Matt Salisbury is a writer, designer and entrepreneur living in San Diego, CA.  He's interested in ways the Catholic Church's rich social teaching impacts political questions, society, and culture.


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The Crazy-Ass French

By Matt Salisbury

An election promise made at the cost of Subsidiarity is disturbing.

I’m not exactly a Francophile, but my wife and I had a blast in Paris last year.  The Louvre was pretty swell.  I even speak a little of the language.  I dunno.  I like crepes.

And yet the French are insane.

They elected Francois Hollande as their newest Great Leader.  I’ll be the first to admit my limited knowledge of what the guy’s all about – remember, the road I took led away from international relations as I mentioned before.  So I went to the Internet, hoping to learn more about the jolly Socialist.  The first thing I read shocked me.

Seventy-Five Percent.  That’s the tax rate Mister Hollande wants to impose on all his countrymen who make more than 1 Million Euro ($1.3M) per year.  This new tax rate, the highest in Europe, means top-tier earners will literally be handing three dollars over to the government out of every four they make.  Their longevity as top-tier earners will probably be in question.

There’s a great piece over at NPR that sheds a fascinating, terrifying light on this issue of The Seventy-Five Percent.  Sophie Pedder, Paris Bureau Chief for The Economist, says:

“Well, it's quite interesting because he's been very clear that he doesn't expect to raise almost any revenue at all from the tax rate. He says what he wants to do is impose a sort of morality on high earners and on what he calls indecent wages. So he's really trying to kind of curve, I suppose, excess…”

Pedder goes on to note that “probably no more than about 3,000 or so French households” would be affected.  So there isn’t much money being raised and it's not affecting many people.  Do French voters care?  Of course they do.  Again, from Pedder:

“I think it's been incredibly popular. And if I look back over this campaign, I think that it really marked the moment when he sort of touched French hearts about what he was really trying to do. There were polls that were taken immediately after his announcement, which suggested that the majority of the French thought it was a good idea.”

Um, okay.

How do we decide how much of a paycheck is too much?  Is it government’s job to punish top earners by literally forcing them down to parity with enormous tax burdens (and I do mean enormous)?  Honestly, this question interests me.  I’ll be the first one to fight egregious disparity of wealth.  I can’t believe that a CEO is really working 10,000+ times harder than the guy who mops all his floors. 

But I have a problem with a 75% tax rate on someone whose only crime is the luxury of a high paycheck. 

And this brings us to Subsidiarity.  In my mind, pay that’s too disparate should be addressed where the pain is: at the company or community level.  As our Catholic Catechism tells us:

1885 The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention.

And in the words of Pius XI:

“It is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry.” (Quadragesimo Anno, 79)

Now, I realize that this doesn’t always work.  But I’d still argue that the problem ought to be addressed at the local level, and preferably through non-governmental channels.  Appealing to the entire State’s figurehead (or his own appeal to the people) might make for good election year politicking, but doesn’t do the right sort of good.

The key seems to be balance, married with correctly ordered enforcement.

But, seriously, seventy-five percent.  God bless America.

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Reader Comments (6)

I think the writer meant curb, not curve, excess.

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterc matt

Yep! Thanks. That was bugging me, too. Figured I should just leave it that way since that's how it was in the source.

"I can’t believe that a CEO is really working 10,000+ times harder than the guy who mops all his floors"

Well, he's not. But that's irrelevant. The CEO makes much much more than the mopper because the CEO has specialized skills valued by by the company and is hard to replace, where an unskilled worker is easily replaced and his/her performance has low impact on the companies success...

May 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterScott

The problem is not with unequal pay, it's with grossly unequal pay. This is why the popes are so interested in protecting the dignity of the human person from being reduced to economic utility. A purely Capitalist system might ascribe value based solely on utility; a system that recognized the human value of the employee should offer greater parity on every front, including remuneration.

I'm French. I completely agree that the election of Mr. Hollande is a catastrophe, but mainly because he is in favor of same-sex "marriage" and euthanasia. As for his fiscal plan, I have no strong opinion one way or another but YOU make a huge mistake : his proposed 75% taxation rate does NOT mean that people making more than a million euro will give 3 bucks to the State for every 4 bucks they make : it means they will give 3 bucks to the State for every 4 bucks they make OVER ONE MILLION EURO A YEAR. This means that if they make, say, 1.4 million euro a year, they will give about 30% (the mean current tax rate for very high revenue) of the money they make BELOW ONE MILLION EURO A YEAR (so about 300,000 euro) PLUS 75% of the money they make OVER ONE MILLION EURO A YEAR (so 300,000 euro), so in total 600,000 euro NOT 75% of 1.4 million (which would be 1.05 million), that is to say about 1.7 buck for every 4 bucks they make.

Please correct your huge mistake which was caused by your obvious lack of basic knowledge of fiscal policy.

Besides, Mr. Hollande was not elected because of this plan (it was announced a few months ago and pretty much everyone had forgot about it by the time of the election). He was elected entirely because of the rejection of the incumbent, Mr. Sarkozy who was deemed too rude and annoying. The result, however, is still a horrible catastrophe but mainly because of the new President's support of same-sex "marriage" and euthanasia, not because of this insignificant (in comparison) fiscal plan.

Yours in Christ.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThibaud


My apologies! We'll try and raise the journalistic standards around here. You're absolutely right on the tax point. That was very poorly worded; I was caught up in enormity of 75% and didn't add the distinction between pre- and post- 1M euro taxation. I will publish a correction and clarification right away.

I'll have to disagree when you say that the rate increase had a marginal impact on voters. I understand that it would certainly impact different voters in different ways, but I'll stand behind Sophie Pedder's expertise when she says it was a great boost to the Hollande campaign.

I certainly appreciate your concerns about same-sex marriage, but I don't understand how they'd relate to Papal Economics or business.

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