French Tax Exiles Unlikely to Go Home

For all the joking about the French (e.g.: Ad seen on E-Bay: French military rifles for sale. Hardly used, only dropped once), they deserve credit for not being dumb enough to trust politicians. A Bloomberg story discusses the huge number of productive people who have fled France’s oppressive tax system and notes that very few of these tax exiles are tempted to return merely because Sarkozy is tinkering with the tax system:

Nicolas Sarkozy is rolling out the welcome mat for thousands of rich French people who fled one of Europe’s most onerous tax regimes. Few may heed his call. In his first economic act as president, Sarkozy is pushing a tax law to lure back exiles such as rock star Johnny Hallyday, 64, and members of the Mulliez clan, who control the French retailer Groupe Auchan SA. The measure will increase exemptions on the “fortune” tax – the bete noire of rich expatriates – and cap the total individual tax rate at 50 percent of income. Sarkozy, 52, needs these wealth-creators to help rekindle an economy that’s lagging behind its neighbors and to sustain future growth. …

“In France, to earn a lot of money is to be seen as a little bit criminal,” says author Anne-Marie Mitterrand, who moved to Belgium in 1997. … “The Right to Laziness,” a 19th century book by Paul Lafargue, Karl Marx’s son-in-law, advised against working more than three hours a day. And French author Honore de Balzac famously said, “Behind every great fortune lies a crime.” This prejudice drove French citizens to Switzerland, Belgium, the U.K. and the
U.S., where at least 500,000 of them reside, either to make more or keep more of what they have. London and the U.S. are preferred refuges for younger people. Switzerland, with about 200,000 French residents, attracts the retired and stars like Hallyday. …

Households fleeing the fortune tax climbed to a record 649 in 2005 from 370 in 1997, according to a study by French Senator Philippe Marini. Another study by the Economic Analysis Council, which advises the government, says about 10,000 business directors fled in the last 15 years, taking 70 billion to 100 billion euros ($137 billion) in capital to invest elsewhere. …

Francois Micheloud, a Lausanne lawyer who helps clients settle in Switzerland, says he doubts French exiles will return anytime soon because they distrust government tax policies.