The Spirit of the Laws

The new year inaugurates the period of good resolutions, an opportunity to put into practice projects developed over the twelve preceding months.

A good example? Entry into force in France of seven measures of the “Law on employment, modernization of social dialogue and career security” (“Loi Travail“), about which so much was written last year, generating 1,100 amendments and driving the labour unions – losing a portion of their prerogatives – to their wits end. Was the resulting turmoil so momentous as to truly warrant so much sweat and tears? For its proponents, this was certainly the case: they already boasted the organization of new working-time arrangements, with two additional vacation days for fathers under 21 years of age or the multiplication of individual employment accounts (for the lifelong accrual of training and career development benefits )…

You must agree with me that in comparison with the major breakthroughs in labour law underpinning our society – the law governing working hours for women and children of 1892 for example – the occupational hardships account (compte pénibilité) and the modest adjustments to rules governing overtime seem rather bland. A revolution in French labour law is still not on the horizon for anytime soon. Despite intentions announced with much fanfare by successive majorities (the simplification act of December 2004), the number of articles making up this law that is so critical to our social contract just keeps growing: 600 in 1973, 3,800 in 2003… and more than 10,000 today!

Visionary, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1840*: “It must not be forgotten that it is especially dangerous to enslave men in the minor details of life […] Is it not a question of managing small matters where simple good sense may suffice [?]

The manner that the new labour law provisions address the impact of digital technology offers an enlightening illustration of the words of Tocqueville and this tyranny of small details that is gradually overwhelming France. At a time when Facebook and Whatsapp are spontaneously invading our daily lives, and the successes of the new economy pioneers are increasingly in the spotlight, this labour law reform introduced with great pomp and circumstance the “right to disconnect” in other words, an obligation requiring companies to allow employees to shut down their digital tools outside of working hours. No doubt a useful measure, though which might be considered laughable in the face of the efficiency revolutions occurring throughout the globe.

How can one not consider the example of India? In March 2016, after six years of efforts, one billion citizens (80% of the population) adopted a digital identity (digital fingerprints, photos and iris scan) allowing each to receive social benefits or claim their rights without the risk of spoliation by an administration known for a practice of fraud.

This decisive milestone for each citizen of a country where the illiteracy rate is estimated at 25%, was accompanied by the creation of a bank account assigned to the holder of the identity. This account makes it possible to pay the benefits to the true beneficiaries and prepare the nation to use the modern drivers of a banking services economy. The authorities also created a mobile application to promote digital exchanges at the expense of cash and undeclared transactions.

A society without ambitious ideas is a society doomed to short-sightedness. It is no longer possible for developed societies to adapt to the modern world solely by making microscopic adjustments and voters today severely sanction measures perceived as rearguard actions. Let us hope that the lessons of 2016 have been learned and that in 2017 we remember that free will continues to have extraordinary value that on occasion can be exercised to advantage! To be followed.

* Democracy in America, Volume 2, Part 4, Chapter VI.

Didier Le Menestrel