Anyone else read Lauren Collins’ excellent essay in The New Yorker about Gerard Depardieu giving up his French citizenship in order to steer his ship to clearer, tax-free waters? It’s wonderful, and not only because of the accompanying picture (above).
On the one hand, her essay is about Depardieu’s career and how his upbringing and celebrity represents, in a sense, the bourgeois fantasy of the man who grows up poor but ends up making something out of himself. Depardieu is, indeed, a self-made man; not just an actor, but a pretty successful entrepreneur as well. On the other hand, the essay reveals quite a bit about the current state of French socialism about which I was admittedly ignorant.
The issue here is that Depardieu refused to accept the tax rate of 75% on the superrich and has renounced his citizenship. He is now—if I’m not mistaken— living in Belgium or Russia. (He was recently given Russian citizenship and counts Vladimir Putin as one of his pals). A few interesting points here are 1) the 75% tax rate is a temporary measure (3 years) to dig out of a huge national debt, 2) the tax rate affects only about 3,000 people in France, as the divide between the superrich and the lower classes is not as drastic as it is in the United States (for example), and 3) the majority of the French people support this tax hike and it is one of the many reasons the Socialists were able to get back in power after 17 years or so in the wilderness.
Depardieu, an international celebrity who is, in a way, a symbol of modern French cinema, is now a figure of derision. It seems that many French people believe that paying taxes is their patriotic duty and that capitalist success stories, like Depardieu, should give back to the country who made them a success. But Depardieu believes that it is he who has given so much to France, and so why is everyone trying to punish his success?
Depardieu would have scores of people—and an entire political party, even— who would agree with his stance in the United States, but what’s fascinating to me is that Depardieu’s outlook has been discredited, ridiculed, and derided in France. The consensus is quite simply: Pay up asshole. The debate rages on here, but it seems to be quite settled back in France, where there is a mix of both capitalist and anti-austerity measures in order to bring that country back from financial insolvency.