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« Thinking About Deer and Beaver | Main | Advances in Austrian Economics, Vol 14 is Now Available »


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Vive la France!

And, how does this relate to deer and beavers?

Beavers don't go on strike.
Don't know about deer, but they stand around a lot. Did you ever hear someone say "working like a deer"?

Bastiat is really wondering how Paris gets fed.

Don't worry, I'm sure Michael Moore is filming it.

So, how many libertarians are in France and what influence do they have?

Most likely the unions were less organised in France when Bastiat was writing, Hutt described how they developed the strike threat system in Britain during the 19th century, presumably that spread worldwide.

We had almost empty supermarket shelves in Sydney a few years ago, it was only one union involved, either the truck drivers (teamsters?) or the storemen and packers. The distribution system is to fine tuned there is only about three days supply in the store (less on the shelves).

France has a handful of classical liberals and I know almost everyone of them. They fit in the backyard of the leading one.

That is however becoming less and less true Jerry. It used to be true, but in recent years there's been a surge classical liberals and libertarians, and they're increasingly young and devoted to the ideas.

When Bastiat was writing, strikes were illegal. This was because of Le Chapelier Law and the Decret d'Alarde which were both enacted during the Revolution in 1791. These laws were a mixed bag, as they forbidden unions but also other forms of associations, but they did have a free market bent however, as they were originally meant to suppress the guilds and other associations that controlled markets in various cities of France.

Throughout the first part of the 19th century, the anti-union atmosphere is strong in France (I think it is visible in Les Miserables). One had to wait for the end of the Seconde Republique and Napoleon IIIrd to have the law abrogated. I am not a specialist but I understand that the reign of Napoleon IIIrd was rather liberal (in the European sense). Especially once he had established his power, he was willing to let the economy run freely. I think as part of that period, however, and in order to gain the support of the masses, he abrogated the law. He also gave more freedom to the press, etc. But again, I am not a specialist and I know there is much more to that story.

I do not remember Bastiat writing much on the subject of strike action. One reason may have been because there weren't any. And remember that in those days, they would enforce the law very swiftly...

Bastiat's only writing on strike laws are a speech at the assemblée in 1849 to defend an amendment that would have made collusion regarding salaries (both industrial to lower salaries and worker's to increase them) legal but not their use or threats of violence; "Discours sur la répression des coalitions industrielles".

I do not know about the strike threat system in Britain in the 19th century, but how organised unions are can really be explained by the privileges they have. For 40 years 5 unions had an "irrebuttable presumption of representativity", meaning that they didn't really need members to have authority during all sorts of negociations. This barrier to entry allowed them to become more radical and develop a powerful nuisance apparatus to give them even further leverage during negociations. This all leads to the situation today where an incredible amount of political power rests in the hands of unions, while their membership really only represent 7% of the actives, approximately 3% of the French.

State sector strikes are often popular with the common people. I think that's because the union's position is often understandable in the short-term. The union is up against a monsopolist employer - the state - and that engenders sympathy. This is particular difficult for anyone that has invested a lot of human capital in a skill that only the state buys. That's one reason why miners were popular in Britain and why nurses still are.

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