Le mythe du chômage involontaire dans le marché libre

Dans la mesure où le chômage est nécessaire (Cahuc & Zylberberg 2005) pour permettre aux industries désuètes de péricliter au profit des industries nouvelles qui tendent à se conformer aux changements des préférences individuelles, un chômage frictionnel émerge.

Bien entendu, le chômage causé par les réglementations du marché du travail (salaire minimum, syndicats) est considéré comme étant involontaire. Les économistes ne le nient pas. Mais certains économistes souscrivent quand même à l’idée que le chômage frictionnel pourrait être également de nature “involontaire”.

Bien que John M. Keynes n’acceptait pas cette idée, sa propre définition du chômage involontaire, décrite dans The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, ch. 2, se lit comme suit :

Clearly we do not mean by ‘involuntary’ unemployment the mere existence of an unexhausted capacity to work. An eight-hour day does not constitute unemployment because it is not beyond human capacity to work ten hours. Nor should we regard as ‘involuntary’ unemployment the withdrawal of their labour by a body of workers because they do not choose to work for less than a certain real reward. Furthermore, it will be convenient to exclude ‘frictional’ unemployment from our definition of ‘involuntary’ unemployment. My definition is, therefore, as follows: Men are involuntarily unemployed if, in the event of a small rise in the price of wage-goods [i.e., consumer goods] relatively to the money-wage [i.e., nominal wage], both the aggregate supply of labour willing to work for the current money-wage and the aggregate demand for it at that wage would be greater than the existing volume of employment.

La réponse de Henry Hazlitt se lit :

Keynes’s statement overlooks the fact that such an increase of employment could have been brought about equally well by a lowering of money wage-rates, with commodity prices remaining the same. To recognize this possibility, however, would have been to recognize that the unemployment was not in fact involuntary.
(The Failure of the New Economics, 1959, p. 30)

Ou la discussion de Huerta de Soto, qui mérite d’être citée en entier :

However there are two possible routes to a relative reduction in wages: either a worker may accept lower nominal wages, or he may agree to work in an environment where nominal wages remain unchanged, but the prices of consumer goods rise. The latter is the more indirect route. In neither case is unemployment involuntary: it is purely voluntary in both. In the first, a worker remains unemployed because he voluntarily chooses not to work for a lower nominal wage. In the second, he only agrees to work if he has deceived himself, since his real wages fall even though his nominal wages remain the same. (In other words, in the second case he agrees to work in an environment in which the prices of consumer goods and services increase faster than wages). In fact most of Keynes’s policy prescriptions amount to an attempt to reduce unemployment by lowering real wages via the indirect route of increasing inflation, and thus the prices of consumer goods, while maintaining nominal wages constant. This remedy has failed, not only because workers are no longer fooled by the money illusion and demand nominal wage increases which at least compensate for decreases in the purchasing power of money, but also because the proposed “medicine,” apart from being ineffective, entails the enormous social cost of the economic crises and recessions credit expansion provokes. Furthermore we must realize that to a great extent, Keynes’s own prescriptions, which consist of boosting effective demand through fiscal and monetary measures, are the main culprits in keeping labor markets rigid and even in making them gradually more so, since economic agents, specifically workers and unions, have come to believe that adjustments in real wages must always take the form of increases in the general price level. Hence Keynesian doctrine, rather than a “remedy” for the disease, has become an aggravating factor which worsens it.
(Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles, 2009, p. 554)

En effet, comme Huerta de Soto suggère, dans la mesure où les prix continuent à augmenter, même à un taux très faible, les individus sont réticents à l’idée des réductions de salaires, car ils peuvent anticiper une inflation future s’ils sont justement habitués à des hausses régulières des prix. Ils choisiront ainsi la hausse de salaire (nominal) pour laquelle ils sont habitués.

Le fait qu’une diminution du salaire réel (due à l’inflation) pourrait entraîner une hausse de l’emploi n’implique pas que ces travailleurs étaient auparavant désireux de travailler. On pourrait faire valoir qu’une chute des salaires réels aurait permis aux employeurs d’assouplir (ne serait-ce même qu’un peu) les conditions, autres que salariales, sous lesquelles ils accepteraient d’embaucher, ces conditions que les chômeurs refusaient auparavant d’accepter. Mais un refus reste un choix personnel : “that one can change one’s mind over time hardly implies that one’s earlier choice was involuntary” (Dissent on Keynes, 1992, p. 211). Cela n’aurait donc pas de sens de parler d’un chômage involontaire dans le cas présent. Aussi, William H. Hutt a même fait la suggestion, dans The Theory of Idle Resources, que lorsqu’une femme arrête de travailler pour une quelconque raison, sa situation ne doit pas être classifiée comme étant une “ressource oisive”, ni même une “oisiveté désirée” mais de considérer simplement cette personne comme étant employée. Elle préfère s’adonner aux tâches ménagères comme femme au foyer plutôt qu’à occuper une profession rémunérée.

… Thus, if a wife leaves the wage-paid labor market when her husband succeeds in earning more, it may be to devote more time to the adequate performance of household services. If so, it would be most realistic to regard her condition not as “preferred idleness” of the leisure variety but as employed, she having exercised a new preference not involving idleness in any sense. More domestic services are purchased at the cost of the wife’s money-income foregone.
(The Theory of Idle Resources, 1939, pp. 40-41 footnote 5)

Comme Hutt l’a expliqué, Keynes ne comprenait même pas que ce qu’il définissait comme étant un chômage involontaire reflétait simplement les conditions en termes de volonté de travailler (Hutt 1939, p. 47). Les individus n’acceptent pas un travail sous n’importe quelle condition, mais exige bien certaines conditions avant d’accepter le travail proposé, comme par exemple un niveau de salaire sur lequel l’employé et l’employeur s’accordent. Ludwig von Mises, dans son Human Action, énonce clairement :

The piling up of excessive inventories and the catallactic unemployment of workers are speculative. The owner of the stock refuses to sell at the market price because he hopes to obtain a higher price at a later date. The unemployed worker refuses to change his occupation or his residence or the content himself with lower pay because he hopes to obtain at a later date a job with higher pay in the place of his residence and in the branch of business he likes best. Both hesitate to adjust their claims to the present situation of the market because they wait for a change in the data which will alter conditions to their advantage. Their hesitation is one of the reasons why the system has not yet adjusted itself to the conditions of the market.
(Human Action, 1996, p. 579)

The various considerations which may induce a man to decide for unemployment can be classified in this way:

1. The individual believes that he will find at a later date a remunerative job in his dwelling place and in an occupation which he likes better and for which he has been trained. He seeks to avoid the expenditure and other disadvantages involved in shifting from one occupation to another and from one geographical point to another. There may be special conditions increasing these costs. A worker who owns a homestead is more firmly linked with the place of his residence than people living in rented apartments. A married woman is less mobile than an unmarried girl. Then there are occupations which impair the worker’s ability to resume his previous job at a later date. A watchmaker who works for some time as a lumberman may lose the dexterity required for his previous job. In all these cases the individual chooses temporary unemployment because he believes that this choice pays better in the long run.

2. There are occupations the demand for which is subject to considerable seasonal variations. In some months of the year the demand is very intense, in other months it dwindles or disappears altogether. The structure of wage rates discounts these seasonal fluctuations. The branches of industry subject to them can compete on the labor market only if the wages they pay in the good season are high enough to indemnify the wage earners for the disadvantages resulting from the seasonal irregularity in demand. Then many of the workers, having saved a part of their ample earnings in the good season, remain unemployed in the bad season.

3. The individual chooses temporary unemployment for considerations which in popular speech are called uneconomic or even irrational. He does not take jobs which are incompatible with his religious, moral, and political convictions. He shuns occupations the exercise of which would impair his social prestige. He lets himself be guided by traditional standards of what is proper for a gentleman and what is unworthy. He does not want to lose face or caste.

… The fact that a worker discharged on account of changes occurring in the arrangement of production processes does not instantly take advantage of every opportunity to get another job but waits for a more propitious opportunity is not a consequence of the tardiness of the adjustment to the change in conditions, but is one of the factors slowing down the pace of this adjustment. It is not an automatic reaction to the changes which have occurred , independent of the will and the choices of the job-seekers concerned, but the effect of their intentional actions. It is speculative, not frictional.
(Human Action, 1996, pp. 598-600)

Parce qu’un homme n’est pas omniscient, l’équilibre n’est pas automatiquement atteint. C’est précisément la raison pour laquelle les salaires ont besoin de temps pour s’ajuster, même en l’absence de réglementations (salaire minimum, syndicats). Si aucun accord n’a été trouvé, cela signifie que les salariés avaient des prétentions (niveau de salaire, conditions de travail) que les employeurs n’acceptent pas : “He judges that the search for a better opening is worth the risk of immediately foregone income” (Hutt 1939, p. 24). L’idée répandue selon laquelle les employés n’ont aucun pouvoir de négociation sur l’employeur est discutable, comme cela a été expliqué ailleurs :

‘Le salaire minimum augmente le chômage’ : un malentendu

Mais même dans l’hypothèse extrême où les salaires acceptés par les travailleurs ne suffisent pas pour échapper à la famine, le refus d’accepter un salaire, aussi faible soit-il, dénote une fois encore la simple volonté d’un individu. Bien entendu, les individus n’ont généralement aucune raison de refuser un travail rémunéré dans une telle situation : “Those seeking employment would be ready to go to work for any wages, however low, even if insufficient for the preservation of their lives. They would be happy to delay for awhile death by starvation.” (Human Action, p. 136).

Bien qu’on puisse faire valoir que le manque d’information en ce qui concerne les opportunités d’emploi rend plus difficile la recherche d’emploi, l’argument néglige complètement le coeur de toute l’affaire. Le chômage, comme énoncé par Mises, est nécessairement spéculatif. Le fait que la période de chômage soit plus longue pour une personne quelconque peut signifier que ses prétentions soient plus élevées, et que sa condition actuelle ne l’inquiète tout simplement pas encore. Ce dont un individu désire n’est pas un emploi à proprement parler, mais un emploi au taux de salaire qui lui convient, ce qui reflète là encore les conditions en termes de volonté de travailler. Ainsi, Murray Rothbard écrit :

For if what a man wants is simply a “job,” he could work for zero wages, or even pay his “employer” to work for him. In other words, he could earn a “negative wage.” Now this could never happen, for the good reason that labor is a disutility, especially as compared to leisure or “play.” Yet all the worry about “full employment” makes it appear that the “job,” and not the income from the job, is the great desideratum. If that were really the case, then there would be negative wages, and there would be no unemployment problem either. The fact that no one will work for zero or negative wages implies that in addition to whatever enjoyment he receives, the laborer requires a monetary income from his work. So what the worker wants is not just “employment” (which he could always get in the last resort by paying for it) but employment at a wage.
(Man, Economy, and State, 2009, p. 583)

Ainsi, le fait qu’il existe des asymétries d’information ne signifie pas que nous devons accepter le concept de chômage involontaire. Le cas contraire impliquerait que tout échec à trouver un accord avec une autre partie est nécessairement involontaire. Hans-Hermann Hoppe met en évidence l’absurdité même de cette idée.

The claim that involuntary unemployment is possible in the framework of a private property economy as characterized above is due to an elementary logical-conceptual confusion: It ignores the fact that employment is a two-party affair; i.e., an exchange which, like any voluntary exchange, can only take place if it is deemed mutually, bilaterally beneficial. It makes no more sense to classify someone as involuntarily unemployed if he cannot find anybody willing to meet his unilaterally fixed demands for employment, than to call a person in search of a wife, a house, or a Mercedes involuntarily wifeless, homeless, or Mercedesless because no one wants to marry him or supply him with a house or a Mercedes at terms which this person has unilaterally determined as agreeable to him. Absurdity and contradiction would result if one were to do so. For then one would not only have to accept, as the other side of the same coin, that the boycotting employer, woman, or owner of a house or a Mercedes in turn would have to be regarded as an involuntary nonemployer, nonwife, or nontrader of a house or a Mercedes because his/her unilateral demands had not been met by the would be employee, would-be husband, or would-be house or Mercedes owner just as much as they had not met his. Moreover, with both the would-be employee as well as the would-be employer classified as involuntarily being what they are because no mutual agreement had been reached between them, to create “voluntary employment” would imply coercing either one or both parties to accept an exchange whose terms one or both of them regard as unacceptable.
(The Economics and Ethics of Private Property, 2006, pp. 141-142 footnote 7)

Quel que soit ce que Keynes voulait dire par “chômage involontaire” n’a désormais plus aucune importance maintenant que nous avons montré en quoi le concept même de chômage involontaire est dépourvu de sens. Le chômage, comme l’emploi, est nécessairement volontaire dans un marché libre. Dit autrement, le chômage n’est jamais un problème dans une économie de marché.

Merci à Raoul pour la référence à Rothbard et Hoppe.
Sur le concept de “chômage involontaire” (Hoppe, Rothbard)

5 comments on “Le mythe du chômage involontaire dans le marché libre

  1. Raoul says:

    Bon panorama.

    J’ai néanmoins deux petites critiques.

    1/ Concernant votre titre, d’abord. Il suggère que le chômage involontaire serait théoriquement possible en marché libre, mais inexistant en pratique, ou tout au moins négligeable. C’est comme pour le Dahu : aucune raison théorique ou biologique ne s’oppose à son existence, mais simplement, on n’en a jamais vu. Or votre billet démontre au contraire qu’il existe une raison théorique, et non seulement factuelle, qui s’oppose à ce que du chômage involontaire puisse être conçu en marché libre. Il ne s’agit pas d’un mythe mais d’une impossibilité, d’une contradiction dans les termes. Ok, j’ergote un peu.

    2/ Rothbard écrit que « The fact that no one will work for zero or negative wages implies that in addition to whatever enjoyment he receives, the laborer requires a monetary income from his work. So what the worker wants is not just “employment” (which he could always get in the last resort by paying for it) but employment at a wage”.

    Les termes en gras me semblent déplacés. Interprété littéralement, Rothbard semble écrire que les gens ne voudraient pas de « salaire » s’ils n’avaient pas, en plus, un travail effectif. Or, le travail est seulement un moyen d’obtenir un salaire. Je ne nie pas que certaines personnes tiennent trouvent un intérêt intrinsèque à exercer une activité professionnelle, et que celle-ci est donc une fin pour eu, mais ce n’est certainement pas le cas le plus répandu. S’il existait un autre moyen d’acquérir une « rémunération », par exemple la charité d’un généreux bienfaiteur, beaucoup de gens s’abstiendraient de travailler. Ok, je pinaille encore.

  2. Raoul says:

    Voir aussi l’article de Murphy : The Critical Flaw in Keynes’s System

    But there are other problems with Keynes’s analysis. Consider: What is the actual mechanism through which falling costs lead to falling retail prices? We start in an initial equilibrium, where workers earn (say) $10 per hour, and the retail good sells for $100. Firms are happy with the number of workers they have employed at $10 per hour, and the amount of goods they can sell at $100 each.
    Now, because unemployment is very high, the firms can get away with cutting their workers’ pay to $9 per hour. Holding everything else constant, they are making more profit than before. What would induce them to lower their retail price from $100?
    The obvious answer is that they want to capture a larger share of the market. That is, they want to sell more units of the retail good to their customers. They can’t do this with their original labor force. No, in order to make it profitable to cut their retail price, they need to hire more workersand boost output.

    • 猛虎 says:

      Bon point. C’est l’argument que je ressortais régulièrement face aux marxistes lorsqu’ils me disaient que les baisses de salaires rendaient impossible la consommation. Car la situation présentée signifiait aussi que les ventes étaient rendues impossibles. Ils devaient donc aussi réduire les prix s’ils veulent écouler leur stock.

  3. NeverMore says:

    Merci de votre message chez le Pélicastre. Je ne suis pas si impatient et dans l’attente, on a droit à de très bons articles qui sont, quoi que puissent en penser certains, intelligents et modérés, comme en témoigne la citation de fin de l’article de David C. Rowe.

    En plus, ces articles sont une bonne introduction la complexité du sujet et des méthodes (l’article de Rowe notamment).

  4. 猛虎 says:

    Je publie surtout ces articles en anglais parce que dans ma synthèse, je vais faire une revue rapide de toutes les études mentionnées à travers mon blog. Sinon, pour vous faire patienter, j’ai une petite idée. Je vais publier d’ici peu quelques morceaux des thèmes abordés (15) dans mon article final sur le QI et les races, en attendant que la version finale soit achevée pour de bon.

    Quant à David Rowe, je crois que sa mort (2005) est une grande perte. Ces recherches sont vraiment intéressantes. Celle de Rushton aussi d’ailleurs.

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