The rise of the gilets jaunes rioters in France took many people by surprise. President Emmanuel Macron has caved in to the rioters’ demands and offered other policy concessions to try to mollify them. By doing so he is exacerbating the problems that led people to take to the streets. His actions will certainly not resolve France’s underlying economic problems.
During the week of December 10, an estimated 130,000 people took part in the riots. Police arrested more than 1,700 people. Officials said that 264 people were injured, including 39 police and gendarmes and several journalists. These riots are serious events and the concern must be that they are the beginning of a trend. High fuel costs, high taxes and the high cost of living were the main factors behind the rioting. However, high levels of unemployment (in part caused by extraordinarily high taxes on low-paid labor) was also to blame.
Arguably, we are beginning to see the results of the disastrous decisions to set up pay-as-you-go pension and healthcare systems after the Second World War. Instead of each generation building up savings to provide for the expenses of old age, the taxes of the working generation pay for the pensions and healthcare of the retired generation in these unsustainable systems.
State pension schemes run on a pay-as-yougo basis are often known as “social solidarity” schemes, especially in France. This is a terrible misnomer. The mechanism by which a given generation of workers votes themselves pension and health benefits, expecting the next generation to pay for them, seems designed to create social conflict.
Christians should speak out against the injustice of generations promising themselves benefits to be paid for by other future generations – indeed, they should have spoken out 30 years ago. The current systems of welfare provision are unsustainable, unjust and may well lead to the breakdown of civil society and an increased tendency of young people to turn to violence to get what they regard as just restitution.