March 22, 2019

It’s not labor unions that destroy the economy; it’s the New Deal and its awful progeny

First_United_States_Labor_Day_Parade,_September_5,_1882_in_New_York_CityTwo small minorities on either end of the political spectrum have strong feelings about Labor Day. One side sees the holiday as a celebration of all the victories hard working folks have won in securing their rights against greedy capitalists who would otherwise have them working twenty-three hours a day in sweat shops. The other side sees it as overt Marxism, so dangerous to all that’s good and holy the holiday should be renamed.

The other 95% are just damned glad to have the day off.

That the right wingers are paranoid doesn’t mean no one is out to get them. There is a very real connection between the holiday, the unions that proposed it and Marxism. American Marxists are firm supporters of unions, as were Marx and Engels themselves.

Neither is there any denying the damage unions appear to have done. Wherever labor unions are firmly entrenched, economic hardship proliferates. Outside the politically correct zone, everyone knows unions destroyed Detroit. If you have any doubt, just look at General Motors’ 2006 balance sheet. Either capitalists mysteriously ceased being greedy for the preceding fifty years or something forced them to be overly generous with pay and benefits, resulting in the bizarre preponderance of legacy benefit costs reflected there.

This would seem to be something of a paradox. How can this free association, an expression of the free market itself, be so harmful to our economic well-being?

The answer is labor unions themselves are not the problem. It’s labor union legislation, starting with the infamous “Wagner Act” (National Labor Relations Act of 1935) and continuing with subsequent legislation in the decades thereafter. These laws transformed the employment contract from a voluntary buyer-seller agreement to an involuntary one for one side.

The Wagner Act didn’t protect the right of sellers (employees) to freely associate and agree upon a minimum level of pay and benefits they would accept. They already had that right. The Wagner Act legalized violation of the buyers’ (employers) right to refuse to purchase their services. Just as sellers have a right to make collective bargaining a condition of the sale, buyers have a right to make individual bargaining a condition of their purchase.

In a free market, exchanges are supposed to happen only when both sides voluntarily agree to the price and the terms. If they can’t agree, they just don’t do business together, with each party free to buy or sell the services in question from and to others, respectively.

The Wagner Act overrides this natural law. It says the sellers are free to bargain collectively, but the buyer is not free to refuse. It makes one side of the agreement involuntary. Apart from the moral repugnancy of the idea, it causes huge economic distortions.

For example, it completely reverses the incentives for the sellers. If the buyers were allowed to negotiate freely with union and non-union members, the union would have to find a way to makes its members more productive than non-union workers to justify the higher price they ask for the same services.

Instead, unions in the present scenario have an incentive to make its workers less productive. Since the employer can’t say no, the union benefits from less productivity per worker, which results in a need for more total workers paying union dues. Anyone who’s been a new employee in a union shop will attest to the pressure from other employees to slow down one’s work in order to strengthen the union’s position at the bargaining table.

The right of buyers to buy from someone else or not buy at all is the most fundamental discipline a free market imposes on sellers. It is the only reason sellers seek to improve the quality and lower the price of their products. When this discipline is removed, prices go up and quality goes down. It’s the same phenomenon playing out in health care.

Ultimately, one shouldn’t blame labor unions for the economic misery they seem to spread. They are merely responding to incentives, just as do crony capitalists who benefit from protectionism. Put the blame squarely where it belongs, on the source of most human misery in this advanced age: government.

Enjoy the Labor Day holiday. Cook some hot dogs, crack open some cold ones and thank the hard workers the holiday is meant to honor under its rightful name. And while you’re at it, burn FDR in effigy for screwing everything up.

 

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Does excessive noise help cause big government?

Does excessive noise help cause big government?TAMPA, February 24, 2013 ― “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s all the noise, noise, noise, noise!”

There’s not much to like about The Grinch before his sentimental conversion at the top of Mount Crumpet. But it’s hard not to sympathize with him just a little when he utters those words. If quiet was in short supply in 1966 Whoville, it’s completely nonexistent in 2013 America.

I walked into a Jimmy John’s sub shop last week for the first time in two years. They recently began offering all of their subs as lettuce wraps, making them permissible as an occasional treat for primals. I knew I had missed the delicious #9. What I hadn’t missed was the music. At 12:30 in the afternoon, Jimmy John’s plays it at nightclub volume. Ordering and waiting the 1-2 minutes it takes to get your food is bad enough. Eating there is out of the question.

There is scarcely a restaurant anywhere that doesn’t pipe music throughout its dining room and onto its patio. Gas stations now blare music at customers while they pump their gas. Supermarkets, retail stores at the mall, and even public parks have all followed suit.

If it’s not music, then it’s television. Doctor’s office waiting rooms now bombard the ears and the psyche with vapid programming clattering off every uncarpeted surface. So do most auto repair shops.

There is virtually no spot accessible to the public that does not fill the soundscape with music or television. Even libraries are following the trend.

I know I sound like an old guy in baggy gray pants and a Humphrey Bogart hat, but I’m not. I love music. I love loud music. I played in bands for over twenty years and still like to crank up my Marshall amp and let some AC/DC rip on my vintage guitar.

I have nothing against music or television and certainly respect private property owners’ right to play either as loud as they wish to.

I just wonder when and where 21st century Americans ever experience quiet, outside of their jobs. When do they have the kinds of stimulating conversations with friends that are impossible when shouting over a restaurant sound system? When do they just sit and think, reflect or daydream?

It’s possible that the answer is “never.”

The term “noise pollution” is generally associated with the left and its never ending quest to impede commerce and industry. The war on noise fits nicely into the leftist worldview that when humans are left free to pursue their happiness, they naturally destroy the environment, including the sound environment, causing harm to themselves, each other and (gasp!) their furry co-inhabitants.

But does noise pollution also help cause big government?

Read the rest of the article at Communities@ Washington Times…

But aren’t right-to-work laws also unjust?

TAMPA, December 13, 2012 ― As expected, the reaction to Monday’s column about Michigan’s right-to-work legislation inspired spirited discussion.

Weeding out both praise and invective that were unresponsive to my argument, there was a dissent that had merit. It was the libertarian argument that right-to-work laws also violate the rights of employers and employees to make a voluntary contract. An employer should be free to require membership in the union and/or payment of dues as a condition of employment.

Like most libertarians, I agree with that argument in principle, but one cannot evaluate right-to-work laws in a vacuum.

Right-to-work laws and the Taft-Hartley Act from which they proceed are wholly a reaction to the Wagner Act. The proponents of Taft-Hartley first tried to get the Wagner Act repealed. When the Supreme Court ruled Wagner constitutional, conservatives passed Taft-Hartley. If the Wagner Act were not already law, Taft-Hartley would be both unnecessary and unjust.

However, in the context of the Wagner act, neither is necessarily true. A brief allegory will illustrate.

Employer Smith sits down at the bargaining table with Union Jones. The two discuss potential terms of an employment contract, but are unable to reach an agreement. Jones wants more than Smith is willing or able to pay. Smith gets up to walk away.

Just then, Luca Brasi walks up and makes Smith “an offer he can’t refuse.” Brasi puts a gun to Smith’s head and invites him to sit back down, assuring him that at the end of the meeting, either his brains or his signature will be on a collective bargaining agreement.

Brasi is the Wagner Act.

Read the rest of the article…

Michigan unions say no right to work

TAMPA, December 10, 2012 – Lansing, Michigan is bracing for an onslaught of protestors following Republican Governor Rick Snyder’s indication that he would sign “Right to Work” legislation currently making its way through the state legislature. President Obama and Harry Reid have both joined Michigan Democrats in denouncing the bill.

As usual, both liberals and conservatives are already demonstrating their skewed perception of reality in weighing in on this debate. President Obama told workers at an engine plant outside Detroit that “what we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages,” as if the law would do any such thing.

However, Harry Reid surpassed all in obtuseness when he called the legislation a “blatant attempt by Michigan Republicans to assault the collective bargaining process and undermine the standard of living it has helped foster.”

Perhaps the senator should ask the residents of Detroit, an entire city laid waste by New Deal union legislation, how they are enjoying the standard of living it has produced.

Libertarians haven’t been able to say this in quite a while, but the conservatives are mostly right on this one, although perhaps for the wrong reasons.

The only troubling sentiment coming from grassroots conservatives is the animosity towards labor unions themselves. Many seem to believe that the mere existence of labor unions causes economic distortions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Labor unions themselves are not the problem.

Like virtually all human misery, labor market distortions are caused by the government. Specifically in this case, they are rooted in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (a.k.a. the Wagner Act).

Read the rest of the article…

 

Corporations and Labor Unions: Great Ideas Corrupted By Government

There are no two institutions in American society that are more associated with the struggle between right and left than corporations and labor unions. Outside of foreign policy, there is nothing that liberals are more hostile towards than corporations, nor anything that conservatives are more hostile towards than labor unions. For most Americans, corporations and labor unions lie at opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum. Corporations are “conservative and capitalist,” while labor unions are “liberal and socialist.”

This is an illusion. In all but the most superficial respects, corporations and labor unions are virtually identical to each other. They are both voluntary associations formed by individuals to achieve an economic goal. They would both provide enormous economic benefits to society if they were not completely corrupted by government.

A corporation is a group of people agreeing to pool their capital to create a larger venture than any of them could launch individually. The stockholders agree that none of their personal assets will be put at risk if the venture fails – only the assets of the corporation

The stockholders also make these terms with the corporation’s creditors, customers, and other parties. In this way, the stockholders can cooperatively take more risk than they would if their personal assets were at stake. With greater risk comes greater reward. Thus corporations are able to innovate, produce, and expand more rapidly than smaller partnerships or sole-owner proprietorships. This benefits consumers by offering them more choice and higher quality products at lower prices.

The benefits of corporations are derived from the voluntary nature of every transaction. The stockholders, creditors, and customers all consent to doing business with the corporation, knowing the risks and the limited liability of the stockholders. All parties are exercising a natural right to associate and exchange their property as they see fit. One can never harm another merely by exercising one’s natural rights.

The prospect of the corporation becoming “too large” or dominant in a particular industry is countered by the equal right of all other members of society to form their own corporations and compete with the dominant one. In fact, it is this natural market occurrence – new competitors entering the market when there is an opportunity to offer consumers the same or better products at lower prices – that drives explosive innovation and growth and confers enormous benefits  on the rest of  society.

All of the associations necessary to realize these benefits can be achieved by voluntary contract. There is no reason that a government must enact a body of laws indicating how these corporations should be formed or how they should operate. Neither is there any reason why the government must create an “artificial legal person” in order to insulate stockholders from liability. That can be achieved by voluntary contract as well. All that is necessary is that the various contracts made between parties be enforced. However, voluntary association is not the government’s purpose in enacting corporate laws. [i]

The government corrupts the entire nature of corporations in virtually every way. First, it grants the corporation limited liability that applies not only to those who have consented to it, but to everyone. This completely skews a natural risk/reward balance and enables the corporation to commit torts against third parties without consequences to the stockholders. It overrides the right of individuals who did not voluntarily release the corporation from liability to pursue compensation for damages. It also has the effect of encouraging corporations to take more risk than they would if the stockholders’ personal assets were at risk with respect to these third parties.

Second, the enormous body of regulations constructed around corporations harms both the stockholders and the rest of society. The stockholders have the right to form and operate their corporation anyway that they see fit, as long as they do not invade the life or property of non-contracted parties. Regulations override their decisions and force them to operate the way the government tells them to, regardless of whether it is the best way or not. This adds tremendous costs to operating the corporation, which is then passed on to consumers.

Worst of all, these unnaturally high operating costs create impediments to the rest of society in exercising its most important right in this area: to form new corporations and compete with existing firms. This inevitably results in a few companies dominating each sector of the economy. Not only are consumers punished with higher prices and less choice than they could expect in a free market, but when these government-protected corporations get into financial trouble, those same consumers are often punished again when the government bails the corporations out with taxpayer funds. Without easy entry into the market for competitors, any corporation providing a service for which there is high demand becomes “too big to fail.”

Thanks to the corrupting hand of government, corporations are motivated to do exactly the opposite of what they would do if that artificial force were absent. Instead of trying to produce better products at lower prices, the corporation has an incentive to lobby the government for higher tariffs which keep out foreign competition. This allows them to keep operating inefficiently and charging higher prices than they could if they had to compete with the true market prices offered by those competing firms.

They also benefit by lobbying for more regulations that actually drive up their own operating costs. Why would they do something so illogical? They do it because those higher costs provide an entry barrier to new competitors. The established firm can pass those higher costs on to consumers, while the new competitor is either unable to start-up at all or unable to compete until it can match the established firms’ economies of scale. In the long run, government involvement with corporations results in lower quality, higher prices, and less choice for consumers than would occur in a free market.

The dynamics at play in regard to labor unions are virtually identical. Just like the stockholders of a corporation, the members of a labor union are exercising a natural right to enter into agreements with each other in order to achieve results that they would not be able to achieve individually. They form a partnership wherein all members agree not to accept compensation below a certain agreed upon amount. Compensation can take the form of any combination of wages, benefits, or working conditions.

It is important to recognize that the relationship between employee and employer is a buyer/seller relationship, with the employer being the buyer who purchases services from the employee. Like all buyer/seller relationships, both parties benefit when the transaction is voluntary. The seller benefits by getting the very highest price for his product that the market will bear. The buyer benefits by getting the highest quality product that he is able to obtain for the money he is willing and able to spend. If either party in any buyer/seller transaction does not believe that he is benefitting from the transaction, he can refuse to go through with it.

In the case of labor unions and employers, the union members benefit by higher compensation for their services. By bargaining collectively, they can control the supply of a particular type of labor demanded by employers and thus drive up the price. However, the employers actually benefit as well. As they are free to choose to hire people outside the union, the union must ensure that their product (labor) is superior enough in quality to persuade the employer to pay more for union employees than for cheaper, non-union employees. Such are the incentives in a free market, where all transactions are voluntary.

Under these conditions, labor unions would have an incentive to offer continuing education or training courses, to monitor the productivity of their members, and to set minimum standards for entry into the union as well as criteria for expelling non-productive employees. All of this would drive up quality, productivity, and profitability, further encouraging employers to pay more for union employees as a wise investment in more profitable products.

As with corporations, the benefits conferred upon society by labor unions depends upon contracts being enforced and all transactions between parties being voluntary. However, just as it does with corporations, government completely corrupts the nature of labor unions, eliminating many of the benefits they would otherwise provide. With interventions like the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 and subsequent legislation, the government destroys the voluntary nature of the employment contract, in many cases forcing employers to hire union workers. This violates the rights of employers to purchase services from whomever they wish to and eliminates competition for the labor unions, encouraging them to behave in a manner completely contrary to how they would behave in a free market.

Instead of encouraging their members to be more productive, labor unions actually encourage lower productivity from their members. It is not uncommon for a union member to be threatened by his coworkers for working too fast or being too productive and skewing the lower expectations negotiated by the union in the interest of employing more dues-paying members to accomplish the same work. Instead of setting higher standards for entry into the union, the union actually forces new employees to join as a condition of taking the job.

Finally, with competition from non-union employees eliminated, the union has no incentive to control the price they are charging for their services. In a free market, there would be a price point at which the presumably lower-skilled non-union workers would be a more profitable buy for employers than the presumably higher-skilled union workers. However, once the government removes the ability of the employer to make this choice, there is no longer any control on the price of union labor. This is why unions played such a large role in the demise of the American auto industry and American manufacturing in general.

Despite the unnatural, corruptive influence of government, corporations and labor unions still manage to provide many benefits to society. The insight that each must have about themselves and each other is that all of the benefits they provide derive from the extent to which they are voluntary associations which enter into consensual agreements with other parties. Conversely, all of the harm that they cause and all of the animosity that they and their supporters have for each other are the result of the coercive interference of government.

Instead of appealing to the government to assist them in invading each other’s rights, they should recognize that the government is actually their common enemy, preventing each from benefitting themselves and each other. If they wish to secure their rights and achieve positive results for themselves and society, they should kick the government out of their affairs and follow the law of nature.


[i] Special thanks to libertarian thinker and activist Steve LaBianca for his help in developing this analysis of the nature of corporations.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.