How Socialism Has Doomed France

The French government is wringing its hands in frustration about how to deal with wealthy French nationals who are expatriating to avoid France's crushing new tax hikes.

World-renowned actor Gérard Depardieu, for example, has recently decided to take up residence just across the Belgian border to avoid the tax penalty he would incur by remaining in France.  This is merely an allegation at this point, of course, but it seems a safe guess that Depardieu has noticed French politicians' distaste for the wealthy -- which is not a feat of consciousness, considering that the new socialist president François Hollande has famously quipped, "I don't like the rich" while campaigning on promises to "tax annual income of more than one million euros per year at 75 percent."  

It's just the latest of many black eyes for France's new administration.  France's richest man, Bernard Arnault, has applied for Belgian citizenship, and according to The Telegraph, "among Mr. Depardieu's new neighbors in the village of Nechin will be members of the Mulliez family, who own the Auchan supermarket chain."  And for months now, wealthy French families have been buying real estate in England, thanks in part to British Prime Minister David Cameron's shrewd marketing.  Seeking to poach tax revenue from France, he has promised successful French families and businesses that the U.K. will "roll out the red carpet" in welcoming them.  Understandably, they find that message a tad more attractive than Hollande's.

This presents problems for French socialists beyond the immediate loss of revenue which would finance their proposed top-down redistribution.  There is also the issue of image.  After all, convincing the world that France's socialist government is successful is a pretty tough sell when the successful want absolutely nothing to do with it. 

It is no coincidence that those who would be required to finance a Utopian redistribution of wealth are rarely supporters of implementing such a model.  John Locke observed that natural laws exist, independent of any system of government, and among these are not only the individual's fundamental right to life and liberty, but also a right to "property," which can be described as the product of a person's labor and enterprise. 

Most Westerners would say that they accept this assumption in theory, but due to a curious caveat in human nature, many only limitedly accept it in practice.  An individual will typically be far more concerned with the preservation of this natural right to "property" when it is his own "property" that is targeted for seizure.  The Occupier of Zuccotti Park, for example, may find it a travesty that a homeless man steals his wallet to subsidize a livelihood, but when a homeless man has his livelihood subsidized by someone else's wallet in a transaction brokered by the government, the incident somehow becomes noble and necessary.

It is the tragic flaw by which the grand ambition of socialism has always failed, and will always fail.  Human nature resists any attempt to seize one's property beyond what he would willingly give.  This is the very basis of the social contract between a free man and a just government.  A man chooses to take part.  If that social contract is amended to be uniquely biased against his right to property, absent his consent, he may rightfully exercise his right to liberty and seek avenues to establish a new contract with a government, either by revolution or, more commonly today, expatriation.

France lacked the foresight to anticipate this natural outcome, which poses a massive problem for the country's future.  In a sense, the fate of the nation is tied to the outcome of its redistributive endeavors.  And so, France finds itself it the distinctive, though not unique, situation where left-wing socialism and far-right nationalism have become symbiotic bedfellows.

Therefore, these wealthy individuals, who have the audacity to abscond with their own property that the government has decided belongs to the collective, are being vilified from all angles.  Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault stirs the anger of the socialism-loving French people by reminding them that "[w]e cannot fight poverty if those with the most, and sometimes with a lot, do not show solidarity and a bit of generosity."  Consumption minister Benoit Hamon called the move by Depardieu, in particular, "anti-patriotic."  Ever the tolerant ideologues, voices of the French left have kindly commented on Depardieu's personal choice by labeling him a "drunken, obese petit-bourgeois reactionary."  And right-wing nationalists aren't letting the leftists poke all the fun, as National Front leader Marine Le Pen said that wealthy exiles like Depardieu just want to "have their cake and eat it," a phrase which arouses a particularly clever subtext in terms of the history of French nationalism.

Thankfully, Mr. Depardieu doesn't have a guillotine in his future.  The ol' blade of French social justice is a bit grotesque for modern sensibilities, having recently been retired and all.  (However, I absolutely anticipate French bloggers and upcoming political cartoons to make use of its symbolic value in calling for these greedy villains' heads.)  But punishments for expatriation are being offered, including the threat to strip these rich defectors of their French citizenship if they refuse to pay the required tribute to their motherland.  I expect that these punishments will only become more creative and painful as expatriation creates an increasingly large shortfall in the redistributive pot.

France is now presented with a choice, and frankly, it is not so dissimilar to our own, considering that Barack Obama's vision for America mirrors (though currently to a lesser extent) that of Hollande.  France can continue on its projected path to discriminately seize substantially more property from the wealthy, and watch as its most successful producers leave the country with their ample resources, leaving an impossible burden upon the middle class to finance the collective welfare.  Or it can continue on that same projected path, but choose to do what socialist governments have historically done when confronted with selfish well-to-dos who refuse to finance a collectivist paradise for the ne'er-do-wells.  They can institute rigid policy to punish the wealthy brigands for their insolence and confiscate the demanded tribute by any means necessary -- and it will be presented as necessary, as the survival of France will depend on it.  

At any rate, either path leads to failure in terms of freedom and prosperity.  This is a fate that France now seems doomed to suffer.

France could, of course, take the third way, and abandon the foolish endeavor to redistribute its way to Utopia.  But I harbor little hope for that, at least with the current administration -- on that side of the pond or this one.

William Sullivan blogs at and can be followed on Twitter.