Phillipian Commentary: Right Idea, Wrong Approach

E.Chou/The Phillipian

Over the past few months, the Yellow Vest movement has repeatedly drawn media attention with their violent protests against Emmanuel Macron, President of France. When a new law was passed in France on February 1 mandating that food products had to be sold with a profit margin of over 10 percent, the Yellow Jackets, who have long been angered by increasing prices for everyday necessities, exploded alongside the French media about drastically more expensive food items like Nutella. Though this law may be labeled by many as unexplained and sporadic, more closely inspected, it seems to be based on a fundamental desire to help rather than harm independent farmers and small retailers. All the same, Macron and his government should have explained and persuaded the populace of their intentions before brashly instilling the policy.

Macron had two main reasons for instituting this law. First, farmers were being mistreated and forced to sell their produce at an extremely low rate to retailers. By ensuring that all food produce has to be priced at 10 percent above costs, this measure aimed to help said farmers by reasoning that the retailers will have more money leftover once they sell their goods, leading to a trickle-down effect. Predictably, skeptics were filled with outrage at the policy. The chief executive of E. Leclerc, France’s largest supermarket chain, proclaimed the trickle-down effect to be “a scam.” Farmers took to the streets, complaining that they remain “at the mercy of supermarkets.”

Additionally, Macron reasoned that eliminating predatory pricing would lead to more benefits for smaller retailers and local farmers. Although the average citizen may still be irked about the rise in prices of Nutella, they end up better off in the long run. If retailers are unable to drastically lower their prices when driving out local competition so that they can raise them again when the competition is gone, they will be unable to monopolize the industry. Even if a jar of chocolate spread will now be more expensive for the next few months, this saves money in the long term.

However, many noted that the prices of vegetables, meats, and other produce were already well above the 10 percent margin. Then, the only real impact of this policy would be that major retailer brands would be now free raise their prices without having to worry about competition at the expense of civilians. Although the implementation of this law had already been pushed back from late 2018 due to public backlash, legislators seemed determined enough to push through the public dissent.

Though this new act from Macron seems baffling to many, we should not simply paint him and his administration as avaricious demagogues concerned only with protecting the wealth of the upper class; after all, only last week did he spend six hours engaged in a discussion with the public, discussing everything from the extension of metro lines to psychiatric care. As incredulous as it may be, Macron may have really been attempting to protect French farmers, even if this attempt was half baked at best.

Unfortunately, though, this is bad timing on the government’s part. Although according to The Economist, Macron’s approval ratings have risen by 11 percent from their low last December, they still stand at a dismal 34 percent. Even if Macron’s character is charismatic and his left-leaning ideology admirable, he ought to persuade the populace to feel the same before he rolls forward yet another controversial policy. Seemingly disastrous policies such as this one may often times have sound rationale behind it; as students getting ready to step onto the global stage, it is our job to gain more information before we jump to conclusions.