William Buckley famously said that he would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the phone book than by the faculty of Harvard University. I share the sentiment. But in France, an exercise in random democracy is not faring well.
President Macron’s attempt to appease yellow-vest protesters has saddled him with radical ecological policy proposals likely to further damage the wobbling French economy.
I don’t claim to understand French politics, but it was radical environmental policies that angered the mostly-rural yellow-vest protesters in the first place. So what went wrong?
They stem from his decision to delegate the fight against climate change to 150 members of the public chosen at random.
Wow. Random democracy. Buckley’s vision realized? Not exactly. The group came up with a series of crackpot schemes.
That group has now come up with a plan to modify the way the French shop, travel and produce food, including the closure of out-of-town hypermarkets to encourage shopping locally, and shelving the 5G network because it uses 30 per cent more electricity than previous iterations.
The panel also wants to prohibit the sale of cars that emit more than 110g of CO2 per kilometre by 2025 — far below that emitted by most existing vehicles, in effect outlawing them — and a ban on advertising hoardings to prevent consumers driving long distances to buy products they do not need.
Television, radio, internet and press advertisements for products generating high levels of CO2 would also be banned, and those that were authorised would have to carry the wording: “Do you really need this? Overconsumption harms the planet.”
These are insane proposals that would devastate France’s economy and grossly inconvenience its people. How could this have happened? And are 150 random Frenchmen really so extremist? I think the problem is that they weren’t random at all:
Amid fears in the Élysée that the protests could develop into a fully fledged revolution, Mr Macron agreed to a dose of direct democracy, with the introduction of a Citizens’ Convention for the Climate. More than 250,000 people were contacted using a random telephone number search and asked if they wanted to join the convention. Most refused. But 150 agreed after being told that they would be paid €86.24 a day and have their expenses reimbursed.
So 150 people who were either climate activists or really needed the 86 Euros a day signed up. A truly random group would no doubt have done much better.
Still, it wasn’t all the volunteers’ fault. Macron himself gave them an assignment that can’t be carried out without catastrophic results:
When the convention first met in October, Mr Macron asked its members to put forward proposals that would enable France to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030 compared with 1990.
Left-wing governments sign on to unattainable targets, based on incorrect models, and then are shocked when they find out what those targets imply. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Macron got what he deserved. It is ironic, though: the yellow-vest protests began because France’s government pursued leftist policies that made gasoline, which people in rural areas must consume, unaffordable. In an effort to appease the yellow-testers, Macron took a purportedly populist path that was flawed from the beginning, and produced results that would be disastrous for the yellow-vesters and pretty much all other Frenchmen, especially those who live outside Paris.