[Editor's Note: The following post is by TDV editor-in-chief, Jeff Berwick]
If I had told you twenty years ago that the rich of the West would have to flee to Russia for economic freedom, you might have slapped me for lying.
But that is exactly what is going on today as Western governments get increasingly brazen about their true kleptocratic natures, seeking to “expropriate the expropriators” in order to save their unsustainable welfare (European) and warfare (American) states.
Europe has never been the land of economic freedom, but it wasn't as bad as the Communist states of the USSR which kept roughly 100 percent of their citizens' income, a condition commonly known as slavery. Before the fall of Communism, people were actually risking their lives trying to escape places like Russia and East Germany. Now as Russia moves away from economic slavery toward economic freedom and Western Europe takes giant steps toward communism, the rich of the West are both the first targets—and the first escapees.
Famed French actor Gerard Depardieu is the probably the most well-known name among the first defectors fleeing French Socialist President Francois “I Hate The Rich” Hollande. Hollande has literally said, “I don't like rich” which plays well in France for reasons I'll explore below. Yet he also has no shame in using the rich's money – at gunpoint, of course – to fund his socialist redistribution schemes. Hollande wasted absolutely no time in trying to make good on his pledge to raise the top tax rate to 75 percent on French citizens who earn a million euros per year.
Depardieu, who apparently would make a fine Dollar Vigilante, almost as immediately put his Paris mansion up for sale, crossed the French border into the Belgian village of Nechin where a tiny community of French just beyond the reach of French taxation already existed, gave up his French passport, and is in the process of renouncing his French citizenship. Depardieu has already paid roughly $200 million in taxes to the French government over his decades-long and very successful acting career. This year he's already paid 85 percent of his income.
Hollande calls the departing Depardieu “pathetic” and “unpatriotic”, which is exactly like a high-ranking mob lieutenant calling a local business owner pathetic and unpatriotic for moving out of the neighborhood where the mob boss regularly extorts protection money from all the business owners Culture Minister Aurelie Filippeti describes Depardieu as “deserting the battlefield in a war against the economic crisis”, but is it any surprise that Depardieu cannot stand any more theft-based support of his tax farmers…that like any weary soldier tired of losing limbs in some war contrived by politicians Mr. Depardieu just wants to take what's left of his broken (financial) body and go live in peace?
So when Russian Premier Vladmir Putin offered Depardieu a Russian passport (Russia has a flat rate income tax of only 13%), can anyone blame Depardieu for graciously accepting the offer with a warm hug?
Of course the story has a few complications. For example, Depardieu's father was an avowed communist who described Soviet Russia as a “glorious democracy”. And Depardieu himself is a colorful and larger than life character in France who is as known for his antics as he is for his acting. So for Depardieu to renounce French citizenship, for tax purposes, and talk up his admiration for Russian history, hug Putin, and then wave his passport for the cameras would be like Clint Eastwood renouncing his US citizenship, mailing a picture of his naked buttocks to the IRS, and then joining the Taliban.
You have to remember that Depardieu is a Frenchman escaping France, a country known for its sense of national pride (perhaps even worse than the US) and for its widespread and deep distrust of anyone who accumulates wealth. This is a country that can't imagine anyone actually giving up French citizenship to which everyone in the world aspires (sound familiar?). This isn't a country that holds up its wealth accumulators as examples to be followed, or indeed a country willing to embrace the increasing standards of living that free enterprise brings. The French are more in love with their history and a sense egalitarianism at government gunpoint than they are in progress brought by economic freedom. They almost give the impression that they'd rather see horse drawn carriages in their picturesque ancient cities and farms than not have their old people die in frequent summer heat waves because they lack modern extravagances like air conditioners.
During the French Revolution, the rich – who, to be fair, did enjoy a state-supported stranglehold on wealth – were introduced to the guillotine, also known as the “National Razor”. Today France's super-rich, unlike America's super-rich, give money not to charities but to politicians as protection money to be redistributed among the lower classes so they don't get too agitated, and otherwise stay out of view. Depardieu is far from the only super-rich French citizen to head for the exit when Hollande came to power (one French radio station reported that as many as 5,000 rich French are seeking to no longer be French this year). But none of the others have been as flagrant as Depardieu has been about it (hugging Putin and waving that new Russian passport).
France's constitutional court has overturned the “Supertax”, but Hollande's Socialist government isn't calling it quits yet and intends to get its pound of flesh from the super-rich. In fact, with that 75% tax they seem to be aiming to leave nothing but the bones. Depardieu may be talking up Russian history now and claiming that if this was just about taxes, he would have left long ago, but as a Frenchman he is intimately knowledgeable about French history and he can clearly see where this is headed. The government is running out of other people's money. The rabble are getting agitated and the politicians are sharpening their knives with clear intent. It's time to get out.
France is merely the canary in the expropriation coalmine, however. The governments of the entire Western World are reaching the inevitable end result of spending more than they steal from productive citizens. And so we have the great irony of the world's largest and most recent slave state, Russia, becoming a haven for those seeking economic refugee status. The lesson to be learned here is that it is best to remain nimble among a landmine of the violent thieves known as governments. That's the point of having an extra passport (or two); you spread the geopolitical risk that goes with having to a live in a world completely divided up into tax farms. And while Russia's 13 percent tax rate must seem much better to fleeing Frenchmen than 75 percent, TDV offers citizenships and passports to countries with even better rates and much better climates. Click here now to learn more.