A Petition from the Booksellers
JULY 29, 2014 by IAIN MURRAY
(After Frédéric Bastiat)
To the Parliament of France.
Gentlemen, you are on the right track. Time and again you have shown your willingness to defend the humble French businessman against the ravenous forces of international competition.
You have helped bind the rest of Europe into a common agricultural program that defends small French farmers against American multinationals and starving African peasants alike. You have saved our version of YouTube, Dailymotion, from being acquired by Yahoo, ensuring that our youth can continue to enjoy clips of French actresses in their natural state. Your minister put it best when he told Dailymotion, “You don’t know what you’re doing.” And you have saved our ski instruction industry by the arrest of foreign instructors who have the temerity to teach in English.
When we petitioned you before, we knew you would act, and act you did. In the 1980s, we, the humble local booksellers of France, faced competition from book wholesalers who took advantage of the gullible public by lowering prices. A “discount,” they mischievously called it. Yet you saw it for what it was, an unfair trade practice, a gratuitous gift. In 1981, you passed the saintly Jack Lang’s Lang Law, which allowed publishers to set the prices of books and forbade anyone from selling a book at a “discount” of more than 5 percent.
Your wisdom was recognized across the continent. Austria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain all introduced similar laws. The readers of Europe were spared the pain of receiving affordable—perhaps even gratuitous!—knowledge and entertainment.
Yet soon we faced a new threat from a rapacious foreign giant as cruel and capricious as Pantagruel. It called itself Amazon, and it was engaged in nothing but the cultural destruction of France itself. Not only did it lower the price of books by as much as it could, it offered its customers free shipping. How could we compete with this promiscuous gift giving? And what of the damage to the French way of life if people got their books at home without having to come into town, where they can enjoy our coffee shops and restaurants?
Once again, you responded to our petition. You passed an amendment to the Lang Law that wisely forbade any seller from offering free shipping on a new book. You also restricted the right to sell at a discount to us, the humble booksellers in our brick-and-mortar stores.
This was the right decision, and consistent with your previous logic. You have encouraged commerce and increased employment by sacrificing the consumer’s interests for those of the retailer. For this, you deserve our thanks.
Yet devious and wicked is Amazon. It has responded to your wisdom by offering shipping at the price of just one cent!
This cannot stand. You must make your choice, and be logical. Everything you have done so far has been to punish the wicked who seek to exploit the consumer’s perverse desire for lower prices. There can be only one conclusion. You must ban Amazon from doing business in France altogether.
There will be some who say you cannot do this, that the European Commission will not stand for it. Yet look at what Amazon is doing to France. It bases its French operations in the notorious tax haven of Luxembourg, and so pays little in taxes to the French people. As the great sage Thomas Piketty has shown, such tax avoidance is not only harmful, but immoral.
European law allows for member governments to seek exemptions to fundamental treaty “freedoms” on the basis of public morality. It is for you, the great parliamentarians and ministers of France, to ban Amazon on the grounds of its threat to public morality.
But that is just the first step. To take your policy to its logical terminus, you must go further. As noted, you have sacrificed the interests of the consumer to encourage commerce and increase employment. You must now take away the consumer’s self-destructive choice in the purchasing of books. We humbly petition and advise you to require that each household in France purchase one book a month from a bookseller such as we represent. The books should be of our choice, so that we do not hold too great a stock of any one book, to our disadvantage.
Our choice for the first month shall be Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. We are confident that you will agree that our judgment is sound.
Humbly submitted,The Patriotic and Righteous Booksellers of France