Taxing Big Tech: France Edition

Amid a domestic political crisis, France's Emmanuel Macron has found a useful scapegoat: Big Tech. This week, France became the latest European country to slap a new tax on big tech companies operating within its borders.


For Mr. Macron, the new digital tax solves two big problems at once. It raises much-needed revenue at a moment in which his decision to appease protestors by canceling a proposed carbon levy has put a 10-billion-euro hole in the government's coffers. While the tech tax is expected to raise a comparatively meager 570 million euros next year, it goes some way toward plugging that gap. It looks like the government moved up implementation of the tech tax, which it announced on Monday will now take place in January, for that very reason.

It also helps to solve a perception problem. Whacking Big Tech is an easy way for Macron to dispel the notion that he's more interested in enriching economic elites than helping out marginalized citizens. It's tough to think of a bigger bête noire than the world's most powerful, fastest growing firms who craftily park their revenues in low-tax countries to avoid paying a fair share. Support for the measure is overwhelming in France, with around 85 percent of people in favor.

Zooming out, the go-it-alone approach was something of a fallback plan for Mr. Macron, who earlier failed to convince EU members to back a bloc-wide version of the scheme after low-tax nations like Ireland and Luxembourg objected. France isn't the only country in the region that has opted for this route. The UK and Spain have recently announced similar digital tax plans.

Whether it's due to a perceived need to rein in Silicon Valley or pure political survival, or both, Big Tech's tax bill is on its way up.

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

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The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

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In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

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With large parts of the American economy shuttered because of coronavirus-related lockdowns, the number of people filing jobless claims in the US last week exceeded 3.2 million, by far the highest number on record. Here's a look at the historical context. The surge in jobless claims, which may be an undercount, is sure to cause a spike in the unemployment rate (which tells you the percent of work-ready people who are looking for a job). At last reading in February, unemployment was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. Economists warn that it could reach 5.5 percent in the near term. Even that would be far lower than the jobless rates recorded during previous economic crises such as the Great Depression or the Great Recession. Have a look.