It is interesting to note that, from the Revolution of 1789 onwards, the different French Constitutions which began by giving almost total priority to the notion of individual liberty have gradually – though there have been periods of hesitation – come to place more and more emphasis on social equality, thereby creating that unique, incongruous mixture of conservatism and collectivism which has come to characterize the nation. So, in this more than two-century-old contest between individual liberty and social equality which game does the France of today play? Does she privilege the citoyen as an individual, or the collective entity in which the citizen lives? Does she prefer a society whose laws guarantee the freedom of each, or one which seeks to impose equality on all? Should the individual be free to run his own life and, if he does this badly, be obliged to accept the consequences? Or should the individual allow the State to impinge on this liberty but, in return, be comforted in the knowledge that this same State will provide him with all necessary means of assistance and subsistence in case of need? In short, is France a liberal, or a socialist, even Marxist-oriented country?
Economists seem to agree that there are three simple, mathematical (and, therefore, perfectly quantifiable) operations we can use to determine on which side of the border a country’s heart really lies. The first of these is what the French call les prélèvements obligatoires, expressed as a percentage of the Gross National Product. Now the prélèvements obligatoires, the mandatory contributions, are all the taxes, duties, levies fees, tariffs, charges, contributions, etc. which a State or collective authority requires its citizens to pay in return for the various benefits, allowances, pensions, indemnities, compensations, grants, subsidies which it allows them in certain defined circumstances. The GNP, on the other hand, is a measure of the total value of the goods and services which a country’s citizens produce. And it’s perfectly understandable that the higher the mandatory contributions are in relation to the GNP, the more this reflects the obligation the individual citizen is under to finance the collective body, and the more this collective body has the means to manage the citizen’s affairs. But it also means that the citizen is less free to do what he wants with his money. In present day France the prélèvements obligatoires represent approximately 53% of the GNP. Now it’s generally agreed that below 40% we’re in a country which gives priority to individual liberty (in the USA it’s around 30%, and in the UK 36%), and above 40% one where social equality has precedence. So there’s no doubt about it. On this score, at least, we’re well into socialist territory.
The second criterion – equally mathematical – is the percentage of public sector workers which a country employs in relation to the active working population as a whole. And, once again, the higher the percentage the more we’re in socialist-dominated country. This is also perfectly logical in so much as a state which undertakes to manage the lives of its citizens must have the necessary administrative structures and personnel to be able to do so. In France, according to a recent study, there are around six million state workers representing roughly 20% of the working population. The average for the 26 most industrialized countries of our planet is around 15.5%. So here we have additional confirmation that the political colouring of France tends towards a brighter shade of red.
But perhaps the most important indicator as to whether we’re in a country which gives precedence to individual liberty or social equality is the number of laws, decrees and legal texts which a state imposes on its citizens. For though laws are necessary both to guarantee the liberty of each and provide a certain harmony in regard to the social structures within which we live, when we have a multitude of laws regulating the citizen’s life in the minutest detail, these necessarily limit his freedom to manage his own affairs. In this respect, it’s significant that in a country where individual freedom dominates, laws are kept to a minimum. In France, it’s estimated there are at least 520.000 laws and diverse legal texts – more than twice the number in force in the other G7 countries!
The only conclusion we can draw, then, is that a state which has been given (or granted itself) the financial, human and legal means to decide for the individual rather than allow the individual the necessary freedom to decide for himself is a state which, without necessarily being Marxist in the extreme sense of the term, is one whose roots are solidly implanted on the left.