalls and confusion

On the one hand, you have some counter examples. In the red corner, Putin, simple, autocratic, alone, maybe trying to outrun cancer, or write his name in history, and failing at both so far.

In the blue corner, Joe Biden, his international compere, is equally desperate to write his name in the historical annals. Will he be more than the 46th American president? For the 50th, we should expect the US to run a special. Maybe an all-star presidency? Until then, we have only bloopers, pratfalls, confusion. “Joe Biden arrives late to the Queen funeral and sheepishly sits on the 14th row”… Is it better than Bush confusing Austria and Australia? Not sure, when we need something else than a shaking hand on the till. 

Other candidates to this list? For sure.

All me-myself-and-I leaders. 

But much more than their own personality, it is how they are rewarded, incentivised, recognised which explains why they take decisions the way they seem to do. We talked about Obama, let’s have a look at Auntie Angela Merkel to understand how success is presented to them. Merkel’s Wikipedia hagiography sets that she was the “leader of the free world”…  Nope. Further, it conveniently rewrites the decision to shut down the nuclear power stations. And write-up later, she presides over a climate summit. While Europe can thank her for its dependency on Russian gas. Merkel even got a cash prize for her management of the immigrants crisis in 2015. 

Voters in Sweden, Italy… seem unimpressed, but hey. 

The best possible teachers in the best possible world (Leibnitz 2022)

It would be totally unfair to blame the individuals themselves. They have all been highly successful in reaching these positions. The way they act is absolutely in line with the expectations, logics, and inner workings of the system. As they perpetuate themselves unchanged since decades, our systems slowly becoming caricatures of the initial intent, self-powering machines slowly running on empty. 

Instead of being the occasion to laydown new foundations, 1989 just became the signal for a free-for-all. And not only in Eastern Europe!

The strategy, tactics and methods needed, to reach today the seats of power, create a decision framework that can only stifle actual creativity. It is not out of some flaw, it is simply the natural drift of any system towards conservatism, the replication of past successes. Yet, when we reach, as today, a total lack of vision, you can only have on the one hand total disengagement of the public (as underlined in “I Have… No Dream”), on the other politicians who work towards their own self-goals. By system design.

Just consider what they need to achieve to reach these positions: they need to be registered, recognised and then chosen. Even before we speak of voters, that means peers approval, consensus and a system of mutual obligations.

Regardless whether you come from an electoral machine, or an industry lobby, there is a word for that: apparatchik. Such as they have sedimented today, political systems are bound to favour replication. The question today is whether this is the best solution? 

The solutions proposed today sound very logical and reasonable, yet are totally backwards if not retrograde. For example, energy supplies issues this winter? Reduce your heating, it is good for your health, and the country’s finances. Don’t expect us to kickstart civilian nuclear upgrades, even though this is exactly what was done in the 60s, in France. 

How did Europe end up here?

Well, only rock the boat as much as expected, just enough to get the front page.

Show concern! How dare they!

Get the vote.

And, when a crisis does pop up, consult, consult, consult. Crossed fingers, it will go away before the next election.

If you do it right, you may even get a prize, and certainly a lot of speaking slots. 

So, your next to-do? Remind the people to break the ice in the morning. If it was good enough for our ancestors, it should be good enough for us, progress be damned!

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