The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Loose Cannons

Loyal Marginal Revolution reader Johan Richter asked for:
Your preferred policy towards unions.

I am sympathetic to the idea that the asymmetry of size between a corporation and an individual employee should be redressed somehow. Unions as we have experienced them are a blunt and dangerous instrument with which to attempt this. Unions tend to overstep their ideal role in several ways:

Work rules are clearly wealth-destroying, and tend to outlive their usefulness.

Flying pickets and sympathetic strikes attempt to hold all of society hostage to union demands.

Henry Hazlitt, in Economics in One Lesson, phrased this well:
But the moment workers have to use intimidation or violence to enforce their demands—the moment they use mass picketing to prevent any of the old workers from continuing at their jobs, or to prevent the employer from hiring new permanent workers to take their places—their case becomes suspect. For the pickets are really being used, not primarily against the employer, but against other workers. These other workers are willing to take the jobs that the old employees have vacated, and at the wages that the old employees now reject.

Finally, unions in the public sector often have a too-cozy relationship with the government that is allegedly their employer. Here the issue of protecting workers from rapacious capitalism does not arise; yet, with no moral reason for their existence there, unions are omnipresent in government. Perhaps this is because only government can survive union work rules and constraints without being bankrupted.

Kevin Drum deserved particular opprobrium for his intellectually dishonest treatment of this issue. He is happy to gloss over the fundamentally undemocratic nature of the card check process, even after treating us to this egregious parody of reason:
I figure that if a country guarantees the following three rights, it's probably a pretty decent place:
The right to free speech
The right to a fair trial
The right to vote
.... So here's a question: Do you think convicted felons who have served their time should be prohibited from speaking freely? Do you think they should lose the right to a fair trial?
Then why do they lose the right to vote in 20 states?

This is perhaps the most laughable non sequitur I have ever seen in print.

Returning to the original question, my preferred policy would be to permit unionization whenever workers chose it by secret ballot; to protect union organizers from employer retaliation; to forbid government employees from unionizing; and to explicitly state that violence employed in a labor dispute is as criminally culpable as any other violence.

[Mr. Cowen's comments are here.]