Notes From Babel

Wisconsin, Public Unions, and Robert Reich

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In light of the Wisconsin public unions story today, Steve Bainbridge had a good post explaining why you don’t have to be against unions in general to conclude public sector unionization is a bad idea.  It’s an important distinction, since some middle class advocates are wondering whether maybe the public sector has got the right idea, and the rest of us should be trying to get the same kind of leverage over our employers that the public sector has over taxpayers.   But in fact, there’s a long trail of warnings and admonitions not to cede to government employees the “power to halt or check the functions of government unless their demands are satisfied, [and thus] to transfer to them all legislative, executive and judicial power.”  Railway Mail Ass’n v. Murphy, 44 N. Y. S. 2d 601, 607 (Sup. Ct. 1943).  As Bainbridge explains:

In effect, public sector unionism thus means that representatives of the union will often be on both sides of the collective bargaining table. On the one side, the de jure union leaders. On the other side, the bought and paid for politicians. No wonder public sector union wages and benefits are breaking the back of state budgets. They are bargaining with themselves rather than with an arms’-length opponent.

Whatever you think about the public sector’s ascent—from having to trade parity with private sector compensation in exchange for job security and comfortable benefits, to exceeding the private sector across the board—the means employed are indefensible.

Also, I should’ve saved my Robert-Owen-ism (the early American socialist who lost the initial favor he enjoyed with JQ Adams when he defied the mainstream by denouncing scripture and marriage) for this bit by Robert Reich today:

Last year a majority of the justices determined that corporations have a right under the First Amendment to provide unlimited amounts of money to political candidates. Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission is among the most patently political and legally grotesque decisions of our highest court – ranking right up there with Bush vs. Gore and Dred Scott.

Equating the enforcement of the First Amendment with the basest form of pretextual defense of racism and slave-ownership is not what I’d call a plea to mainstream sympathy.  But you’ll note that when the left looks for examples of so-called “conservative judicial activism,” the same two or three cases always appear.  When it comes to liberal judicial activism, on the other hand, typically you’d simply refer to the “post 1930s jurisprudence,” and everyone takes your meaning.  Also, if you’ve been under a rock, Ed Whelan keeps a wonderful blog of ongoing liberal judicial activism over at Bench Memos.

In fairness to Reich, though, I was hanging with his Republican conspiracy theory up until the end there.  Republicans do have some sacred cows, and it’s pretty obvious they’re often just as captured by the wealthy as the Democrats are captured by labor unions.  If I have to pick, I’ll take the wealthy, since they’re more likely to throw some business my way.  But am I still too idealistic to think that I shouldn’t have to choose?  That awarding political and legal favoritism to either of these factions is too evil and undemocratic a choice to put to citizens of an ostensibly free country?  What is it about disdain for one sort of factionalism that sends folks into the arms of competing factions instead of condemning factions altogether?  The opposite of “evil” is not “good.” It is simply, “not evil.”  The right solution to the problem of “bad” factions is not “good” factions.  It is, simply, to condemn the bad factions.


Written by Tim Kowal

February 17, 2011 at 11:07 pm

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