Yellow vests’ anger sums up our spreading Western malaise

Today in The Australian

As 2018 draws to a close, it is hard to find a Western leader whose auth­ority has survived the year intact. Donald Trump’s presidency may not be derailed by the chaos in Washington but it compounds the sense of a drama veering towards a grim conclusion. Theresa May’s prime ministership hangs by a frayed thread as Brexit edges towards a hard landing. After a string of electoral routs, Angela Merkel has been forced to step down as party leader and announce her departure from the chancellorship. As for Emmanuel Macron, his standing and credibility have been shattered, and his reform agenda with them.

About Henry Ergas

Henry Ergas AO is a columnist for The Australian. From 2009 to 2015 he was Senior Economic Adviser to Deloitte Australia and from 2009 to 2017 was Professor of Infrastructure Economics at the University of Wollongong’s SMART Infrastructure Facility. He joined SMART and Deloitte after working as a consultant economist at NECG, CRA International and Concept Economics. Prior to that, he was an economist at the OECD in Paris from the late 1970s until the early 1990s. At the OECD, he headed the Secretary-General’s Task Force on Structural Adjustment (1984-1987), which concentrated on improving the efficiency of government policies in a wide range of areas, and was subsequently Counsellor for Structural Policy in the Economics Department. He has taught at a range of universities, undertaken a number of government inquiries and served as a Lay Member of the New Zealand High Court. In 2016, he was made an Officer in the Order of Australia.
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29 Responses to Yellow vests’ anger sums up our spreading Western malaise

  1. stackja

    Voters asleep? Gullibility is rife. MSM are useless.

  2. Bruce of Newcastle

    The people want immigration to be curtailed, especially of muslims.
    They want reasonably priced electricity that works.
    They want nanny out of their lives.
    Until the elites give the people what they want the people will keep on electing new leaders until they get a Trump. If the elites want to stay in power they know exactly what to do.

    The yellow vest is such a good emblem of this because nanny France forced every motorist to keep a yellow fluoro vest in their car in case they might break down and might be inadvertently run over. As stupid government regulations go this was right up there with banning everyone from using plastic bags to not save sea turtles.

  3. John Michelmore

    Bruce, Plastic can’t be good, Lego banned plastic straws!!

  4. RobK

    Home grown fecundity is below replacement in the West. It has lost the means to survive if it continues on its current course. Our leaders need to make that clear.

  5. struth

    The yellow vest is such a good emblem of this because nanny France forced every motorist to keep a yellow fluoro vest in their car in case they might break down and might be inadvertently run over. As stupid government regulations go this was right up there with banning everyone from using plastic bags to not save sea turtles.

    it wouldn’t work in Hivizestsan.
    Everyone is already wearing them everywhere.
    It’s basically our national costume so let’s not forget who we are before we give everyone else shit.

  6. Tom

    That’s a fine descriptive piece, Henry (Googling the headline above should give non-subscribers access), but it does not acknowledge the underlying cause of the French impasse: Big Government and the punitive taxation required to fund it.

    France is the worst country in the Western world, confiscating 56.5 cents in every dollar earned in the French economy to fund the government, compared with less than 40 cents in the USA and Australia, where big government is nevertheless still strangling the economy.

    Trump has begun addressing that problem by rolling back regulation, but, in my opinion, his chances of being re-elected in 2020 will be greatly diminished unless he starts addressing the size of government.

    Australia, by contrast, is a basket case where most of the workforce are no longer net taxpayers and look forward to each election as a source of Free Stuff from both major parties (the end of democracy, as defined by Alexis de Toqueville). An economic crash Down Under is now inevitable.

  7. A Lurker

    Globalist Marxists white-ant centre-right and conservative parties (note the lower case spelling) eroding them from the inside out – then drag them to the Socialist Left, where they promptly transition into authoritarian beasts.

    Their base then becomes disenfranchised and drifts away, parking their votes with small Centre-Right and Conservative parties which are either shunned or bullied by a complicit Left-wing media.

    We’re now in the era of weak men creating hard times.

  8. struth

    France is the worst country in the Western world, confiscating 56.5 cents in every dollar earned in the French economy to fund the government, compared with less than 40 cents in the USA and Australia, where big government is nevertheless still strangling the economy.

    I’m always weary of those figures Tom.
    Do they take in all manner of backdoor taxing and state and council fees and dues and the actual private sector tax burden (public servants and those contracted to the government don’t pay it)?
    I be very surprised if we weren’t at least neck and neck with the French regards the tax burden.
    Yet while they riot, we snooze.

  9. HP

    In Ergas writes in his article:

    That is the essence of our predicament. A destabilising outrage on one side; the incomprehension of governing elites on the other.

    Firstly, the outrage is not an attempt to “destabilise”, but an attempt to stop the ruling class from hurting the interests of the voting class any further. Ergas’ choice of words here, “destabilising” and “outrage”, indicate the author views himself as part of the (ruling) elite, more so than the voting class. Not surprising considering he’s a Prof. who writes opinion pieces in a major newspaper.

    Secondly, “incomprehension” is the essential predicament here….? Really? So Macron really does not “comprehend” what the protesters want, (n)or why? That’s just silly. Macron sure does understand. Long before the protests started, the polling already must have been obvious. But at the same time, Macron is choosing not to act on the interests of the voting class.

    The real question to me is: why? Why do these leaders act against the interests of their own people to the point of riots?
    This is not an isolated case: Merkel did the same.

    That is the essence of our predicament, if you ask me: Our democratic processes tend to put in place elected leaders who, once in power, act against the interests of the very people they were chosen to represent.

    Lastly, Ergas lists Trump together with Merkel and Macron in the opening of the article. I don’t see how Trump made it into that list, other than Ergas’ inner NeverTrumper got the upper hand again. Trump is a beautiful example of what happens if western governments persist in acting against the interests of their own people. The voters put someone in charge from the outside – if they can find one and if the system allows for it.

    In my view, Trump is the democratic alternative to riots. There are no yellow vest riots at the moment in the US precisely because Trump is there. Had Hillary won in 2016, perish the thought, then there very well may have been.

    In Europe, they are not so lucky.

  10. md

    chaos in Washington

    There is no ‘chaos’ in Washington. The leftist media are trying their hardest to perpetuate that myth in order to undermine Trump’s reform agenda.

  11. Other than Trump, all the others are hard core Leftists who have been abandoning their people and bringing down their countries (include Turnbull in that lot). What’s not to dislike?

  12. md

    Brexit edges towards a hard landing

    Again the use of the Left’s vernacular. A no-deal Brexit will be a soft landing, not a hard landing. It will free Britain totally from the increasingly authoritarian EU.

  13. md

    Here’s what Breitbart’s James Delingpole has to say about leftist UK Conservatives:

    … you could argue that the entire basis of the Conservative Party’s policy in the last few years has been: “Yes. OK. We know we’re really shit, without a Conservative principle in our spineless body. But you’ve got to keep voting for us because the alternative is Jeremy Corbyn.”
    Personally I’m beginning to wonder whether Jeremy Corbyn would be worse. It seems to me that so long as the Conservative Party remains in thrall to a claque which believes in bigger government, higher taxes and political correctness — a claque which, furthermore, clearly has no interest in pursuing a regulation-lite, free market future outside the European Union — then we are doomed to be trapped in limbo for all eternity.
    Maybe a bracing taste of hell-fire under Jeremy Corbyn would do us all good. It would certainly concentrate the minds of the Conservatives. If Labour does get into power it will be largely the fault of the Conservatives’ parliamentary party: through complacency and arrogance, it has become so far removed from the grassroots members that they really have little reason to keep them in power. Far better to let the party destroy itself and then hope that a phoenix rises from the ashes.

    Emphasis added.

  14. iain russell

    Tangential but part of the thrust of why the West is a debacle is this: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/12/27/confessed-can-forgive-asia-bibis-former-neighbours-still-want/. And Europe and Oz are allowing these medieval homicidal maniacs in? Nay, bringing them in deliberately.

  15. Bruce

    stakja:

    The LSM are NOT useless; quite the reverse.

    They are a potential threat to liberty and justice and a clear and present danger to REAL people.

    And those are their “finer” points.

  16. Senile Old Guy

    If Labour does get into power it will be largely the fault of the Conservatives’ parliamentary party: through complacency and arrogance, it has become so far removed from the grassroots members that they really have little reason to keep them in power. Far better to let the party destroy itself and then hope that a phoenix rises from the ashes.

    Applies equally well to the LNP in Australia.

  17. Confused Old Misfit

    The people want immigration to be curtailed, especially of muslims.

    And Sudanese Africans and their like.

  18. Mr Black

    My understanding of the Yellow Vests was that they wanted to keep all their socialism but have someone else pay for it. The protests were as a result of having to pay for it themselves. I didn’t see any calls to cancel programs and not replace them, lower taxes and spending or change policy direction to one with less regulation, just to stick the bill on someone else’s account.

  19. Dr Fred Lenin

    Its poetic that a garment forced on the people by the arrogant elite has become a symbol of defiance ,the elitists outsmsrted themselves as they always do,too clever by half as the old saying had it.

  20. Mark M

    German Left Party denounces “Yellow Vest” protests

    The “Yellow Vests” who have taken to the streets in France for the past three weeks to protest against the “president of the rich”, Emmanuel Macron, have caused panic not only in the Paris government, but also in the Berlin headquarters of Germany’s Left Party.

    Abhorrence of any revolt from below is written into the DNA of the Left Party, which emerged from a fusion of the Stalinist state party of former East Germany with a group of Social Democrats and trade union bureaucrats from the West.

    To paraphrase Friedrich Engels, it is “more frightened of the least popular movement than of all the reactionary plots of all the Governments put together”.

    The Left Party instinctively regards any social movement that is not controlled and held in check by the trade unions as a right-wing conspiracy.

    https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/12/07/yell-d07.html

    Thank you to France’s Yellow Vests for guillotining the CO2 tax …

    Forget the carbon tax for now

    It’s politically toxic. There are other ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/27/opinion/carbon-tax-climate-change.html

  21. Crossie

    I’m always weary of those figures Tom.
    Do they take in all manner of backdoor taxing and state and council fees and dues and the actual private sector tax burden (public servants and those contracted to the government don’t pay it)?
    I be very surprised if we weren’t at least neck and neck with the French regards the tax burden.
    Yet while they riot, we snooze.

    A huge proportion of NSW state revenue cones from stamp duty on real estate property sales, each time a property changes hands the state collects $15,000 on average. They did so well during the property boom the recent small slowdown has put a dent in the state budget. Averaged over the entire state population the stamp duty must push up the total tax burden.

  22. Crossie

    Senile Old Guy
    #2893484, posted on December 28, 2018 at 2:37 pm
    If Labour does get into power it will be largely the fault of the Conservatives’ parliamentary party: through complacency and arrogance, it has become so far removed from the grassroots members that they really have little reason to keep them in power. Far better to let the party destroy itself and then hope that a phoenix rises from the ashes.

    Applies equally well to the LNP in Australia.

    It appears that politicians of every western “conservative” party are the same, out of step with their voters and more in line with their leftist colleagues. More than half of the population in each country do not have actual parliamentary representation.

  23. Squirrel

    Even here in sleepy ‘Straya, the political cycle is certainly speeding up – let’s hope what passes for our Right does not waste the opportunity next time the pendulum swings their way.

    The next Liberal/National Government (possibly after a Scullin-esque Shorten Government….) needs to have well developed policies and plans ready to implement in all they key areas after receiving a mandate – slogans can help to win elections, but they are not a basis for governing in challenging times.

  24. Confused Old Misfit

    More than half of the population in each country do not have actual parliamentary representation.

    I can’t but hope that this is not the case. At the same time I cannot convince myself that it is not true.
    There was a time when one could trust, to a limited degree, that the people standing for positions of influence had their electors interests at heart. One always knew that this what not completely true but you could hope that the morality of the day would win over the greed of the individual.
    Not so now I fear.
    Gordon Gecko Rules.

  25. My understanding of the Yellow Vests was that they wanted to keep all their socialism but have someone else pay for it.

    Your understanding is spot on. If you read the list of demands of the yellow vests it was 97% Socialism and the rest was accidental liberty.
    Why anybody thinks theses upheavals will result in some glorious libertopia is beyond me. It’s never happened in history before. Ever. At best you swap one bunch of kleptocrats for another, all in pursuit of that mystical pot of zero sum money to pay for your every want and whim.
    There’s a whole shit load of pain and suffering to come folks, then maybe…maybe we might come to our senses.

  26. Rob MW

    As 2018 draws to a close, it is hard to find a Western leader whose auth­ority has survived the year intact.

    The global geniuses wrote a script for their own demise then stuck to it. Once these same elected geniuses stopped listening to the growing, and predictable, frustration of the people shit was/is always gonna happen. The politics of victimhood and identity over well defined sovereign democratic common sense was always going to end badly.

    Perhaps defining the thieving pricks & other assorted despots of the UN as a terrorists and bulldozing the fucking place into the east river is a good start to restoring order.

  27. NuThink

    Mr Rusty

    to keep all their socialism but have someone else pay for it.

    That is the main characteristic of socialists and the left.

  28. md

    Mr Black
    #2893531, posted on December 28, 2018 at 4:03 pm
    My understanding of the Yellow Vests was that they wanted to keep all their socialism but have someone else pay for it.

    It’s a bigger issue than that. It is a protest against people who have political power (elected officials and bureaucrats, and the people who have influence with them) using government for their own ends and treating ordinary people like fodder, there to pay for the elites’ agenda and to consume their goods and services. It is a modern-day form of feudalism, where those with power use that power against us to serve their own ends.

    As to ‘keeping their socialism’, it is simply a matter of fairness – in an administrative sense rather than a moral sense. A fair and just government would not ‘take’ from people what they have. If past policy has become unsustainable, current beneficiaries should be grandfathered or there should be compensatory measures of some description. The protests are about people in power running their own self-serving agenda, while treating the powerless with contempt, and that indeed is a Western malaise.

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