Why Paris is on Fire Over Taxes, Literally

Paris is burning. As the country struggles to deal with fuel tax riots based on a traditional French incentive to riot, high cost of living, rioters stormed central Paris and torched cars, buildings, and shops, all while looting whenever possible. The outbreak of violence and arson followed two weeks of national protests against fuel taxes and living costs, known locally as the “yellow vest” movement since all French drivers must keep fluorescent jackets in their vehicles at all times[1].

Jeanne d'Hauteserre, mayor of Paris’ eight district, said of the escalating violence, “We are in a state of insurrection. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Social media exacerbated the situation and enabled protestors to coordinate, blocking roads across France and interfering with access to shopping malls, factories, and fuel depots. The protestors are certainly making themselves heard, but the Parisian economy is suffering as a result. “Parts of central Paris that should have been packed with tourists and Christmas shoppers resemble battle zones,” observed a Reuters reporter, adding, “Smoke and tear gas hung in the air and debris littered the ground.” Some estimates indicate hotels and department stores stand to lose millions while grocers in the French capital are running out of food.

The protests began as a response to French president Emmanuel Macon’s decision to raise taxes, particularly on gas. Macon’s approval rating fell 26 percent in response to these policy decisions[2]. Macron has criticized the movement, saying that it has “nothing to do with peaceful expression of legitimate anger” and adding that in situations where “pedestrians or journalists are threatened or the Arc de Triomphe is sullied,” there is simply no justification[3].

Jessica Reed, a features editor at the Guardian US, wrote an article attempting to explain the French’s ongoing determination to protest, and protest violently[4]. “It’s the only way they [the French] know how to feel heard,” she wrote. “Sometimes, they win, and when they do, it’s always a huge triumph that makes them feel powerful and vindicated – at least long enough to keep going until the next big fight – without considering…another revolution.”

She warned, however, that things could change in the coming years as a new French “union-less middle class” finds strikes bothersome because commuters dislike having trains canceled and often do not find a great deal of solidarity with protestors. However, in today’s riots, this may be less the case, since fuel taxes affect (and outrage) everyone.

Do you fear that French riot sentiments could spread to the United States?







[1] http://news.trust.org/item/20181201213945-0zp86

[2] https://www.axios.com/paris-gas-tax-macron-protests-yellow-vests-fb2e7dc4-07c2-4325-a8c6-1c26273f558e.html

[3] https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1052915/paris-protest-france-news-emmanuel-macron-yellow-vest-protest-fuel-price

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/10/why-do-the-french-protest-so-much-google