Virgil: The Government vs. the Middle Class–Today in France, Tomorrow in the U.S.

French Protests, Tea Party Protests AP
AP Photos

The Fight in France, Today

It’s important to understand that the fuel tax that is roiling France—anti-tax protesters being met by tear gas and water cannons in the heart of Paris—is exactly the sort of tax that the greens have in mind for America. 

In other words, the French fuel tax, and the “yellow vest” demonstrations against it, are likely a sneak peek into what’s in store in the U.S. if left-green Democratic progressives ever get back in power. 

It’s also important to understand that the issues raised by the tax are bigger than just the tax itself.  As the Associated Press explained, the yellow-vest activists “started as protests against tax but morphed into a rebuke of President Emmanuel Macron and the perceived elitism of France’s ruling class.”  As The New York Times added, “Welling up rapidly from rural and forgotten France, this broad-based, citizen-driven movement is among the most serious challenges yet to  Macron.”  

The French president certainly makes for a fat target.  In his quest for grandeur, he has compared himself to King Louis XIV–who decreed the construction of the fabled palace of Versailles—and even to the Roman god Jupiter.   

Yet as the Times noted, Macron is not the only target; the other target is the capital city of Paris, boasting a hegemonic attitude toward the rest of the country.  You see, Paris has the same relationship to France as Washington, D.C., does to the United States.  Except that Paris is also the financial and cultural center of the country, and so, in effect, Paris is like D.C. and New York City combined.  Now that’s a powerful load of political, financial, and cultural arrogance.  

Indeed, the arrogance of the big cities seems to be increasing.  As Virgil argued recently in a Breitbart News piece on “the geography of plutocracy,” the rich are increasingly “clustering in a few global-oriented urban nodes,” for the sake of both commerce and culture.  These nodes include, of course, D.C. and New York, and they also include Paris.  In other words, the global metropolises are now thinking that they have more in common with each other than with their own surrounding hinterlands. 

So it’s not surprising that the political ideas—maybe that should be, political dictates—that descend from the capitals to the provinces are so similar.  That is, if you live in the imperial city, it’s easy to think imperial thoughts.  And to issue imperial decrees.  

For instance, big cities tend to have an aversion to the automobile.  Urbanites often rely on mass transit, or, these days, a gig-economy transit service, such as Uber.  To people in cities, even if they happen to own a car, cars as a category are likely to be regarded as a problem—as a source of congestion and pollution.  The idea that anyone might actually need a vehicle to commute to work, or to take the kids to school—or maybe to have fun on weekends—well, that’s not a widely held view in the big city. 

Ironically, urban dwellers are also the most devoutly green.  Perhaps because they see so little greenery in their day-to-day lives—surrounded as they are by steel and concrete—city people tend to make the biggest donations to green groups, even as they save up for that big eco-tourism trip.  

In the meantime, urbanites also have their well-known disdain for everyone who lives anywhere else.  San Francisco-born folk singer Malvina Reynolds, for instance, once mocked suburbia in her widely covered folk song, “Little Boxes.”  Sample lyric: “Little boxes on the hillside/ Little boxes made of ticky-tacky/ … And they all look just the same.”  And as for those further out?  Well, here’s Karl Marx, a city slicker if there ever was on, commenting on “the idiocy of rural life.” 

So it’s not surprising that leaders from urban backgrounds—Macron was a Paris-based investment banker and top government official before ascending to the presidency in 2017—come up with policies that express their disdain for non-city dwellers. 

It’s worth recalling that the last Democratic president, Barack Obama, had a little bit—okay, maybe more than a little bit—of Macron in him.  As president, Obama pushed for a 54.5 miles-per-gallon fuel efficiency standard, and when the industry said that such a standard could not be achieved, he pushed it anyway.  (The Trump administration has been dialing it back.)  And of course, the Obama administration’s 2009 “cap-and-trade” proposal was a giant stock-market bubble in the sky, aimed at rewarding speculators while costing fuel-users.  (Mercifully, the Senate Republicans blocked that at the time.) 

Now, a decade later, as the green goal of fighting “climate change” has gained even more momentum, Macron has his fuel tax, even as his stated aim is to eliminate all internal combustion vehicles by 2040.  And so while his fuel taxes are relatively small—the equivalent of 12 cents a gallon for gasoline, 24 cents a gallon for diesel—their significance is huge, because it’s the thin edge of a very fat wedge.  

Indeed, we can add that the insult of it all is even more wounding, because it’s so obvious that the new taxes are part of a larger anti-middle class agenda. 

So maybe that’s why Macron’s popularity has crumbled.  Yes, he has High France cheering him on, but Les Deplorables are wise to him.  Today Macron enjoys, if that’s the right word, a 26 percent approval rating.  That’s more than 20 points lower than his predecessor in the Élysée Palace, François Hollande, at the same point in his term—and Hollande was a one-termer.

Yet even so, Macron has indicated that he won’t back down.  “We must not change course, because the policy direction is right and necessary,” he pronounced on November 27.  As a matter of fact, he doubled down, labeling the yellow vest protesters “thugs.”  In other words, the green fuel tax is a hill upon which Macron is willing to die, politically.

The Fight in the U.S., Tomorrow

So now, coming back to the U.S.A.,  what are the Democrats going to do?   Given their green-lefty bent these days, it’s a safe bet that they, too, like Macron, will be targeting the automobile, the truck—and even the humble snowblower.  

Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the new face of progressive politics, recently tweeted, “People are going to die if we don’t start addressing climate change ASAP.”  

In the meantime, there’s that big new report on “climate change” released on November 23 by the Deep State—oops, the federal government—that says, once again,  We’re all going to die unless we do exactly as the greens say.  (A useful assessment of the report, from Breitbart News, can be found here.) 

So now it’s not just “AOC”—as the New York lawmaker-to-be is known to her hordes of social-media followers—putting on the pressure to “do something”; more establishment Democrats, too, are joining the green chorus.  

One such is Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), incoming chair of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee: “The days of denial and inaction in the House are over as House Democrats plan to aggressively address climate change.” 

So if that’s the mandate—“to aggressively address climate change”—well, then, the Democrats will have to get going.  And that getting will have to include an assault on the middle class, because that’s where the carbon is; the U.S. economy emits about five billion metric tons of carbon dioxide a year.  

Thus we come to the Democrats’ go-to friend: taxes.  After all, other than outright prohibition or rationing, taxes are the quickest way to make a point—that is, how to tell the Deplorables to knock it off with the carbon.  To be sure, the American greens have greater ambitions than just taxing carbon—like Macron, they yearn to eliminate it entirely— but one must start somewhere.  

In fact, the green taxers already have their road map.  In February 2017, a private group calling itself the Climate Leadership Council unveiled its plan for a $40-a-ton carbon tax.  

Of course, the Climate Leadership folks chose not to call it a tax—they called it, instead, a dividend.  You see, they promised—promised!—that all the money raised by the carbon tax would be rebated back to consumers.  (You believe that, right?)

We might note that a $40-a-ton gas tax works out to 36 cents per gallon of gas.  Since the average American driver puts in around 13,500 miles behind the wheel each year, assuming an average of 25 miles per gallon, that’s a total annual consumption of about 540 gallons.  And at 36 cents a gallon, that works out to $194 per average motorist.  

Would such a tax really get American drivers’ hackles up, as it has in France?   Answer: Probably, because here, like there, folks can see the real motivation of the taxers.  That is, the greens aim is to insult motorists, and people have a way of noticing when they are being aimed at. 

Of course, since President Trump has said he opposes any such carbon tax, it appears that we’ll have to wait till the Democrats get back in the White House for them to impose it. 

As is the usual for such groups, the Climate Leadership Council is replete with fatcat establishmentarians, including former Cabinet secretaries and former Goldman Sachs executives—and one of them, Hank Paulson, was both.  And yes, this is pretty much the same establishment that’s been running U.S. policy for the past few decades; notably, our friend Paulson was the treasury secretary during the 2008 financial meltdown, and was thus the mastermind of the Big Bailout.  That’s an encouraging credential, eh?  

Back in 2017, Virgil wrote critically about the carbon tax, here and here.   

More recently, voters aren’t showing much love for the idea, either.  Just in November, citizens in Washington State, one of the greenest states in the union, rejected a $15-a-ton carbon tax.  Indeed, they rejected it by a 14-point margin.  And we can note that the proposed tax in the Evergreen State was less than half the size of the tax urged by the Climate Leadership folks.

So the the history of carbon taxes, in France and the U.S., shouldn’t fill the Democrats with confidence about their approach.  Yet having talked so much about “climate change,” Democratic lawmakers are unlikely to back down now.  Indeed, they know that the same lefty-green base that provided so much juice this year is eager to launch primary challenges against “moderate” Democrats—as did, of course, the great AOC herself.   

In the meantime, to get ready, American activists on the right—including the Tea Partiers, who have been quiet for a while—might wish to study what’s happening in France today, as the yellow vests fight in defense of the classe moyenne.  

Yes, it’s France’s middle class that’s fighting today, but it could be ours tomorrow.  So a trans-Atlantic “exchange program” of anti-tax activists would be helpful.  

After all, the French have helped our patriots before.   

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