French actor Gerard Depardieu, who has had roles in about 180 movies including "Green Card" and "Cyrano de Bergerac," has renounced his citizenship in the country to protest France's high taxes.
France's new President, Francois Hollande, wants to raise France's income tax on those making more than a million euros a year to 75% from 41%.
That's apparently too much for the actor, who moved to Belgium in protest and has now renounced his French citizenship and been given a Russian passport.
(Russia has a flat tax of 13%, and Depardieu's defection has been a huge coup for the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin, who publicly dined with the actor recently at Putin's house in Sochi.)
Depardieu's highly public departure follows the exodus of other wealthy people in France. But Depardieu is one of the few who has explicitly admitted that his move is about money.
The threat to renounce one's citizenship over taxes, obviously, isn't limited to France. Americans frequently threaten to do the same thing, and some of them--such as Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, who ditched his U.S. passport--actually follow through on the threat.
But the difference between taxes in America and taxes in France is that taxes in America actually aren't very high, at least not compared to taxes in other developed countries.
A 2009 study by the OECD found that total US taxes amount to about 24% of GDP, which ranked the US only the 32nd-most-taxed industrialized nation. The total tax take in the U.S. was only half of the rate of the highest-taxed country, Denmark, where taxes totaled 48% of GDP. And Denmark wasn't a ridiculous outlier: More than 20 countries had taxes that exceeded 30% of GDP.
In the U.S., meanwhile, the total tax take is at one of the lowest levels it has been in 40 years.
Of course, these facts don't stop some Americans from arguing that U.S. taxes are outrageously high. And what a lot of these people want is for the American government to stop providing some of the services and safety nets that have become the backbone of developed-country governments elsewhere in the world.
Obviously, no one likes paying taxes.
And everyone wants someone else to pay all the taxes.
But it's impossible for a government to provide all the services that the U.S. government is providing now without taxes being even higher than they are today. We can't run our current budget deficit forever.
So, ultimately, this is a philosophical debate about what services the government should provide.
But as we continue to have that debate, which is obviously a passionate one (people like the services the government provides), we should at least keep in mind one fact that occasionally gets lost:
Relative to the rest of the developed world, America's tax rates are low.
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