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Gilets Jaunes: French Protesters Demand Lower Taxes and More Spending

I never thought I would see the day where Antifa would protest side by side with the National Front against the French government. The day has come, and what it means for France is unclear at best.

We spent last Saturday at “Act 9” of the Gilets Jaunes protests in Paris. We marched from the Ministry of Finance to the Arc de Triomphe, growing in numbers and gathering strength as we went.


The Gilets Jaunes movement, named after the yellow high-visibility vests worn by workers, started November 17 2018, and has rattled the French political elite ever since then. The movement has five main demands:

  • The abolition of Fuel Taxes
  • The resignation of French President Emmanuel Macron
  • Direct democratic ballot initiatives similar to Switzerland or California
  • An end to austerity
  • Measures to help the working class such as a higher minimum wage

From a libertarian perspective, the Gilets Jaunes movement is a generally positive development for France, however many specific demands made by the protesters would expand the state.

The protest movement was initially triggered by the French government’s plans to increase fuel taxes. France has a 64% tax on unleaded gasoline and a 59% tax on diesel, already the highest in the EU. Fuel taxes especially hurt the working poor who are more likely to have jobs that require them to drive vehicles. As the protests continued week after week, the demands slowly expanded to include a wide range of mutually incoherent populist reforms.

Based on my own experience at the protests from speaking with the participants, I have come out with a generally positive opinion of the movement. Many of the protestors that I met were libertarian, although there were also socialists, communists, and fascists among the crowd.


French secessionists protesting with the flag of Flanders and Aragon.

When I first arrived at the Ministry of Finance to join the protestors, I found several protestors bearing regionalist separatist flags for Bretagne, Flanders, and Corsica. After speaking to them, I quickly found out that their positions could be described as roughly analogous to right-libertarianism: they supported regional autonomy or secession, opposed big government, opposed third world immigration, and supported free market capitalism. I ended up befriending the secessionists, and spending most of the day with them.


Gilet Jaune with “Deus Vult” written on his vest.

Other protestors were what I would describe as more traditionally “right wing.” During the protests, many of the people I spoke to voted for Le Pen during the 2017 election. I even saw several protesters with vaguely “alt-right” signs, such as one wearing “Deus Vult” on his vest (pictured). Le Pen, despite being generally considered as being on the right, is far from libertarian. The National Front supports the welfare state for working class French people and are opposed to a globalist welfare state open to third world immigrants.


Member of Antifa during the Gilets Jaunes protest.

There also were numerous communists, socialists, and left wing anarchists at the protest. At many times during the march, we heard large groups of Gilets Jaunes chanting “anti-capitalist action” and other leftist slogans. We also saw several protesters wearing antifa gear instead of the usual high-visibility vests (pictured). One of the antifa marchers took out a sharpie pen, and began scrawling a left wing political message on the storefront of a small business. We saw numerous signs extolling the virtues of the minimum wage, condemning the evils capitalism, and demanding an end to austerity.


We ran into two market anarchists during the protest holding “Buy Bitcoin” and “Democracy = Blockchain” signs.

We even ran into two market anarchists holding signs that said “Buy Bitcoin” and “Democracy = Blockchain.” They were marching against the French government which they argued was too controlling, and specifically told us that they saw anarcho-capitalists as their closest allies.

We saw nearly all imaginable political factions marching in unison against the French government. I think that a broad and internally contradictory political alliance like the Gilets Jaunes is fundamentally unsustainable.

The wide variety of political views expressed during the protests will make it easy for the French elite to cherry pick the most statist of the populist measures being advocated for. Like many good protest movements, there is a significant risk that it will end up being used to reform the government for the worse.

There is also a chance that the Gilets Jaunes will scare the French political elite away from further expanding the state, at least for awhile. I met enough good people at the protest, that I will continue to support the movement for the time being.

The Gilets Jaunes are a crisis, and it remains to be seen if the French leviathan will use it to expand their powers.

All the pictures were taken by Katarina Niedermair who accompanied me during the protest : http://warfaremedia.com/.


Thibault Serlet

Thibault Serlet is the Director of Research at the Adrianople Group, a business intelligence firm that  focuses on Special Economic Zones and master planned cities. He is also the architect of Open Zone  Map, the world's largest SEZ dataset. He advises for Pronomos, a VC fund that invests in new city  projects and co-founded the Startup Societies Network, a charter cities think tank. He frequently writes  about SEZs, economic history, and the open data movement.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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