Three-thirds rule or four-quarters rule? Is the question of the sharing of added value defined by reference to the world of pastis or pastries?
If we look beyond these sweeping formulas and go back to the heart of the matter, a number of questions emerge that have not yet been sufficiently debated.
WHO DECIDES ON THE SHARING?
In a traditional version of the company’s stakeholders or economic rights holders, in addition to shareholders, employees and the state, there are customers, suppliers and bankers. The task of the company director is to optimise the rights of not three but six stakeholders. It is therefore to reduce his room for manoeuvre to fix the proportion between :
- the share of the result going to labour and that going to capital;
- the part of the result distributed immediately to 2 stakeholders (2/3) and the part put back into play for the benefit of 6 stakeholders (self-financing for 1/3).
One cannot, for example, want to lower prices in the consumer sector and limit the possibility for entrepreneurs to finance this price reduction themselves. Yet this is what the combination of two of the government’s current imperatives leads to.
I therefore conclude that it can be accepted in the first analysis that the non-reinvested surplus should be shared equally between capital and labour.
THE ABSENT STAKEHOLDER
In this 6-way game, there is a part missing that can be called nature or the environment, in short public goods for which there is no efficient price system.
If a carbon tax partially replaces the business tax, this question will have been answered.
PARTICIPATION FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
France is split in two when it comes to employee savings schemes: employees of large groups benefit from the wide range of such schemes, while employees of SMEs are largely deprived of them. Should the scope of companies subject to the participation scheme be extended? SMEs are obviously not in favour of this, and we have to ask ourselves whether they are right in the difficult circumstances we are experiencing.
OVERRIDE THE PRINCIPLE OF NON-SUBSTITUTION
In a period of crisis when we are beginning to see decreases in fixed salaries (and not only in traders’ bonuses), profit-sharing schemes have a virtue: they allow for the distribution of sums corresponding to productivity gains without committing the future, since they are totally variable.
If we want SMEs to enter the system, there is no other way than to make it compulsory; all moral or financial incentives have shown their limits. Paradoxically, this is probably the best time to do it precisely because the participatory tool may not cost companies anything in 2009! But it will be there for the recovery, which will eventually come.
A possible deal for the social partners: salary increase or implementation of participatory tools, you have the choice, but you have to choose and make a breach in the sacrosanct principle of non-substitution. The issue is a one-off and worthwhile.
THE METHOD OF CALCULATING THE DISTRIBUTABLE SURPLUS
Company law distinguishes between profit and distributable profit. The current calculation of profit-sharing ignores the cash flow constraints of companies. However, profits made from an accounting point of view are not necessarily reflected in available cash. It would therefore be paradoxical if the new obligations were to lead small companies into debt in order to meet them!
How to get out of this situation? The simplest way is to substitute the cash flow statement for the income statement; in other words, to start from the net cash available on the basis of the cash flow statement; the cash remaining after investment and financing of the working capital requirement, the cash flow that financiers call the free cash flow, the basis of the company’s value.
It may be possible to divide it into three pieces, the last one corresponding to a precautionary cash flow. However, this requires that variations in the level of cash during the year do not justify a larger cash cushion.
For SMEs, this basis of calculation would be much more concrete, close to their concerns and protective of their financial situation.