French actor Gerard Depardieu has learned how to go from a beloved symbol of a nation to enemy of the state in one easy step. All it takes is wanting to keep some meaningful portion of his income.
Depardieu is a quintessentially French figure. Appearing in more than 150 films, he has played Cyrano and Obélix. He is a Chevalier du Légion d'honneur. He eats and drinks — a lot. He rides a scooter. It would take a diagram to follow his romantic entanglements with models and actresses.
It's all very French, except for the fact that he has earned too much money.
At least he has according to the accounting of the Gradgrind socialists who govern France. Elected earlier this year, President Francois Hollande has imposed a 75 percent marginal income tax on top earners. To this prospect, Depardieu said, "Non, merci."
He announced his intention to move to a little village over the border in Belgium where the government imposes plenty of taxes but doesn't aim to impose a punishing tax rate on the wealthy as a matter of justice.
For his offense, Depardieu has been denounced from the commanding heights of the French state. The prime minister called him "pathetic." The budget minister sniffed that his move would be a boom to Belgian cinema. Hollande urged "ethical behavior" on the part of French taxpayers. They all agree that it's wrong of Depardieu not to stand still so that the government can drastically lighten his wallet.
The "temporary supertax" applies to incomes of more than 1 million euros (roughly $1.3 million). It is said to be no big deal since it hits only about 1,500 people and is set to last for only two years. But it comes on top of an already-onerous tax burden and is shocking in its own right.
American actor Will Smith had a common-sensical reaction when he was in France to promote a movie and asked by an interviewer if he would be willing to pay higher taxes. Of course, he said. Then he was told of the top French rate. "Seventy-five?" he gulped. "Yeah, that's different, that's different. Yeah, 75. Well, you know, God bless America."
The tax is less fiscal policy than confiscatory policy motivated by unabashed disdain for the wealthy. Hollande is on the record saying, "I don't like the rich."
One wonders what they have ever done to him. Hollande believes that the wealthy owe the state. He is like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren on steroids, in a political culture with a much higher tolerance for leftist class politics. For a perpetual creature of the state like the career-politician Hollande, the natural order of things is that he gets to live off the government and Depardieu gets to fund it. That's the definition of "fairness."
Depardieu's critics bash his patriotism. But why is it patriotic to accept financial chastisement by a government headed by someone who is avowedly driven by animus toward you as a member of a targeted class?
It's not as though Depardieu is a scofflaw. He claims that he has paid 145 million euros in taxes during the course of his career and paid an 85 percent rate in 2012. Maybe Hollande should go all the way in the tradition of his hero President Francois Mitterrand — the old-school socialist who brought the French economy to its knees in the 1980s — and nationalize Gerard Depardieu.
The French constitutional court ruled against the supertax the other day on technical grounds. The government promises to make adjustments and forge ahead. It can shame Depardieu all it likes, but that won't stop the flow of other, less-famous tax exiles.
Hollande doesn't like rich people, and he will duly rule a country with fewer of them. Gerard Depardieu wrote the prime minister to say he's leaving "because you believe that success, creation, talent — difference, in fact — must be punished."
He's right. May he — dare we say it? — prosper in his new home.
Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and a variety of other publications. Read more reports from Rich Lowry — Click Here Now.