Saturday, August 11, 2012

Killing the Goose That Lays the Golden Eggs

French president Hollande has apparently chosen to follow the thinking of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises and raise the top tax rate in his country to 75%, essentially confiscating most of the wealth of thousands of Frenchmen. His reason has nothing to do with economic need. It's simply class warfare, at least according to this New York Times article:
A chill is wafting over France’s business class as Mr. Hollande, the country’s first Socialist president since François Mitterrand in the 1980s, presses a manifesto of patriotism to “pay extra tax to get the country back on its feet again.” The 75 percent tax proposal, which Parliament plans to take up in September, is ostensibly aimed at bolstering French finances as Europe’s long-running debt crisis intensifies.

But because there are relatively few people in France whose income would incur such a tax — an estimated 7,000 to 30,000 in a country of 65 million — the gains might contribute but a small fraction of the 33 billion euros in new revenue the government wants to raise next year to help balance the budget.

The French finance ministry did not respond to requests for an estimate of the revenue the tax might raise. Though the amount would be low, some analysts note that a tax hit on the rich would provide political cover for painful cuts Mr. Hollande may need to make next year in social and welfare programs that are likely to be far less popular with the rank and file.

In that regard, the tax could have enormous symbolic value as a blow for egalité, coming from a new president who has proclaimed, “I don’t like the rich.”
Whatever revenue Mr. Hollande realizes from such a tax he'll only realize it once. After that there won't be anyone left in the upper tax brackets to squeeze money from:
Many companies are studying contingency plans to move high-paid executives outside of France, according to consultants, lawyers, accountants and real estate agents — who are highly protective of their clients and decline to identify them by name. They say some executives and wealthy people have already packed up for destinations like Britain, Belgium, Switzerland and the United States, taking their taxable income with them.

They also know of companies — start-ups and multinationals alike — that are delaying plans to invest in France or to move employees or new hires here.

....Mr. Hollande was elected in May on a wave of resentment against “les riches” — company executives, bankers, sports stars and celebrities whose paychecks tend to be seen as scandalous in a country where the growing divide between rich and poor touches a cultural nerve whose roots predate Robespierre.

Taxes are high in France for a reason: they pay for one of Europe’s most generous social welfare systems and a large government. As Mr. Hollande has described it, the tax plan is about “justice,” and “sending out a signal, a message of social cohesion.”
But what will France do when there are no rich left to tax?
“The thing French politicians don’t seem to understand or care about is that when you tax away two-thirds of someone’s earnings to appeal to voters, productive people who can enrich businesses and the economy won’t come — or they will just leave,” said Diane Segalen, a corporate headhunter.

She said she had been close to sealing a deal for a seasoned executive in London to join one of France’s biggest companies earlier this year, when Mr. Hollande made his 75 percent vow.

“When the guy heard that, he said, ‘I’m not coming,’ and withdrew from the process,” said Mrs. Segalen, the head of the Segalen et Associés, a consulting firm.

For Mrs. Segalen, the proposal is the latest red flag in a country that has long labored under the image of being a difficult place to do business. France has a 33 percent corporate tax rate — the euro zone’s second-highest, after Malta’s 35 percent. That contrasts with the 12.5 percent rate in Ireland, which has deliberately kept a lid on corporate taxes as a lure to businesses.

“It is a ridiculous proposal, but it’s great for us,” said Jean Dekerchove, the manager of Immobilièr Le Lion, a high-end real estate agency based in Brussels. Calls to his office have picked up in recent months, he said, as wealthy French citizens look to invest or simply move across the border amid worries about the latest tax.

“It’s a huge loss for France because people and businesses come to Belgium and bring their wealth with them,” Mr. Dekerchove said. “But we’re thrilled because they create jobs, they buy houses and spend money — and it’s our economy that profits.”
We're seeing something similar happening in California where people with means are fleeing the state to get away from confiscatory taxes and oppressive regulations. When the rich leave everyone else is poorer. You may not like the rich, you may have good reason not to like them, but it's an economic fact of life that the more of them there are, the better off everyone else is. They may not be likeable, but we need them.