Martin Collet

Is Taxation Confiscation? Publication date : March 20, 2014

Martin Collet is a professor of law at Panthéon-Assas University, in Paris.

What makes the legitimacy, or illegitimacy, of a given tax? What is the optimal rate of taxation beyond which it becomes confiscation? And who is to judge?
These are some of the questions raised here regarding the French Constitutional Council’s recent interventions on fiscal policy: rejection of the Sarkozy ‘carbon tax’ project, abolition of the 75% income tax bracket promised by François Hollande, denunciation of the ‘confiscatory character’ of several tax hikes proposed by the administration of Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
How did this situation come about? That is what the author shows here, tracing how certain characteristics of the fiscal system were etched into the Constitution by a judge; and how this, in turn, closed all discussions that could nourish political controversy, thus restricting the scope of public debate.
The fact that some of these constitutionally approved principles (coherence, proportionality, etc.) are widely endorsed should not obscure the crucial point that these principles were ratified by a judge rather than by the people or their elected representatives. In a democracy who should have the last word? When a judge’s alleged wisdom takes precedence over the wishes of the people’s elected representatives, the watchword is suspicion: government by the ‘best’ or the ‘wisest’ is not democracy, it’s an aristocracy, warns Martin Collet.

• Taxation and its projected reform are at the heart of French political discussions. The legal approach adopted here reveals a surprising aspect.
• A highly accessible book for anyone interested in how laws develop in society.