President Obama borrows a lot of his ideas from his friends in Europe. The continent's Big Government welfare state is an inspiration for someone who thinks the cure for too much spending is more spending. We hope the president is too busy with his scandals to pay attention to what's going on now in France.
Not content with bleeding the wealthiest Frenchmen who often discover a yen for citizenship in neighboring Belgium or not-so-neighboring Russia to avoid the cost of being French, the socialist government of Francois Hollande is pushing a 1 percent tax on smartphones and tablets. That $500 smartphone will cost an extra fiver for the privilege of owning one.
This technology tax isn't a user fee with revenue going toward a relevant cause, such as advancing broadband infrastructure development or even providing free Wi-Fi on the Eiffel Tower. Instead, a panel led by a former television executive Pierre Lescure wants this tax to support the "cultural exception" that funnels money to artists, writers, musicians and others who feel "cheated" by the new dynamics of the marketplace. It's very much like Britain's long-imposed "license fee" for radio and television sets, worth about $5.6 billion to the government just last year.
The French levy won't generate anywhere near that much, amounting to a fraction of the $260 million the government already raises from taxes on television broadcasters, movie tickets and Internet service. The French government uses these taxes to blunt the longstanding globalization of culture, in which American movies, songs and sitcoms are so dominant.
The redistribution of wealth is done in the name of fighting content piracy. David Jolly of the New York Times points out that it's difficult to make a 1:1 correlation between buying an electronic device and the downloading of "free" music and films. Just because someone has "l'iPhone," for example, doesn't mean he's also going to watch "24" on the Paris Metro. It means only that the device has the capability to do so. It's likely the owner of the device intends to legally purchase content from iTunes or other legal sources.
Naturally, the French government asserts the tax would be "painless for the consumer," and perhaps in a nation where everything is taxed many times another tax won't be noticed. France, which once backed America in its determination to declare its independence from Britain, has itself become a model of dependency. The government must finance every cultural endeavor.
The "cultural exception" might even become an obstacle to transoceanic talks to create a free-trade zone between Europe (including Britain) and the United States. The increased commerce and employment that would result is not necessarily good: French trade minister Nicole Bricq has vowed to erect a latter-day Maginot Line around "l'exception culturelle." (That other Maginot Line didn't work very well.)
The Paris government would better serve Frenchmen with a dynamic economy that generates jobs and creates opportunities, rather than rob those who buy the technology to enhance their lives and pass it on to the romantic garrets where "starving artists" work and play.
The Washington Times
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