“To defeat populism, America needs its own Macron–a charismatic leader who can make centrism cool” wrote Max Boot in June 2017, one month after Emmanuel Macron was elected president in France. I always felt that calling Macron a “centrist” is a remarkable misrepresentation of his hard neo-liberal ideology. But the extent of his radical refashioning of France’s social fabric is becoming clear only now in the wake of the Yellow Vest Rebellion, at least for those who don’t follow French politics closely, like myself.
Until recently, France was one of the few major Western countries that resisted the world-wide trend to growing economic inequality. Not anymore. Macron’s government has enacted a comprehensive program of reforms seemingly (or, more likely, intentionally) designed to make the poor poorer, and the rich richer. Pensions have been frozen (but solidarity taxes on pensioners were increased), minimal wages were frozen, but at the same time taxes on the very rich were reduced. Increasing the taxes on gasoline, which triggered the rebellion, hits the poor much more than the rich. It also hits the rural areas more, and by most accounts the majority of Yellow Vests are provincials.
The assault on France’s social state is remarkably comprehensive, and includes measures affecting the health system, education, and transport infrastructure (see this article by Diana Johnstone for more detail). The result of these policies has been graphically plotted in this BBC graph:
There are few more striking illustrations of the Matthew Principle (which says, ICYMI, that the rich will get richer, while the poor will become poorer; more on this in Chapter 10 of my War and Peace and War). Thanks to Macron, in 2018 France gained the dubious distinction of having the second highest number of new millionaires in the world. The first one is, of course, the United States. But proportionally speaking, France beats US in the rate of growth: 14 percent per year (compared to 5 percent in the US)! Macron really earned the distinction of being the president for the rich.
For any student of history, the Yellow Vest Rebellion immediately brings to mind the Yellow Turban Rebellion that ended the corrupt Eastern Han Dynasty in the second century AD:
That peasant rebellion, like most popular uprisings, was eventually suppressed. What will be the ultimate fate of the Yellow Vests? The future will tell.