The recent French demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron’s gasoline tax increase may have been the first such uprising, but it probably won’t be the last — in France or elsewhere.

Hundreds of thousands of French working-class demonstrators took to the streets of Paris and other parts of the country to protest Macron’s 25-cent per gallon gas tax increase, with more increases to follow. The revenue would supposedly be used to fight climate change.

It’s not like gasoline in France is cheap. The average price of gas is about $7 a gallon, according to the Associated Press, which adjusted for the European use of liters. That’s $140 to fill up a 20-gallon tank. Ouch!

And that’s in a country where the average income is about two-thirds that of America’s.

Macron didn’t care because he, like many progressives, wants to be seen as a leader in the fight against climate change, regardless of how much that legacy costs the working class.

But it turns out his French constituents do care — a lot.


Macron was stunned by the size and determination of the spontaneous revolt. After insisting he wouldn’t cave on the gas tax, he did, and he is now promising even more concessions.

France may be the most disruptive, but it isn’t the first populist pushback.

Australia became the first country to repeal its tax on carbon emissions. That’s where the government imposes a tax on each ton of carbon released into the atmosphere.

Even though it was considered model legislation, the Aussies didn’t want it and the Senate repealed it in 2014 — after only two years. Prime Minister Tony Abbott called the tax “a useless destructive tax which damaged jobs, which hurt families’ cost of living and which didn’t actually help the environment.”

Sounds like the French demonstrators.

Closer to home, California raised the state’s gasoline tax by 12 cents last year to 55.22 cents per gallon, the second highest in the country.


Instead of rioting like the French, Californians forced a statewide tax-repeal vote last month. The effort failed, with 45 percent voting to repeal, but then gasoline isn’t $7 a gallon in California — yet.

But larger battles may be coming.

For example, socialist and Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., recently told an audience, it’s “inevitable that we can use the transition to 100 percent renewable energy as the vehicle to truly deliver and establish economic, social and racial justice in the United States of America. That is our proposal and that is what we are here to do.”

The federal government currently imposes its own tax on gasoline: 18.4 cents per gallon. Small croissants compared to France.

But the federal gasoline tax hasn’t been raised in 25 years and has lost 64 percent of its purchasing power. Look for progressives to seek a significant increase in the near future.

In addition, members of Congress recently introduced a bipartisan tax on carbon emissions, like Australia’s, that would force fossil fuel-producing companies to pay $15 for each ton of carbon their products emit. The tax would rise by $10 per ton every subsequent year.


Those two proposals would make driving a car or turning on the lights a lot more expensive, especially for lower- and fixed-income families.

Ironically, gasoline and carbon taxes are very regressive because everyone, regardless of income, pays the same price. Yet progressives support them anyway.

Imposing carbon and gasoline taxes is not about ways to pay for needed government services. It’s about progressives, like Macron, trying to fund their climate change agenda.

The lesson from France is that working-class voters have a limit. Push people too far and we may see Paris-like riots in our own backyards.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas. He holds a Ph.D. in the humanities from the University of Texas. Tribune News Service did not subsidize the writing of this column.


©2018 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.