Why the French protest.

by Fabius Maximus 

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.

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.

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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.
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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.

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