The Yellow Vest Rebellion

Peter Turchin


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“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.

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and those 1% gains in the lower middle will eventually disappear due to global labor markets amassed by the top imperial globalists, meaning everyone except the top will eventually follow the fate of the upper middle, thus the death of a whole middle class which is what exemplifies the globalism—a phenomenon of social capitalism that kills domestic middle and advances imperial globalists; underneath all this is the battle of currency hegemonies that i still dont have a full grasp of partly because of its chaotic nature with frequent stock crashes, bond insolvencies, and inflationary policies all of which again wont help the middle guys who need stable economies to survive but those stability baselines are lowered and lowered by the socialist domestic policies spiraling them into the abyss


Are Gilet jaunes the new sans culottes. 1789 graffiti was left around Paris. Unlike Amrika or UK, some say the French government rightly fears the people. Especially when the policy is effectively , let them drive Teslas.

Roger Cooper

The graph is presented rather misleadingly. A better conclusion would be that effects of the tax changes are minimal for most. The bottom fifth will see their disposable income drop by 0.2%. The upper middle class will see an income drop of 1%. If the graph was scaled to 100%, the results would be clearer.

The real issue seems to urban vs rural, not rich vs poor. Resolving Global Warming though carbon taxes disproportionately burdens the rural working classes. This may be reasonable a larger sense, as carbon usage would be lower if population was more concentrated, but don’t expect rural people to like this. The US Carbon Dividend proposal runs into this problem.

The characterization of Macron as charismatic by Max Boot seems to be wishful thinking. Neoliberal programs were more popular in the US, UK & Germany because they were sold better.

Peter van den Engel

I am not sure if Obama was a neoliberal; I don’t think so; so nothing was sold better. Nor is Trump a neo liberal.

Merkel is not a neoliberal/ but her finance minister is a conservative. Whether this was selling neoliberalism under the hood of social responsibillity thus far remains an unknown.
Whether John Cameron was a neoliberal, I don’t know (English politics has, disappeared into the fog on the channel), but his father likely was.
Theresa May is just a compromise between one party responsible for brexit/ not willing to pick up the glove, or a diplomacy move towards giving space to conservatives to respond.
It is not selling neo liberalism either.

Macron was an opportune move to take out the wind from le Pens’ movement, by suggesting new economic optimism by allowing more alternative energy; France is already based on nuclear energy; and perhaps technologies like AI.
Both failed because energy companies already have a vested interest in non renewable energy and are indirectly owned by the state – and AI is apart from being a speculative hoax, not contributing to more labour at all of course.

The result of the yellow vest uprising is not so much due to intended neo liberalism/ but to amateur understanding of fiscal policy and the consequences it will have.
Lowering taxes for companies (hence the rich) is intended to create more employment, as part of old policy in understanding economics/ but will have no effect. Either because through tax havens they still get the best results/ or because labour costs are already that inflated, it makes no sense anymore.


One aspect worth observing is whether similar uprisings begin breaking out in other EU countries. In my estimation the EU as it currently exists is doomed anyway, but such a development could have a significant effect on the timetable. Even if they do not spread, the weakening of Macron’s regime will weaken the Union, as he is one of its staunchest supporters and there was a great deal of hope placed in him (as the op-ed quoted indicates) as the man who would save the organization. This is one of the interesting twists in this particular case, in that the uprising is partially directed against a government but also, by implication at least, against a supranational body with which the government is closely associated.


Best distribution of what is underlaying the entire movement and what I was told as I spoke to hundreds of those people, they are upset with the aftershocks of the 2008 disaster. Now Macron can not meet the target by the ECB, and this while the is really not end in sight…


Aux Estats Unis, it’s difficult to dismiss white flight as a driver of climate change. Concrete, single driver cars, suburban sprawl, traffic jams, backyard barbecues. Monoculture GE crops and CAFO meat are just offshoots of it’s terminal stage? The 9.9% values specious obliviousness above any single posession. Tag team kleptocracy, where K Street writes their media’s teleprompter scripted reality, is simply another BS reality infomercial.

Benign Brodwicz

“To defeat populism”? Populism results from inequality reaching galling levels, nothing more. It is not something to be defeated but served by controlling the greed of the capitalists by forcing them to share profits with workers.


While the metaphor of Trumpism plays out in France, one thing strikes me that journalists have ignored – the subtle yet important differences. Specifically, Trump is hiding behind vague income tax changes as his method for crushing what is left of the Middle Class while using the rise in GDP and full employment as evidence that he is helping the Middle Class.

Of course, both GDP and employment data are invalid indicators of household living standards. Working 1 hour a week is not full employment except for Trump’s administration. Most Americans do not understand how corporate income taxes impact their standard of living nor the fact the GDP has little to do with their household financial situation. In contrast, Macron’s taxes more directly and identifiably impact household finances. For example, most Americans would take to the streets too if Trump rose gasoline prices to $6.40/gallon (3 times more than we pay in Florida). Not one article I have read so far provided the actual dollar figure that triggered the rebellion. They have not enabled US readers to appreciate what all the fuss is about.

Clinton Reilly

So Peter, as a predictive quantitative historian – where will this lead to to?


Is there anything to read on this new methodology you are developing?

Peter van den Engel

In my view this is comparable to the agricultural and the industrial revolution in human history, or the enlightment period. Parallel to the invention of the printing press at the time is the invention of the internet.
This is not the usual short term wave function/ but the interlude of reconstructing human society, which will take perhaps half a century, although modern evolution has sped up its pace compared to old ones.

The main fringe is surpassing an old material (economy) logic mainly represented by the financial system (referred to as neo liberal, but which only suggests a character/-while it concerns its core function itself, which is with its debt logic no longer applicable)/ and the entry point of a higher cognition level, which on its turn will reconstruct politics as a different kind of democracy which is far more intelligent and efficient.


And still some economic “pundits” are crying that some yellow vest demands, like the further increase of minimum wage will increade unemploment and the competitiveness of France (compared to germany.)

They are still not getting that the race to the bottom is the reason all this shit is currently happening…

steven t johnson

As I understand it, the purported fifty year cycle is a consequence of the age cohort structure in the population. The fathers are victorious and the sons inherit, while the losers sons know better. The struggle is not revisited until living memory of defeat and the remorseless changes from time change the hopes for victory, or fears of final defeat. The thing is, massive immigration should change the age cohort structure of the population, which by its own terms should alter the cycle. If of course I’ve understood any of the argument. This is sort of the domestic aspect of where the structural demographic dynamics are to play out. How does the loss of Algeria from France affect the cycle, to address the external aspect?

Vladimir Dinets

In most (all?) countries, recent immigrants are nowhere near majority.

Loren Petrich

It’s more like this:

One generation fights, and its child generation does not wish to fight, either from problems being resolved, or from being unwilling to repeat the experience, or both. That second generation has a child generation, but accumulated problems and/or less memory of the previous fighting mean that that third generation is much more willing to fight. That produces a two-generation or 50-year cycle of fighting and not fighting.

As to “fathers and sons”, that’s a good reflection of the demographics of politics and war, even if it is not completely inclusive. But the increasing participation of women in politics is starting to change that. Women like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the left and Marine Le Pen on the right, and more establishment ones like Nancy Pelosi and Angela Merkel and Theresa May.

J. Daniel

The yellow vest movement is different from other expressions of discontent of the masses in that it directly targets reducing wealth inequality (perhaps you could say, it is “leftist”). In contrast, other countries are seeing ideologies of discontent that do not target income inequality directly. Fulminating against immigration, isolationism, nationalism – these do not directly address wealth inequality, so it is no surprise that the elite fragments that seek to use mass discontent for their own benefit are manipulating the masses in that direction. Those elite fragments would be horrified if yellow vestism spread to their countries. What would the Republican party in the US do if their rural base started wearing yellow vests? Freak out, that’s what they would do.
If the yellow vest movement takes off internationally and maintains its focus on reducing wealth inequality, then the disintegratory phase will reach bottom and start an upturn. This is bad for the over-populated elite so the power elite in Europe and the US will rapidly start freaking if yellow vestism spreads.
Expect outraged denunciations of yellow vestism if it grows. But redistribution is the key to a turnaround so if yellow vestism doesn’t take hold things will continue to get worse until some other redistributive force occurs that does work.
I’m just trying to Channel Turchin here. Hope I got it right!

Peter van den Engel

I guess you are right. Although it is also similar to a ritual protest like occupy wallstreet was, which died out about a year after, for lacking arguments.
This ritual version though compared to that is easily interchangable (like a vest is compared to a tent) and can be called for whenever there is a reason to stand up for social justice in relation to neo liberal money accountancy which has become government policy in general, as an accepted set of rules.

This movement is not just about inequality/ but about failing government policy.
Whereby the police as a social group can identify itself with it, so makes repression harder to materialize.
Hence there are also similareties to the movement before the Berlin wall fell in 1989 because then the police also sympathised with the crowds. Not wearing any kind of colour at all. This was about 40 years after the installment of Russian governance.

As far as I understand they are also planning on different methods of protest, besides demonstrating in the streets, so it will not just depend on that.

I guess you will need a translation of elites stepping down to see if they can cooperate and translate it into new government policy, so it can start expanding into something more material.

Not all anti establishment parties are focussing on immigration and there are also still some labour leftwing reminents which could sympathise to revive their movement. Because leftwing social democrats everywhere have had severe blows in elections the past decade, loosing their electorate.
It is likely to translate to pluriform movements, also in discussion amongst eachother/ but with a similar goal.

J. Daniel

Notice the graph at the top of the posting showing a big spike in benefits to the richest of the rich in France. That reminds me of something here in the US: a state income tax exemption from any tax on capital gains in excess of $10 million. How many people in the state might benefit from that? 5 or 10? Go Arkansas!

Peter van den Engel

Yes, it’s basicly the machinery itself, of collecting money and redirecting it to the top of the hierarchy, which our economic functioning uses for reward.
The more efficient the system gets (or the broader the market) the more money is collected.
This is not political intent, but an abstract of its functioning itself in relation to its type of equation.
However at the same time it enlarges the observation of growing inequality.
In paradox the politician who observes it too, deceides more labor should be created for reaching compensation and gives a tax cut to the elite, so it could hire more people, as if it was short in money (the neo liberal concept of creating a market).
It only reaches an ever higher inequality.

In opposition to that, parallel to it becoming more efficient/ the scarcer overall demand for labor gets.
Creating a vacuum underneath the wealth bubble. This vacuum creates the downward spiral you were talking about going for the bottom, much more than the observed inequality itself. Because it is related to an opposition within its own natural evolution.

This foretells inevitably there will be an opposite reaction from the majority, because they are the majority.
Never underestimate a majority.

The expension above is not much more than air.
Even in a literal sense, athough that needs some more explanation, perhaps for another time.


On-topic inasmuch as it is an indication that there is intellectual ferment among French youth as well as violence, Mark Lilla´s article in The New York Review of Books, “Two Roads for the New French Right,” also will interest American readers like myself, who too often think of modern conservatism as divided between the personalismo of Trump, the populism of Bannon, and the remnants of the Republican party.

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