Op-Ed published on Forbes.com on Dec 18th, 2012 and on The Center for Vision and Values on Dec 21st, 2012
The actor was heavily criticized. The Prime Minister called him a “pathetic” character; the minister of labor, Michel Sapin, said he went into “personal degeneration;” the minister of culture, Aurélie Filippetti, was “totally scandalized;” the minister of the relations with the parliament, Alain Vitalies, was “shocked;” and the head of the Socialist Party, Harlem Désir, was “saddened.”
The words used by the socialists were carefully chosen. They aimed at discrediting the actor’s fiscal choice. But instead, it is the welfare government’s political and economic trends that were revealed. Indeed Depardieu’s case shows the temptations of the welfare government to violate property rights, entrepreneurship, and freedom of movement. It is a perfect study case to understand the consequences of welfareship.
First, the temptation to violate property rights: “I paid $190 million in income taxes over 45 years,” stated Depardieu, pointing out that he is “leaving after paying, in 2012, an 85 percent tax-rate on my income tax.” This is the result of “redistribution,” i.e., the economic system financing French welfare aids and benefits. The French economist Frédéric Bastiat gave a short and clear description of its functioning: “the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong.” In other words, it is legal plunder. It destroys the very notion of property since, according to Bastiat, property is “the right that the worker has to the value that he has created by his labor,” therefore the income earned by work. Thus, Depardieu was allowed to retain only 15 percent of his property.
Second, the temptation to violate entrepreneurship. Besides being an actor, Depardieu is an entrepreneur: he created and invested in restaurants, wine bars, vineyards: “80 people are working thanks to me, in companies that were created for them and are managed by them.” Depardieu invested money and created jobs. But when property is plundered, entrepreneurship is discouraged. Indeed, why take so many risks, work so long, and invest so much for the few peanuts this welfare government deigns to leave in the entrepreneur’s bank account? Furthermore, entrepreneurship and the free market are not understood by the French government’s members: all of them are civil servants or members of government-subsidized organizations. Subsidies and appointments have nothing in common with earning a living and being hired. That is why the welfare government “élite” cannot understand businessmen.
Third, the temptation to violate freedom of movement: “I do not have to justify my choice,” stated Depardieu. He is right. He settled in Belgium, and so what? He is still in the European Union. Since the treaty of Amsterdam enforced in 1997, all citizens of the 27 member-states—the French, the Belgians, the Germans, the Italians, the Irishmen, etc.—are European citizens. It is written on all European passports. Furthermore, the Union has been established to create a free-trade zone and allow citizens of any member-states to move freely and settle in other European countries as they wish. Up to now, the French socialists seemed to agree with this freedom: they were opposed to nationalism and promoted cosmopolitanism. Yet, now freedom of movement could jeopardize the welfare government: what if more French taxpayers decided to leave and settle in Belgium, Ireland, in the United Kingdom or simply leave Europe? It could be a financial blow to the welfare system. Because of Depardieu’s behavior, the Socialist Government has lost its temper as shown by the minister of culture, Aurélie Filippetti, so scandalized that she declared: “the French citizenship is an honor.” And she explained why: because it allows “to pay taxes!”
In a welfareship, as France is, the government is hostile to individual sovereignty. The notion of open society is accepted as long as it is not too open. That is why when Depardieu declared to the French Prime Minister, “I give you back my passport and my social security that I never used,” it was like treason. The welfare government could not accept it because “let us never forget that” as Bastiat reminded us, “in fact, the state has no resources of its own. It has nothing, it possesses nothing that it does not take from the workers.” And in order to pay its six million civil servants (22 percent of the French workforce), to finance its public spending, to cover its public debt, the French welfare Big Government needs its taxpayers to remain still and obedient. French taxpayers moving abroad, using their freedom of movement to settle elsewhere to protect their property and business, is the welfareship’s nightmare.
Thus, welfareship means the weakening of the open society. Now the temptation will be grow to enforce coercive laws that would limit the movement of French citizens and keep them on the “good” side of the border.