Riche Con or Pauvre Victime? French Tycoon Sues Newspaper Over Story On His Seeking Belgian Citizenship

We have discussed the plan of the new French government to impose a 75% tax on the top earners in the country, a move that in my view is better politics than economics. Now there is an alleged tort to go with the politics (Thank God). France’s richest man, Bernard Arnault, announced that he was seeking Belgian nationality. The response from the leftist Liberation newspaper was a giant headline superimposed over Arnault’s face reading “Get lost, rich jerk”. Now Arnault is suing for for “public insult” – over the offending headline’s “vulgarity and brutality.”

Arnault is the head of the luxury conglomerate LVMH and denies that he is seeking Belgian citizenship to avoid the new tax by France’s Socialist government. The headline is a take off from a line by by ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, who told a man who refused to shake his hand “Casse-toi, pov’ con” (“Get lost, you poor idiot”).

Notably, while the earlier blog;drew comparisons between the tax and the French Revolution, the newspaper drew the same analogy in its response to Arnault — saying he is like the “nobles and opulent bourgeois” who resisted and fled the 1789 French Revolution. It is a curious analogy given the disastrous orgy of blood following the Revolution.

Despite the unfortunate analogy and my general agreement that the 75% tax is unwise, I fail to see how this is actionable. In the United States, a “public insult” is protected speech and courts limit tort liability so not to allow civil lawsuits to “chill” free speech. In addition to this, Arnault is a public figure in the midst of a public controversy. This strikes me as something that should be protected as opinion.

To the extent that the newspaper states as fact that he is fleeing taxes (something he denies), there may be factual challenges. However, this also may be covered by opinion as to his motivations. Even other super wealthy French citizens and conservative leaders have denounced the move by Arnault.

While his spokesman have cited the “extreme vulgarity and the violence of the headline,” it seems pretty mild and non-violent on this side of the pond. Of course, the French laws are different on defamation and the United States tends to protect free speech to a greater degree than even its closest allies.

What do you think?

Source: France 24

99 thoughts on “Riche Con or Pauvre Victime? French Tycoon Sues Newspaper Over Story On His Seeking Belgian Citizenship”

  1. @CornPone:

    “For the most part” doesn’t cut it. For the most part, none of us are murderers or would resort to murder for financial gain, but we still outlaw and punish murder, because there is a minority that see murder as a tool to be used when necessary.

    Likewise, “some bad actors” have no problem giving you cancer if they can figure out how to get away with it and still make a buck.

    Laws are necessary because about 2% of the population is truly sociopathic or psychopathic. About 20% of people, when they are separated from the harmful consequences of their actions by layers of intermediaries (as a CEO of a large corporation or organization usually is), are effectively sociopathic, meaning they care more about the numbers and profit than they do about any harm they might be causing to others, because that harm is only seen in the abstract, on paper, and can be easily forgotten.

    Laws are passed to control the heartless, brutal minority. And sure, it is possible that in my business career I have been exposed to more of that ilk than many others, but all the more reason you should listen to me.

  2. tony c:

    You can talk China and India and Nigeria all you want, I am talking America. Yes, there are some bad actors here but for the most part people are honest and try to do the right thing. You must hang out with a real scary crowd the way you talk. The people I hang out would no more build a defective product or provide a defective service than they would kill their first born.

  3. @Bron: None of that is worth answering, I have answered it all before. You are delusional, your greed and overwhelming sense of victimization make you see things that are simply not there. The vast majority of protective laws exist because people demanded them so they would stop being abused, victimized and exploited. They exist because people WERE doing whatever they could legally get away with, and even if that was a tiny minority of employers the only way to stop legal abuse and exploitation was to outlaw it.

    The truth is that if it is LEGAL to earn a profit by endangering others, or polluting the environment, or exploiting people’s trust or gullibility or lack of foresight, then people will do that; all the way up to and including outright slavery. You can see it now in India, China, Korea, Pakistan, Mexico and parts of Africa and South America. Denying that is pointless and delusional, it isn’t government regulation that encourages that profit-seeking behavior, it is the LACK of government regulation that encourages it.

    It makes no difference if the number of “employers” that do that is just a few; a few slavers is not a tolerable number of slavers. Your belief that business people will do what is right in the long term is just as delusional. Businessmen at every level live quarter to quarter, because their investors are judging every quarter versus the same quarter in the previous year.

  4. Well I dont disagree about mediocrity at the top. I always laugh when I think about Eisner re-releasing Pinocchio and that being enough to make Disney Inc. think he was a boy genius.

  5. tony c:

    in the construction industry, for lost time accidents, the payment by insurance companies to construction for safe working environments has done more than OSHA in eliminating lost time accidents.

    These payments can sometimes be in the millions of dollars, when most construction companies, at least the large ones, are working on a 2-5% profit margin, these payments can make a company very profitable.

    As far as fire safety goes, where do you think codes come from? They come from industry, the ICC is a committee of private practitioners and government code officials. Most of the research is done by private enterprise to improve construction and also to help sell their products. Simpson Strong Tie is a good example of this.

    The reason for those laws is lawyers willing to sue Snap On Tools for someone using an awl to take an eyelash out of their eye or using a hammer drill to remove a wart. Most products are safe, companies dont say “we want to build the crappiest product we can at the highest possible price”. That is a recipe for a short term enterprise.

    Most business people, if they are any good are looking long term for opportunities. If they are only paying attention to the short term then that is because of the vicissitude of government regulations.

    There are more than a few cheaters. I bet over 50% of the people on disability and welfare are gaming the system. The people who run the system have no reason to reduce the numbers because then it reduces their power. Welfare and government entitlement programs are 2 pronged, one is the people who receive money and the other are the people who administer the money. There is a large sector of our government which is employed to give money away, there is big money in social services. Do you think those people employed by the poverty “control” [more like poverty creation] sector have any motivation to reduce the number of recipients? No, they dont. But they do have an incentive to increase the number.

  6. @Bron: The number of people that can work and do not and get welfare or SS pay is minuscule. I agree that such cheats should be prohibited, I do not agree that we should abandon aid to people in need just because a few cheaters will get through.

    In such cases, the harm we are done by the clever cheaters is far less than the harm we would do if we abandoned people truly in need to their death.

    That is going to the be case in any large enterprise, including universities and corporations. I have been in enough to know that there are free loaders everywhere; in particular visit Mahogany Row (the C-level offices) and you will find people wildly overpaid for mediocre work that could be done better at half the price or less. You pay the “tax” for those freeloaders too, when you buy their products, because their salaries are built in to the price.

    But you buy those products anyway, because the price seems fair enough. Many of us feel that way about government aid to the needy, the price may have some freeloading built in, we do not like that or think it is fair, but overall the price is fair enough for the good that it does.

  7. @Bron: That is just falsehood, OSHA has had a huge impact, and so have the Fire safety and loading practices as encoded in the IBC (international building code). However, if you think OSHA had “marginal” effect then that is enough for me, if it saved workers from being killed on the job or contracting cancer or tuberculosis or emphysema, if it saved the amputation of a few limbs, that was worth it. If you really think it had “marginal” effect, then you also have to think it did not really cost businesses anything, because they were already following the rules set forth by OSHA. So by your light it MUST be that OSHA has only a “marginal” impact on profits, and really only controls those few psychopaths that would endanger the lives of their workers without informing them of that endangerment.

    If OSHA had a marginal effect then you are complaining about nothing, if OSHA had a big impact on profits then owners and managers really WERE endangering workers and had to be stopped.

    You really are not telling the truth, you are just saying whatever you WANT to be true to support your position.

    The truth is that safety and liability cost money, so if people can get away with cutting corners on safety, or working without liability, they DO.

    The proof of that is all around you, even now. Nobody accepts more liability than they are forced to accept. Look at Microsoft or Apple or Oracle or any other software firm and read their license: Zero liability of any kind, because that is what they can get away with. If product companies were allowed to make zero liability a condition of buying their product, they would.

    In fact, the vast majority of products and services are sold by corporations and limited liability companies, almost nobody does business without them. That protects persons within those structures from personal liability; the officers of those organizations bear zero personal responsibility if the corporation or LLC is sued. Nobody takes liability if they can help it.

    Every contract job I ever worked has had mutual zero liability clauses. Accepting liability is a dead loss; it doesn’t play well as a marketing point, and it cannot do anything but cost a vendor far more than it brings in, especially if nobody will take liability. Again, look at the software industry: NOBODY sells or licenses anything without the boiler plate that excludes them from liability.

    I have worked with devices that had electromagnetic emissions; and it costs money to suppress them: The manufacturers do as little as they can to reach the legal limits on that, lightning protection, fire protection, and I guarantee they would do less if it were legal, and DID do less when it WAS legal. Why? Because it is also not a real marketing point, the slogan “Our new staircase lift probably won’t set your house on fire!” worries people a little more than it assures them.

    Without liability being built into the law, then by using corporations, LLCs, or explicit contracts, nobody will take personal liability for anything.

  8. tony c:

    I dont know about what you see, but I see a good many structures from the late 19th century and early 20th century still standing and being remodeled and used again. Codes were very sparse back in the day and so were inspections.

    The triangle shirtwaist fire was not a problem with construction, but with procedures within the company. Some access doors were locked. But it wasnt a problem with construction.

    There are bad contractors and engineers but they still exist even with inspectors and stacks of codes.

    I would love to see the actual statistics about how many people died prior to inspections. I know what decreased lost time accidents in the construction industry was when insurance companies got tired of paying workman’s comp and started paying construction companies for a safe working environment. OSHA had marginal affect.

    Nature is a lottery. Helping someone because they are unable to work is quite a bit different from helping someone who is capable of working but does not. There are very few people in this country who cannot work because of physical and mental deficits. The problem is not with them but with the people who can but dont.

    Why should a person who has a physical or mental deficit and works be responsible, through their tax dollars, for someone who refuses to work but can? There is no morality in that.

  9. @Bron: The only reason buildings stand is because the engineers and most of the contractors want to make money.

    That is contradicted by history, the reason the inspections became necessary was because the buildings were catching fire and collapsing, and commerce had been engineered (by the free market principles in force at the time) to let everybody escape liability.

    If it isn’t the LAW, then engineers can simply refuse to sign contracts that make them liable for anything; I did that routinely as a consultant and as contract management, and have done it again recently. Corporations and LLC are set up expressly to limit liability, I have used them too. Before inspections were the law, self-interest ensured that nobody sold anything and remained personally liable. Why would they? Whatever free market principle you believe would lead to liability is wrong; it never happened. Hence the need for the law and at least the chance of being caught and fined.

    I agree many such inspections are inadequate, but competence is a different issue than necessity. The incompetence arises from the lack of accountability that politicians have wrought for themselves. THAT is an area where we need work. The inspections are necessary, and in place because without them MORE people were being killed by liability-free commerce than are being killed now.

    As for your problem; I just disagree. If you struggle for circumstances beyond your control, I think society owes you assistance. It isn’t a blank check, the assistance owed in my opinion is enough to level the playing field. Since you are not quite comatose; that is somewhere in the neighborhood of $15K per year, IMO, along with any education or training you desire, since I think fully capable people get by on that (it is about minimum wage).

    That is not a blank check. It is assistance to those more unfortunate than us, because lives are more important than money. Nobody is born or acquires disabilities, mental or physical, by choice.

    The flip side of that is, for me, to consider ability and talent primarily a function of genetic luck and fortunate circumstances. I include myself in that category. Nature is a lottery, and there are winners and losers. But I subscribe to the precept that, at the societal level, all lives are equally precious, and no amount of good luck or bad luck in money or talent should entitle one person to live while another dies. I think that is just morally wrong, and I say it from the more fortunate side of the divide.

  10. I wish I was in the 1%, I certainly tried but circumstances beyond my control prevented it. I have done OK but certainly not as well as I could have given a different circumstance.

    But that is my problem, it isnt yours, my need or misfortune is not a blank check you and others are obligated to pay.

  11. tony c:

    I am not the one proposing taking money by force of government from some people to give to other people.

    Oh, inspectors? What a joke, most dont know their ass from a hole in the ground. The only reason buildings stand is because the engineers and most of the contractors want to make money.

    Health Departments? A true travesty, the only reason more people dont get sick at restaurants is because the owner would be out of business. Most restaurants are barely clean and that is the standard of the health department. If I ran a restaurant it would certainly be much cleaner than a minimum standard.

    The bail out was purely for the wall street folks, they were up to their eyeballs and they would have lost their houses in the hamptons. The middle class and the poor have underwritten their private fortunes.

  12. @Bron: Perhaps that is what Madison is saying, but what the founding fathers collectively signed gave explicit permission for the government to lay taxes, in any amount, for any reason they deemed fit.

    If anything, the fact that the Constitution mentions defense and the general welfare separately, always, means they are different things.

    By your definition, “Exemption from any unusual evil” is a good description of Social Security and government-backed health insurance; since the bankruptcy of a for-profit health insurance firm would certainly be an unusual evil for those that have spent their life paying premiums, only to be denied health care when they need it and cannot afford it.

    By your definition, bailouts that prevent a global economic collapse would be for the general welfare, since such a collapse would be an unusual evil for those that end up destitute.

    By your definition, an unemployment insurance program would be for the general welfare, since for a large majority of people, missing a few paychecks could lead to much larger losses, like their home and cars and the equity contained within them when repossession occurs, that qualifies as a calamity.

    By your definition, food inspection, drug inspection, building inspections and more all qualify as general welfare, since eliminating any one of them can provably cause a calamity: Calamitous disease and loss of life is the reason they were implemented in the first place.

    The Congress has the power to lay and collect taxes, period. For whatever reason it wants, at any level it wants, as long as the rules are uniform for all states. We do not need to justify it with “general welfare” at all, it is inherent in the Constitution, there is no restriction written there. According to the founders, they provided a framework for passing and funding laws the people (through their elected representatives) chose to pass. The social safety net is one of those things people chose to pass, and it is entirely Constitutional in the original sense of the Constitution.

    What you call for is anti-Constitutional, you want to take away the ability of the people to agree upon a social safety net. What you want is dictatorial rule by the tiny minority to which you belong.

  13. He is saying the words need to be taken in context with the Articles of Confederation.

    Or you could say welfare means this from Websters 1828 edition:

    2. Exemption from any unusual evil or calamity; the enjoyment of peace and prosperity, or the ordinary blessings of society and civil government; applied to states.

    Which is in line with what Madison is saying.

  14. @Bron: Alright, I read it. Madison’s argument is that the words do not mean what they say; regardless of the fact that they are contained in the Constitution.

    That is simply not how the Constitution has been interpreted since then; it has been interpreted literally, which Madison himself admits gives a sweeping power to the government to provide for the general welfare. The words have not changed since then, since Madison knows what they mean in the same sense as we see them; this is not a matter of definitional drift, it is Madison making the claim that these words are fluff and nobody expected them to be taken literally.

    Of course that would call into question ALL the founding documents, how are we to know which words are to be taken literally, and which words are just decorative?

    The Constitution gives the government the right to lay and collect taxes. It claims one purpose of the government is to “promote the general Welfare.” It gives Congress the right to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, as long as they are uniform throughout the USA.

    It does not restrict how much taxes can be, or for what purpose the taxes can be laid, but it does (again) say that it can be to provide for the “general welfare of the United States.”

    Madison can squeal all he wants about it, the Constitution clearly gives Congress the power to define and collect taxes to spend on what it sees fit. Since a super-majority of people think it is fit to provide for social security, welfare, and the social safety net, Congress is doing their bidding and acting within its original Constitutional rights.

    What you are calling for is not a return to the Constitution, such a return is not necessary, the possibility of a social safety net is implicit within the original writing, whether the founding fathers believed it was a good idea or not. What they believed in more was the right of a people to rule themselves as they saw fit; that is why they fought the Revolution.

    So what you are calling for is a rejection of the Constitution and a dictatorial restriction on people ruling themselves and deciding for themselves what services their government should provide.

    As I said before, the “general welfare” role of a government is thousands of years old; communal cooperation has been the norm for 99% of the time that modern humans have walked the Earth; since before “money” was even invented. It is the natural state of humankind.

  15. “Consider for a moment the immeasurable difference between the Constitution limited in its powers to the enumerated objects, and expounded as it would be by the import claimed for the phraseology in question. The difference is equivalent to two Constitutions, of characters essentially contrasted with each other–the one possessing powers confined to certain specified cases, the other extended to all cases whatsoever; for what is the case that would not be embraced by a general power to raise money, a power to provide for the general welfare, and a power to pass all laws necessary and proper to carry these powers into execution; all such provisions and laws superseding, at the same time, all local laws and constitutions at variance with them? Can less be said, with the evidence before us furnished by the journal of the Convention itself, than that it is impossible that such a Constitution as the latter would have been recommended to the States by all the members of that body whose names were subscribed to the instrument?”

  16. tony c:

    “That the terms in question were not suspected in the Convention which formed the Constitution of any such meaning as has been constructively applied to them, may be pronounced with entire confidence; for it exceeds the possibility of belief, that the known advocates in the Convention for a jealous grant and cautious definition of Federal powers should have silently permitted the introduction of words or phrases in a sense rendering fruitless the restrictions and definitions elaborated by them.”

    Madison is speaking of the words “for the . . . and general welfare”.

    You should read this letter from Madison from which that quote comes, it explains, in Madison’s own words, why the clause was inserted in the Constitution.

    Logic says that a document dedicated to limited government and individual rights cannot also have a clause which means to provide for the general welfare in the terms you mean. To do so is to negate the entire document from the start.

    In essence, to believe as you do is to is to have no government which protects the rights of individual citizens but to have a government dedicated to the collective.

  17. I just plain cannot underSTAND folks not wanting to pay for things that they do not PERsonally benefit from; why otherwise would we join together in any kind of common endeavor? Why NOT support others? Anybody give me a good reason why NOT? It always works; it works every single time; and failing to do so always fails; it fails every time. !!!

  18. @Bron: I think you are wrong, that IS what the “general welfare” clause means; it was a function of government then and now to manage collective problems, and to do things that would benefit the population as a whole.

    Even in ancient times, villages built large common brick baking ovens that were used by all the villagers, and they paid a “tax” in bread to the baker. It is why loaves are still cut with a design on top today; those used to be the identifying marks unique to one person’s loaf. It was cheaper (in wood and labor) for villagers to bring their loaves for baking to the central oven, and collect them later.

    Collective action for common benefit has been common to communities for thousands of years. It is what “general welfare” means in our Constitution.

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