Last weekend, I was ordered to get out of the ocean by a Florida sheriff…
He watched my two friends and me surfing for 20 minutes from his vehicle before it all started. We figured he was bored. The waves were outstanding – it was one of the best days of the year. There was nobody else in the ocean as far as the eye could see.
“I will just give you guys a warning today,” he said. “But being out there without a life jacket is an $80 ticket.”
A life jacket? You can’t swim under a mountain of whitewater coming at you while wearing a life jacket!
I was on a surfboard. My friends were surfing on their paddleboards. The sheriff said the problem was that my surfing buddies had to have life jackets – that it was the law from the Coast Guard.
Now, in reality, the Coast Guard law about paddleboards is this: If someone is surfing, the officer is supposed to “leave it alone.” (Those aren’t my words, those are the Coast Guard’s words.) If you’re not surfing, you need to wear a life jacket. Pretty simple.
I told him he was wrong. We spent 10 minutes talking about it – sometimes with raised voices – on the beach.
Days later, I couldn’t get the ridiculousness of this scene out of my head.
Think about it: Two officers wasted 30 minutes of their day taking a couple surfers off the water, based on a law that didn’t apply. That’s 30 minutes spent NOT solving crimes or making our community a better place – but instead harassing good citizens who ultimately pay the officers’ salaries.
To me, it was an overreach of government, on a small scale.
But what happens when the government overreaches on a much larger scale?
You end up where France is today… with the “Yellow Vest” protests…
On Saturday, around 36,000 people in yellow vests took to the streets in France. It wasn’t the first round of demonstrations. The weekend before, more than 100,000 people protested in one day.
The protesting is getting violent… The Yellow Vests defaced the Arc de Triomphe on Saturday, and hundreds of arrests and injuries have been reported.
The media reports say the Yellow Vests are protesting higher gas taxes. But I think there’s much more to it than that…
On January 1, the tax on gas will go up around 12 cents a gallon. The tax on gas will go up another 5 cents by 2020.
The main idea is to disincentivize the use of fossil fuels and push more eco-friendly transportation, in line with European climate accords…
But gas is already more than $6 a gallon in Paris.
The protestors have had enough. This is not about an additional 12 cents of gas tax next year…
This is about the cumulative toll of increasing taxes and regulations to meet “big government” goals – to the point where people can’t make ends meet.
The Yellow Vests’ message to the political elites is simple. They say French President Emmanuel Macron “talks about the end of the world while we are talking about the end of the month.”
And don’t get me wrong… The regular folks of France are likely not climate skeptics. Again, they are against what they feel is their lack of voice. They feel these changes are unfairly punishing them… And they have no say in how quickly they are being implemented.
Why do the protestors wear yellow vests?
The answer is doubly ironic. If you wanted to find a simple symbol of government overreach in France, you could hardly do better than the fluorescent yellow safety vest…
Every driver in France is required by law to have a fluorescent safety vest in their car to wear in case of a breakdown. (You also need a breathalyzer…and a “warning” triangle.)
The government’s intentions may be noble with the safety vest. But let me ask, how many lives have been saved by every motorist having one, relative to the total costs?
It is the same with combating climate change in Paris… Where is the line between achieving government goals and harmful government overreach? How long until protestors start wearing the vests from their cars to symbolize unfair gas taxes?
Apparently, the French government just found out where the line is… It’s $6-per-gallon gas.
Government overreach can lead to angry constituents and even outright revolt. You can see it on a small scale, like my little life-jacket fiasco… or on a much larger scale, with 100,000-plus protestors like we are seeing in France today. Polls show that 70% or more of the people in France side with the Yellow Vests today.
Here in DailyWealth, I usually try to offer up a solution to a given problem, or a likely outcome to a situation.
Today is tougher, though… I don’t know where it will go with the Yellow Vests. The unrest could scale up dramatically from here. But I don’t want to bet on that.
Here’s what I do know: When government overreach becomes a threat to people’s financial well-being, this kind of result is inevitable.
The best way for governments to keep the public in line (however good their intentions may be) is to avoid finding that line where the people revolt.
Unfortunately, France just found it.
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