It’s a stretch, but what is happening today in France is being compared to the revocation of 1685. In that year, Louis XIV, the Sun King who built the Palace of Versailles, revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had protected French Protestants – the Huguenots. Trying to unite his kingdom by a common religion, the king closed churches and persecuted the Huguenots. As a result, nearly 700,000 of them fled France, seeking asylum in England, Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa and other countries.
The Huguenots, nearly a million strong before 1685, were thought of as the worker bees of France. They left without money, but took with them their many and various skills. They left France with a noticeable brain drain.
Since the arrival of Socialist President François Hollande in 2012, income tax and social security contributions in France have skyrocketed. The top tax rate is 75 percent, and a great many pay in excess of 70 percent.
As a result, there has been a frantic bolt for the border by the very people who create economic growth – business leaders, innovators, creative thinkers, and top executives. They are all leaving France to develop their talents elsewhere.
And it’s a tragedy for such a historically rich country. As they say, the problem with the French is they have no word for entrepreneur
. Where is the Richard Branson of France? Where is the Bill Gates?
“Do you see that man in the corner? I’m going to kill him. He’s ruined my life!”
This angry outburst came from a lawyer friend who is leaving France to move to Britain to escape the 70 percent tax he pays. He says he is working like a dog for nothing – to hand out money to the profligate state. The man he was pointing to, in a swanky Japanese restaurant in the Sixth Arrondissement, is Pierre Moscovici, the much-loathed minister of finance. Moscovici was looking very happy with himself. Does he realize Rome is burning?
Granted, there is much to be grateful for in France. An economy that boasts successful infrastructure such as its high-speed rail service, the TGV, and Airbus, as well as international businesses like the luxury goods conglomerate LMVH, all of which define French excellence. It has the best agricultural industry in Europe. Its tourism industry is one of the best in the world.
But the past two years have seen a steady, noticeable decline in France. There is a grayness that the heavy hand of socialism casts. It is increasingly difficult to start a small business when you cannot fire useless employees and hire fresh new talent. Like the Huguenots, young graduates see no future and plan their escape to London.
The official unemployment figure is more than 3 million; unofficially it’s more like 5 million. The cost of everyday living is astronomical. Paris now beats London as one of the world’s most expensive cities. A half liter of milk in Paris, for instance, costs nearly $4 – the price of a gallon in an American store.