Ben Shapiro: In the Real World, Socialist Populism Causes Riots | Opinion

This week, riots overwhelmed authorities in Paris, with so-called yellow vest protesters attacking police officers, setting cars on fire, and spray-painting graffiti on historic sites, including the Arc de Triomphe. What prompted this spasm of rage? Reportedly, high gas prices driven by exorbitant taxes placed on both unleaded and diesel fuel—taxes in France already surpass 64 percent on unleaded and 59 percent on diesel.

Amazingly, French President Emmanuel Macron was considering even higher taxes, supposedly designed to curb further carbon emissions, despite the fact that carbon emissions in the EU dropped this year while rising dramatically in developing countries China and India.

But the French riots weren't only about taxes. They were about government fulfillment of a bevy of other over-the-top demands from the protesters: They want higher taxes on the wealthy, an increase in the minimum wage, a maximum wage, rent controls, increases in spending on infrastructure and retirement, and a full-out ban on outsourcing.

This is the same basket of services promised by populist politicians across the world. And those promises are empty. There is no way to pay for an endless welfare state without endless taxes. According to the Tax Foundation, the Nordic social democracies so beloved by progressives across the world tax the bejeezus out of their citizens: 60.4 percent income tax rate in Denmark, applicable at approximately 1.2 times the average income, as of 2015; 56.9 percent in Sweden, applicable at 1.5 times the average income; 39.0 percent in Norway, applicable at 1.6 times the average income. By way of contrast, the top marginal income tax rate in the United States is higher than Norway's, at 37 percent—but that tax rate only applies at a bit under 10 times the average household income ($600,000, for married people filing jointly).

Paris Macron riots
Protesters walk by burning cars during clashes with riot police on the sidelines of a protest by “gilet jaunes” (yellow vests) against rising oil prices and living costs, in Paris, on December 1. ABDULMONAM EASSA/AFP/Getty Images

And endless spending and regulation have consequences. There is simply no way to support a successful economy on the basis of curbing free trade while limiting the labor supply, controlling rent while disincentivizing construction, lowering the retirement age while demanding that nobody pay the freight. Populism isn't actually a political program. It's a bunch of stuff people want to hear. And people like fairy tales.

Which may be why populists continue to gain votes even as their policies threaten prosperity. It's easy to pledge prosperity while undercutting that prosperity with grandiose verbiage. Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democrat from New York, won't have to feel the brunt of her policy prescriptions—she can merely claim, without any available evidence, that economic regulation based on the threat of climate change will magically fix the world's problems, jabbering, "It's inevitable that we're going to create industry, and it's inevitable that we can use the transition to a hundred percent renewable energy as the vehicle to truly deliver and establish economic, social and racial justice in the United States of America."

No, it isn't inevitable. Were it inevitable, there would be no rioters in France; they'd be happily munching brie and sipping wine as Macron's higher taxes clicked into place. The reality is that successful economies depends on entrepreneurialism, not redistributionism, on freedom, not restriction, and on reality, not the empty promises of politicians hell-bent on retaining power, even at the expense of prosperity and liberty.

Ben Shapiro is editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire and host of The Ben Shapiro Show, available on iTunes and syndicated across America.​

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​