Last week the big story in French headlines has been the tax exile of Gerard Depardieu in Nechin, Belgium, half a mile from the French border. French PM Jean-Marc Ayrault called the French movie star’s behavior “minable” (pathetic). A socialist MP, Yann Galut, even suggested that M. Depardieu loses his French nationality. In an open letter in the Journal Du Dimanche on December 16, Depardieu, who famously starred as Obélix, the big Gallic fellow of Astérix, carrying menhirs on his back – and sometimes throwing them at the Romans, replies. With a taste of Ayn Rand’s famous character John Galt. Gerard shrugged.
Depardieu begins by saying that what is pathetic is to call his behavior pathetic. Although he does not want to justify the many reasons of his choice, he makes it clear that he leaves after paying 85% of taxes on his income this year and € 145 million through his entire life; He leaves because the French PM thinks that “success, creation and talent, in fact difference, must be punished”. He then reminds Jean-Marc Ayrault that he set up companies that employ 80 people. Depardieu says he is ready to give up his French passport and his “Social Security” (the French public health care system, which he claims he never used).
This letter is important.
First because thanks to a top actor, the categories of incentives and unintended (though highly expectable) consequences will probably enter the “consciousness area” of a statist French political class (right and left alike). Imposing a 75% income tax above €1 million does have consequences on the incentives of the rich and creative people. Mr Hollande and his team might call it “just” because, as the French President once famously said, he doesn’t “like the rich”, the fact is that one does not promote economic progress by hitting the creative and successful minds. Those are obsolete collectivist policies based on envy and scapegoating: they are only effective at creating division and killing the goose with the golden egg, that is, generate more poverty. Not exactly “just” in the end.
Second because Depardieu stresses the fact that he is a European, a “citizen of the World”, and remains a “free man”. He is effectively saying that thanks to globalization we are free to escape a government’s crushing fist. Institutional competition, and especially tax competition is an essential feature of our liberty: it is crucial that people can “vote with their feet”. Of course European politicians, French ones especially, are too eager to suppress this liberty – again in the name of justice, harmonization, equality, solidarity and what have you. What that story also tells us is that should Europe become a “giant France”, it would be doomed. Unfortunately, recent efforts in the direction of more EU centralization do not carry optimism.
Now, to be completely fair on that “Depardieu shrugging”, the tiny issue is that state subsidies to the film industry in France probably indirectly helped the man to become famous and rich, even if overall he probably paid a lot more that he received, and in the end owed much to his personal talent. Not a pure John Galt then. But a good start.
Open Letter to French PM Jean-Marc Ayrault (from Gerard Depardieu):
You say "pathetic"? As it is pathetic.
I was born in 1948, I started working at the age of 14 years as a printer, then as a warehouseman as dramatic artist. I always paid my taxes regardless of the rate under all governments.
At no time, I have failed in my duties. Historical films I participated reflect my love of France and its history.
Most illustrious characters that were expatriates me or left the country.
I unfortunately have nothing more to do here, but I continue to love the French public and with whom I shared so many emotions, I'm leaving because you consider that success, creativity, talent, actually The difference must be punished.
I do not ask to be approved, I could at least be respected.
All those who left France were not insulted as I am.
I do not have to justify the reasons for my choice, which are numerous and intimate.
I leave after paying, in 2012, 85% tax on my income. But I keep in mind that France was beautiful and I hope will remain.
I give you my passport and Social Security, which I've never used. We no longer the same country, I'm a true European, a citizen of the world, as my father has always taught.
I find pathetic the hard justice against my son William judged by judges who condemned any kid to three years in prison for two grams of heroin, when so many others escaped prison for acts otherwise more serious.
I do not blame all those cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, or too much alcohol or those who sleep on their scooter: I'm one of them as your expensive media like both the repeat.
I never killed anybody, I do not think unworthy, I paid 145 million tax in forty-five years, I have 80 people working in companies that were created for them and which are managed by them.
I am not to complain or to brag, but I refuse the word "pathetic".
Who are you to judge me so I ask you Mr. Ayrault, Prime Minister Mr. Holland, I ask you, who are you? Despite my excesses, my appetite and my love life, I am a free being, sir, and I'll be polite.