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France Ratchets Up the War on Cash

February 17, 2013
France's state auditing bureau, Cour des Comptes, informed the French government that it was "dreaming" in forecasting that the French economy would grow this year by 0.8 percent, which would enable it to meet its budget deficit target of 3 percent of GDP. The bureau told French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault that a growth rate of 0.3 percent was more like it, which would not be sufficient to meet the deficit reduction target. This was the case despite--or more likely because of--the fact that a broad based tax increase had just been imposed that would extract another €32 billion euros from overburdened French businesses and households this year. So would a desperate Ayrault finally open his eyes to economic reality and slash the budget of the bureaucratic and bloated French State, a budget that is liberally larded with fascistic corporate welfare subsidies and bailouts? No way, no how. Instead Ayrault convened a meeting of the National Anti-Fraud Committee to crack down on tax cheats and presided over it himself--"A first for a head of government," he crowed. Tax fraud in France has been estimated to be in the range of €60 to €80 billion annually. Buried in Ayrault's proposal to crack down on tax cheats and further squeeze more revenue from its "fiscal residents"--those citizens and foreigners who have not been driven into part-time exile to escape French taxes--is a draconian provision that would lower the maximum cash payment per transaction from €3,000 to €1,000. Under the new limit a French citizen would not even be able to buy a used car for cash. The provision would not apply, however, to citizens and foreigners wealthy and savvy enough to have placed their income beyond the clutches of the rapacious French State by becoming fiscal residents of other countries. They would be subject to a limit of €10,000 per purchase in cash, down from the current limit of €15,000 per purchase. This may come to be called the Depardieu exception because French actor Gerard Depardieu recently caused a public stir by obtaining a Russian passport in order to take advantage of Russia's flat-rate income tax of 13 percent. One commentator perceptively summed up the inextricable link between the war on cash and the war on personal liberties:
With this law, the French government will be able to tighten the vise on its people one more turn, restricting their freedom of choice (how to pay), wiping out any privacy in those transactions, and imposing another layer of government control. Once people have gotten used to the €1,000 limit—based on the great principle of incrementalism with which restrictions of freedom come to pass in democracies—the vise will be tightened further, until the government can document every purchase made by “fiscal residents.”
HT to Nick G.

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