Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Back to Lochner

Alain Lambert, a UMP senator, takes note of Sarko's repudiation of the 35-hour week and proposes a simple way to achieve the desired result. He wants a new law to read as follows: "Freedom of labor is restored in France. Any legislative or regulatory measure that might contradict this principle is hereby declared null and void." (italics mine)

Students of American labor law will recognize that this peremptory call for a supposed restoration of freedom of labor is nothing less than a return to what we know as "the Lochner era," when in the name of freedom of contract vulnerable workers were prevented from seeking the state's protection from the rigors of the unfettered market. Surely this cannot be what Lambert, a normally intelligent and economically literate conservative, really wants?


Anonymous said...

I am entirely unfamiliar with Lambert, so my comments are more general. I must say, this example of ultralibéralisme doesn't at all surprise me. Certainly, a large swathe of the French political establishment) may cry out againt that horrible libéralisme at the drop of a hat, but French libéraux can be quite extreme. Imagine if there were a proposal to sell off the U.S. interstate highway system and (slowly) privitize TVA? Sure, the WSJ and the Club for Growth may salivate at the idea, but it's a political non-starter (thankfully). Not so in France. I'm much less well-informed about French politics than you are, Mr. Goldhammer, but I still get the impression that one of the reasons the left complains so much about the ultralibéraux is that the latter can be pretty damned extremist. Thoughts?

Unknown said...

Yes, you have a point. French "ultras," so long used to the protections of the state that they have forgotten how savage le marché sauvage can be, sometimes act as though there were nothing to worry about. M. Lambert's attack on "the straitjacket of regulatory complexity" does sound like the WSJ editorial page, but not even the WSJ would countenance abolishing child labor laws. M. Lambert wouldn't either, I imagine, but his incautious wording suggests that he has given no thought to where the line ought to be drawn.