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December 19, 2018

The French Gas Tax May Blow Up--in Other Countries


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.
Thousands of French working-class demonstrators took to the streets of Paris and other parts of the country to protest Macron’s 25-cents per gallon gas tax increase, with more increases to follow. The revenue would supposedly be used to fight climate change.
The average price of gas in France 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 in a country where the average income is about two-thirds that of America’s.
Macron didn’t care because he wants to be seen as a leader in the fight against climate change, regardless of how much that legacy costs the working class. But he was stunned by the size and determination of the spontaneous revolt. After insisting he wouldn’t cave on the gas tax, he did, and 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, 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Even though it was considered model legislation, the Aussies didn’t want it and the Senate repealed it in 2014. Prime Minister Tony Abbot called the tax “a useless destructive tax which damaged jobs, which hurt families’ cost of living and which didn't actually help the environment.”
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, 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.
The federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon hasn’t been raised in 25 years and has lost 64 percent of its purchasing power. That’s a prime target for an increase.
In addition, members of Congress recently introduced a bipartisan tax on carbon emissions 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.
Imposing carbon taxes is not about ways to pay for needed government services. It’s about trying to discourage the use of fossil fuels and funding a 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 back yards.


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