A Brilliant Idea: Introduce More Taxes

Obviously, Shinzo Abe is not the only economic genius populating the global political scene. There is one man in Europe who has become known for both his perpetually slightly confused mien and his astonishing (for a politician) propensity to keep electoral promises, especially when they concern tax hikes that invariably worsen his country's economic contraction.

We are of course referring to Francois Hollande, as the title of this post already indicates, whom Gaspard Koenig once characterized so trenchantly as the ultimate – and probably also terminal – embodiment of the European-style Welfare State”. 

One can always hope on that 'terminal' point.

Hollande is – similar to many of his predecessors – apparently very concerned about keeping France's unique cultural heritage alive and kicking, even if that means he has to invent and/or raise a few more taxes here or there. Some people might of course be inclined to allege that he has found yet another justification for extending the State's rapacious claws further into its citizens' pockets. Naturally only people who don't understand the urgency of defending France's embattled culture from the onslaught of evil free markets with any and all means at the government's disposal would say such a thing.

 

How to Guarantee “Cultural Exception”

As the Guardian reports, ubiquitous electronic gadgets of US and Asian provenance are henceforth to be taxed by the French government as part of its culture war:

 

“The French president, François Hollande, is considering a tax on smartphones, laptops and tablets to finance the country's celebrated "cultural exception".

The money raised from a 1% tax on all devices that connect to the internet, estimated at around €86m (£73m) a year, would be spent on supporting French music, images and film.

This latest proposed tax rise was among 75 suggested measures presented to Hollande on Monday by a special culture committee that has spent nine months examining ways to "protect the cultural exception… in the face of digital innovation".

 

(emphasis added)

That's right: it took a 'special culture committee' nine months to come up with this brilliant idea. Who knows what else they might come up with if they had the opportunity to stretch their deliberations out by a few more months? As you will see further below, they have actually also managed to propose at least one really good idea, but we'll keep that for last.

 

“The cultural exception is a battle for France and defending and adapting also contributes to growth and employment," Aurélie Filippetti, the culture minister, said after the report was presented to Hollande.”

She said phone and tablet manufacturers should pay in an "absolutely minimal way… part of the proceeds of their sales in favour of the creators".

"Today we have tablets, extremely sophisticated technological equipment that is extremely expensive to buy but which contributes nothing to the financing of the works that circulate on that same equipment," she said.”

 

(emphasis added)

New taxes 'contribute to economic growth and employment'?  Only in the parallel universe which Mrs. Filippetti apparently hails from. Of course no-one necessarily expects a 'culture minister' to have much understanding of  economics, but one question that immediately springs to mind is: why exactly does the country's culture need a minister? Like so many ministerial posts, this sounds like one that appointees should immediately resign from, so as to avoid meddling with the country's culture. It is rather difficult to believe that it can be improved by means of bureaucratic intervention.

 

“In 2012, almost one-quarter of all new televisions sold were internet-compatible. French consumers also bought 13.5m smartphones, 3.6m tablets and 4.5m laptop computers last year.

"Tax, always tax. The left is addicted to taxes and, despite the [economic] crisis, has not decided to kick the habit," Camille Bedin, the deputy general secretary of the opposition UMP party said.

France's "exception culturelle" is a precious concept that means anything considered to be of cultural value to French society must be protected from market forces in general and the pernicious spread of American films and the English language in particular.

The principle is enshrined in French law, which requires a strict limit to discount on books, a minimum 40% quota of French music on radio stations, state aid for all French films, reduced VAT on cinema tickets and mandatory subsidies paid by national television channels to finance French films.”

 

(emphasis added)

This would of course be laugh-out-loud funny, if not for the fact that it is quite typical for the arrogance and anti-capitalistic mentality of France's intellectual, political and bureaucratic elites. Consumer wishes be damned!

As an aside, French films generally have no need for subsidies – they are commercially quite successful in their own right. France has not the slightest  need to worry about the 'pernicious influence' of the highly marketable products emanating from Hollywood, low-brow though they may often be. The commercially most successful products of France's movie industry aren't exactly the most intellectually demanding works either.

That's the way it is with art and entertainment, most consumers want theirs shallow. After all, one needs to occasionally escape from the dreariness of the rat race, and watching wordy, pretentious, postmodern leftist indoctrination masquerading as entertainment isn't everybody's cup of tea (here is an example that is luckily quite dated and largely forgotten by now; don't get taken in by the rating, it is guaranteed to bore you to tears).

 


 

ROME : Francois Hollande.

France's minister of culture, the well-preserved Aurelie Filippetti, and the welfare state incarnate, Francois Hollande

(Photo via the Guardian)

 


 

One Really Good Idea

Considering that these custodians of France's cultural purity are seemingly so concerned with 'financing the works that are circulating' on the soon-to-be-taxed equipment, they have shown to possess a very refreshing attitude regarding the criminalization of copyright infringement.

This is of course mainly aimed at the above-mentioned Hollywood and its ubiquitous and rather litigious intellectual property police, the MPAA. However, we don't care if France's bureaucrats do the right thing mainly because they want to poke a perceived producer of 'enemy culture' in the eye. It is the result that counts in this case. As we learn from the Guardian article on this point:

 

“Curiously, the committee's 719-page report also proposes relaxing penalties for pirating videos and music from €1,500 to €60.”

 

It would have been even better to lower the penalty to zero, but €60 is undoubtedly a good sight better than €1,500. Moreover, the proposal probably guarantees that there will be a number of free lunches and free dinners with MPAA lobbyists – that way the brave French culture warriors get at least something out of the exercise for themselves. After all, creating a 719 page report justifying the next tax grab sounds like a lot of work.

 


 

 

 

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