Do you agree? Flawed trickle-down economics at odds with French values

Columnist Nick Inman digs into why many French people are sceptical that tax breaks for the wealthy will benefit society

Tax breaks encourage the wealthy to spend money in France according to trickle-down economics

Why are the French so reluctant to let the wealthy be wealthy? Why do so many of them object to the policies of trickle-down economics?

There was much griping when Emmanuel Macron, often accused of being a president for the rich, abolished the wealth tax, on the premise that if the rich can be encouraged to stay in France, it will benefit us all.

It seems like a no-brainer: someone has to create the wealth before it can be shared around the rest of society.

Incentivise those entrepreneurs with tax breaks and they will invest in France, creating jobs. And when they spend their money on goods and services, they will create even more jobs.

Make it too difficult, however, and they will skip off and live in another country.

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‘The presence of millionnaires does not mean no food banks’

The French have been watching the UK and US experiment with trickle-down theory since the 1980s, and many of them (not just on the left of politics) remain sceptical.

It is worth considering for a moment why this should be. It is not just resentment or jealousy of the rich but some very Gallic objections.

For a start, trickle-down has not been proven to work beyond all doubt. The presence of millionaires in a society does not guarantee there will be no food banks, sink estates or in-work poverty.

Rich people do not necessarily spend their money on things that create secure, well-paid jobs and their largesse does not reach to all people and parts of the country.

The disabled and disadvantaged will perceive no benefit at all from letting the jet set play.

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‘Wealth can be a precondition of altruism or selfishness’

Allowed to keep their money through advantageous tax arrangements, the rich can spend it on stuff that brings no benefit to anyone (arms, drugs, vice) or is made in another country (planes, yachts, other luxury goods), or hoard it all in banks.

They also create their share of problems. Their luxury lifestyle can be highly polluting, and property speculation can mean that ordinary people cannot afford housing in their own areas. As a result, communities die.

Wealth can be a precondition of altruism or selfishness. The one is to be encouraged but the latter is not to be indulged.

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‘Sharing makes modern life liveable’

What the average-thinking French person will tell you is that irresponsible affluence goes against the values that hold civilisation together.

Much of what makes modern life liveable stems not from competition and high-flying but sharing.

Law and order, education, health, transport infrastructure, the administration of cities – these are not items of consumer choice but common goods.

Any billionaire who threatens to move abroad because he does not want to pay for all this stuff through taxes must despise the values of the Republic, say the French.

Should politicians really pander to his or her every caprice if that is their attitude to solidarity?

‘Profit motive offends the communitarian French’

Trickle-down assumes there are two kinds of people: the tiny minority with far too much – more than they could ever need – who should be allowed to do what they want; and the vast majority with not enough, who are unable to make any satisfactory lifestyle choices.

It also puts the profit motive above all other values, and that offends the communitarian French.

If having money is to be treated as a virtue, so too must having an attitude of service and self-sacrifice.

Maybe we do need the wealthy to throw their cash around, but we also need teachers, nurses and carers to do their jobs, knowing that what they give and get back cannot be measured in euros.

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