March 25, 2019

Whose Side Are the Yellow Vests On, Anyways?

“To conservative opponents of the gentry leftism that often seems blind to the impact that their market-distorting policies and regressive tax schemes have on average people, there is a lot to like about France’s “gilets jaunes” (Yellow Vests). Their movement was spontaneous and organic. It was composed early on of rural, middle-class professionals who simply could not afford French President Emmanuel Macron’s “green tax” on fuel. The wave of protests ignited by Macron’s “de-carbonization” plan exposed precisely how shallow public support for green initiatives is when the costs are no longer hypothetical. American conservatives might be tempted to sing this movement’s praises, but that would be ill-considered.

The Yellow Vests are many things, but they are not anti-tax. They’re certainly not for the kind of smaller government championed by Macron’s government. Following the announcement that the Yellow Vests had forced the French president to suspend the implementation of his gas tax for six months, Yellow Vest spokesmen Benjamin Cauchy sounded a note of defiance. “Our demands are much bigger than this moratorium,” he said. “We want a better distribution of wealth, salary increases.” Indeed, one of the Yellow Vests’ central grievances is one of Macron’s first acts as president: a substantial reduction of the tax burden on France’s high earners. Among the “people’s directives” the Yellow Vests endorsed are an increase in the minimum wage, a “maximum wage” that caps income at €15,000 per month, the repeal of tax credits for employers, rent controls, dramatic increases in public spending on schools, post offices, and railroads, a ban on outsourcing, and a lower retirement age.”

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