PARIS -- Walking near my home last Saturday, the cool air was tinged by the distinct smell of burning rubber. Several black helicopters circled over one of the world's most beautiful streets, where thousands of people in bright yellow vests were gathered, holding signs with slogans such as "Death to Taxes."
After more than 10 years of living in this city, you learn to view mass protests as just part of the scenery, like the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre. They're typically led by leftist groups, whether labor unions seeking more money or better entitlements in a country that already provides them in spades, or Antifa/black bloc anarchist types opposed to capitalism in a country that's the antithesis of capitalist ideology.
This time, the ongoing protests have a much different feel. So who are these "gilets jaunes" ("yellow jackets")?
Since May 2015, the French government has mandated that all motorists keep yellow vests in their cars to be worn roadside in case of an accident. The yellow jacket movement began as an objection to a tax increase on automobile fuel, hence the symbolism of the roadside emergency jackets. Increases of 14 percent on gasoline and 23 percent on diesel fuel in the past year are a continuation of a socialist policy first enacted under former French President Francois Hollande to tax people out of their cars for the sake of the environment.
Current French President Emmanuel Macron has persisted in promoting a massively punitive "green" fiscal policy that disproportionally targets the working backbone of French society. Overload it, and it's eventually going to snap.
Although there appear to be no formal leaders of the yellow jacket movement, it's telling that its eight spokespeople are mostly young entrepreneurs. In France, small-businesses owners and the self-employed are typically hit with taxes that can amount to over half of total income. In return, these people can access only a fraction of the benefits and protections enjoyed by salaried employees. Many of these people would prefer that the government leave more money in their pockets so that they'd have the resources to take care of themselves.
But it's not only entrepreneurs who are out protesting now. It's also members of the working class, who are tired of government taking their money and wasting it on crony corporatism and mismanagement.
It takes exceptional gullibility to believe that giving more money to the government -- whether in the form of increased fuel taxes or otherwise -- is going to make any kind of a dent in the climate. Governments can't even properly manage environmental initiatives in their own towns, let alone anything at the atmospheric level.
The city of Paris, for example, blew tens of millions of euros on an electric car program. The contract was awarded to one of the big French multinationals. When the program ran deep into the red and the provider wanted out, the city wanted to keep the electric charging network for future use, so it wrote a multimillion-euro check to the provider. However, the city neglected to also purchase the software necessary to interface with the charging stations, rendering them useless.
It's the average French taxpayer who's going to be footing the bill for such a fiasco, so it's not like the people running things care too much. Losses are always socialized while gains are privatized.
While the electric cars may be gone due to inept management, a series of new bikes have recently popped up around the city. It's highly symbolic (and not that surprising) that some of them ended up getting tossed into the bonfires that were set on the Champs-Elysees on Saturday.
These are the protests that proponents of individualism and true capitalism have been waiting for. They aren't about nationalism, populism or globalism. They have nothing to do with objection to the European Union or supranational governance. This revolt is about the rejection of socialism and corporatism (which is the corruption of capitalism through government cronyism at the corporate level) by people who want freedom from the oppression of government micromanagement and taxation, and who have lost faith in the government to spend their taxes wisely and appropriately.
This is France's true capitalist revolt. The only question remaining is whether it can actually lead to a full revolution. Macron understands capitalism and the free market, but he has an obsession with this "cash for climate change" nonsense and seems intent on sticking with it. It's a pretext for a communist-style cash grab, and the French people know it. Is that really the hill on which this otherwise pragmatic leader wants his political legacy to perish?