James Leroy Wilson's blog

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Free Market "Reform" in France

[I put this together in response to a thread in a genrally non-political email list I'm on, where someone chimed in on the French situation. The writer implied that the protesters had a cradle-to-grave mentality. And maybe a lot of them do, but I thought it would be informative for that list to see another side of it. And since I did it, I might as well blog it.]

I'm not informed enough to have a strong opinion whether France's employment reforms are good or bad, but there is interesting discussion about it among some pro-free market bloggers. (To avoid confusion ofmeanings, "capitalism" as used by these writers does not refer to the free market, but rather to a system of government benefits and protections rigged to the advantage of the few.)

Sheldon Richman writes,
The French law letting employers fire young workers without cause during their first two years on the job is a freeing of "the market" only on the surface. France is a cartellized and concentrated economy thanks to heavy goverment intervention on behalf of the country's elite. Whether we call it state capitalism or state socialism is a mere detail. Thus giving the beneficiaries of state privilege a bit more leeway in firing employees hardly constitutes freeing the market. Why is there no talk in France of removing the myriad deep restrictions on free competition? That is what would really give workers bargaining power.

Kevin Carson writes,
[T]he decision of what aspects of statism to dismantle first should be guided by an overall strategy of dismantling state capitalism as a system. That means we go first after the central structural supports of privilege, that enable the corporate-state ruling class to derive profit by political means, and go last after palliative measures that make such corporatist exploitation humanly tolerable for the non-privileged. As Thomas L. Knapp said, that means dismantling welfare from the top down and cutting taxes from the bottom up. If we allow the state capitalist ruling class and their pet "free market" think tanks to set the priorities of what to go after first, and welcome every incremental reduction as a "step in the right direction," we're allowing the free market to be adopted in a way that only makes statist exploitation more efficient.

Brad Spangler writes,
The overall economic environment in France is so thoroughly statist that they quite reasonably expect no tangible benefit from this one small so-called market reform — and quite probably a fair amount of pain.

Young people in France currently often have to live at home for several *years* while job hunting. The consolation that sustains them is that once they’re in, at least they have job security. We ought to be able to express sympathy for their plight and point towards a better way — a revolutionary way.

The CPE is technically market liberalization — but representative of perhaps the worst possible choice of priorities, I would counter. Such is the nature of political reformism — to subvert the market toward the interests of the political class and bring it into unjustified disrepute.

In an open letter to the protesters (found in the same
post) Spanger writes,
Under such circumstances, state-sponsored market liberalization is a cruel joke. The legislation you protest and rebel against seeks only to increase the latitude given your overseers, while maintaining the overall restrictions on your own liberty that, if abolished, would empower you to seek your own prosperity.

Roderick Long writes,
Whether something counts as a reduction of restrictions on liberty depends on the context. Remember when Reagan “deregulated” the Savings & Loans – such deregulation could be a good thing under many circumstances, but given that he didn’t remove federal deposit insurance, “deregulation” amounted in that context to an increase of aggression against the taxpayers, licensing the S&Ls to takes greater risks with taxpayers’ money.

So in this case: when government passes laws giving group A unjust privileges over group B, and then passes another law giving B some protection against A, then repealing the second law without repealing the first amounts to increasing A’s unjust privilege over B. Of course a free society would have neither the first nor the second law, but repealing them in the wrong order can actually decrease rather than increase liberty.

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