What the current protests in France are about, at least inter alia, is the French governments proposal to allow employers to fire their workers a right theyre currently not allowed.
It might seem clear which side a libertarian has to be on in this dispute: of course libertarians favour freedom of association, which includes the freedom of either party to exit an employment contract. Thus the new proposal apparently represents a move in the direction of a free market: the government is right, and the protestors are wrong.
But things arent quite so simple.
Of course in a free market there would be no legal restrictions (except those contractually agreed to) on an employers right to fire an employee. But from the fact that there would be no X in a free society, it doesnt follow that absolutely any situation will be moved in the direction of freedom simply by removing X. (Compare: from the fact that a healthy person wouldnt have a pacemaker, it doesnt follow that the health of anyone who has a pacemaker would be improved by its removal.)
As I recently wrote elsewhere:
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 didnt 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 As 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.
Just as deregulating the S&Ls doesnt count as a move toward liberty if it isnt accompanied by an end to tax-funded deposit insurance, so in general a removal of restrictions on an entity doesnt count as a move toward liberty if the entity is still a substantial recipient of government privilege or subsidy. For the more that an entity benefits from government intervention, the closer it comes to being an arm of the State in which case lifting restrictions on it is, to that extent, lifting restrictions on the State.
As Kevin Carson writes:
[S]ince the states intervention, directly or indirectly, has been in the interests of the plutocracy, it matters a great deal which functions of the state should be axed first. The first to go should be those forms of intervention in the market that subsidize economic centralization and the concentration of wealth, reduce the bargaining power of labor, and ensure monopoly returns to the owners of land and capital. The last to go should be those government functions that make the system of class exploitation marginally bearable for labor. In the words of Thomas Knapp of the Democratic Freedom Caucus, that means cutting welfare from the top down, and taxes from the bottom up.
While I dont agree with Kevin as to what in every case counts as monopoly returns to the owners of land and capital (he thinks absentee land ownership is unjust, I dont see our exchange on Lockean vs. Tuckerite theories of property rights in the forthcoming issue of JLS), I certainly agree with the general sentiment.
To clarify: the claim is not that we need to favour some restrictions on liberty now in order to gain greater liberty later. There are plenty whove held that view, from Marx to Chomsky to Victor Yarros but not me, comrade. The claim is rather that what would count as lifting a restriction on liberty in one context does not so count in another context.
All this is by way of introduction to fellow left-libertarian blogospheroid Brad Spanglers letter to the French protestors, which expresses solidarity with their struggle while disambiguating genuine from faux market reform and inviting the protestors to adopt libertarian aims and methods. Of course I had to sign it, since it begins with a quotation from me! (By coincidence, the Rothbard Memorial Lecture I delivered at the ASC last weekend ended with a quote from Brad. The mutualist admiration society continues .... And speaking whichly, congratulations to Wally Conger, another fellow left-libertarian blogospheroid, for being awarded the Karl Hess Clubs 2006 Samuel Edward Konkin III Memorial Chauntecleer. But wasnt that the name of a play by Ayn Rands favourite playwright?)
1968: back by popular demand!