Michael Olenick: A Quick Look at the Gilets Jaunes Protests. Update: They Won!

Yves here. Normally I put updates to posts at the end, but this is such big news that it goes up front.

From the Guardian (hat tip resilc) French government ‘to suspend fuel tax increase’:

The French government will announce it is suspending plans to introduce an eco-fuel tax after three weeks of increasingly violent protests, according to reports in French media….

The tax on petrol and diesel, due to increase next month in a move towards cleaner fuels, sparked national demonstrations that quickly grew to encompass wider anger and frustration at the country’s leaders.

President Emmanuel Macron had repeatedly vowed not to give in to street rule, but has been forced to reconsider after the worst violence in Paris in half a century.

Note that, per the original post, the eco-tax wasn’t the only burden on rural citizens and workers who had long commutes they could only do by car. There were also rules targeting older cars. But the new tax was the big flashpoint, and the government went fully into reverse.

Back to the original post:

Some additional overview material on France’s gilets jaune protests:

1. They have overwhelming public support.

2. Even though the flashpoint was taxes and inspections designed to cut greenhouse gasses, the grievances are about austerity and cut in services. Recall that Macron ended the wealth tax when he took office. From the Guardian:

So if the hike in the price of fuel triggered the yellow vest movement, it was not the root cause. The anger runs deeper, the result of an economic and cultural relegation that began in the 80s. At the same time, economic and land logics have locked up the elite world. This confinement is not only geographical but also intellectual. The globalised metropolises are the new citadels of the 21st century – rich and unequal, where even the former lower-middle class no longer has a place. Instead, large global cities work on a dual dynamic: gentrification and immigration. This is the paradox: the open society results in a world increasingly closed to the majority of working people.

The economic divide between peripheral France and the metropolises illustrates the separation of an elite and its popular hinterland. Western elites have gradually forgotten a people they no longer see. The impact of the gilets jaunes, and their support in public opinion (eight out of 10 French people approve of their actions), has amazed politicians, trade unions and academics, as if they have discovered a new tribe in the Amazon.

Note that some, perhaps many, protestors don’t buy the government’s justification for the new taxes. I’ve included this quote from a piece in LaDepeche in Links:

Ce n’est pas non plus vraiment pour le prix de l’essence mais on est trop taxés et dire que c’est pour l’écologie, c’est une vaste fumisterie. On nous prend vraiment pour des idiots.

3. There are different groups among the gilets jaunes, such as self-identified moderates. There are now several independent sign-ups for “Act 4” protests in Paris on December 8, and some calls for a general strike on December 10.

Lambert also noted:

The yellow jackets – a universal mandate – make the cost of entry to the protest very low. Everyone already has one, in their cars, ready for repurposing. The only object that springs to my mind in America that’s readily accessible in people’s cars is…. well, guns.

Michael Olenick replied:

It’s also symbolic: everybody is required to put on the yellow jacket anytime we get out of the car, on the road, when the car has broken down. Wearing it means “Be alert – something is broken” and there’s an implicit “Give me a hand, please.”

There is nothing quite like it in the US.

By Michael Olenick, a research fellow at INSEAD who writes regularly at Olen on Economics

On my way into work this morning I stopped, as I often do, to get a croissant for myself and cookie for my kid at one of the 13 bakeries between the tiny French village where I live and the slightly larger one where I work at and my daughter attends school. Like many cars lately, I noticed the yellow vest that broken down drivers are required to wear being prominently displayed on the windshield of the car in front of me, a message of solidarity with the Gilets Jaunes.

By now, most of the world has noticed the new French protest movement, Gilets Jaunes, accurately translated as yellow vests and informally as yellowjackets. The world is focused on video from dramatic protests along the Champs-Élysées. Most Americans don’t quite get what the movement is about; as an expat American living in France I’ll try to explain.

Last January, the French government raised taxes on the price of diesel by seven percent, which came to about ten centime per liter, or 40 centime ($.55) per gallon. There are 100 centime in a euro (cent means 100 in French, a touchpoint to how a US cent found its name way back when).

And they came on top of increases in fuel costs. This graph shows the price of fuel from a politician in Macron’s party (that’s her, at top), trying to contextualize the price increases; a large part of the price shock wasn’t entirely the taxes but that fuel cost more.

And a breakdown by type of fuel:

Besides the increase in diesel prices there was also a double-digit increase in electricity prices and a steep increase for the biennial auto inspections.

The biennial inspections are not needed until a cars fourth birthday so newish cars are exempt. And the fuel price increase had less impact those who drive newer hybrids, which consume less fuel. or expensive electric cars. Parisians who do not own cars were entirely unaffected.

These taxes leaned heavily on working stiffs who live in the sticks and drive klunkers.

Soon after the protests started, a senior official from the Macron government remarked that he understood their frustration because it costs €100 per person, sans wine, to have dinner in Paris. Except that it does not, at the vast majority of regular restaurants in Paris (much less in villages), cost anywhere near that much. My family of three regularly has nice meals in Paris, with some wine or beer, for no more than €50 and often less.

Rather than empathy the message which came across, to an already frustrated populace, is their government is out of touch, eating out at high priced restaurants in Paris while imposing regressive taxes on ordinary people while pretending to care. In the country that beheaded Marie Antoinette tone deafness is, at best, political malpractice.

So, an out of touch government run by a former investment banker who taxed the middle class resulted in a pure economic protest, right? Unfortunately, things aren’t so clear-cut. What many outside France don’t understand is the purpose of the taxes was to push a transition to cleaner fuels.

There are many people who believe the fuel and inspection taxes are the right way to encourage people to purchase more fuel-efficient cars. If we keep doing this, said a friend pointing to a car belching black soot, our children won’t be able to breathe unfiltered air by the time they’re our age. Ordinary French counter they’d love to buy hybrids or electric cars but the vast majority of people can’t afford new cars, despite government subsidies, or they wouldn’t be driving decade-old jalopies.

What separates this from the usual screeds in the US is that both sides have a valid point. The world can’t afford to keep polluting at current levels andeverybody can’t afford new cars.

The Gilets Jaunes will likely go down in history as the first mass climate-change fueled protests. Today it’s groups of disorganized people wearing their yellow vests to slow traffic or make a show for the TV cameras. In future years, as the need for immediate change become more acute, the protestors are less likely to be less polite. In my first draft of this essay I concluded this paragraph with “the yellowjackets might sting but they’re not out to hurt anybody … yet.” But that was last week and, after over 400 people were arrested in Paris on Saturday, that’s not so clear anymore. The local one’s are polite, handing out sweets in the streets while walking and talking to motorists with children and strollers. But the Parisian protesters are more extreme, or at least they look that way on TV (I’ll skip checking it out in person).

It’s here that commentators usually add some deep insight or ideal solution. I don’t have one and I’m not sure it exists. Some small solutions are obvious. The government could lower the price of train tickets: it costs about €18 per person for a one-day train ticket to/from Paris. For my family of three driving costs less than public transport, even with parking included. That’s idiotic if there is a real commitment to climate change.

But most yellowjackets live farther away from cities than I do and France is a relatively big place. Mass transit is a lot better than the US but there will never be mass transit strong enough to meet every need. Maybe shared autonomous vehicles (self-driving cars) will lower the cost of transportation and, if they’re electric, offer environmental benefits. While Waymo (Google) has ordered 82,000 for use in the US over coming years they’re unlikely to function well in the rural villages where countless French live. Waymo is on clean, clear streets in Arizona; outside my window today looks like a monsoon.

The tradeoffs the French are working through – questioning how the costs of climate change will be apportioned between the haves and have-less – will play out city-by-city in country after country over the coming decades. If those costs are apportioned disproportionately the world will find many more bees willing to do a lot more than temporarily block traffic.


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  1. Frenchguy

    My 2 cents:

    _”Even though the flashpoint was taxes and inspections designed to cut greenhouse gasses, the grievances are about austerity and cut in services.” I would play down this angle. Public spending has been quite resilient in France. The decline in public services in rural area is often in line with the decline in population. The real problem is that the government has no real plan to stop the continuous rural exodus. Almost all development plans are based on stimulating the growth of “regional clusters” and the tiny villages that can’t rely on tourism are screwed. The main problem is not the quantity of public money (though more wouldn’t hurt obviously), it’s the way it’s distributed.

    _Though there is officially an ecological justification for the taxes on fuel, nobody is dupe and it is enraging to not only pay more taxes but to have to do it with a smile. Fact is, the taxes have been raised because the governement thought it had moral cover, there’s no surprise taxes rose on fuel and tobacco (the money raised on tobacco is significant, 1.7 bn€ more in 2018). In relation to GDP, CO2 emissions are already among the lowest in the world…

    _The flashpoint really seems to be “car politics”. Taxes have been raised and the speed limit has been lowered on rural roads from 90 to 80 kmh. Don’t neglect this last point either, the regional press was full of articles on that. It has been done in the name of safety but, here again, it’s not like France had a massive problem (deaths rate are a bit higher than in Nordic countries but nothing extraordinary). When your commute is 10 min longer just because a Parisian politician wanted to make a point, it really stings.

    In short, I don’t think it is a revolution, I don’t think it is about austerity, I think it is about cars. And it is just the inevitable result of having a government with almost no politicial sense.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      As an outsider, what you say resonates with my sense of whats happening. The frustration felt by those protesters all relative of course – Its been a couple of years since I’ve done the sort of random wandering I like to do in France, but while there are plenty of neglected, run down towns and villages, they still seem prosporous and well kept, and especially well supplied with services compared to those I’ve visited in many other countries (including Scandanavia, I’ve seen plenty of grim small rural declining towns in Sweden).

      In terms of urban and rural divide, France is quite average for Europe. And while fuel taxes are high, they aren’t uniquely high in Europe. And the average rural vehicle in France is far more fuel efficient than in most other countries. And the full panorama of public services in France is usually excellent.

      Here in Ireland, people drive more distance per car, the country is more rural, and fuel costs are higher, but all every price increase gets is grumbling (possibly because politicians aren’t foolish enough to say they are taxing it for the planet). And people here still buy SUV’s in preference to more practical vehicles.

      I’m wondering about the austerity side of things too – France has suffered of course, but austerity is significantly less severe than in many other countries, from the UK to Italy, from Spain to Finland.

      I suspect the key element here is a government which has been politically clumsy in picking the wrong targets. The ‘just getting by’ small town/outer urban vote is huge in nearly all countries and governments are usually acutely conscious of keeping them on site – which is why the Daily Mail is so powerful in the UK as those are the people it speaks to/for. I would guess this is the same bloc which has voted AfD in Germany, Five Star/LN in Italy and voted Brexit in the UK. They’ve just chosen a different way to vent their frustrations.

      1. Carl

        But are the gilets jaunes comparing themselves to other Europeans or are they comparing themselves to themselves a few years ago? I suspect the latter is the cause of their anger…

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Yes, thats why I say its ‘relative’. Lots of Europeans dream of living in a small French town, they are so beautiful and still have the local shops and services they’ve lost in so many other countries. But the sense of gradually moving backwards has undoubtedly raised peoples anger, and something seems to have made them snap. I would guess its the sheer arrogance of Macron and the people around them, but I don’t really know.

          1. Spring Texan

            This excerpt backs up your theory. Although this article is ridiculous as it talks about the ‘unproven imperatives of “climate change”’ …


            Since entering political life, Macron’s remarks have not only revealed a contempt for the French population, but also have multiplied. That has not helped. As early as 2014, when Macron was Minister of the Economy, he said that the women employees of a bankrupt company were “illiterates”; in June 2017, just after becoming president, he distinguished between “those who succeed and those who are nothing”. More recently, he told a young man who spoke of his distress at trying to find a job, that he only had to move and “cross the street”….The “yellow jackets” now have the support of 84% of the French population. They are demanding Macron’s resignation and an immediate change of government.

            1. lyman alpha blob

              84% support the protesters and are demanding Macron’s resignation.

              Ha! Don’t the French even care about Obama’s legacy?!?! I mean he did ‘interfere in the French elections’ by publicly endorsing Macron – how’s it going to look for Barry if Manny gets the boot?

              Maybe it’s time for Uncle Sugar to bring back the Freedom Fries again and teach those uppity French a lesson!

              1. oh

                Barry will be feasting on escargot and drinking champagne with his silicon valley buddies. He’s probably on many of their boards.

            2. Michael Olenick

              On the way home my daughter said a French kid (they’re in middle school) told her today “I wish I was American like you.” She answered “no you don’t because you’d have Trump as your President.” The other child replied “we have Macron – he’s worse.”

              I don’t think Macron is anywhere near as bad as Trump — they’re not even in the same league — but that’s where the headspace of some people are.

              1. NotTimothyGeithner

                I’ve always found Europeans to be shocked by how right wing American politicians actually are. Going over the greatest hits of Bill or Obama cam have a sobering effect on a European who has often only encountered Expats and tourists, or the professional class.

                Macron and Trump are in the same league. Its the same rot. France is just in a better starting position. There are more safeguards in place.

                1. vidimi

                  bingo. france is a better place not because macron is a better president, but because it started off from a better position. macron is degrading french life as fast as trump is degrading american life. trump may be a bigger disaster on environmental issues, but macron is an economic catastrophe whereas trump is just average.

          2. jrs

            I don’t know in Marseilles, not a small town but nonetheless, buildings are collapsing on people (and would be in the U.S. too but this is a young country so the buildings aren’t that old depending on the area). So that’s a real outrage.

            But 10 minutes added to a commute, oh the horror! (sarcasm)

            1. False Solace

              Sarcasm huh? Must be nice. If my local government tried to lower the speed limit here there would be people out with guns. Decreasing the speed limit is a tax on time. Commuting is not optional. It means less time you can spend with your kids or family or sleeping. Move closer to work? Sure, if your work increases your pay enough to afford it. SMH

              1. jrs

                Around here another 10 minutes to a commute is just a bad day in traffic. So yea I’m LMAO.

                Now if you want to add maybe 1/2 hour or more to your commute, that’s called taking public transit instead of driving.

                1. False Solace

                  Sure if you’re one of the lucky few Americans who live in a place where using public transit to get to work doesn’t mean a 3 hour trip each way if it exists. Where I live most people have a 1.5 hour commute which is barely survivable, the current speed limit is widely ignored for good or ill, lowering it further would not be a popular move politically.

                  1. jrs

                    I commute 2 hours a day but the reason for not going the speed limit is traffic seldom moves that fast, except on a 3 day weekend or at 3am.

        2. EoH

          Small beautiful French towns, like Williamsburg or Woodstock in the US, can be bought up by robber barons and preserved as museum pieces for tourists, which makes them sterile. Or they can remain working villages with social, political, cultural, and economic lives.

          The French seem overwhelmingly to prefer the latter. If Mr. Macron has preserved the perspectives he acquired as an investment banker, it must be hard for him to see the logic of that.

          The usual epithet thrown at such resilient mixed economies, which refuse to specialize, engage in monoculture, and throw off abundant cash flows to global capital, is “underutilized.” It is a plague to be stamped out.

      2. Octopii

        There are small towns in France that are almost entirely dead, shops closed, down to the last boulangerie, nobody on the streets, churches falling into disrepair. It is spooky. The corporate consolidation of businesses everyone touches daily – the bakery, the butcher, the banks and insurance, the pharmacy – even out in the sticks, is very “un-French.” I don’t know how the villages that appear prosperous manage to do it, except in the champagne region. Yes the social services are great in the cities. But when the countryside is losing cottage industries people know what’s happening.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I’m well aware of the state of many small French towns, I’ve been in plenty of them. But I’ve not seen any nearly as bad as ones I’ve seen elsewhere in Europe, including in northern Europe. Mostly I suspect this is because France has a much more active and vibrant local government system, unlike say in the UK.

          The irony of course is that the reason so many small town businesses have been wiped out is that the locals are driving to their favourite out of town LeClerc or Hypermarche. This is a factor of a too-car dependent society, ironically favouring the slightly less poor (who have cars) against the elderly and truly destitute (who live in the run down towns, and don’t have cars).

        1. False Solace

          Sure, it’s just weird how private jets are mysteriously left out of these considerations. Do they somehow not use fuel?

            1. jrs

              but how much pollution do yachts really generate? I suppose maybe they generate far more than I ever knew, although it seems doubtful. I don’t have to be convinced flying is harmful but it’s not just the private jets but also every airport.

              It’s silly at a certain point not to change things that generate massive amounts of pollution and carbon because there was a loophole for yachts. I never thought conservatives were right about a politics of envy, but if sensible measures are stopped because a rich person somewhere gets off and it’s minor in the scheme of thing, I’m coming around to that view. That’s a different argument than helping the poor, which must be done, and it’s pointless to conflate them.

              1. drumlin woodchuckles

                Is it about envy? Or is it about not being exploited suckers? If the private jet classes feel such totally zero solidarity with the rest of society to the point that they won’t even accept a private jet tax to be seen as bearing their share of inconvenience to save the society they live in, why should the rest of society give up its meager comforts to save the private jet privileges of the rich?

                And the conservatives invented the politics of envy to begin with. The conservatives instructed the working middle and near-poor to envy the welfare poor. So the conservatives have no complaint when their own conservative-invented politics of envy get turned against their own upper-class funders.

              2. SteveB

                Figure a 60-70 ft sportfish (yacht for fishing) uses about 100 GPH to travel at 30 KTS (about 33 mph)……. or about 0.33 MPG

                However some trawler style yachts in the same size category use far less, but travel much slower 7-8 kts burning 12-14 gph

                Can’t give accurate #’s for the hundred foot plus plus yachts but generally more HP and more speed burn fuel in an exponential function… IE in general it takes much more HP & fuel to go a few kts faster…..

              3. Big River Bandido

                My dad owned a 25-foot Wellcraft cruiser in the 1980s. Legally, it probably qualified as a “yacht”, but among boaters it would have been one in name only. Bankers would have thumbed their noses at it. Nevertheless, for such a small “yacht”, its mileage was quoted as “4 gallons to the mile”.

                So, yes, yachts are gas guzzlers, of the worst variety.

        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          Here is an article from a site called Low Tech Magazine going into that in some detail. It explains, among many other things, why the 55mph speed limit was passed during the Oil Crisis which happened during the Nixon Administration.

          The article is titled . . . The Age Of Speed: How to Reduce Global Fuel Consumption By 75 per cent. Here is the link.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Not quite double, but significantly more.

        My perception of safety is that France ‘seems’ safer, but that’s maybe because I’ve spent more time cycling in nice rural areas, and French drivers are infinitely more careful around cyclists than in the UK (my only close encounter with death on a French road was to a UK registered car).

        But France is significantly lower density and more rural than the UK and you always get far more fatalities in rural areas, simply because speeds are higher and there is less illumination at night. I suspect that if you corrected the figures for this, the figures for fatalities would be similar.

    2. False Solace

      Public spending has been resilient so far, eh? Then why is the economy minister saying this:

      The economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, said the solution for tackling the low purchasing power of struggling families lay in reducing the tax burden in France, which is among the highest in Europe.

      “We must speed up the reduction of taxes,” he said. “But for that we must speed up the decrease in public spending.”

      Clearly their plan is for some drastic cuts. I don’t know how much you have to cut to make up for removing the wealth tax, but clearly the people who suffer from one aren’t going to benefit from the other.

    3. clarky90

      Re “the eco-tax”

      “This is not really for the price of gasoline but we are too taxed and say that it is for ecology , it is a vast humbug . We are really mistaken for idiots….” (Translation of the french statement in the article)

      My Question; How much of an “eco tax” increase is being put on aviation fuel for private jets?

      Answer “Zero”.

      1. Tony Wright

        So maybe Macron will paraphrase Marie Antoinette – ” They cannot afford fuel for their cars? – let them travel by private jet” .
        Only half joking. The tin ears of the elites are becoming even more obvious.
        Sooner rather than later something/someone/somewhere is really going to snap.

      2. flora

        How much of an “eco tax” is put on Western companies manufacturing in China (in part to escape western pollution laws and costs of complying with same)? None.

        China is now the world’s largest CO2 polluter. What few environmental laws China has are routinely ignored. Much cheaper to manufacture stuff if you can just dump stuff into the air and water and soil. China burns lots and lots and lots of coal to generate electricity, including to power electric cars. No carbon capture, or sequestration, or scrubbers there.

        Climate change is a serious issue, but western politicians are only virtue signaling at best, imo.

        1. flora

          adding: electric cars are exchanging one source of pollution for another, including the very pollution lithium production process for lithium batteries.

          Now, I like lithium batteries, have them in lots of devices and all. But I do become annoyed with the virtue signaling.

          1. Duck1

            I don’t think there is carbon capture or sequestration anywhere. I think it is like fusion power, it will be practical in 20 years. But correct me if I’m wrong.

        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          I suspect such an “eco tax” on Western companies operating in China would be illegal under various Free Trade Agreements. It would be called a “barrier to trade”.

          Free Trade causes global warming. We will have to abolish Free Trade to begin to de-warm the global. If the US wants to down-carbonize unilaterally, the US will have to abrogate every Free Trade Agreement and Treaty it is currently trapped in. The US will have to be able to seal itself off from all the surrounding foreign-enemy carbon-dumping economies of the outside world.

        1. clarky90

          The Private Jet Owners will be paying wholesale prices for their untaxed fuel. It is the “neo-eco bank balance”. Sustainable into the future. For the children!

    4. tiebie66

      I’ve been wondering about this. Is France not a democracy? If so, cannot people vote for someone to represent them? If they can, why are these representatives not spokespersons for those that elected them? Where does the disconnect arise?

      It is all very satisfying to be able to blame Macron, or the rich, or the educated. But this will lead nowhere if there are structural problems with how the French state is organized and effective representation cannot occur. Frankly, I think Macron is a symptom, not a cause and treating the symptoms have limited benefit.

      How does the situation in France compare to the US? I have given up on the US because I think that partisan people tinker around the edges with a system that needs a radical overhaul instead.

  2. makedoanmend

    “Ce n’est pas non plus vraiment pour le prix de l’essence mais on est trop taxés et dire que c’est pour l’écologie, c’est une vaste fumisterie. On nous prend vraiment pour des idiots.”


    Elites using very real concerns, such as the environment, as a pretext to continuously enrich themselves at our expense and indeed the environment’s expense have become standard practice. The elites use their off-shored tax avoidance monies to fund so-called think tanks that employ people to massage the message so that we feel powerless to oppose their continual plunder of the public body built by our predecessors. There is always a certain logic to what the elites say, and it only seems practical and indeed urgent that we address climate issues, but their messages are always tailored to confine the debate within narrow parameters. The Onus of their policies are always tailored to focus on the individual. We are never supposed to look at the bigger picture. We are never supposed to imagine social and cultural issues or changes. And we are most certainly not supposed to connect the dots of how they use the most important issues of our era to beat us down whilst they enrich themselves.

    Yes, the elites take us for “des idiots” and suckers. They’ve systemically hallowed out the structural means of ordinary democratic peoples to govern their lives in some sort of coherent manner, so that most of us are cut off from each other. And they have accomplished their task with relative ease. A small percentage of people own most means of mass communication; have some coherent ideology called neo-liberalism to drive their agenda; and have the monetary means via tax avoidance and off-shore accounts to manipulate local government and install their own people to run countries, trading blocks, international institutions and thus the world economy for their own economic enrichment. They act globally but we are told to act and assert our individuality. We act individually but without the monetary means to create an effective opposition to their machinations. (By having the monetary means wouldn’t we be one of the elite?)

    We have been turned into mere consumers who are in turn consumed by the consumer culture we were told would free us all.

    I fully expect the Gilet Jaunes to go away like the other mass protests, but these spontaneous protests are starting to resemble climate change events. Specific instances of climate change are hard to predict but we know they are occurring more frequently, if randomly. We know some of the dynamics of the underlying causes, but we have to continuously update our models as the interactive nature of climate processes feed back on themselves and change the overall dynamics. Due to the random processes and feedback loops, I doubt our elites will have the wherewithal to change their behaviours. One day it might just all blow up, and who get hurt the most? Yeap, the same ordinary people whose lives are being harmed now. Check mate!

    But maybe we can assert our individuality by acting in solidarity. Acting in solidarity is, afterall, a true use of individuality. Who knows? I certainly don’t.

    1. anarcheops

      Strongly agree. It’s les élites setting the debate as “kill the environment VS tax fossil fuels at the pump” when the fact is that sales taxes (such as those mentioned by a previous comment on tobacco) are most burdensome on the poor. Who have fewer choices to be ecologically friendly and are going to hurt the most from climate change anyway. People protest because they know that it is unfair, even if they can’t completely articulate why or what the best solution is. I am fine with that, though. It’s better than everyone pretending everything is fine.

    2. Michael

      While I totally agree with your thesis, I might add that a properly implemented carbon tax, ie one that is completely revenue neutral would probably be acceptable to the populace, as the owners of clunkers would not be penalized by the fact they cannot afford more efficient transportation.

      If the tax was progressive, over time poorer people could possibly use the savings to purchase more efficient vehicles.

      Back to your thesis, I doubt my idea would work, as the intent of the elites is not altruistic.

  3. Ignacio

    Are Gilets Jaunes the revival, about 230 years later of the sans-culottes? Migth be. Sans culottes asked for price controls to ensure affordable food, I think affordable housing is more pressing today. Many bougth diesel cars when diesel was more affordable now this has changed when diesel contamination became so real and we noticed its dangers. And you want to force those who are already struggling to lead the change. Lots of people in Spain feel the same.

    Macron, so rigtheous, so surprised, so shocked, has suspended the tax rise today. So, what will he do? His neoliberal manual has no answers because what Gilets Jaunes ask for is an improvement in their standard of living, very much the contrary of the competition meme, the productivity obsession the continued reduction in wages and labor benefits and the simultaneous continued rise in house prices and rent prices.

    Shocked, they are shocked, and that is better than complacent but I guess Macron will be unable to reconcile his neoliberal stance and the desire to figth against climate change with the needs of most french.

    We are talking about 5,3-5,7 €/gallon of diesel in France. Taxes have been used for many years in Europe to limit the consumption of diesel and gasoline and favour fuel efficiency but it seems these policies have their own practical limits and politicians will have to be more creative to combat climate change.

    1. Another Scott

      If the goal of the tax was to reduce GHG from transportation, then the other question people should be asking is if it was the best way for France to do it. I was thinking about this since reading about the yellowjackets, but France seems far better positioned than the U.S. and even other large European in having government role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, just not the way that Macron did it. Selling and implementing a Green New Deal in France is probably easier than I the United States.
      Would the rural areas have revolted if instead of implementing a regressive tax, Macron announced renationalizing EDF and making real and potentially state-funded investments in creating an electric vehicle infrastructure? Or the creation of new state-supported investments in manufacturers of electric equipment and vehicles? I don’t know, but it seems like such an approach would be friendlier to the many of the people opposing the diesel tax.
      This might mean going away from the plan to gradually close nuclear power plants and keeping them open instead to meet the increased demand coming from the electric vehicles. This would preserve the jobs at the power plants and still reduce nuclear as a percentage of power generated in France.

      1. lyman alpha blob

        My understanding is that France and the rest of Europe already have an extensive rail infrastructure, especially compared to that in the US. Not sure if this hits the smaller towns or not.

        Also not sure what kind of subsidies, if any, the fuel companies in France get. In the US they receive billions of dollars in subsidies which they don’t appear to really need.

        So instead of taxing the end user, why not take away the subsidies of the fossil fuel companies while at the same time encourage rail use and expand the system to more rural areas? If your aim is really to fight climate change, which is admirable, a comprehensive solution that sticks it to the big guys while improving life for the rest would seem to be a much better way to go.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          Most people don’t travel between Paris and Orleans on a daily basis which is what rail is good for. Home to work, shopping, and play is still the primary travel. I know its really cool to go from Paris to Berlin in the same day, but most Parisians and Berliners don’t make that trip on a daily basis. The solution is more trolley like transit systems.

          Most Americans are familiar with tourist and university areas which are usually major hubs, but most people don’t live there.

          Building a train for a population of a 1000 doesn’t make sense.Like America, the goal needs to be replicate or near replicate the reliability of a car or change the nature of work or the amount of work necessary to live. The solution happens to be forcing three day work weeks. Most of us spend much of our working lives waiting around anyway. Public housing. An individual can’t build a 7 story mutli-family housing unit, but with a proper program, it could be done. Move people closer to their work in a practical manner.

          1. lyman alpha blob

            Thanks – I’ve never ridden the train there before and didn’t realize so much of it was high speed. I like the trolley idea. To get smaller commutes, it’s going to take booting the rich out of all the metro downtowns they’ve taken over in recent years. Perhaps a high tax on unoccupied real estate would do the trick.

          2. Fiery Hunt

            The SF Bay Area used to have quite an extensive trolley/light rail system. Trains across the Bay Bridge, all thru out the East Bay/Oakland. That was until the public bus system screwed it up.


            No reason it couldn’t be re-installed (except the pigs who now feed on the current system won’t let go of that particular teat).

            And it would make life so much better for everyone and the environment.

            1. NotTimothyGeithner

              It wouldn’t even have to reinstalled. Having buses that run the trolley routes are a major deal. Short walks to and from regular routes that run every 15 minutes versus twice an hour or once an hour are huge change both from a ridership perspective but the mental side of people who need the car if they have to get somewhere. Missing the bus can be a disaster, missing a trolley means you’ll be 10 or 15 minutes late at worst.

              Its not as efficient as a subway or a traditional trolley in larger urban areas, but trolley like service could start tomorrow. Smaller communities would could be huge beneficiaries especially if they were free with no passes.

        2. NotTimothyGeithner

          Expanding rail means either more stops which means slowing down turning a high speed train into a old style train, driving people who use the train off, or putting more trains on the rails which usually are already maximized, meaning effectively less trains are on the track to deal with the increased traffic.

      2. Chopspoon

        Selling and implementing a Green New Deal in France is probably easier than I the United States.

        But a “New Deal” of any sort is going to be an anathema for neoliberals of any stripe or nationality, for obvious reasons.

  4. Leo

    It is a trap. The protests that started in 2013 in Brazil were about a bus ticket raise of 20 cents. It is everything so similar. And in the end of the day it was the spark of a change that ended in the election of a fascist government.

      1. Stephen Gardner

        Sort of backed down. It’s just a winter suspension not a complete suppression of the taxes. I think the government is trying to buy time and get them off the streets. I heard the gilet jaune coordinator for Paris say that they would be back on the street this weekend. They don’t buy it.

      2. Leo

        The protests are a trap. It doesn’t matter if the government backs down or not. As I said in Brazil the government also backed down. But that sense of “let´s get rid of everything”, “out with all the politicians”, and so just grew and grew. The former president was depoused in a coup, and now we have a facist president that did not present any proposal for any fundamental topic.

        1. jrs

          thanks for your perspective. I’m pro-protest but only if it’s really leftist (I mean sure everyone else has certain freedoms, but I just don’t support the cause).

          In Brazil from what I’ve read there was also massive voter disenfranchisement as well, so I wonder how legit that election was.

            1. S. T. Silva

              Brazilians voted Bolsonaro in. The fact that they might have voted Lula in instead if he ran but didn’t do the same for a candidate of the same party with the same program only means voters are stupid. Source: my lying eyes and ears.

  5. Hayek's Heelbiter

    Why is the fact Macron is repealing the wealth tax (which seems to me will have hugely more impact on the elites and more benefit for the country as whole) always buried beneath news about fuel price rises. Not just in this post, but every other article I’ve read.

    Just curious.

    1. JTMcPhee

      I second HH’s observation. All this analysis including by people “on the ground” —, has anyone done a lot of asking the Gilets Jaunes individuals what effect the accounting trick of increasing fuel taxes on mopes to PayGo the tax gifts (tax expenditures, isn’t that what they used to be called in ‘Murica? https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tax_expenditure ) to the filthy rich and Neoliberal-favored class has had?

      “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization,” isn’t that one formulation of those who support taxation (but not upon themselves, so often)? But of course the acme of “civilization,” the “progress” from hunter-gatherer to farming and city-states and armies and priesthoods and divine rights and BIGness, seems to be Empire and globalization, so I guess there are several ways to parse that aphorism, no? Who is “we,” in there, again? “Only little people pay taxes,” let us remember.

      Seems there is some “wisdom of crowds” at work here — maybe the crowd is not wise enough to think and behave its way out of the trap of Western consumerism and globalization, but a whole lot of people apparently sense what can be a “good and decent life,” with a good bit of autarky, if only the looters were somehow ousted from their so very comfortable positions behind the levers of power.

      So far, it does not seem that anomie and chaos have become the drivers of la resistance vrai… But the mindset of the Louis’ Bourbon era still drives the looters’ MOREism… A long and awful history to the “let them eat cake” and “Apres moi le deluge” notions: http://tradicionclasica.blogspot.com/2006/01/expression-aprs-moi-le-dluge-and-its.html

      1. rd

        I think there is an “Al Gore” effect here. https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/al-gores-energy-use/

        The wealth tax was repealed and the wealthy can continue to have big mansions, fly in their private jets, and sail in their massive yachts. Instead, a regressive gas tax is put on rural car owners (that is where much of the car ownership and driving is) to fight climate change.

        If you want significant change, there needs to be a shared sense of sacrifice. One of the reasons that John F. Kennedy and George H.W. Bush continue to get great press is because they enlisted and fought on the front lines in WW II. Whatever else they may have done in their lives, everybody knows that these upper class, privileged people voluntarily put their lives on the line for their country. That builds a well of credibility with the general population that they can draw on. The modern day elites do not have this well of credibility, especially after the financial crisis.

        1. oh

          They probably put their lives on the line often many many miles from real action! Kennedy had his PT-109 but how much of it was fiction one never knows.

          1. Wukchumni

            It’s hard to say what they saw and went through.

            One of my sisters filled me in on a WW2 tidbit involving our late father i’d never heard before, he was in a building when it was the subject of a mortar attack or something like that in the Prague uprising late in the festivites, and a fellow Czech resistance member about 10 feet away was decapitated.

            He NEVER talked about the war, the memories were too painful.

          2. SimonGirty

            I’m still rooting for the Russian sub fleet officer, Vasili Arkhipov and the missile commander General Yury Votintsev… who NOBODY seems to remember, for half a century of all our lives?

  6. Alfred

    Did they really “win”? And if so, what did they win? Le Monde, in its breaking-news feed and seeming to exercise caution, is calling the new move a “freeze” and putting that term in inverted commas; its headline reads “Edouard Philippe annonce un ‘gel’ de plusieurs mesures fiscales.” In a caption it says that “the government notably announced a moratorium on fuel taxes and pledges no increase on electricity rates between now and May 2019.” In the most recent post I’ve seen it details the three “measures” as follows: “suspension pendant six mois de la hausse de la taxe carbone, de la convergence diesel-essence et de la hausse de la fiscalité sur le gazole entrepreneur non routier.” Le Monde places the yellow-vest crisis in the context of efforts to limit growth of the public deficit. It sounds to me like the government is scrambling, kicking the can down the road in the manner favored by our American politicians, and thus temporarily placating the protestors while refusing to capitulate outright.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Maybe you European/Brits are more used to government climbdowns, but here in the US, the government does not reverse itself in the face of protests. We have paramilitary policing, surveillance cameras, nasty roundups (people put in painful zip handcuffs that have been known to do nerve damage, put in busses for hours to make sure they wind up sitting in their pee and shit). And an arrest on your record really hurts your job prospects.

      If Macron thinks he can put the taxes back on later, and not have the protests start again, he is smoking something strong. His PM was going to meet with the protestors and that meeting was cancelled by the protestors because some of the leaders got death threats, allegedly from the far right. The government gave a big concession without even having a demand presented formally. That is an admission of weakness.

      1. Michael Olenick

        I often come across a misunderstanding of the US/European reaction to protests. In the US the government would not back down and might even double-down, increasing the tax or doing something to show they’re firmly in charge. They’d never given in. Blocking traffic would be hazardous to your health: there’s a good chance somebody would shoot you before the police got there and also a chance the police would do the same, especially if you’re not white.

        One thing Frenchguy, above, brought up is the reduced speed limit that went into effect. This really is a PIA. I haven’t seen the yellow vests protesting it though it annoys everybody. At the same time, they implemented private speeding enforcement, a company that rides around in radar cars with license readers that mail out tickets. These moves really do feel like Parisians trying to round up revenue from the rest of us while lowering things like the wealth tax that affects them. It’s old-school European.

        1. Frenchguy

          On the other hand, I fully expect the police to have a much freer hand this week-end to pacify the streets. The government has given the carrot today, it will yield the stick Saturday.

      2. Frenchguy

        Yves is right. This is a total win for the gilets jaunes. The 6-months thing is just a way for the government to make it look like it didn’t capitulate. Also, it will help with the budget vis-a-vis Brussels (because it apparently cost only half a year of revenues lost and by the time the moratorium is permanent, Brussels will have moved on to the 2020 budget).

        1. Massinissa

          Did Le Pen meet with Macron too? I would be surprised if Macron even wanted to talk with her, but I wouldn’t know for sure

      3. Summer

        “Maybe you European/Brits are more used to government climbdowns, but here in the US…”

        But now, more than ever we see global elites acting in concert and producing the same political discourse and outcomes.
        It may have existed on some level in past decades, but now we see it more.

      4. Stephen Gardner

        I believe that our problem here in the USA is less the draconian methods of dealing with demonstrations and more the effectiveness of our ruling class propaganda. Although there were lots of protesters present in the antiwar and Occupy protests the vast majority didn’t feel it. People are starting only now to question the central features of the neoliberal order. Best health care? Only if you can afford it. Lots of jobs? Only if you are willing to take less home? Most powerful military in the world. But we don’t win wars.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          I disagree here. These issues have been discussed. The problem isn’t the issues. It’s the perception Team Blue is a viable option or that for example Obama is a friend.

          People understand they aren’t experts which is fine, but they look to experts to help. The propaganda starts here in creating the perception there is a secret liberal Hillary. Even John McCain had to have a health care reform plan in 2008. Wealth inequality was a huge Issue. Even the idea of Republicans pushing tax cuts is based around easing the burden and the idea Republicans care. People need to learn politicians are employees, and they need to be treated like employees of horrible employers. Cuomo and DeBlasio want to give Amazon the store, so we should treat them like Bezos treats his employees.

          Obama only repealed DADT because he was facing embarrassment and public humiliation. Macron is delaying the implementation, not because the tax was protested, but because people are calling for him to leave office.

        2. False Solace

          Agreed. This would never happen in the US. Can’t even imagine a US politician saying anything like this:

          “I hear this anger and I have understood its basis, its force and its seriousness. It is the anger of the French who work and work hard, but still have difficulty making ends meet, who find their backs against the wall. They have a sense of profound injustice at not being able to live a dignified life when they are working.”

          Trump would call them losers and the media would mostly agree. Then we’d get a 24/7 nonstop propaganda effort telling us the protesters are all crybaby leftist college student drug addicts with zero relevant demands. The police would mace them, throw them in jail and that would be it. The most recent similar effort the US has seen was Black Lives Matter. They didn’t even have to derail that one because the racist chunk of the country didn’t need to be persuaded to hate the idea of black people asking for justice.

          From an elite POV, France’s main mistake was not stockpiling enough tear gas grenades and loyal thugs. I expect that to change. The gas tax will be reimposed with a different name a year from now and nobody will notice, they’ll just continue to get poorer.

      5. oh

        The audacity of Obama going to Baker’s event, Michelle hugging Bush and the Dimrat Neolibs (Nancy Pelosi et al) pushing PayGo policies and most Dimrats doubling down on the “Patriot Act” tells me that they’d never climb down from their arrogant disregard for the plight of the majority of the populace.

        I don’t know how we’re going chase these Neolibs out of office and elect a decent House and Senate.

  7. timbers

    I’m MSM dumb, but I took a moment to google CNN, Yahoo, MSNBC.

    I found only 1 article on the French protests on Yahoo, a bit down from the top. I did not notice anything on CNN or NBC.

    The Yellow Jackets appear to be ignored by corporate Media.

  8. David

    The Prime Minister has just announced not a withdrawal, but a delay in the implementation of these measures. It’s the least the government could get away with, and the hope is that the announcement will serve to take the steam out of the protests. I’ll see if there’s a text available.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      See my comment above to Alfred. I appreciate you being cautious, but I don’t see any way they can go back to their original plan without having the protests resume. The barriers to protesting are low. The protestors know the country is behind them and I have seen but cannot again find a story saying the police haven’t been all that on board with the crackdown.

      Macron can try a new plan, but merely undoing the suspension is playing with fire, literally.

      The other reason I see this as a win, even though so far this is conditional, is that it is the polar opposite of what happened when there were widespread protests against labor reforms. They had a lot of public support too, although not as overwhelming as for the gilets jaunes. And the police did not hesitate in going after the protestors, who also got violent (I recall smashed cars) but not as violent as the gilet jaunes. The earlier protests had zero impact. This is completely different.

      1. David

        It’s not that I’m being cautious, but rather that some of the reporting has been a bit over-enthusiastic Listening to Philippe’s speech this morning he was sounding very tough, and stressing that this was not a reversal of policy, just a change of timescale. The reality is that the government have done just about the only thing they could have, and what they hope is the minimum necessary. But I doubt it will be enough, and there are now signs that lycée and university students, who have their own grievances, are joining in. When a government shows weakness and backs down like this it’s usually the first stage in a rout, which I think is now inevitable.
        The more so because there is a real problem of how the authorities are going to respond. The French media have been discussing this a lot in the light of the upcoming protests this weekend. Since the 2005 riots in the suburbs, the police and gendarmerie have been under orders to avoid casualties on either side, which is why they stood by while a lot of glass was smashed in 2016. The CRS in particular, have been told to use tear gas to disperse demonstrators, rather than charge them. They have been criticised for resorting too quickly to that tactic on Saturday, not least because the protesters quickly regrouped and came back, and the CRS were running out of gas grenades. It’s politically unthinkable for a nurse, a teacher, or the owner of a small business to be killed by the CRS, but its equally impossible for the government to allow widespread destruction in the wealthy areas of Paris, or to let the protesters approach the Elysée too closely. It’s a nice dilemma, that couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of people, and it’s complicated by the fact that relations between Macron’s government and the police are very bad, for lots of reasons. Nobody is going to die to protect Macron’s windows.

        1. Wukchumni


          Thanks for your excellent commentary on events transpiring, our eyes on the scene…

          How difficult would it be for somebody to have possession of firearms in France?

          1. David

            It’s quite easy to get a licence for a hunting rifle, although for obvious reasons most hunters are in the countryside. Ironically, if you want an effective weapon your best bet is to go to one of the rough suburbs (not involved in the current excitement) and buy one from the criminal gangs who have been importing AK47s from Eastern Europe over the last decade or so. Not so far away from where I am typing this is an area controlled by the Chechen mafia, who are apparently good suppliers. But the answer to your implied question is that the GJ are very unlikely to have access to firearms, even if they wanted to use them, which I much doubt. So far, I’m not aware of any disturbances of this kind where weapons have been spotted: the CRS are armed with riot control agents only.

        2. NotTimothyGeithner

          No one dying to protect Macron’s windows is a great point. Macron is no longer new and has no proper political backing. His first round support was conservatives who like to go to other nice parts of Europe and non-whites who don’t have a history of voting for the Communists or parents who have voted for the Communist party at one time or another. With the defeat of Le Pen, this arrangement is largely irrelevant. Political organizing takes time especially when trying to get voters without a history of voting.

          The Macron election occurred amid both the collapse of the old center right party (post DeGalle’s personality party; so its not even that old) and the social dems falling apart. Macron doesn’t have legitimacy to say trust me, the way someone like Obama was able to say give me a second term.

      2. elissa3

        Did not the government look at the calendar? Six months gets us to May, 2020. This would not be the most auspicious month to reinstitute an unpopular program. Warmer weather almost always facilitates people getting out into the streets.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          Panic. Legitimacy is slipping, and once legitimacy is gone it’s gone. The other issue is like neoliberals world wide they don’t know much or have much in the way of ideas. The gas tax increase was more of a branding plan to show to the media and the chattering classes about how hip Macron was versus part of a plan to deal with global warming. Macron might be able to bug out and “teach” at Harvard or similar place, but his loyalists could easily be persona non grata in France which means they don’t have much to offer.

          It’s similar to Team Blues pleas about fixing ACA later with no suggestion of what might need to be fixed.

  9. The Rev Kev

    In reading articles about the riots, it is almost like that we are seeing a form of a Rorschach test at work here. That is, people are reading into it on the basis of their own world beliefs. That the riots happened in France is not to be wondered at as there is a tradition of fighting the establishment such as in 1789, 1848, 1871 and more recently in 1968. And that is the only ones that I know of at the top of my head. So what can be said? And here I am letting my own prejudices show.
    The recent taxes were the match but from the footage that I am seeing, I am looking at a people that have been pushed literally too far. In retrospect, France electing an investment banker with the backing of an instant political party in 2017 was a leap of faith by the French that was never going to work. To be truthful, he reminds me of an Erdogan in government with his deafness as to what ordinary people want. His interests reflect a Parisian sensibility not reflected in the rest of the country and it shows in both his policies and attitudes.
    He may want people to get rid of old cars with excessive taxes but his class can just get electric cars – that is, if they even need them at all. His trying to break up workers rights and powers only helps his own class – but should be good for a few good job offers after leaving office. He seems to have no idea that he may be playing France’s Obama to hatch a French Trump that follows after him. The French rejection about overpricing their personal cars is not a rejection of action against climate change. Far too many French died in excessive heats recently to ignore it. It is just that if you are going to take away something of importance to a people, that in return you must give them something of value to them. Instead we see the same pattern as in other countries where a few urban centers suck up the resources of the rest of their country without any thought of any consequences. Just my take.

  10. Brooklin Bridge

    Trying to squeeze some sort of ironic balance out of leaning most heavily on those who can least afford it as a means of addressing climate change, (both sides are right), is just poor framing of the issues. It’s like insisting that punishment will continue until morale improves may seem harsh, but, ironically, it’s for a good cause. NO, it’s simply a twisted way coming from a twisted perspective (austerity seen from the penthouse) to utterly mishandle an issue by whipping the horse that pulls your cart and then having the audacity to exclaim (oh the irony) it’s for your own good.

    Moreover, I would be very surprised if this was simply “a car” issue, and also strongly suspect that a vague suspension of the “target the poor” tax on fuel is not really “winning” because 1) it looks like simple political maneuvering (a hiatus and not a revocation) and 2) the issues are much bigger than simply a single instance of Government over-reach and this response (permanent or temporary) is not addressing the larger issue at all. And that issue is austerity in general and the slow and hard earned recognition on the part of the French middle and lower class that each instance of government abuse is but another brick in the path to an impossibly bleak future (and no matter what mask – socalist, populist, communist, let’s try radical right, whatever – each subsequent politician puts on, the results are the same).

    I suspect this event is something along the lines of a French equivalent to the Brexit vote. A single flash point that expresses a sort of blind and groping recognition of an extreme problem and the usual subsequent obfuscation by all concerned as a response. This may be a tactical win for now, but it is far from over.

    1. JTMcPhee

      Too bad it does not seem that the polity can articulate the kind of organizing principle(s) and elements of a decent way for humans to live in concert with each other and the biosphere we all are bound to. Many of us know what we DON’T want, not many of us seem to agree on what we SHOULD need, too many just look to have “more for themselves.” Atomization and individuation seem to have squashed a lot of the older knowledge that might have served as rootstock for such motivations. But then there are a lot of really “smart” people ladling the sauce Bernaysien onto the wholly owned and well-cooked organs of public perception, doing their darndest to submerge or foil or turn any such articulations.

      And maybe the fact that it took 200,000 years for humanity to reach 1 billion and only 200 years to reach 7.8 billion offers a clue ? Asymptotic functions are not favored in nature…

      1. Wukchumni

        In 1944, 29 reindeer were introduced to the island by the United States Coast Guard to provide an emergency food source. The Coast Guard abandoned the island a few years later, leaving the reindeer. Subsequently, the reindeer population rose to about 6,000 by 1963 and then died off in the next two years to 42 animals. A scientific study attributed the population crash to the limited food supply in interaction with climatic factors (the winter of 1963–64 was exceptionally severe in the region). By the 1980s, the reindeer population had completely died out.


        1. JacobiteInTraining

          In 300,000 BC, Homo Sapiens were introduced/induced to the Earth from predecessor species by the Galactic Authority to provide an emergency food source. The Authority abandoned Earth a few milennia later, leaving Homo Sapiens. Subsequently, the Homo Sapien population rose to about 3 billion by 1963 and then died off in the next 100 years to 42 humans. A scientific study attributed the population crash to the limited food supply in interaction with climatic factors war and pollution (the nuclear winter of 2020-70 was exceptionally severe on the planet). By the 2100s, the Homo Sapien population had completely died out.

          (Note: This study closely mimics one done on Mars by the previous Administration somewhat earlier in time. The Galactic Authority is currently working on lab grown 3D-printed Homo Sapiens as a more reliable emergency food source for Klandathuu cocktail parties)

          EDIT: heehee….JEHR beat me to it. :)

  11. Louis Fyne

    I read a wonderfully conspiratorial article that asked the purely hypothetical if part of the yellow vests were astroturfed by MI6.

    As the yellow vests protests played out just as a color revolution would.

    I hope I’m still around if this is ever proven true by declassified archives.

    1. juliania

      They remind me more of Occupy.

      An extract from Yves’s opening comments is excellent on this:

      “… The globalised metropolises are the new citadels of the 21st century – rich and unequal, where even the former lower-middle class no longer has a place. Instead, large global cities work on a dual dynamic: gentrification and immigration. ..”

      1. SimonGirty

        Just imagine: President Clinton facing down heavily armed ofay suburbanites, once their deisel trucks become three ton barricades (not even desperate repo-men could be bothered to collect?) At least, once the ‘baggers lose mobility for all their rifles and 75lb SHTF/ BOBs, they’ll be able to listen to Clear Channel for instructions on whom to blame… until the battery finally dies, just like on Squidbillies?


  12. jfleni

    The Russians have no problems despite living in the BIGGEST country in the world; they have tens of thousands of electric trolley buses going everywhere for pennies or kopecks.

    There is no way the rich can isolate people, and keep them from working. In Europe or USA they say just get another sh##box and keep on getting
    swindled pilgrim. Good luck plutocrats!

  13. Carlito Riego

    My 2 cents.

    I’m French, though living in Luxembourg (that’s close enough so that I could worry several times about how to get around without getting stuck).

    My view point is definitely tainted (social status, education…).

    I was rather supportive of the Yellow Vests, seeing it as a revolt of the hinterland against the elites living in the cities. However, this assessment has been revised thanks to exchanges with my brother. He sent me this link (in French) https://www.alternatives-economiques.fr/france-peripherique-succes-dune-illusion/00087254 which basically says: this hinterland / cities rivalry is bogus. You read right.

    Mr Olenick notes in his article that cities are indeed becoming more polarized (ultra rich / ultra poor) but middle class continue to seek refuge outside of them to enjoy the big life (small house + garden). So the Yellow Vest can be seen as people defending unsustainable standards of living: a big house, a big car, and some 80km / day to commute to work. Btw, the commute between Luxembourg and Thionville (the nearest French town) takes 2 hours everyday instead of 20 minutes during the weekends, just because of people driving alone to work. Trains ? They’re full and unfortunately too often unreliable.

    Yes, France is changing with little shops disappearing. But the country can’t stay stuck in the past. New companies and business models are still emerging and so far it remains quite resilient, though not enough to procure jobs for everyone.

    Clearly, this new fuel tax mess was entirely avoidable and poorly crafted. Taxing people with cars that are already struggling is stupid. To add insult to injury, well meaning city people tell them to take their bikes (before going themselves by plane to somewhere exotic half way around the globe).

    How can you be either pro or against these Yellow Vests ? They’re both wrong and legitimate.

    A true change in the economical system is required, with actual incentives to develop greener practices at all levels.

    That was my 2 cents.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      If the elites really want to address climate change, they might consider a shared effort. In WWII, in the US, that was surprisingly the case – the war effort was shared by rationing the well to do (not so much the super rich with political influence) right along side the middle class. Women along side of older men from rich to poor were welding ships right along side each other. It wasn’t perfect or as rosy as the posters over-blatantly proclaimed, but it was largely sincerely felt to be an effort where “we all pulled together.” Of course in WWII it was more than just shared sacrifce; it was also heavy investment that was also far more equally distributed than austerity harnessed ruthlessly to privatization and thus further public impoverishment.

      1. Pym of Nantucket

        I agree that there is good evidence for communal effort if people feel motivated enough. Cell phones seem to be an excellent way to control and manipulate large numbers of people in the same way nationalism did for WWII. Unfortunately there seems to be a huge prisoner’s dilemma around taking action because of the perception that taking action on climate change is a sacrifice made for the common good. I think soon it will be obvious that change will bring long AND short term benefit, and it will take off. The amount of retooling and resource use needed to change to renewables alone is daunting and it’s obvious we’ve put this off too long to avoid very nasty and near-permanent effects.

      2. JTMcPhee

        The elites, let us remember, those lovers of Empire, are the ones who, as a class, with little observance of national loyalties or boundaries (IBM and Ford fostering the Nazi efforts, e.g,, Krupp selling guns to all sides) across the globe, brought on those World Wars and now the eternal global war on Whatever. Anyone really think that the Banksters and MIC types are about to go all communal and start “sharing,” any more than they and the millions happy to participate in the black markets that exploded during those Great World Wars? Abroad, http://www.worldwar2history.info/Army/profiteers.html , and at home? https://www.auburn.edu/%7Ejohnspm/gloss/black_market

        How many Gilets Jaunes would trade their vests for a nice Saville Row bespoke suit and an office with a view of the mob from way above? I would hope the answer is “darn few,” but history, you know…

        1. Brooklin Bridge

          Agree with your bleak assesment and yes it needs to be repeated, but regardless the origins and underlying motives and the massive propaganda that brought such a response in WWII, that response was communal and cut across economic strata in a way no effort has done since.

          As to your last paragraph, again yes; we are human. Take away the nots in have-… and we frequently scramble the hardest to pull up the ladder behind ourselves -a la Bob Dole – and become the very monster we abhorred.

          But what ever our evolutionary shortcomings, and whatever our political and economic reality, and regardless of the profit driven elite origins of Climate Change, we won’t get out of it by simply putting the whip to the have-lesses (and the failure to pull together on climate change with that kind of war effort may indeed be our Achilles heel as a species).

    2. Pym of Nantucket

      Change will come. It will be a combination of policy moves, and simply people reacting to the conditions of their lives which are changing. Meeting climate equilibrium will come with a combination of modernization and electrification (the ideal but difficult path) or de-industrialization and depopulation (the trivial solution, which will be quite unpleasant). The equilibrium point might be a baked wasteland stripped of large species or a modern utopia running on renewables and organic food. Based on what humans have done for the past centuries, I think the elites think we will have both since it seems hard to organize a global consensus with billions of people, they’ll set themselves up in the hidden utopias near the poles while the rest die off or carry on in a desert dystopia. Maintaining this population seems unlikely in equilibrium with the rest of the biosphere. The assumptions of the entire system are so completely in denial of our physical limits and ability to organize ourselves, I am amazed we carry on assuming we’re going to work this out.

      Standing in front of a moving steam roller is not a stable state. Either you move or get flattened. You may choose to wave your fist at the steam roller for a while during its slow approach. That may be what the gilet jaunes action is.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Based on history, the elites will be replaced by their guards as soon as the guards perceive the elites don’t hold sway over the populace. The Jannisaries, the Praetorian, the German hordes hired to defend the empire, and even JFK and the other WWII veterans who ran for office and often ignored the machines of the day. Attaturk , Nasser, the Baath Party, and so forth.

        The guards fear the elites unleashing the crowd. Vox Populi Vox Dei. The Boston Marathon manhunt was called off because the various federal and state agencies couldn’t maintain supplies or rotate personal.

        1. Chauncey Gardiner

          A tweet yesterday evening may be telling in this regard. Writer said that when Macron stated he would impose a State of Emergency against the gilets jaunes, the firefighters turned their backs. She also said that many members of the police removed their helmets to show solidarity with the French people, and posted a related short video clip.


  14. Acacia

    Note that while Edouard Philippe just announced a moratorium on the fuel tax, the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, said that in response to the protests of the gilets jaunes, the govt should accelerate moves to lower taxes, « Mais pour cela il faut accélérer la baisse de la dépense publique. Et nous sommes décidés à nous engager dans cette voie ». (“But for that it is necessary to accelerate the decrease in public expenditures. And we have decided to pursue this path.”)


    To me, this sounds like a threat to cut public spending, basically to punish French taxpayers for having challenged the planned tax increases (and weren’t those supposedly about climate change in the first place?).

    1. Grebo

      This tends to confirm my reaction that the moratorium is not a capitulation but a stratagem. Not very smart of Le Maire to flap his lips like that. If I had a yellow vest I would be thinking about sending him a message.

    2. Brooklin Bridge

      Yes. This is exactly what one would expect. These people, Macron, etc., have very little notion of life on the ground. They truly believe in aristocracy wrapped up like un pain au chocolat and sold as a meritocracy or at least they have no space in thier mind set for any other reality. You have money or still have the vestiges of wealth, or, quite simply, you are a beast of burden..

      To actually give in to this racaille, as Sarkozy would have described the demonstrators, would be unthinkable.

  15. Carolinian

    The great Diana Johnstone–Paris resident–now has an article on this including this tidbit relevant to many discussions around here. The worldwide neoliberal stupid, it burns:

    In the past few years, there has been a growing government campaign to encourage, and finally to oblige people to subscribe to a “mutuelle”, that is, a private health insurance plan, ostensibly to fill “the gaps” not covered by France’s universal health coverage. The “gaps” can be the 15% that is not covered for ordinary illnesses (grave illnesses are covered 100%), or for medicines taken off the “covered” list, or for dental work, among other things. The “gaps” to fill keep expanding, along with the cost of subscribing to the mutuelle. In reality, this program, sold to the public as modernizing improvement, is a gradual move toward privatization of health care. It is a sneaky method of opening the whole field of public health to international financial capital investment. This gambit has not fooled ordinary people and is high on the list of complaints by the Gilets Jaunes.

    Much more here:


    1. Eclair

      Good find, Carolinian. “This gambit has not fooled ordinary people ….” As noted in an earlier comment, ” On nous prend vraiment pour des idiots.” Exactement!

  16. vidimi

    the violent “parisian” casseurs are for the most part not parisians but people who came to protest in paris from the outside. also, i wouldn’t discount the presence of agents provocateurs to discredit the movement. in my social circle, people are very sympathetic to the gilets jaune and accuse the media of portraying them in a false light. there was an incident when the élysée press apparently photoshopped a gilet jaune doing the sig heil.

    i think more than anything, the gilet movement is the french equivalent of the iraq war, the moment the french public lost faith in the mass media reporting to them. this all but ensures that the next president will be a populist, whether from the left or the right. j’ose espérer que ça sera melenchon.

    1. Massinissa

      If theres a bunch of protesters in America dressing up in American flags, it will be incredibly easy for the media to paint them as right wing nuts (even if their platform is progressive).

      It doesn’t strike me as a great idea.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        But it might be harder for the various kinds of police to teargas them all, or taser them all, or kettle them all, or shoot them all, if they are dressed up in American flags. It might be a form of “safe protesting” or at least “safer protesting”.

  17. Summer

    Around Armistice Day, Macroneon was calling for a buildup of a Euro Army.
    Militaries are the biggest consumers of fossil fuels.
    They want plenty of oil to continue the wars for resources still continuing and which they all will deny. “They” being the biggest players at the alleged “climate accords,” which are totally about global resource allocation.

  18. nobody

    “The human aspect needs to come first, before money. This cannot last any longer. When you don’t have enough to make ends meet and you arrive at blockade sites and you realize that you are privileged because you have a job and make a bit over a thousand euros a month while there are retired people, older people, who even fought for France who get 800, 900 euros and don’t make ends meet, c’est juste incroyable.”

    — One of the Gilets Jaunes to a reporter


    Liste des 42 revendications des gilets jaunes

  19. Peter Pan

    Is it true that ambulance drivers/companies are going on strike against new rules imposed by Macron’s government? If so, how will this impact the countryside of France?

  20. Kevin Nell

    This is why nothing serious will ever get done about pricing carbon or reducing GHG emissions.

  21. Wukchumni

    It seems like Max Mad, largely over oil.

    Hey, there’s some movie potential here, does Mel Gibson speak French?

    1. BlakeFelix

      Although carbon/fuel taxes ARE the environmental measures. They should fund spending to counter their regressive nature, like a UBI. Discouraging people from living far from work and driving old gas hogs with no emission control to jobs that barely pay enough to buy the fuel to burn is what the taxes should do. The tax adds to their poverty, but the poverty is caused by high consumption and low productivity. Counter a carbon tax with a UBI and it discourages consumption while encouraging productivity and helping efficiently reduce inequality.
      Exempting jet fuel and such to make them more regressive is both terrible optics and terrible policy, but many “environmental measures” are similarly misguided, and the money tends to go to government salaries rather than helping the poor impacted by the tax.

  22. Sound of the Suburbs

    Right wing think tanks spend their time working out which taxes are progressive and which taxes are regressive as they want to shift the tax burden from top to bottom.

    Fuel taxes looked good.

    The final straw that broke the camel’s back.

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