At the start of 2013, American taxpayers received quite a jolt when several changes to the tax code went into effect. And while many grumbled at the hikes in the payroll tax and Medicare contributions, what we saw stateside is nothing compared to what’s been happening in France.  

The United States and France have been friends for centuries. The French navy provided much of the military might we needed to defeat the British in the Revolutionary War. The French Revolution inspired our own founders to the promise of republican government. And French territory, acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, provided land for 15 of today's 50 states. While the United States and France never shared the same sort of "special relationship" as the United States and England, the two countries have traditionally shared a warm bond.  

So now, it might be appropriate for Americans to send their condolences and sympathy to their comrades across the sea. The French newspaper Les Echos reported last week that thousands of French households paid more than 100% of their 2012 income in tax. Sacre bleu! How can this be?  

Last year, the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande ousted the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy to become France's President. Hollande immediately did what he had promised to do – he hiked taxes. Specifically, the new government imposed a one-time levy on 2011 income for households earning over €1.3 million (roughly $1.67 million). That levy hit top incomes hard. In 2012, over 8,000 households paid taxes topping 100% of their income. 9,910 households paid between 85% and 100%, and a further 12,000 paid between 75% and 85%.  

Hollande also proposed an "exceptional solidarity contribution" nearly doubling taxes on about 1,500 top earners with income over €1 million from 41% to 75%. That move led actor Gerard Depardieu and several other high-profile personalities to renounce their French citizenship.  

France's Constitutional Council, which rules on the constitutionality of legislation before it goes into effect, struck down that 75% tax as unfair. They didn't have a problem with the rate, per se. They objected that it applied to individuals rather than households – a household with two individuals, each earning €900,000 would escape it, while a household with a single individual earning €1.1 million would pay. However, the council still approved raising the top rate to 45% on incomes over €150,000 (roughly $198,000), cutting several existing loopholes, and stiffening a wealth tax on net assets worth more than €800,000 (Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has pledged to reintroduce the 75% top rate, using the template provided by the Constitutional Council).  

Perhaps not coincidentally, Hollande is now the least popular president in French history, and this teaches us Americans a pretty good lesson on perspective. Like any good pep talk will you tell you, there’s always someone else who has it worse!