IS FREEDOM COMPATIBLE WITH ULTRALIBERALISM?

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The ultraliberal ideological doctrine is often presented as the one that defends individual liberties. Since we all love freedom, it seems difficult to oppose those who present themselves as its defenders. The principle of freedom defended by the ultraliberals is often associated with economic claims: free market, freedom of trade, freedom of prices, freedom of labor, etc. The relevant question to ask is: is freedom compatible with ultraliberalism?

To be free is to have the ability and the power to choose and to do. To have a degree of freedom implies being confronted with an alternative and that the choice implies a renunciation. For example, by choosing to work less, on the one hand, I choose to earn less and, therefore, to adopt a more sober lifestyle. On the other hand, I give up earning more and, therefore, an ostentatious lifestyle. The notion of freedom being vast, I will limit myself to approaching it from the relation to time and the access to subsistence.

The individual and time being closely linked in the action which is lived in the present, it is impossible for him to devote himself to an action, a relationship or a discussion without being physically and temporally present. Since the length of a week is 168 hours, the degree of freedom an individual has is closely related to the choice of actions he or she can carry out during this limited period of time. In order to make a living, an employee must devote time to a professional activity in exchange for an income. By selling his time, he loses ownership of it and, therefore, the freedom to make personal use of it. According to a survey released in 2015, 93% of respondents say that balancing work, family, community… time is an important concern. With no balance achieved, 71% of employees say they don’t have enough time to enjoy their loved ones or have more leisure time(1).

Whether he is an employee, a worker or an executive, to be free, he must be able to choose to have a balanced life between his professional, family and personal life. Since it is working time that determines access to free time, the first condition for access to freedom is therefore to have the choice between working more or working less. Being for freedom, the ultraliberals claim that this choice must be a matter of negotiation between the employee and the employer. An executive wishes to apply for a position as a sector manager in the retail sector. As he wishes to lead a balanced life outside his professional activity, during the job interview, in the name of freedom, he wishes to negotiate with the recruiter the possibility of working part-time: 3 days a week or 6 months a year. Since this choice could be interpreted as a sign of a lack of motivation, he or she might not get the job in favor of someone who doesn’t count the hours. To obtain it, he will have no other choice than to accept to work 5 days a week. A negotiation can take place on a free and undistorted basis if the two parties involved are of equal strength. If one is dependent on the other, there can be no free agreement. France has over 6.6 million people registered with Pôle emploi(2). As long as 22.6% of the working population(3) is unemployed and working part-time, the balance of power will be in favor of employers. Because of unemployment and the fear of unemployment, this choice cannot be made by individual negotiation. For this negotiation to be free and undistorted, a law must set the legal length of the work week at 3 days and authorize the organization of the work year over 6 months. Once the law is passed, if he or she so wishes, an employee will have the freedom to negotiate with his or her employer the right to  » work more to earn more « .

For a reduction in working hours to be viable, the hours worked must ensure the subsistence of the employee and his or her family: food, housing, payment of water, gas and electricity bills and a minimum of material comfort. By working part-time, the executive in the retail sector will earn less. The price of foodstuffs having been deregulated by the Ordinance n°86–1243 of December 1, 1986 relating to the freedom of prices and competition(4), he will be confronted with a rise in prices with a falling income. For example, due to price deregulation, from 1985 to 2013, the average price per square meter of a new apartment rose from €1,268 to €3,884, an increase of 206%(5). Since he has a wife, children and house payments to pay, this executive does not have the freedom to make this choice. In order for the 3‑day week to be viable, it is therefore necessary to pass a law on the regulation of subsistence prices based on Ordinance n°45–1483 of June 30, 1945 on prices(6) which was repealed in 1986 in favor of the one relating to the freedom of prices and competition. In order for the State to be able to fulfill its mission, companies will have to provide the State with documents related to pricing: the justification of prices, the elements that make up the price and the analytical cost, etc. By controlling and intervening in prices, the state will regain its grip on the economy. In the name of the « fair price »(7), companies will lose the freedom to set the price of food freely. On the other hand, still in the name of freedom, they will retain the right to freely set the price of ostentatious goods and services.

In order to prove their commitment to freedom, the ultraliberals should therefore pass the 3‑day week and the regulation of food prices. If they refuse to vote for these laws, they would be demonstrating that the principle of freedom, which they claim, has only one objective: to defend private property, greed and the power of a declining economic order. We should no longer call them ultraliberals, but deregulators. This would be much less politically defensible and attractive.

Jean-Christophe Giuliani

Notes et références
  1. L’express.fr, Travail ou vie privée ? sept salariés sur dix mènent une course contre le temps, [En ligne] (consulté le 15 avril 2018), https://www.lexpress.fr/emploi/.fr/emploi/gestion-carriere/travail-ou-vie-privee-sept-salaries-sur-dix-menent-une-course-contre-le-temps_1685435.html
  2. Dares indicateurs, Demandeurs d’emploi inscrits à Pôle emploi au premier trimestre 2018, avril 2018 n°18, [En ligne] (consulté le 9 janvier 2020), https://dares.travail-emploi.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/di-t1-2018_etpqvamm.pdf
  3. Insee, Tableau de l’économie Française, édition 2019, Population active, [En ligne] (consulté le 9 janvier 2020), https://www.insee.fr/fr/statistiques/3676623?sommaire=3696937
  4. Légifrance, Ordonnance n° 86–1243 du 1 décembre 1986 relative à la liberté des prix et de la concurrence, [En ligne] (consulté le 15 mars 2017), https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do;jsessionid=8CC5770909CFA9FB2AA0603052347210.tpdjo09v_3?-cidTexte=JORFTEXT000000333548&dateTexte=19960702 .
  5. Lafinancepourtous.com, Repères sur l’évolution des prix de l’immobilier, [En ligne] (consulté le 17 avril 2017), https://www.lafinancepourtous.com/decryptages/finance-perso/epargne-et-placement/immobilier/reperes-sur-levolution-des-prix-de-limmobilier/
  6. Légifrance, Ordonnance n°45–1483 du 30 juin 1945 relative aux prix, [En ligne] (consulté le 15 mars 2017), https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORF-TEXT000000516237&categorieLien=cid .
  7. Wikipédia, Juste prix, [En ligne] (consulté le 9 janvier 2020), https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juste_prix.
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