French columnists are busy scouring the lyrics of aging rocker Johnny Hallyday for something appropriately witty to explain why the 63-year old is taking his fortune to Switzerland. Johnny, who in the past has tried to claim Belgian nationality to lessen his tax bill, says he has ‘had it’ with the French taxman who lets him keep he only 32 centimes of every euro he earns (on an annual salary of 6-8 million euros).
After much hyped media appearances over the summer, where Johnny and his family signed up to Sarkozy’s UMP party, he looked like a traitor. Yet Sarkozy resisted criticism, saying: ‘when so many of our artists, creative people, and researchers say they must leave, it’s our country which has problem.’ Newspapers began totting up all the famous and succesful people that French taxes – particularly the walth tax known as ISF – have driven out of the country.
The ISF appears to cost France more than it brings in, as people shift themselves and their money elsewhere. Yet it appeals to the class hatred that is surprisingly easy to whip up in France, and so Chirac’s government didn’t dare get rid of it. While Johnny’s actions as an economic actor may be understandable, Segolene’s response was to lecture him for being a bad citizen. Yet to say he lacks ‘solidarity’ is a little naive. People, even French people, are selfish, at least to some extent, and need more carrot and less stick in enticements to being a good patriot.