Depardieu, Heal Thyself

DepardieuThe case of Gérard Depardieu continues to agitate France. The most famous French actor in the world has recently taken Russian citizenship (granted in record time) in protest against high rates of taxation in France. By coincidence he had recently played the role of Rasputin in a film made for Russian television.

Depardieu is a very rich man; he has put his house in Paris up for sale at $66 million, and that is only one of his properties. It is therefore not entirely easy, psychologically, for most of us who live in slightly more modest conditions to see him as a man on the brink of ruin. But like all rich Frenchmen at a time of demagogic attacks on the rich, he fears the most confiscatory of all taxes, the ISF (Impôt sur la fortune), a levy on personal assets that could easily result in someone having to pay more, even much more, than 100 per cent of his income in tax. This would be quite popular in a country in which many people consider all personal enrichment but their own as illegitimate, and in which the ISF is justified as being a manifestation of social solidarity. Solidarité in France is no longer an expression of compassion, but a matter of fiscal policy mandated by the political class. To put it another way, human feeling has been nationalized.

Depardieu has been the object of much unfavorable commentary in France, made all the easier by his sometimes unattractive or even rebarbative personal behavior. He has been cast as unpatriotic, ungrateful, greedy, heartless and selfish. Those who see him in this light ask whether, at a time when so many people in France are experiencing economic difficulties, so rich a man as he could not easily afford to part with a few hundred thousand or million in taxes? The fact that he is not willing to do so shows him to be of bad character.

An interesting article in the left-wing newspaper, Libération, by Marcela Iacub, took another line: Depardieu is not so much to be hated, excoriated or despised, as pitied.

The argument in the article is as follows. Money is a means to an end, not an end in itself; beyond a certain level, long ago reached by Depardieu, more brings no greater happiness. He would not, after all, be twice as happy in a Parisian house worth $132 million as in one worth only $66 million.

Most immense fortunes are obtained not as a reward for scientific or artistic talent, as Depardieu naively supposes when he rails against the talent-suppressing effect of high taxation, but either by inheritance or as a consequence of a special talent for accumulating money. The latter talent is not in itself admirable; and most of those possessed of a more admirable talent are not motivated principally by the desire to make a fortune. Depardieu is quite wrong, therefore, so closely to identify his wealth with his talent.

By removing himself to a different tax jurisdiction Depardieu, it is true, might continue to enjoy a few extra millions for the rest of his life; but, asks the author, ‘when one considers that he is 64 years old, his physical condition [he is monstrously fat], and the scant care he takes of his health, will there be enough time be left to him to enjoy his few millions saved?’

In short, by refusing to pay his taxes, Depardieu shows that he is running after false gods and does not know or understand his own best interests. He is therefore a man to be pitied, as are all those who waste their lives chasing false gods; he is the victim of his own folly. The author says that the French Prime Minister, M. Ayrault, was mistaken when he publicly contrasted Depardieu’s egoism with what he called ‘fiscal patriotism.’ He should instead have said to Depardieu, ‘Your are stupid, you are mad, you are suicidal.’ This is because, by refusing to accept redistributive taxation at a very high level, Depardieu ‘risks losing things that are above price, such as the love, esteem and admiration of his fellow-countrymen.’

Compassion for Depardieu, however, is but the velvet glove that hides the iron fist. The author says ‘The accumulation of money [by those who cannot have further need of any] is a sort of madness, and a kind of injustice towards those who do not have enough even to meet the most basic needs of existence.’ She also says ‘A rational and just society must prevent the accumulation of capital by individuals above a certain level.’

This is very sinister. I think many of us might agree that accumulation of money for its own sake, or indeed accumulation of anything else, is often a sign of folly (though personally I am grateful to our ancestors that some of them indulged in this kind of folly). But by use of the term ‘injustice’ the author implies that wealth must be a form of spoliation – else how could the accumulation of money be, ipso facto, injustice? This zero-sum view of the economy – a kind of anti-Semitism without the Jews – has caused untold harm, misery and murder in the world.

Further, it would require immense, indeed totalitarian, political power to decide what are both ‘the most basic needs of existence’ and an acceptable level of capital accumulation (I leave aside entirely the practical probability that setting such parameters would inhibit prosperity). To be just in the sense that the author means, the most basic human needs and acceptable levels of capital accumulation would have to be identical throughout the world, for if they were different in different societies they would merely set up new injustices, between rather than within societies. Without realising it, then, she is arguing not so much for world government as for world dictatorship.

More probably she is arguing to defend the status quo in France and possibly in other European countries as well. To establish this, let us try a little thought experiment.

Suppose that Gérard Depardieu were to undergo a conversion experience and see that his wealth was not unjust but unseemly in view of the difficulties or hardships of others, and that as a consequence he decided to give it away to those most in need (as determined by him) in exactly the same proportion as he would have been taxed. Would that be acceptable to all those who criticized him for refusing to pay his tax?

I suspect not: for in the modern world, the state claims the monopoly not only of force, but increasingly of compassion as well.

Theodore Dalrymple is a retired prison doctor and psychiatrist, contributing editor of the City Journal and Dietrich Weissman Fellow of the Manhattan Institute.

About the Author

Comments

  1. libertarian jerry says

    What always amazes me about collectivists is that they think that their worldview and personal philosophy should be the worldview and philosophy of everyone. And that worldview must be pushed on you by the use of State power. If these socialists want to live on a commune or a co-op voluntarily that’s fine. But they spend their entire lives trying to obtain political power to put their worldview and philosophy into law and then,at the point of a gun,ram it down everyone’s throat. What happens to the citizen who refuses to pay the socialist’s taxes or obey their PC laws? What happens if they fine you for breaking their economic police state laws and you refuse to pay the fine or give up your property? What happens when a Swat Team comes to your home and tries to drag you out to a government “court” and appear before a government” judge?” What happens if you resist? These socialist thugs no nothing or care at all about your property rights,or for that matter what you think. Their mission in life is to achieve “economic democracy” and “social justice” no matter how many people they step on. These socialists envy and hate you for working hard and being successful. They think that because they won an election,often by a razor thin margin,then that gives them the green light to violate people’s property rights. Its their way or the gulag way. Socialism is a gutter philosophy based on envy.coveting and violence. Its a philosophy that has bankrupted America as well as France and a bankrupted,immoral philosophy that belongs in the dustbin of history along with the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall.

    • Rod says

      Jerry, Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment. I used to never read article / column / blog comments because I felt the adage of “Don’t wrestle with a pig…” most often took precendent. However, I have learned I can gain much insight into views of liberty and freedom from articulate and insightful responses such as yours.

    • says

      Thomas Sowell put it this way: social justice is a pleonasm, since all justice is by definition social: a man on a deserted island has no need for justice. What these people really mean by ‘social justice’ is ‘cosmic justice’, i.e., equality of outcome.

      In practice, the society they envisage creates a different kind of inequality, with a “deserving” caste of bureaucrats/patrons on top administering benefits to certain political useful client populations in order to retain their power.

      Whether this is a soft version of fascist corporatism, a recreation of the patrones/clientes system of ancient Rome on a much larger scale, or both of the above is “left as an exercise to the reader”.

  2. says

    Even a 100% tax on the incomes of everyone at Depardieu’s level would yield a very small amount compared to the actual requirements of today’s government. There are simply not enough of him to go around. So this tax is strictly symbolic, and reflects a vindictive attitude towards the rich in general. It is just a few steps away from burning all his houses and putting him on the guillotine.

    And after he leaves, who is left to afford a $66 million house? There are probably less than 100 people in France who could afford to run and pay the taxes on such a thing. If these taxes are eventually upheld, there may be zero such people in the very near future.

    I question his taste in moving to the frozen wastelands of Russia – I would prefer the Cayman Islands, personally, or perhaps Bermuda – but I think he is absolutely right in doing so.

    And for the record, I’m pretty sure my net worth is far under 1% of his, so I have no personal dog in this hunt.

    D

    • Lavaux says

      Depardieu needn’t live in Russia to enjoy the benefit of its residential income tax system, which means that Russia taxes non-resident citizens only on their Russia-source income. So Depardieu will pay Russian taxes on his Russia-source royalties but no other income if he decides to live abroad, say, in the Seychelles. Or if Gerry likes a bit of cold from time to time, in Montreal. Or if he gets a hankering for excellent cheese and skiing, in Switzerland. Or all of the above. Personally, I’d for a luxury châlet in Crans Montana and a beach-front compound in the Seychelles.

  3. Joe Doakes says

    Demanding people pay their “fair” share is silly. The word “fair” has no permanent definition, it’s always defined by the speaker in the speaker’s context. “You make more than I so it’s I think it’s fair you should pay more” is a flawed basis for public policy because there is always somebody who has less, demanding more.

  4. Seerak says

    “This zero-sum view of the economy – a kind of anti-Semitism without the Jews – has caused untold harm, misery and murder in the world.”

    I have long held that the way to tell the difference between Leftist conspiracy theories and “Rightist” ones, was that the former left off the word “Jewish” before the word “banker”.

    No so true these days, alas, as the Left slowly repatriates that most infamous of collectivist hatreds.

  5. Steve Skubinna says

    There have always been and will always be those whose vision of “justice” trumps everything else, even their fellow humans and their inconsequential desires. Depardieu has diminished nobody and stolen from no one attaining his wealth, and to pretend that there would be more social justice were he less wealthy is stupid. To act on that pretense is evil.

    Statists will sacrifice anyone and everyone on the altar of their vision. There’s always going to be room in the Gulags.

  6. Nemo says

    Why should any man respect the ‘Rule of Law’ when it’s obvious that the rules are made and remade by the Ruling Classes solely to increase their own wealth and power.

    Just for fun, ask the writers at Libération how they will enforce the highest tax rates on men such as George Soros and Warren Buffet.

  7. DANNY says

    If a man desires to and finds a way to keep what he has fairly earned he is very moral.

    Politicians who connive and use the coercive power of the state to take the hard-earned money away from those who earned it to squander on boondoggles are not moral.

    Charity is moral.

    Paying taxes so that the politicians can dole out revenues in ways the majority finds charitable is NOT charity.

    It is not moral. No sane moral person can seriously argue that paying taxes is equivalent to or a substitute for charity.

    Depardieu has acted in an entirely moral way.

    He coerced NO ONE to get his money – not a single penny.

    The state coerces EVERYONE.

    Leftists are covetous. They seek to use the power of the state to satiate their covetousness and then dress it up in moral language.

  8. says

    Their worldview HAS to include everyone as the whole point of it is inclusion of all for all ruled by the elite few like herself who know the proper valuations.

  9. Hoss says

    “Depardieu ‘risks losing things that are above price, such as the love, esteem and admiration of his fellow-countrymen.’

    Except, as we all know, the takers never appreciate what they are given through other people’s labor. They become complacent, entitled, and hostile to the notion that they aren’t “owed” more. You’re seen as one big mark that can be shaken down for a little more of the nebulous “fair share” at every turn. Wonder when the makers in this country will decide they’ve had enough…

  10. Allan says

    I don’t know Depardieu other than through his public profile and his sometimes very fine films. He is a big man (who has become very much bigger through the years) in many ways other than the obvious. He has had a film career in a market that pays well but not anywhere near as well as Hollywood. He has the kind of self confidence of a John Wayne allowing him to invest in and represent a diverse range of business enterprises that have amassed him significant wealth. Noone has ever accused him of not having business acumen.

    When he is interviewed he does not resile from his wealth nor many of his boorish ways. He is who he is and appears satisfied with that. He has walked away from France but so have many other wealthy although less high profile formerly French citizens lately. There is a simple lesson. If a wealthy man has a viable alternative to confiscation of his wealth he will take that alternative. This lesson is so clear that it is probable that any politician who imposes such a punitive tax is either incredibly stupid, insane or has an agenda for power.

  11. says

    The phrase “anti-semitism without out the jews” seemed familiar somehow, until I remembered what my grandmother (emigrated from Austria to America prior to WWI) once told me about her memories of anti-semitism in the old country, and what she heard from relatives who had stayed behind: that it was based at least a much on envy of the financial success that many Jews had achieved as much as anything else…a belief /feeling that this wealth must have been ill-gotten, otherwise everyone else would have had the same success. How could they be so selfish?
    The 1%, circa 1913.

  12. billy says

    This misses the essential question: where did the money come from. ?
    No one has ever paid a sou to see him. in a film…save Green Card.

  13. z9z99 says

    Ms. Iacub displays a resentful childishness in her reasoning, although her thought process barely qualifies as reasoning. The statement

    The accumulation of money [by those who cannot have further need of any] is a sort of madness, and a kind of injustice towards those who do not have enough even to meet the most basic needs of existence

    allows one of two possible inferences: that those who do not have enough to meet the basic needs of existence are that way because others accumulate money, or they are that way regardless of whether others accumulate money. The former instance is a moral issue because, if the implication is true, people are being impoverished by those who accumulate wealth. If on the other hand, the latter is the case, the misfortune of others is a moral issue only in that it creates a question of conscience having to do with charity on the part of the affluent.

    Tellingly, Ms. Iacub makes no argument for either case. Common decency would seem to require that if you are accusing someone of impoverishing another, you should at least offer evidence and an argument. You should identify the mechanism and define the mischief. Identify the paupers who are such only because Mr. Depardieu is paid to entertain others. If, on the other hand, you are asserting a moral responsibility that the affluent hold toward the poor independent of the cause of the latter’s poverty, then say so. Ms. Iacub instead asserts “[a] rational and just society must prevent the accumulation of capital by individuals above a certain level.” This is neither rational nor just.

    It is not rational because Mr. Depardieu would not be wealthy if he did not utilize his considerable talent. If he did not act, he would not accumulate capital, but this fact would not enrich anyone else. The wealth that is created because people value Mr. Depardieu’s gift would simply not exist. Furthermore, if Mr. Depardieu’s acting does not itself impoverish others, the depriving him of wealth would deprive him of the means of charity. Everyone loses, except the envious, for whom poverty is not an enemy to be vanquished, but a weapon to be exploited. Envy is a poor basis for justice.

    If the accumulation of wealth and capital causes poverty

  14. says

    Hurrah for M. Depardeiu. He claims to have paid 190 million Euros in tax to France already. No disclosures of which I am aware of taxes to other jurisdictions but I trust others have made claims based on his earnings when he was within their borders and he has paid them as well. He has pulled well and above his burden in filling that treasury. To paraphrase Mr. Obama, “At some point, you’ve paid enough taxes.”

    Hurrah for Mr. Putin for keeping alive the concept of tax competition. It is, after all, a fundamental human right for one to be able to relocate oneself to escape oppression – to “vote with one’s feet” as it were. It is regrettable the politicians and other “thought leaders” of France engages in this class warfare still and also that the US has now instituted the odious exit taxes on citizens who wish to disembark for lower burden climes. The exit taxes are reminiscent of East Germany and the Soviet States. We are not subjects of the federal government but citizens of the several states. Citizens should be free to decamp without confiscation of their property.

  15. DonM says

    Or if Monsieur Depardeau is deranged for being so popular with his employers that they were willing to pay him millions, imagine the madness of the government employees who think such money is important enough to strip someone else of that money, but not so important to work for it themselves.

    Now think of the mental state of the poor. There is a reason why Hugo wrote Les Miserables of France, when a child attempting to prevent his family was jailed, a man who was the productive engine of a town was chased out, a gentleman who saved an orphan was hounded for his generosity.

    The French farmer found a magic lamp, and on rubbing it, found that the genie would grant him a wish, but his neighbor would have the same wish doubled.

    “Blind me in one eye” the farmer said without hesitation.

  16. says

    Yes, the monopoly of force leads to all kinds of bad things. However, there is nothing compassionate about collectivism, in fact, it’s the opposite of true compassion. Guided by Marx, the objective of communism is to obliterate truth and because of the way the individual is subsumed by the state, to completely eliminate real compassion from the individual. (see chapter 2 of the Communist Manifesto)

  17. FB says

    I’m sure the French government will put Mr. Depardieu’s money to better use than he ever could. After all, he spends every day swimming through his Scrooge McDuck vault filled with cash, gold, and jewels, and none of that money is ever invested in businesses that provide services and employment.

    But why should the 75% tax bracket be limited to millionaires? Government officials and employees should pay that much for anything above the median income. Isn’t it incredibly unfair for officials to make so much more money than the people they govern? The cynical among us may say that they would refuse to work if their pay took such a cut, but they underestimate the feeling of Solidarité among French public servants. After all, government employees are paid with taxes taken from the people of France, and giving that money to those making more than a typical person’s salary is a sort of madness, and a kind of injustice towards those who do not have enough even to meet the most basic needs of existence.

  18. David says

    The makings of a fine essay, dragged under by its conclusion.
    I can’t but think that were Depardieu to give away the wealth that the French government would have taxed away, he would be hailed in France as a hero for the ages: Jose Bove + Robin Hood.

  19. Tony says

    All the logical fallacies applied by the advocates of “social justice” – in most cases appeal to pity or thinly veiled ad hominem arguments – are irrelevant to the point where one can easily dismiss even contemplating them.
    The only relevant question in the case of Depardieu versus his detractors, is not whether he “can afford” to part with some of his possessions, or whether he does or does not want to part with some of them, but whether the state has the moral right to force him to part with them.
    And let’s call a spade a spade; the so-called solidarity that many “social justice” proponents want, is in spite of their fraudulent terminology never “asked” of people, but forcibly imposed by the state. The correct terminology here is grand larceny.
    Another point to make, is that while some of these people may refer to money as a “false god”, they need to look no further than their own worship of the state and its methods, if one wants to see worship of a false god. To claim that the state’s purpose is to fix all supposed ills in society, and that it is in every way above individuals in society, is to put on the same height as a god: to be worshipped and served, not the question. Just look at the hymns sang in glorification of it, the various rituals and symbols. The furor caused by the questioning of its majesty.
    Finally, the notion that by taking action, Depardieu would risk losing things such as ‘the love, esteem and admiration of his fellow-countrymen.’ Various things could be concluded. First of all, that if these things are dependent on what people can forcibly take from him, these things are meaningless to begin with. They are nothing but the love, esteem and admiration that the thief has for his victim’s spoils. Not for his works or his art, as these have not changed regardless of him leaving the country.
    Second, that they have shown already to have no respect and love for the rights of Depardieu. Rich people should not have any rights. His duty is to be picked clean.
    The “love, esteem and admiration” mentioned here, are no more than the love, esteem and admiration that the vampire bat has for the cow, or the flea has for the dog. The cow swatting its tail at the bat, or a dog scratching the flea, will lose the bat’s and flea’s admiration, respectively, in the same way the French tax consumers and political class lose admiration for Gerard Depardieu.
    I would say that it’s no loss worth losing sleep over.

  20. Tony says

    And to add, when compared to the lower classes, politicians and intellectuals have much higher income. Yet what we see with especially politicians, is that their higher income actually comes from property confiscation of many people with lower incomes. And they dare call out Depardieu who makes his living with honest, peaceful, and productive work.

  21. james wilson says

    The greatest sustained era of rising standards of living and opportunity took place when there was no income tax. That is beyond our power to imagine now. As Burke once wrote, we have learned to do a great many clever things; the next great task will be to learn not to do them.

  22. Rob De WItt says

    “Most immense fortunes are obtained ….either by inheritance or as a consequence of a special talent for accumulating money.”

    True enough, and based on 68 years of scuffling for my supper I’d bet next month’s SS check that Marcela Iacub is an example of the former.

    Going all the way back to ’60s, I’ve never met a self-righteous leftie who lacked a significant safety net, inherited from his or her parents.

    Just an observation.

  23. Arrivederci says

    Marcela Iacub: “The accumulation of money [by those who cannot have further need of any] is a sort of madness, and a kind of injustice towards those who do not have enough even to meet the most basic needs of existence.”

    Or as put more succinctly by President Obama: “At some point, you’ve made enough money.”

    The obvious conclusion is that once you’ve made a certain amount of money (whether yearly or lifetime), you should simply stop working and go on vacation. I’m not sure just how that is supposed to benefit society, but I’ll take the word of my compassionate social-justice betters. (What’s that? I have a “social responsibility” to keep working with no benefit to myself? My, what a nice euphemism!)

  24. ArchieB says

    “A rational and just society must prevent the accumulation of capital by individuals above a certain level”. This is a good example of a common fallacy often made by those on the left -the idea that saved money is simply lying idle and doing no good for society (see also attacks on ‘horders’ in the past). Depardieu presumably keeps his large wealth in shares, bonds or simply in the bank. In any event, his saving would be used to fund investments by business or loans by the bank (say mortgages). Depardieu’s savings would thus create jobs by allowing business to expand or allowing people to buy homes at a lower mortgage rate. Saved money doesn’t ‘disappear’ to the detriment of society, it becomes investment.

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