Why the French protest.

Summary: The media tends to write about those wacky Yellow Vest protesters in France who oppose carbon taxes that can save the world. But they have very good reasons to dislike their leaders. Here are reasons that the news media forgot to mention.

“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.
— Peter Turchin in “The Yellow Vest Rebellion.” Much like the GOP in America.

Why the French protest.

France - social mobility and income inequality

France’s real GDP has risen 73% in France since 1987. But people don’t care about aggregate GDP; we care about real per capita GDP. Since 1987, France’s has risen 44% (thru Q1 2017). France’s has grown faster than America’s since 1960 (the full range on FRED). But it has not been shared well among the people of France. They are angry about this.

The OECD’s “A Broken Social Elevator? How to Promote Social Mobility” (2018) shows why many of France’s people have lost confidence in their elites, looking at its inequality and social mobility (also see this supplement, with the video and presentation). These are two of key factors that can boost or erode a nation’s social cohesion. As the above graph shows, France performs poorly for its people compared to its OECD peers.

The report has a fact sheet for each nation. France’s sheet reads like a “let’s riot” pamphlet for the Yellow Vests movement.

  • France has high income inequality compared with their peers, which is associated with low social mobility. It’s a double whammy on the middle and lower classes. This is considered a disgrace for many in a nation whose national tradition values “Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality.” Inequality has increased across the OECD since 1990.
  • France has low income mobility. Since 1990 mobility has fallen in France for those at the top (more persistence) and the bottom (stronger ceilings).
  • France’s education mobility is below average for the OECD, sad for a nation that for so long was a leader in its national school system. “Despite widespread access to early childhood education and free education, young people’s chances of having a successful career depend heavily on the neighborhood in which they grew up and the …
  • Income mobility is higher for those in the middle class than the rich or poor. That means opportunity to move up but scary odds of falling. The risk of falling has increased during the past two decades.
  • The French people look at the Nordic nations, which have higher social mobility in terms of both income and education. Canada and New Zealand also have good social mobility. That is discouraging for a nation with glorious history and high self-regard.

Rather than address these problems, Macron has made them worse. His 2018 – 2019 budget was a step too far for many in France.

BBC graph: effect of new French budget
BBC, 6 December 2018.

The people of France are angry, with good reason. But we should be angry, too.

Here is a picture of the United States.

The OECD has a fact sheet for the USA. It is nothing to be proud of.

USA - social mobility and income inequality

We are similar to France, with a double dose of social pathology. How soon until we see people with Yellow Vests marching in America’s streets? But we can still change path.

“Nothing is written.”
— Lawrence of Arabia, in the film Lawrence of Arabia.

Other posts about the Yellow Vest protests

  1. The “yellow vest” protests in France: peasants playing.
  2. What the news media don’t mention about the Yellow Vests.
  3. Why the French protest.
  4. Hear the voice of the Right in France. The Yellow Vests do.

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about increasing income inequality and falling social mobility, about corporate profitsabout unions, and especially these. They are about America, but apply to the West.

  1. See America’s income inequality grow during 1979-2011, a driver of Campaign 2016.
  2. More proof of rising inequality, perhaps our greatest threat.
  3. An anthropologist looks at America’s growing proletariat.
  4. The Fed sounds a red alarm about rising inequality.
  5. Review of Robert Reich’s great Inequality For All.
  6. America is well-run. Not by us. Not for us.
  7. Causes of rising income inequality, makers of a New America.
  8. We’re becoming like the little people in Middle Earth.

26 thoughts on “Why the French protest.”

  1. Larry Kummer, Editor

    Protest timeline from the BBC

    17 November: 282,000 protesters – 409 wounded – 073 in custody- one dead.
    24 November: 166,000 protesters – 084 wounded – 307 in custody.
    01 December: 136,000 protesters – 263 wounded – 630 in custody.
    08 December: 125,000 protesters – 118 wounded – 974 in custody.


    1. Thank you! My live feeds deceived me. A larger and better-prepared police force yesterday must have done the trick or the peasants didn’t want a repeat of what happened on 01 December. Maybe both.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        Attribution is impossible. But the massive police presence probably dampened the violence. The number of protesters has dropped each day, suggesting that the Yellow Vests movement is losing energy. As peasants’ protests usually (not always) do.

  2. A wealth of knowledge , as usual. It looks like the protests in France have petered out. Small crowd and lots of police.

    1. Wait until they next vote. Yes, the street protests may go away. But the underlying things that led to them have not, and they will find a more effective and a more dangerous expression when there is next a chance to vote.

      France is volatile. Look at Macron. Simply not conceivable in any other European country that a candidate with a totally new party could suddenly command a majority and get elected President.

      Watch the Euro Parliament elections. Not just in France, but all over. Watch the Italian banks, also.

      Will the European Union survive long enough for the British to complete their departure from it? Of course it will, everyone says. But what you are actually looking at is a bunch of Enarques trying to run a United States of Europe, without a Congress, a Senate, a Federal Reserve, a Defense Department, a Social Security administration, an FCC, an SEC. A border force.

      What they do have is a common currency and a Supreme Court., and a sort of central bank, and they are in the process of finding out that you need rather more than that to have a viable country…. And that the lack of democracy, far from being a protection, is actually their greatest threat.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        “But the underlying things that led to them have not, and they will find a more effective and a more dangerous expression when there is next a chance to vote.”

        I appreciate the fantastic self-confidence of that prediction, but it is historically false. The far larger 1968 French protests did not produce “a more effective and a more dangerous expression”, nor did the vastly larger riots of 1965-75 in the US. Sometimes these produce large changes, but those are the exceptional cases.

        I suggest reading the first post in this series to learn why that it so.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        “not sure they have petered out.”

        “Petered out” is imprecise. Today’s protests are much less violent than those last week. Probably due, at least in part, to the massive mobilization of police and security services. The protests themselves are of little significance, unless they continue and grow. Violence is what makes them a direct challenge to the government.

        Barricades burn as new ‘yellow vest’ protests hit Paris” by Agence France-Presse, 29 minutes ago:

        “French “yellow vest” demonstrators clashed with riot police in Paris on Saturday in the latest round of protests against President Emmanuel Macron, but the city appeared to be escaping the large-scale destruction of a week earlier due to heavy security. …But the pockets of violence were a far cry from the destruction and looting of a week earlier, when some 200 cars were torched in the worst rioting in Paris in decades.

        “More than 650 protesters were detained in the capital, many of them stopped as they arrived at train stations or meeting points carrying hammers, petanque balls and other potential missiles. Police also confiscated surgical masks and goggles used to protect against the effects of tear gas. …Officials estimated that 8,000 protesters had made their way to Paris from across France, among 31,000 turning out nationwide — numbers similar to a week ago.”

        The Belgian protests are tiny. Scale is everything in these things.

  3. henrik,

    France24 reported 31,000 protesters with 8,000 in Paris and 581 arrests. Nothing like last week, with a big police force and streets cleared of cars this time. Early scuffle with lots of teargas and side streets are blocked with vehicles and police.
    I watched a four screen live feed on YouTube and every so often, film from last week came on showing it a lot worse than it was today.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      Those numbers are similar to those of last week. But with far less violence.

      Note that there were 8 thousand protesters in Paris and 8 thousand police and security services. Nationally there were 31 thousand protesters and 89 thousand police and security services.

      As I said last week, superior force is how to control protests.

  4. Larry,

    I read 75,000 last week. Yes, you were right again. Some of those feeds looked doctored with shots of burning cars from last week. RT was one of them, Russia sowing discord?

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      Showing photos and videos of past events as present ones is occasionally done by second tier news media. They don’t have the money for current video content. It’s commonplace as dirt on non-news media.

      The FM website has little of that, and less than we used to. We try to stick with authenticated material.

    2. The BBC has photos from today with burning cars; the difference seems to be that this happened in the outskirts of Paris, where there was less police presence. They have also updated the number of demonstrators to 125 000, nation-wide (but only 10 000 in Paris).

    3. I took my time to read Le Monde to confirm the numbers (my french is a bit rusty). They confirm 125 000 people and also report violence in Toulouse, Bordeaux and elsewhere.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        “They confirm 125 000 people and also report violence in Toulouse, Bordeaux and elsewhere.”

        Estimates of crowd size need sources. The AFP gave an estimate from the French government. Journalists’ estimates are fiction.

        “The BBC has photos from today with burning cars”

        As I have said before, showing photos of violence gives zero evidence of its scale.

        Also, why are you paying so much attention to this? Walk outside and look the scenery. Read poetry or history. Join a club or do charity work. Reading news about a far away event that does not concern you is like looking at an empty fireplace. Life is too short.

    4. Larry, I have family in Paris and we’re deciding if we spend Christmas there or if they come home for a couple of weeks. They don’t feel very safe at the moment, mostly from what they see happening outside their windows, not from what they see on TV.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        I suggest relying on your family in Paris to assess the situation, if you trust their judgement. I doubt very much that spending hours reading the news tells you much.

        Look at the news two days before you must buy the tickets. Not only will that provide a better basis to forecast what will happen over Christmas, but the passage of time will give you a more accurate picture of what’s happening now. On the spot news reports are only slightly better than fiction.

  5. “France has high income inequality”

    According to the figures, France has low income inequality.

    “We are similar to France”

    Except for having much better income mobility and educational mobility albeit much high income inequality.

    It seems to me that mobility is much more important than inequality. And that both inequality and mobility should be associated with a more dynamic society.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      Thanks for catching that, an important point! I tweaked the text to state this more accurately. The standard of comparison is everything. French are unhappy to be ranked lower than the Nordics, Belgium, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Switzerland, and Austria. “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality.” See the numbers in figure 2.1.

      “Except for having much better income mobility and educational mobility albeit much high income inequality.”

      More accurately – America has low (and falling) mobility vs. our peers with stunning (and increasing) income inequality. Looks similar to me. Time will tell which of us is correct about how this works out for us.

      The reports focus on education mobility is imo daft. It does not well correlate with inequality or mobility, so who cares? America turns out people with high school diplomas who are almost illiterate and can’t do simple math. We churn out hordes with Associate degrees that have minimal useful skills vs. a high school degree fifty years ago. They count that as progress, when in fact students lose years of income generation – and often leave with high debts.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      The movement has no organization or leaders. Why would you believe this? Let’s not be gullible.

    2. Gullibility may not apply: I just stated that “should have been included in the previous post” e.g. how many “news” outlets did expose this? OTHO, I’m not believer in any French coherency, but I do believe they can “achieve” another state of “rivers of green blood” (as opposed to blue blood — as the color of world money now is green).
      And don’t fool yourselves, the French are resilient and cunning. We lived in Paris for good half a year and I can attest, their knowledge of the world and it’s affairs is beyond approach for the std. American…

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        “how many “news” outlets did expose this?”

        Hopefully, none. Journalists becoming willing accomplices for activists is inexcusable, no matter how many clicks they get.

        The rest of your statement is irrelevant to this discussion. If you are giving a rebuttal, say to what.

        As for living in a France makes you an expert, color me skeptical. Americans making those kind of speeches about America are hot air.

    3. Re The Manifesto: There I see a contradiction re: “news” — hopefully none? — what that is supposed to mean in quest for New Spirit? Do you abandon the very premise of your website to make a point?
      I did not claim an expertise on anything — just stated my own experience some years ago
      BTW: The French are not as Greeks, as in to bend down to the EU demands — the French Are the EU (le suivant to Germans) and the world is watching in awe.
      In reality: The experiment of a brand new party in power in France is over and the next time around may not be to anyone’s liking, but the French.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        Please do me the courtesy of quoting me instead of making up bizarre stuff, attributing it to me, and giving a rebuttal to it. I have little tolerance for such behavior.

        I simply said that the document you pointed to is both unauthenticated and inconsistent with the obvious nature of the Yellow Vests protests.

    4. Courtesy given: I apologize for the misunderstanding…
      In the end, the skeptics were correct and our naive hopes for civility were squashed.
      OTOH, misunderstanding is a two way street. Even if the “Manifesto” was a randomly scribbled “fake,” doesn’t the content of it seem to be valid? Nobody expected that all participants in the recent riots in France would swear legions to it.
      My point? The “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” wasn’t the battle-cry of the mob taking la Bastille.

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