PARIS -- Former "Baywatch" star Pamela Anderson moved from Malibu to Marseille recently and made a trenchant observation on Twitter about the recent fuel tax protests by "Gilets Jaunes" ("Yellow Vests") motorists.
"I despise violence," Anderson tweeted, "but what is the violence of all these people and burned luxurious cars, compared to the structural violence of the French -- and global -- elites?"
The problem with France is indeed structural. The current system really isn't that much different from the old one that dominated prior to the French Revolution. The elites are still there. So is the king. He's now just called the president.
Sure, there's a democratic "choice" through voting -- just as there was a choice of seats aboard the deck of the Titanic as the ship went down. Whatever choice the French make at the voting booth these days decides little more than the flavor of sauce with which their wallets will be devoured.
Based on historical precedent, the idea that all hell could break loose in France isn't entirely far-fetched. But as long as French elites still have their heads firmly attached to their shoulders, things are still relatively fine. It's been a really long time since the guillotine was actually a thing here. But back then, when citizens were fed up with the way the elites were running the country, they burned it to the ground in order to rebuild it to their liking.
One reason there hasn't been a true rebellion is that the French still look to their elites to take care of them. As a media colleague recently explained: "We French like the idea of less government, but we also like the idea of our benefits. We have the best health care system in the world."
This is the big lie that the French have long told themselves. Many think it's just fine that the government takes so much of their hard-earned money because ultimately it's recycled back to them and others in the form of nanny-state benefits. But as a resident of France, I've seen benefits (particularly health care benefits) dwindle over the last 10 years to cover less and less, without a commensurate reduction in taxes. I've also seen French people in true need continue to suffer while the government diverts its resources to newly arrived migrants.
The Jacobin illusion of one indivisible French republic under which all are equal is a myth. The working poor are paying a disproportionate share.
Some international observers find it hard to believe that an increase in the fuel tax could set off such a reaction, arguing that there must be some invisible interventionist hand behind this revolt. Look, France is one of the most highly taxed countries in Europe. The amount of money that the average person gets to keep once the state takes its cut makes survival nearly impossible for many in the working class. You have to live here to understand that this was a ticking time bomb. The surprise really isn't that these protests are occurring now, but that they didn't start years ago.
The flip side of demanding lower taxes is potentially getting more autonomy -- members of the French working class would be responsible for managing their own resources rather than having the government take care of them. The French can't have it both ways. If they want the nanny state out of their wallets, they need to cut the umbilical cord. Are they willing to do that? Are the working-class French prepared to renounce government entitlements and benefits in exchange for lower taxes?
The French government has proposed a moratorium on the fuel tax increase. This doesn't mean it will stop finding ways to stuff its pockets with tax dollars to fund the vague promise of controlling the Earth's thermostat.
The Yellow Vests may have won the battle, but they have yet to win the war. Victory can't be declared until the French government significantly lowers taxes across the board -- and in exchange the Yellow Vests agree to increased fiscal responsibility over their own lives.