America, Europe, and the Culture of Economic Freedom

Becoming EuropeThe only political prediction which I am proud to have made is that there would be demonstrations on the Boulevard St Germain if, in response to the riots in the banlieues of French towns and cities in 2005, the French government attempted the slightest liberalization of the French labor market. And so it proved: thousands of young people came out on to the streets to protest against what was really only a straw in the wind or a cloud on the horizon. They were protesting, in fact, against the potential withdrawal not of the privileges that they now enjoyed but that, as children of the prosperous and the fully-employed, they hoped to enjoy in the future.

It never occurred to them that the employment protections of some are the exclusion from the labor market of others. They were, in effect, like the white miners of the Witwatersrand in South Africa who went on strike in 1922 against the use of black miners as an economy measure by the mine owners. Their slogan, under the leadership of the South African communists, was ‘Workers of the world unite for a white South Africa.’   

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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.

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