A Basic Conflict


Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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244 Responses

  1. Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

    This is an audit problem. Funny how many political issues map right into the security domain, in principle.

    I think part of the reason why this *is* a fundamental conflict is because the taxpayer’s representative in the bargaining is historically a horrible proxy.

    Thus, the taxpayers’ right to see that their money is distributed appropriately is (practically) in conflict because our representative at the bargaining table has some pretty massive incentives to forgo the responsibility to bridge the gap and resolve the difference between public and private sector unions; it’s *their* job to fix the alignment problem that Will alludes to with “They aren’t bargaining against capitalists for a fair cut of the cooperative surplus.”

    This can be addressed at the state level, I think. Allow the legislature/governor to bargain with the public sector union, but require ratification for any labor contract that exceeds parameters (parameters to be set by amendment to the respective state’s constitution). Give a degree of oversight back to the voting public.

    Now, the voting public is still a bad proxy for the citizenry, granted, but it seems like a step in the right direction.Report

  2. Avatar ppnl says:

    I don’t see how you can say that rights are not in conflict. The basic rights come about exactly as a process of conflict resolution. That process is ongoing.Report

  3. Avatar rj says:

    I don’t know how to fit this into a theoretical framework, but there has to be some entity to protect state workers from the masses braying for blood. In a system in which people run against “big government” in the most ham-fisted manner win every decade or so, a government composed of at-will employees will yo-yo in terms of number of workers and compensation.

    It may make a good show for the cameras to see those a**holes at the DMV sent packing, but when the time comes to grow up and get back to the business of running a functioning government, people have to get hired back and retrained.

    And what kind of people would take a job with a salary determined by public opinion polling?

    Since politicians have a short time horizon and the no motive to keep costs down and quality up for the next guy, all they can do is plant these cost-bombs on their successors.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to rj says:

      > There has to be some entity to protect state workers
      > from the masses braying for blood.

      Does there?

      Check me on this. Most of the braying for blood, in my experience, comes from people who are convinced that the system doesn’t work because they see outlier contracts and ridiculous over-leveraged special interest contracts.

      Do you think that the blood brayers would be a real coalition if this had the built-in escape valve of a check on contracts?

      Sure, you’d always have a group of people who complain that “they” are making “too much money”. I don’t know that this group would be overly large if it wasn’t a systemic problem.

      In any event, I don’t know that you’d need to put a formal power unit in place for this.Report

      • Avatar rj in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        I don’t really think that any actual change in how state employees are compensated would make a difference. Poll after poll shows Americans have no idea what percentage of their tax dollar goes to what. Thus the situation we’re in now: everybody wants to balance the budget, but the only line items getting looked at are the same old culture war shibboleths. If the top vote-getters are proposing to take us back to fiscal normalcy by zeroing out the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,what makes you think actual numbers matter?Report

        • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to rj says:

          > Poll after poll shows Americans have no idea what
          > percentage of their tax dollar goes to what.

          Is this representative of an inherent weakness in democracy (people don’t give a crap about verifying their facts) or is this representative of a particular weakness in *our* democracy (people feel so disconnected from the fiscal process of government that they check out of being involved in the process)?

          If it’s the first, then it’s unlikely that we can fix this problem. If it’s the second, might this approach not help?Report

          • Avatar rj in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

            In either case, the solution would be for some sort of buffer (say, collective bargaining) that would give government workers a degree of assurance about salaries, benefits and job security from year to year.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to rj says:

              To what extent do they need this? I have a degree of assurance about my salary, my benefits, and my job security. That assurance is (in no small part) bolstered by the fact that I currently earn much less than I might if I took a different job. I do this because I like the job security; I’ve traded off some of my job insecurity for some less amount of salary.

              In any event, do we need to put the buffer in place as part of doing something? Or can we just try it and see what happens?

              I’ve said it before multiple times elsewhere: audit is inherently wasteful. It is necessary, to degrees, in times and places, but not in all times and definitely not in all places and most definitely not to any particular degree.

              I suspect that public sector workers would get by just fine without unions, en masse. Not that this is an argument against unions; I just don’t think that public sector workers need the level of protection that you’re implying here.

              And, tangent to that: if a group of them *do* need that level of protection, that implies that there is pervasive and significant resistance to the service the particular group provides. Mebbee, just mebbee, this might be a good place to start deciding where to cut things.

              Yes, it might mean that important services wind up getting cut in the short term. But I happen to think that a large portion of the bloviating bloviators will gain less traction when people have more opportunities to be engaged in the fiscal process, and in the medium run we’ll wind up with a more sustainable public jobs sector.Report

              • Avatar Herb in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                “I just don’t think that public sector workers need the level of protection that you’re implying here.”

                Man, that made me laugh.

                “Yes, it might mean that important services wind up getting cut in the short term.”

                Nooooo….don’t need any protection from the “Not with my tax dollar” crowd. Important services will just wind up getting cut….Nothing to see here. Move along.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Herb says:

                > Man, that made me laugh.

                It did? Why? Let me be frank: most people are pissed at the level of service that they get from the government, irrespective of service sector (I happen to disagree that this is an inherent problem of “guvmint” vs private service providers, nevertheless I think the problem is actually real, not just one of perception).

                I had to file a tax assessment with the County of Los Angeles, and due to logistics, I had to do it in person. I paid $2 in parking, and spent 20 minutes total between when I parked the car and when I got back into it. Exemplary service. Boo-yah. They deserve a gold medal.

                The City of Pasadena did not maintain my garbage settings when I changed addresses during a recent move. So my allotment of cans changed, and when I got my first bimonthly bill I was charged nearly $150 more than I had been charged under my previous configuration. “Customer service”, to put it bluntly, was neither helpful nor particularly pleasant to deal with. Just boo.

                The CoP could use some serious ass-kicking to get their service sector more in line with actually making people feel like they’re getting good service. I’m not particularly enamored of the idea of giving them a Stalwart to Protect them from the (quite possibly Boogyman) Whims of the Electorate.

                > Important services will just wind up
                > getting cut….Nothing to see here.
                > Move along.

                Yes, they will.

                Look, man, I live in California, the poster child for “Give me all the services I want” but “Don’t make me pay any goddamn taxes”. This *is* my electorate, they’re going to keep demanding bread and circuses as long as the legislature keeps giving it to them without charging them for it.

                The two solutions are: either raise the taxes (which we’re structurally unable to do at the moment) or cut the services. So cut the services, because whether you want ’em or not you can’t have ’em if you don’t pay for ’em.

                And when you’re sick and tired of the lines at the DMV, and the potholes in the road, you might actually nod your head and agree to pay some more taxes for those services.

                Until people are forced to make real decisions about what they want, they’re going to keep asking for more and demanding to pay less.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                “And when you’re sick and tired of the lines at the DMV, and the potholes in the road, you might actually nod your head and agree to pay some more taxes for those services. ”

                Considering that DMV and road-repair services are paid for by gas taxes and licensing fees, and that voters have repeatedly approved measures trying to keep that revenue in the pot it’s supposed to stay in (as opposed to being dumped into the general fund and used to pay for pensions), I’d say that–in that specific instance, as you’re fond of saying–voters are entirely okay with paying for the services they use.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                Would that the same were true of property taxes collected to pay public employees.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to rj says:

      Per capita, giant agribusinesses, defense contractors, and our friends at Wall Street have gotten far more money from the taxpayer than your average public sector employee. Can we vote on the wages of CEO’s in those businesses as well?Report

  4. Avatar Alex Knapp says:

    When you enter into employment with the state, it should be governed just like any other contract, right? And the right to associate includes the right to collectively bargain, right? So if state employees want to collectively negotiate their contracts with the state, what’s the “inherent conflict”? As long as the negotiation of these employment contracts is governed by a transparent process, I fail to see the issue.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Alex Knapp says:

      Is mere transparency enough? If so, why isn’t it enough when it comes to corporate rent-seeking and other special interest lobbying? The facts about those are matters of public record too.Report

  5. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Who do you propose to represent the interests of the teachers, policemen, firemen and other public employees? Should we just follow the model of the military? The Right won’t like that at all: such a teacher’s organization would take control of the school situation with all the gusto of a drill sergeant and the School Boards would have no say at all in the matter.

    So much for all that Creationism baloney these religious taliban hope to impose on the curriculum.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

      The right’s problem with teacher’s unions is their refusal to teach Creationism?Report

      • Avatar rj in reply to Jaybird says:

        There’s also the VA baloney about thousands of slaves fighting for the Confederacy. Plus Bachmann’s whitewash of the founding generation…Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

        It cheers my wicked old heart tremendously to contemplate a teacher in uniform, with the authority of a drill sergeant, feared and respected, beyond the control of the feeble-minded and cretinous advocates of the Old Time Religion.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

          I suspect that you’d find many more advocates of such on the (so-called) “Right” than not.

          They may even be willing to abandon Creationism for it.

          Well, not for *THEIR* kids, of course. But those other kids in that bad school district across town.Report

        • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP says:

          I’ve had two teachers in my lifetime who fit this model.

          One was awesome, the other was uniquely horrible. I’ve had plenty of awesome teachers in various molds, but I have a tendency to avoid the unique horribleness when possible.Report

        • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to BlaiseP says:

          BP, that’s pretty nasty, mean spirited, talk coming from your mouth? I’m beginning to think you’re not a sophisticated as you want usins to think you are. And, always remember Jesus loves you and Jaybird and so do I!Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

            Heh. Obtuseness, a mere rhetorical device. Jesus loves you and me and in his infinite grace extends his mercy and loving kindness to Jaybird though how and why he does remains a great mystery.

            All kidding aside, a cadre of professional teachers worthy of the name, respected, well-equipped, beyond the control of these parochial talibs would be better than the current setup.Report

            • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Yes, but what’s your point? With the gummint unions you sure as hell aren’t going to get a cadre of responsible, excellent teachers. They won’t allow it!Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

                It is my fate to have shared the bed with a union schoolteacher who quit the profession. My judgment may be called into question, but she was a dedicated, excellent teacher. Wave your hands and cast aspersions on her union: that union could not protect her from a total of five vicious assaults by her students, nor could it protect her from an unsupportive administration.

                Reality bites, m’sieu. I am not sure you have much to say about teachers or their moccasins until you’ve walked a mile in those moccasins.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP says:

                > Wave your hands and cast aspersions on
                > her union: that union could not protect
                > her from a total of five vicious assaults
                > by her students, nor could it protect her
                > from an unsupportive administration.

                Sounds like you’re casting all the aspersions that need to be cast, right there.

                Not that I doubt the veracity of your claim.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                Thank you for that caveat. Lost in the current foofaraw and hullabaloo are the voices of the teachers, who really do not ask for all that much. They’ve been the playthings of public policy for many years now, convenient whipping boys ( and whipping girls ) for every failing in our society.

                Why do we pay our teachers shit wages and demonize their unions? Why do they have so little authority in their own classrooms? Why do the talibs insist they teach unscientific nonsense? Why are their schools so poorly-furnished and poorly-maintained?

                The answers to these questions do not lie in the stars of political nostrums but in ourselves, and our failings. We have abandoned the most-important profession of all, the only one with which we transmit the information of the ages to each new generation. It has even become a matter affecting national security: the military cannot operate its high tech equipment without soldiers to read the manuals. We send our military over the horizon into incalculable harm without the benefit of the sociology and linguistics to interact with the peoples we are supposedly saving from whatever it is we’re supposedly saving them from, and nobody has a clue.

                This is not universally true throughout the military, but true enough to warrant a certain degree of alarm. Early in the war in Afghanistan (I was in Kabul in October and November of 2002) an SF unit had been inserted into a village and come to terms with the local leadership. Their replacements from 82 ABN arrived fresh from Iraq and proceeded to bust down doors, undoing six months of patient coalition building.

                Throughout this useless and wicked society, we tolerate ignorance at an institutional level with a systematic thoroughness. Gone are the days when an intelligent mien would inspire confidence in voters. Now, what’s required is to put on the overalls of populist ignorance, the latest fashion trend in politics. Obama is called cool and bloodless, compared to Spock. The Tea Parties, with their pitiful command of English, economics and history, project the aura of Confident Ignorance.

                During my training as a soldier, an instructor at told me how men get killed: “Confident, cocky, lazy, dead.”

                If education were seen as the national priority it is, things would change. I do not see such change afoot while the GOP insists on demonizing teachers and their unions. Though police and firemen negotiate their contracts through the same routes, they are not demonized. Only the teachers come in for scorn, and in that, we see their true aims, and it is no different than the Salafi and the talibs.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

                …fuck it. That’s a lot of words, but someone who calls the other side “talibs” obviously isn’t interested in a discussion.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Talibs are what talibs do. You tell me why the Tea Partiers have singled out the teachers for abuse.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I have plenty of experience with actual talibs, working in a refugee camp in Pakistan. Back then, though, they were the good guys, fighting the godless Commies.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Well, that’s a meme, BlaiseP, supporting the Taliban vs. the Commies.

                The fact is that the Taliban have theologically imposed limits on their atrocities.

                Commies, none.

                You really should give religion more credit.


              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to BlaiseP says:


                You tangled with me over Brad DeLong, of all things. I still don’t get what was in that for you. But I think you’re swell anyway.

                The above comment to which this replies is a +1.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

      “How are new species created?”

      “Sir, natural selection, sir!”Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Wait, I saw this movie. It had Tom Berenger, right? (then it had Michelle Pfeiffer)Report

  6. Avatar Philip H. says:

    Part of the problem in your seeking a resolution is that you, as do many others, still conflate unions engaging in bargaining with private entities (e.g GM or Chrysler, or Massey energy) with unions bargaining with public entities (e.g the State of Wisconsin). In one case, the union is, as you note, bargaining to receive gains from a collective economic activity – the production of cars, the minning of coal – where the receipt holder (the corporation) has a fiduciary responsibility to pay the union’s members AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE in order to preserve profits for the corporation’s owners.

    In the public sector, while all citizens may be viewed as “owners”, there’s no profit motive. Public employees are not in competition with share or bond holders for the receipts; rather they are the entity through which government delivers its products. In a manufacturing firm, no one questions the efficacy or pricing of the mechanical assembly line, but in the private sector, the efficacy and pricing of the worker – who is analogous to the assembly line – is constantly questioned by the Right side of the political aisle.


    When corporations organize to squeeze extra cash from the state, the left screams bloody murder, and it’s a good thing they do. Yet when public sector employees commit the very same foul, the left rallies in support. It suggests that what the left really hates about corporate rent-seeking isn’t rent-seeking, but corporations.

    is not at all true. Rather, the Left sees the public sector worker as a critical component of the service delivery that government is entrusted with by the people, much the same way GM sees their assembly lines as a critical component of its delivery of finished cars.Report

  7. I think just about everyone agrees that the justifications for public sector unions have to rest on different fairness grounds than the justifications for private sector unions, but I’m not sure I see this resulting in a conflict of fundamental rights; in the alternative, if it is a conflict between fundamental rights, then I think fundamental rights wind up in conflict quite frequently.

    Stripped of context, the two individual rights in conflict here are the right of freedom to associate (and petition) and the right to see that one’s tax dollars are distributed appropriately. I think we can all agree that the freedom of association is a clearly fundamental right. But would we call the right to see that one’s tax dollars are distributed “appropriately” fundamental? “Appropriately” winds up doing a lot of heavy lifting in that right – who determines what is and is not “appropriate” distribution? There’s certainly no consensus on what amounts to “appropriate” spending of taxpayer dollars.

    So if we define that as a fundamental right on a par with the freedom to associate, then just about any government expenditure is a violation of someone’s fundamental rights, even expenditures that are necessary for the protection of clearly fundamental rights. I don’t think, for instance, that we’d say money expended to fund the judiciary presents an inherent conflict of fundamental rights.

    Are attempts by public sector unions to negotiate favorable deals a form of rent-seeking? Absolutely. But I think the right to seek that rent is fundamental in a way that the right to not have that rent paid is not. Otherwise, why did we view Citizens United as such an important victory?

    This of course is a far cry from saying that rent should be paid or that the government employer should not try to cut that rent once paid. It’s just to say that concerns over appropriate government spending cannot form the basis in a fundamental rights analysis for infringing upon the freedoms of association and the right to petition.Report

    • And no one in the Wisconsin example is suggesting public sector workers shouldn’t have their rent reduced temporarily due to the economy (at least I presume this discussion has been spawned by that matter). Rather, the Governor, who is Right politically, is attempting to circumvent the right of association/petition/rent seeking collectively in the name of financial exigency. What he wants to do is constrain public sector employees ability to seek rents in the future, regardless of economic reality.

      And that has ZERO to do with a citizens right to “follow” the money and see it used “appropriately,” as paying rent to the entity (public employees) that deliver public services is one of those economic requirements you just can’t get around.Report

    • Avatar Kyle in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      Maybe this is a silly question but aren’t the rights to collectively bargain and to associate substantively different?

      I mean nobody is suggesting that the Chamber of Commerce has a right (or need) to collectively bargain. Will the Chamber go Galt if they don’t get with they want? No, this is silly they just make lots of money lobbying for people who stand to make even more (or lose less) if they succeed. If there was some sort of CalTeach, lobbying organization that would lobby for higher salaries and better working conditions whose supporters were predominately but not exclusively teachers, that right (and their political power) would not be critically reduced without unionization?

      However, and maybe this is where I think there’s a difference/rights conflict, you can willingly disassociate yourself form any group petitioning the government, except if you’re a certain kind of government employee, whereby even if you opt out of actual membership, you still must financially support the organization and be bound to the collective agreements independently reached by the same.

      I think despite the diversity of feelings on corporations and lobbying here, if tomorrow the federal government decided to force Amazon and Apple to pay the Chamber as the official bargaining unit for all business, the bill would find few, if any, supporters.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kyle says:

        This seems to challenge the legitimacy of private-sector unions too, at least as they are now legally constituted. I hadn’t intended to go there, to be honest. I suppose a purist might, but I don’t see this as a terribly interesting battle.

        In evaluating a job prospect from the outside, we can’t abstract from it the presence of a union and then postulate that we have a claim to a union-less job at that place. The union’s baked in, and this is at least a rough parallel to what happens, in any case, with the management.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      Thank you for this, Mark. FDR screwed up by trying to draw this distinction. If the right to get together with others who offer like services or who want to sell various services to a common buyer is fundamental (and whether it is or not, it seems to me like it is pretty clearly protected by the First Amendment), then it must adhere when the buyer in question is a government. The government has to operate as an equal player (albeit usually a very strong one) in various other purchasing markets; labor should be no different. Good appropriation of public funds seems to me to be an interest and an ongoing project that a consenting governed population will always want to pursue, but I don;t see how we can see proper completion of that project as a fundamental right, particularly when there won’t ever be any consensus on what that might mean. Instead, that is just what politics is.

      Jason is right that from a rights perspective, the Left is wrong when they question corporate rights to engage in similar activity, but what is legitimate for anyone to do is to engage in straightforward political campaigns of negative portrayal for choosing to do so in one case but not in the other (the distinction being, possibly, that [big] corporations are who they are and employee unions are who they are, and they’re differently placed entities with different missions in different contexts, and we can have different opinions about the fact of each pursuing formally similar actions in their particular contexts). This, again, is simply what politics fundamentally is, and is at the core of what the First Amendment is all about.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I am not a fan of FDR. There is a part of me that wishes that there were a person out there who, under the pseudonym Archie Bunker, posted “Franklin Delano Roosevelt ruined this country!” every time his name came up in the thread here.

    With that said, here is one of his letters to Luther C. Steward that contains an interesting argument.


    The middle paragraph:
    All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

      If people are captured by hero worship of a great pres then this is a devastating quote. Otherwise, meh. Lets try this, how can a gov. contract with a company to plow snow without the input of all its people, the employer is all the people, so why doesn’t every contract have to go threw a public vote. Shouldn’t the people have a say in what kind of toilet paper is used in gov buildings, after all the buildings belong to the people.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

        Let’s say that the representatives of the people legislate that government buildings ought to use 30% post-consumer paper when it comes to facial and bathroom tissue.


        Not covered by “interstate commerce”?Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jaybird says:

      Of course you find it interesting, because now you can point and infer, “see, even FDR hated public sector unions!”Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

        I’m more inclined to see FDR as a hypocrite who believes that “only your employees have a right to unionize but my employees are too essential to let them unionize”, myself.

        Yet the argument is interesting enough to engage with, I suspect.


    • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Jaybird says:

      Damn, JB, Roooosevelt got something right!
      Fire, police, and teachers permitted to strike..are you people shittin’ me? A dose of common sense people!Report

  9. Avatar RTod says:

    “That theory can’t be “stand up for the little guy,” because the little guy in this case would be the individual taxpayer who doesn’t already have a relatively cushy public-sector job.”

    Good post, ED, but I’d like to add something about how to find the right balance with this issue:

    That a tax payer is the little guy in this equation is obviously true. But what I think you miss is that that the tax payers in general can be a big guy – and a big guy that often has an irrational desire to stick it to public employees in a way that doesn’t usually exist in a private sector stockholder/employee relationship.

    Over the years I’ve heard lots of outcry about, say, a senator spending $100,000 to redecorate their office. And so much the better for that. But I also constantly hear a strong desire by the voting public to pay public employees crap wages and insist that they use horrible, outdated equipment and facilities – and it often seems as much out of hostility and wanting to fuck with them as it is real fiscal concern. As a result, for example, where I live state and county employees work with an inefficient, outdated computer system. Investing in a better system would have made financial sense (certainly in the pre-recession years) and been a cost savings for the public; but it never gets done because no elected official wants to take the flack for giving public employees a less shitty tool.Report

    • Avatar RTod in reply to RTod says:

      and by E.D. I mean Jason, of course.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to RTod says:

      Good post, ED, but I’d like to add something about how to find the right balance with this issue:

      That post was by me. But in any case, you’re certainly right about taxpayers often having irrational ideas about how to balance the state budget.

      One possible way out of the dilemma here could be to establish parallel private industries to which we peg the wages and benefits of state employees. It would then be harder to make the case that government workers were either over- or underpaid.Report

      • Except that concept is done regularly by the Department of Labor (among others), and accounting for differences in educational requirements, sector by sector analyses show that federal public employees (at least) make about the same to slightly less then their private sector counterparts. I would be willing to bet the gap (again controlling for educational and other requirements) at the state and local level is about the same. It’s only when public employees are compared as a lump sum with all other employees that the differences supposedly stand out.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to RTod says:

      > But I also constantly hear a strong desire by the
      > voting public to pay public employees crap wages
      > and insist that they use horrible, outdated equipment
      > and facilities – and it often seems as much out of
      > hostility and wanting to fuck with them as it is real
      > fiscal concern.

      I ask again, as I did upthread:

      Is this representative of an inherent weakness in democracy or is this representative of a particular weakness in *our* democracy (people feel so disconnected from the fiscal process of government that they check out of being involved in the process)?

      I’d hazard a guess that a large part of the hostility comes from the second part. It’s debatable, of course.

      I think the “outmoded equipment” problem is associated: people are hard pressed to find a reason to give the EDD (to pick one example out of a hat) in California new computers, when their IT projects are routinely reported on as being a massive bloated failure.Report

      • Avatar Philip H. in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        Ok, but WHY are they massive bloated failures? Is it because they weren’t scoped properly in the beginning? Is it because the contractor that was hired couldn’t actually do the job? Is it because the project was overrun by events, or software advances? How often are such failures the result of the public servants, as opposed to the acquisition rules they have to follow?

        As a general rule, politicians and the general public don’t ask questions like these, because they either don’t know they shoud, or they object to the likely answer.Report

        • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Philip H. says:

          To be fair, most IT projects are massive bloated failures. For all the reasons you cite; they aren’t scoped properly in the beginning, or the contractor couldn’t do the job, etc.

          But in the private sector, this is divorced from the public. If Fortune 500 companies routinely have 30-50% of their IT projects labeled as “failures”, that’s a place for the stockholders to complain. If public sector IT projects fail at the same rate… well, this tells us that “most IT projects fail regardless of domain”, but still the people that want to complain about it are the taxpayers.Report

          • Indeed.

            I watched senior management at a large public corporation pour something >$100M in 1990 dollars into a new billing system project, and got exactly nothing usable out of it. I’m quite sure that few of the stockholders were even aware of that fiasco. My state government’s software problems make the front page of the news.

            State governments in particular often labor under the additional handicap of having to acquire systems that meet a variety of different federal requirements. For example, the feds may require that the software be produced by a company that has been previously certified, so only two or three vendors are even eligible to bid, and they know darned well what each other are charging for particular types of projects.Report

            • Avatar Simon K in reply to Michael Cain says:

              I really think the only upper bound on how much money you can waste on a software project is how much you can spend before someone stops you. This is all you need to know to understand why startups appear to be better at producing software than governments. Its just that we run out of money quicker.Report

            • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Michael Cain says:

              I think most of the problems are due to scope, in particular, too large a scope. Or, a better way to put it might be ‘lack of following standards’ or even ‘lack of interfaces’. They design a giant interlocked system with a dozen different aspects, and can’t make it work, and it all falls apart.

              That is not how you design software, and I’ve thought that every time I’ve heard about the last government software disaster.

              You have backends. You have frontends. You have data filtering. You have web pages. You have printing facilities. Whatever. These are all separate things.

              You don’t go and replace it all. You replace part of it, and write backwards compatible interfaces to the other parts, which get removed as those parts get replaced too. In fact, at some point the interfaces become somewhat standardized and don’t need changing, or just need a file format change from EDI to XML or whatever. (Bad example for intra-government data, but whatever.)

              But all the disasters seem to be ‘Well, this entire multi million dollar project didn’t work’, at which point I’m baffled as to what, exactly, they were attempting to do, until I realize they were essentially trying to replace an entire functioning system with another system, all at once.

              All software projects have failure as a possibility. The question is, do we want the entire $100 million project failing because of some poor decision made in the ‘web output’ module, or do we want just the $5 million ‘web output’ project failing?

              They need to sit down and look at their data, and organize and label it. Then they need to figure out how to move it around, and then they write stuff to do _each specific instance_ of that. They do not need to write some huge glob of software to start with.Report

              • Funny how many non-government contractors get this.

                I’ll note that it’s practically unheard of for CS majors at any school to take systems classes. So they typically build things exactly like you describe.Report

              • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                I wouldn’t know, I dropped out of CS because I couldn’t do the Calculus 2 required. (Which, I must point out, is not actually used in 99.999% of programming. Programming rarely uses even trig. The requirement is due to the math department’s desperate attempt to hold on to the CS major, despite it not having more to do with math than, for example, chemistry.)

                But I got at least two thirds of the way through the actual computer classes, and, yeah. They’d talk about OOP (Which I was fairly dismissive of, being a C programmer. I didn’t realize how useful it was until later.) and designing a _program_ in parts…

                …but nothing about designing a system, nothing about the fact that different parts of the system can be in different places and do different things and how to make them all work together. No, there was just a giant blob of a ‘program’, which, no matter how well designed, was a single entity…and _maybe_ a database server it connected to, although that was literally one class where that was explained.

                Perhaps that stuff was later on, although I doubt it. CS, when I took it in 1999-2001, was really crippled by the sheer number of people who didn’t understand programming at all, and just did things by rote, so they had to keep going over basic concepts.Report

  10. Avatar Uncular1 says:

    When did public employees cease to pay taxes?Report

    • Avatar Philip H. in reply to Uncular1 says:

      Never . . . but many of us labor under laws that prevent us from lobbying, and if you are a fed, you can’t strike (thank Ronald Reagan and the air traffic controllers for that one).Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Uncular1 says:

      When did their taxes ever approach proportionality with their salaries?

      We’re talking about a problem of diffuse costs and concentrated benefits. If I bill everyone in the country a dollar — myself included — and if I collect that $310 million, I can’t say that my dollar paid for it all.Report

      • When did their taxes ever approach proportionality with their salaries?

        When did the profit from an individuals work/productivity in a private firm ever approach proportionality with their salary? That’s a strawman if ever I saw one.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Philip H. says:

          I don’t see what you’re getting at.

          Are you saying that the relatively small shares of public employees’ salaries that go back to the state in the form of taxes make the employees sufficiently impartial to judge their own case?

          Or are you saying that there is never — ever — a problem with concentrated benefits and diffuse costs?

          If it’s the former, then I’m sure you’ll join me in demanding that the government cut us all checks. For… whatever. We’re taxpayers. We’re competent to judge.

          If it’s the latter, then you’ve just solved the fundamental problem of public choice, by way of denying that it even exists.Report

  11. Avatar Jon Rowe says:

    As a libertarian, I think the biggest problem I have is, I agree with Cato, Epstein, Barnett, et al. on a “first best world” policy; but even one ceteris paribus or assuming arguendo step away from that first best world throws a monkey wrench into the policy system. And certain areas of public policy are about 100 steps away from that first best world.

    For instance, I teach at a community college, have tenure, and am part of a union. In the first best world, there would be no public schools OR government education systems. Everything would be privately owned. The state would sell these assets off to the private sector. Whether tenure existed would depend on market forces. Same with unions, but yellow dog contracts would be legal.

    But I gotta deal with the real world. Admin is subject to corruption and political patronage. If the Republicans or Democrats are in charge in my state, without tenure and unions, it easily could happen that the party in charge could demand the replacement of X number of faculty who were of the “wrong” political party. In some state colleges here, they DO this with administrative positions.Report

  12. Avatar Pooh says:

    The phrase “relatively cushy public sector job” is doing way too much work in this analysis. Even assuming the factual correctness (which is, you know, debatable given that public sector employees make demonstrably less when education and experience are factored in), how long does that job remain relatively cushy without the protections offered by collective bargaining? And what happens to the quality of government services if those jobs are lowest common denominator-ed?

    Now this might be seen as a feature not a bug if “privatization” is your shibboleth, but I’d personally like it better if the police, fire department, DMV, courts, prisons, and probably even schools weren’t operated as profit-maximizing ventures.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Pooh says:

      A benefits package that includes no employer pension contributions and only 6% in healthcare premiums is pretty nice, other things being equal, and that’s what Wisconsin now has.Report

      • Avatar Jon Rowe in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Those who get benefits pay nothing for health-care and never have. Our unions successfully quashed that every time. Even up till our latest contract that ends in two years. However, NJ now mandates by statute a 2.5% contribution which will affect us in two years once our current union contract expires. Oh well.Report

      • Avatar Pooh in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        You’re bootstrapping here – the essential argument is that public employees shouldn’t be able to collectively bargain because they are too good at it.Report

        • Avatar Kyle in reply to Pooh says:

          Use that line in defense of monopolists, much?Report

          • Avatar Pooh in reply to Kyle says:

            Are you seriously equating the market power of public employee’s unions with pre-Sherman monopolists?Report

            • Avatar Kyle in reply to Pooh says:

              Nonsense but then so is uselessly reducing something down to an “essential argument” that is too simplistic and lacks important contextual points.

              In neither case is it “X is bad because they’re too good at it?” Is that even a serious argument? If anyone’s arguing for something it’s that X being too good at securing certain results may indicate a systemic or institutional preference for X, or in some cases of monopolists a gaming of the system. Which is a reflection of the system in which X operates, not how good or not good X is.Report

              • Avatar Pooh in reply to Kyle says:

                I’m not reducing his whole point to that, merely pointing out that “the relative cushyness” of public-sector jobs is something of a red herring, playing more towards resentment than to the conflict of fundamental rights being discussed in the post.

                To put it another way, if we want to talk about the appropriate level of compensation for public sector employees, that’s a fine discussion, but it has relatively little to do with “fundamental rights,” at least not until some point where the workers are extracting clearly exorbitant salaries from the taxpayers. Again, we can argue where to draw this bright line, but I’m operating under the assumption that “relatively cushy” is well short of that line. And to the extent that Jason thinks “relative cushyness” is close to that line, I think he needs to make it explicit.Report

              • Avatar Pooh in reply to Pooh says:

                Though you have a reasonable point that my response was overly glib, and I perhaps should have stated more clearly that for the range of compensation levels at issue, the exact level bargained for is not especially relevant to the discussion of the interplay of the fundamental rights at work.Report

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to Pooh says:

                So you can see how, “You’re bootstrapping here – the essential argument is that public employees shouldn’t be able to collectively bargain because they are too good at it” gives off the wrong impression?

                In any case, I think whether or not workers are being extravagantly or poorly paid is rather incidental to a discussion of whether public employee unions create a conflict of rights? On its own right it is probably an important discussion but not so in finding a conflict, just because someone chooses not to violate your rights as long as they are not precluded from doing so in the future a conflict or potential conflict exists.

                In this case, I’m not particularly inclined to believe that the taxpayers have some right to see their money used appropriately. IOW taxpayers have a right to a say in how money is spent but not a determinate say.Report

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to Kyle says:

                well this was unnecessary….Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Are other things equal? (Real question: I have no idea.)

        I have no employer pension contributions either, but I’m guessing that was a typo :-).Report

  13. Avatar Will says:

    I admit I’m also uncomfortable with the idea of stripping unions of their collective bargaining rights. But of course, when I mentioned that nonunion workers shouldn’t be tithed or bargained for by unions in another thread, I was told that if you don’t like the arrangement, you should just get another job. If I was a cynic, I’d apply this formulation to the Wisconsin crisis: If you want your employer to recognize your union, don’t work for the government.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Will says:

      Unions are, of course, protected by the First Amendment.

      Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Petition the Government for Redress of Grievances.


      But I also think that stuff like vouchers for private schools (even Christian ones) are also protected by the First Amendment so what do I know?Report

      • Avatar Kyle in reply to Jaybird says:

        I feel like I’m harping on this but it’s really because I don’t have a clear understanding. What is the difference in value between collective bargaining and plain old lobbying?Report

        • Avatar Will in reply to Kyle says:

          To be honest, I’m not sure. There’s a difference between taxpayers and public employees, but they both have legitimate claims on the government’s resources.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kyle says:

          Difference in value?

          Um… I don’t understand.

          Lobbying, to me, seems to be a negative way to say “petitioning the government for redress of grievances”. I mean, I don’t have the time or money to go to Warshington to explain the importance of X to my Senator/Congresscritter… but I do have an extra $20. I can send the $20 to “Friends Of X” and help pay for 40 seconds of a lobbyist’s time who will yell at various Senators and Congresscritters representing Friends of X from all over the country. And, hey, maybe we’ll do some good competing against the “Protect Our Children From X” lobby.

          All that to say:
          I don’t understand what you mean when you say “difference of value”.Report

          • Avatar Kyle in reply to Jaybird says:

            What I’m asking, Jay, is what does one get (as a public employee) by the right to collectively bargain that they don’t already get by the right to collectively petition the government for redress of grievances?

            Presumably it has some kind of (non-sentimental) value the potential loss of which is anathema to many people, but what is it??Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kyle says:

              Well, I sort of assume that collective bargaining is a right.

              Am I off-base on that?Report

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well at the federal level it’s a right issued by executive order in 1962, as I understand it. State by state it varies.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kyle says:

                No, I mean a capital-R Right right.Report

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to Jaybird says:

                as in an inviolable (some might say god-given) right?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kyle says:

                Yeah. Sort of an emanation from a penumbra from Peaceful Assembly/Free Speech/Petition Government.

                (Note: The Right to collectively bargain =/= the Right to get what you want.)Report

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to Kyle says:

                Well generally I prefer my rights to be explicitly stated rather than oozed out from the shadowy world of penumbras. So until it gets an amendment, I’m going to go with it’s a legal privilege subject to modification as the whims of the electorate see fit.

                On the other hand, I think the main problem I have with that is how it conflicts with the draft/emergency powers of government and incorporation. After all, to collectively bargain, you have to be a group. Most groups that do so are organized as corporations, which means if government employee auto union can collectively bargain – fitting in their first amendment rights and relationship with the government – couldn’t an association of auto makers do the same thing? How would this be different from collusion or conspiracy?

                If we view the right in terms of the employed rather than the subjects of government, then what about government contractors. Can Halliburton and Ze or Xe or whatever it’s called collectively bargain?

                Finally, if when push comes to shove the government can set price/wage controls, take over industries, and draft workers – thereby demolishing any prospective gains made via collective bargaining, could it be properly construed as a Right?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kyle says:

                The number of times I quote the Ninth Amendment, you’d think I’d have it memorized by now…

                Anyway, I prefer the assumption to be that the right exists and it has to be explained away rather than that the right has to be explained into existence.

                But that’s not important right now.

                “How would this be different from collusion or conspiracy? ”

                Well, it’s only collusion or conspiracy after the regulatory capture.

                “Can Halliburton and Ze or Xe or whatever it’s called collectively bargain?”

                Can the military? Now *THAT* is a fun question.

                “price/wage controls, take over industries, and draft workers”

                All three of these strike me as violations of rights, actually…

                I should probably restate for the record that I am a crazy libertarian and should not be assumed to speak for sane libertarians or normal people who belong to real political parties.Report

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to Kyle says:

                I feel like the military jargon for collective bargaining is coup.Report

              • Avatar Pooh in reply to Kyle says:

                The right to collectively bargain flows somewhat naturally from the freedom of contract.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kyle says:

                The right to collectively bargain flows somewhat naturally from the freedom of contract.

                Problems pop up when governments have long-standing traditions of interfering with freedom of contract, however.

                One should not be surprised when people stop remembering that freedom of contract exists.Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to Kyle says:

              Collective bargaining has far more then sentimental value. CB gives people a lot more ability to negotiate then voting. CB actually gives workers some power.Report

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to greginak says:

                But how does it give workers power? And what power would be lost by losing it?

                Incidentally, the alternative here is not (cake or death) CB or voting, it’s CB or lobbying and it’s not like the AMA or NRA are weakling institutions limited to the mere voting power of their constituent members.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Kyle says:

                Lobbyists can be ignored and their influence is usually equivalent to how much money they can hand over. CB gives workers a unitary voice, makes them harder to split and are focused on one company/industry. The ability to strike gives workers some power instead of a simply subservient relationship. Workers cannot be quite as easily replaced when convenient, for good or for ill.

                Typically the groups that unionized were the ones most screwed over and with least power.Report

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to greginak says:

                w/r/t lobbying, maybe that’s true but some public employee unions/unions in general consistently make rankings of the wealthiest most influential outfits in Washington, certainly in Albany and Sacramento. So again, this seems more like a +1 for lobbying than a +1 for CB.

                Unified voice, ok, but again in lobbying is there any evidence that industries/professions are less united than their unionized counterparts? The AMA and Bar Assoc are incredibly dominant voices in their respective industries, same for national assoc of realtors, or NRA.

                Law enforcement and public safety officers are in some cases forbidden from striking, yet still have CB, so if I’m going to be a fireman, what does my union with CB give me that membership in a national assoc for Fire Safety wouldn’t give me?Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Kyle says:

                Law enforcement and public safety officers are in some cases forbidden from striking…

                This is actually more like “all” or “almost all.” But CB still has loads of value, and in all but a handful of states (VA and NC, IIRC, which also prohibit collective bargaining by police and fire….I emphasize this is a big IIRC – it’s been a decade since I did this research) police and fire have the right to force at least non-binding arbitration; this right is the tradeoff for being prohibited from going on strike.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Kyle says:

                Yes some unions are rich but not all of them are. Lobbying works on the Golden Rule, those with the most gold makes the rules. That does not speak to the needs of poorer and/or less powerful groups to have a voice and some power.

                Well the AMA and Bar have powerful licensing components making them strong guilds without need of unions. Also docs and lawyers are not exactly poor or groups lacking in power. Rich, connected groups tend not to need unions. I wouldn’t rule out that is some case a lobbying group might be able to preform a similar function as a union, but i’m skeptical.

                Cops and fireman can’t strike that is true. However unions give them one group to go to that focuses on their own needs. States, companies, police departments, etc focus on their institutional needs not necessarily the needs of the individual. The union is there to back up the individual.

                In Wisc. the Gov is going after all the unions except the cops, guards and firemen. Hmmm. Those groups might tend to vote R more and have a lot more public support. They are also the ones with the best pensions, early retirement and most likely higher medical costs. Doesn’t really make sense if its just about cutting costs. seems more like protecting groups that back R’s and knee capping D groups. Unions seem to serve a purpose for some.Report

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to Kyle says:

                Mark, can you elaborate on the value or more specifically what value that CB adds that effective lobbying wouldn’t/doesn’t already to other industries.

                Greg, the advantages and purposes of unions in general are pretty clear and I’m not trying to hash out why unionization is important. It’s that if tomorrow someone were to propose eliminating CB for private sector unions, I’d have a clear idea of what would be lost by labor.

                If tomorrow you did the same thing for public employees, I’m not sure that 2 years down the road things would be substantially different because many of the publicly known things that unions do, organize for change, lobby, support candidates for office, get out the vote, sue for various infringements are all done well and competently by interest groups anyway and none of which are illegal. If I had a clearer picture of what one can do in collective bargaining that you specifically cannot do as an interest group, would be more helpful than the generalized benefits of organizing, though I appreciate the effort to respond.

                The reason d’etre and on going need for private sector unions is unmistakable, but was working for the government prior to 1962 really tantamount to slaving away in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory? When government employees wanted pay raises and new equipment did their neighbors just laugh in their faces and vote against them? Surely there was administrative incompetence and corruption but is the American public so unrelentingly avaricious that without unionizing civil employees, we would mercilessly exploit their labor?Report

              • Avatar Pooh in reply to Kyle says:

                The AMA and Bar Associations are not the best counter-examples in that doctors and lawyers are, on the whole, more knowledgeable about their rights as employees and more able financially to vindicate those rights.

                To put it another way, very unlikely that a law firm or hospital would engage in many of the worst practices of say Wal-Mart.Report

              • Avatar Kyle Mathews in reply to Kyle says:

                @Pooh which is why I’ve been explicitly talking about public sector unions, we’re not talking about Joe Cashier @ WalMart, we’re talking about community college employees, teachers, etc…

                just b/c you’re a public employee doesn’t mean you’re not a professional…Report

              • Avatar Pooh in reply to Kyle says:


                You brought up the AMA and ABA, I’m only pointing out that they aren’t great examples for the broad point of claiming that lobbying = collectively bargaining.Report

      • Avatar Lyle in reply to Jaybird says:

        Actually unions are not protected according to a Scalia construction of the first amendment. Under the common law a union is an illegal conspiracy in restraint of trade, and under the original interpretable of the Sherman act also. It is only the 1930s that changed this reading of the document. So it could change back and unions become illegal in all cases. Recall that in the past labor leaders would get thrown in jail for a strike.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Lyle says:

          Scalia can kiss my ass.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Lyle says:

          That was intemperate of me.

          The phrase “illegal conspiracy in restraint of trade” strikes me as an odd phrasing.

          It’s like pointing out that marijuana is illegal.

          While it’s technically true, it doesn’t address any underlying concept of Rights. It seems to me that people have the Right to grow plants and smoke them despite bullshit cases like Wickard. It also seems to me that they have the Right to form a union despite the Sherman act.

          Recall that in the past labor leaders would get thrown in jail for a strike.

          They threw Schenck in jail for handing out pamphlets. You wouldn’t believe what they did to Carrie Buck.Report

          • Avatar Lyle in reply to Jaybird says:

            As I pointed out history does not say that, the UK common law made unions illegal in the UK until 1871 when they were made legal. So to certain types who hanker back for the good old days this reading is their point of view. They may have the right to form a union, but not a right to bargain collectively and definitely not the right to strike which when push comes to shove is the key to power. If you can’t strike or take job action then you really have no power other than really making a media splash.Report

    • Avatar Herb in reply to Will says:

      Hardy har har.

      Making arguments you don’t believe doesn’t mean you’re a cynic. It just makes you’re insincere.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Herb says:

        The wacky thing about arguments is that “sincerity” has precious little to do with them.
        P -> Q




        Whether you believe in P or Q is pretty much irrelevant to whether the argument is good or not.Report

        • Avatar Herb in reply to Jaybird says:

          That’s true about arguments, but sincerity remains something worth looking for in a person.

          How many folks supporting Walker’s move against the unions are doing so out of a genuine concern for Wisconsin’s budgetary crisis? A few, I’m sure. But they’re fools if they think this pissing off your workforce is the answer.

          You want good workers….you gotta pay them. Sign me up for wanting state employees to be “good workers.” (I keep thinking about cops thinking they have no future suddenly being open to pay-offs for some reason…)

          For what it’s worth, I am a cynic and I suspect that most of this is just ax-grinding from the usual suspects about the usual things.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Herb says:

            That’s true about arguments, but sincerity remains something worth looking for in a person.


            I’ve met sincere Young Earth Creationists, sincere anti-drug warriors, and sincere racists.

            Sincerity, like bravery and honesty, is a handmaiden to the virtues but not a virtue in and of itself.

            “But he really and honestly and truly believes that women are evil!”
            “B. F. D.”Report

            • Avatar Herb in reply to Jaybird says:

              I don’t know if sincerity is a virtue, but insincerity sure is disrespectful.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Herb says:

                That sort of thing leads to Young Earth Creationists ignoring scientific evidence.

                “He is so *RUDE*. I’m not going to listen to a thing he has to say.”

                Now, for the record, I sympathize with the Young Earth Creationist here.

                Here’s my question: do you? Or is that completely different?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                “Insincere”, not rude or disrespectful. Insincere is people who know better saying “Teach the controversy” because creationists vote Republican.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Or people who don’t know who Mendel is arguing that Creationism is bullshit?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you are genuinely unclear on the meaning of “insincere”.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yeah, that wasn’t a good one. Let me try again.

                Using an arguments based on political expediency (hey, the opponents say crap like this all the time) rather than based on one’s own philosophy (assuming one)?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yes, exactly.Report

              • Avatar Herb in reply to Jaybird says:

                What’s the difference between the sincere fool and the insincere wise man, you ask?

                The sincere fool doesn’t know he’s a fool. The insincere wise man thinks you’re a fool.

                That’s no big problem, of course, if the insincere wise man only ever encounters fools. But he may someday find himself talking to another wise man, perhaps one without the insincerity problem, and at that point, the insincere wise man will cease to either wise or insincere. Instead, he will be just another sincere fool.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Herb says:

                Actually, no. That was not my question. Nor my other question.

                Given that my questions were, like, RIGHT THERE (with question marks and everything)… what assumptions ought I make about, among other things, your sincerity?

                Or, of course, is that different?Report

              • Avatar Herb in reply to Jaybird says:

                Your questions were rhetorical, Jaybird. They were answered before they were even asked.

                Just assume I answered them with the answers you were seeking.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                If they were rhetorical, I assume that I will be able to give your answers here:

                1) Of course I sympathize with the Young Earth Creationist here.
                2) It’s not different at all.

                Did I get your answers right?
                If I didn’t (and I don’t know that I did), is it safe to say that maybe they weren’t quite as rhetorical as you think I think they were?Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

          It’s the “if P then Q” that’s so often spurious, e.g.

          Person 1: “Gulf War II was a terrible idea.”
          Person 2: “Don’t you care that we replaced a ruthless dictator with a democracy?”

          The implicit assumption that overthrowing a dictator is always a wonderful idea, no matter what the cost or result, is the insincere part, particularly when Person 2 is now lamenting that the Muslim Brotherhood will have more influence in a post-Mubarak Egypt.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            Absolutely! Point out that ~Q -> ~P and ~Q so, therefore, ~P! That’s awesome!

            But don’t tell me, in response to P -> Q, that I don’t feel strongly enough about it.

            Jesus, save me from people who think that feeling things strongly is a point in anybody’s favor.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

              Generally, I regard my own feeling strongly about something as an immediate reason to distrust my first and even second assessments of anything regarding that thing.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

              Insincerity isn’t the opposite of feeling strongly; it’s the opposite of actually believing what you’re saying, as opposed to just making a debating point.

              90% of punditry is about making debating points. Some pundits, like Bill Kristol, do nothing but make debating points. You learn nothing from them, because there’s no there there, just whatever sophistry works to support whatever he’s selling today.

              (By the way, I don’t think this of any of the Gentlemen, even the ones I disagree with all the time.)Report

      • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Herb says:

        Herbert von Karajan, are you from Pittsburgh?

        “Hardy har har” is very Pittsburghian. Remember well, all my Pittsburghese.

        Making arguments you don’t believe in, means you enjoy making a colossal waste of your time.Report

        • Avatar Herb in reply to Heidegger says:

          Wait, did you just call me a Nazi? (Yeah, I looked him up.) That was clever….if weirdly passive-aggressive.

          No, I’m not from Pittsburgh, but I am a big fan of Reservoir Dogs.Report

        • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Heidegger says:

          > Making arguments you don’t believe in, means
          > you enjoy making a colossal waste of your time.

          Not for me, dear sir.

          If I can make a compelling argument for something I don’t currently believe it, that means I need to change my mind or figure out a more compelling counterargument.

          Since I’m generally not convinced that my feeling strongly about anything is any indication of either its rightness or its correctness, this is about the only way I can try and make sure I’m not perpetually full of crap.Report

  14. Avatar Heidegger says:

    Please. you must kidding–I know all about the von Karajan myths–I even got hear him and Berlin Philharmonic play Beethoven’s Eroica–That would be a serious case of passive-aggresive behavior but sorry, was just kidding about your first name. I’ll leave it as, Mr. Herb.Report

  15. Avatar David Cheatham says:

    The problem here is not anything to do with public unions. I would argue in a sane economy, public unions are sorta pointless, because other unions tend to raise the level for everyone else.

    The problem is, after decades of class and anti-union warfare, everyone else’s wages suck, while public unions have managed to maintain their pay and pension. It’s not that they’re doing ‘better’, it’s that _everyone else_ had their wages and benefits slowly sucked out by giant corporations.

    Heck, public workers actually still make _less_ than private workers. They just have good pension plans, you know, like we used to have with companies, back when we have job security and whatnot too. This was before everyone was supposed to start saving in 401ks themselves, but didn’t because they had to use that ‘extra’ money to buy food because their wages didn’t go up for a decade? Remember that? Remember how prices kept going up, but wages somehow never did, so everyone spent their savings, and then money they did have? Remember how that’s still true?

    It’s all nonsense. Corporate America has been slowly starving everyone to death, and we’re looking and spotting the one group of people not employed by Corporate America and who still have food and yelling ‘They have food! They must have stole it from us! Get them!’.

    Yes, folks, they still have stuff, let’s take it from them too. When we do the government will spend less money, so we can give even _bigger_ tax brakes to the rich and corporate America.

    And then…the poor! They’re getting stuff from the government too! We should take that stuff away from them, and maybe somehow a tiny fraction of that could go to our pockets, if the rich will let us keep it. And a few years from now, when we’ve gotten all the stuff from them, we can declare war on Canada, too. I hear they still have stuff, too.

    Let no one turn around and wonder where all the stuff we used to have has wandered off to.Report

    • Avatar Simon K in reply to David Cheatham says:

      Where did you get the idea that food prices have risen faster that wages?Report

      • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Simon K says:

        Huh? I thought it was common knowledge. Uh, let me find some links:


        While that’s just the cost of food by itself, I think we can just automatically accept the idea that wages haven’t gone up 58% since 2007!

        But that’s since 2007…let’s see…here:

        ‘After inflation, weekly wages were 0.3% lower in June 2008 than they were in March 2001. But the price of food is up 25% over the same period, transportation by 36%, fuels and utilities by 53%, and college tuition—the key to the middle class—by 68%.’

        I think the first part of that is worth repeating ‘After inflation, weekly wages were 0.3% lower in June 2008 than they were in March 2001.’. The American people are having literally have no change in in their wages at all after inflation.

        Also note that doesn’t mention how much _housing_ went up. I hope I don’t need to document that!

        …but, wait, how do you have skyrocketing prices with normal inflation? Shouldn’t inflation be somewhere near _halfway_ between wages and price, so that prices go up X% and wages down X%? If the cost of everything went up an average of 30% after inflation, and wages were the same, isn’t inflation broken?

        That seems almost like a paradox…until you remember that how you cancel out inflation is remove money from the market. Normally this is done by the government reducing the money supply, but apparently it also works if the superrich run off with it too and it’s not actually used to buy food and gas and whatnot.

        Weird, huh?Report

        • Avatar Simon K in reply to David Cheatham says:

          Its not a paradox. It just isn’t true. When I have more time I’ll dig out a BLS food index for you. Food and fuel prices are extremely volatile, so you can always generate an alarming level of “inflation” by cherry picking data points. You need to look at the average rate of change over a long time period to get anything like useful information.Report

          • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Simon K says:

            The CPI is designed to measure _actual average spending_, and not _equivalent_ spending. (Which is a lot of people call ‘manipulation’, but it’s really just how it works.)

            My claim is basically that we’ve been making do with less and less. That our purchasing power has gone down in relation to wages.

            If people buy less and less, the BLS will happily alter the CPI to include that fact. In fact, that happens automatically, because the CPI is essentially a survey of ‘What people bought and how much they spent on it’. The CPI is not measuring what most people think it’s measuring. (And shouldn’t be used many places it is used.)

            Now, if you’re talking about something _besides_ the CPI from the BLS, something that actually measures the price of food, not the price of ‘food in the amount that people purchase it’, I’d like to see it. (Not sure the BLS would be the people doing that, though.)Report

  16. Avatar Lyle says:

    As has been suggested elsewhere there is another piece the fact that the employeer would no longer collect union dues, and that they would now be at the discretion of the employee to pay. That of course kills of the unions influence in politics. It is the repeal of even the agency shop that is likley the Union leaderships concern, because most will choose not to pay the dues, and the unions will have to greatly shrink.Report

  17. Avatar Heidegger says:

    Dewey Cheatem and Howe,

    Please let me know of one American who has starved to death in the last ten years. And Corporate America is “starving millions”? Why do you left-wing nuts need constant reassurances that you are the One Best Way when in fact you are, for the most part, certifiably, irreversibly deranged loons.Report

    • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Heidegger says:

      Who on earth said the word ‘millions’? That word isn’t even in my post. In fact, that word appears exactly once on this entire page besides your post, in reference to an amount of money.

      And perhaps you should learn what a metaphor is. In case you weren’t paying attention, union members do not get paid in food. No one does. The food was a _metaphor_ for money.

      To actually answer your question (I’ll pretend you asked it in good faith), the US has about 150 starvation deaths each year, but generally most of those are in the form of ‘accident’ or ‘suicide’ or ‘murder’ instead of not being able to afford food.

      But those are just deaths due ‘not enough calories’, which is the technical definition of starvation. In fact, in the entire world, actual ‘starvation’ is not that common, even in all those places where people are, in the colloquial sense, ‘starving to death’. (‘The colloquial sense’ is not the same as a ‘metaphor’. Please consult an English teacher for more information.) Those people are not actually dying from ‘starvation’.

      Those people, and a moderately large group in America also, are dying from _malnutrition_, which is when they get enough daily calories to keep functioning, but are missing nutrients. You can tell the difference in photographs because continual malnutrition of this gives these people large stomachs whereas continual starvation gives them…uh…death in three weeks. (There’s not actually such a problem as ‘long term starvation’ in the technical sense. No country can be ‘starving’ for years. Three weeks, then you die.)

      After years and months of _malnutrition_, they will quickly and without and fuss die of something, heart failure is the most common. In the US, with the homeless, this usually coincides with bad weather, so is commonly called ‘exposure’ in death rates, but it’s at least halfway due to malnutrition….healthy people, like the recently homeless, usually live through harsh weather just fine.

      Another common and fun one is infection. (Note that ‘fun’ is sarcasm, which is unrelated to metaphor.) Get a cold? Oh, look, you can’t fight it off because you’re so malnourished, and you’re dead.

      Even the homeless can afford ramen noodles or other sources of calories so they do not die of starvation. At worse they will eat plants. What they _can’t_ afford is food with the nutrients they need to keep healthy.Report

      • Avatar Simon K in reply to David Cheatham says:

        “This was before everyone was supposed to start saving in 401ks themselves, but didn’t because they had to use that ‘extra’ money to buy food because their wages didn’t go up for a decade?”

        Doesn’t really look much like an analogy to me, because if you replace “food” with “money”, it makes no sense. Look, I really hate to agree with Heidegger but claiming that the average person in the US is actually materially worse off than they were at some point in the relatively distant past is just totally unsubstantiated and silly. Arguably people are less well off than they expected to be, or deserve to be, or would be if things were fairer, but that’s a totally different argument from “people can’t afford to buy food and save for retirement at the same time”.Report

        • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Simon K says:

          > Doesn’t really look much like an analogy to me, because if you replace “food” with “money”, it makes no sense

          Really? Huh.

          It’s all nonsense. Corporate America has been slowly taking everyone’s income away, and we’re looking and spotting the one group of people not employed by Corporate America and who still have money and yelling ‘They have money! They must have stole it from us! Get them!’.

          This is because people are actually paid in money.

          >Look, I really hate to agree with Heidegger but claiming that the average person in the US is actually materially worse off than they were at some point in the relatively distant past is just totally unsubstantiated and silly.

          Distant past? I’m talking about a decade ago!

          You did see the other post I made where prices of everything had gone up, but the wages had not, right?Report

          • Avatar Kyle in reply to David Cheatham says:

            “Distant past? I’m talking about a decade ago!

            You did see the other post I made where prices of everything had gone up, but the wages had not, right?”

            This (and the original report) means nothing to me, prices go up and down all the time, eggs are insanely cheap now, but in the 1950’s there was a reason people developed one-egg cakes, because food was comparatively more expensive and took up a large share of household budgets.

            Prices are higher, ok. Real wages have stagnated, ok. Where? The aggregate picture says very little other than things that became affordable and cheap have become less affordable and less cheap which still doesn’t speak to quality of living or if in context household budgets are finding other items less expensive.Report

            • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Kyle says:

              I’m not sure why I’m having to argue all these fringe things of my post instead of the actual point it made.

              The point is, for the last decade, and even the one before that to some level, wages stopped going up. Productivity was still up, until the recession hit ‘the economy’ was doing great…

              …and almost everyone was living off of borrowed money, and certainly weren’t saving. (And, contrary to what crazy people, this wasn’t by choice.)

              You do the math to figure out where all that money went instead. Or just look:

              We can argue exactly how it got there, but whatever. Prices were just an aside to start with. The money is not here. The money is there. It was all a very sneaky and complicated process, boiling the frog alive, where no one noticed, but ‘how’ is not important. It happened.

              The problem, the actual thing I’m trying to state, is that the corporations have drained all the wealth out of people and put it in the hands of a few. So, of course, the sane thing to do is to point at the few people the corporations haven’t managed to drain all the wealth from, government workers, and yell ‘GET THEM!’.

              I could care less government unions. I think unions are a very good thing, but if people want to argue we shouldn’t have government ones, whatever, as long as we have strong private one’s they’ll raise wages for everyone anyway. I think some sort of restrictions like ‘Must give six months notice to strike’ and stuff like that would be reasonable.

              But ‘basic conflict’ is just insane. These people used to have much crappier payscales than us, back in the 1970 and 1980. _Their_ payscale didn’t change, _they_ didn’t have corporations constantly cutting back in every imaginable way and shipping jobs overseas and shipping increases in the bottom line straight up.

              They stayed the same place while a lowering tide sunk all other boats. Do not look at them like they’re the problem, the problem is some people _stole all our water_.Report

              • Avatar Jon Rowe in reply to David Cheatham says:

                Yeah people who eat dirt and shit (whether human or animal) get calories (in a literal sense that’s what starving folks do). There’s a big difference between that (the Indians, Africans, who are still subject to this) and the American poor whose lack of nutrition (that is they eat too many big macs, not enough healthy foods) FATTENS them.

                YOUR blurring the difference between the two IS the problem.Report

              • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Jon Rowe says:

                Firstly, I have no idea why you responded here.

                Secondly, you’ve now blurred the issue with poor people. I was basically talking about the _homeless_. I just mentioned the poor in an aside that they’re generally malnourished also.

                Thirdly, will you please explain the ‘big difference’ between someone who does not get vitamin D from the ‘dirt and shit’ he eats, doesn’t produce enough NK cells, and dies of an infection, and someone who does not who does not get vitamin D from the Big Macs he eats, doesn’t produce enough NK cells, and dies of an infection?

                Oh, wait, I know this one. The latter don’t _look_ like they don’t have enough food. They just happened to get sick and die from a normal infection, how sad.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to David Cheatham says:

                Some quick googling shows that a salad is available on McDonald’s dollar menu (there’s also the fruit and yogurt parfait on the dollar menu).

                A Big Mac costs around $3.50, according to the google.Report

              • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Jaybird says:

                And for every dollar they spend on a salad is less _actual calories_, which would result in them starving to death in the actual medical sense. But I’m not participating in this stupidity anymore.

                I was asked to demonstrate ‘a single example of someone starving to death’, (Note this was not a claim I made, it was a claim someone else pretended I made) and I pointed out that the _homeless_ (not the poor) do ‘starve to death’, in the colloquial sense of ‘dying due to lack of food all the time’, because they are killed by malnourishment. I also claimed that about half the deaths of the homeless were due to malnutrition.

                No one has actually chosen to argue with this, at all, so I’ll consider the argument won at this point. People _do_ die due to lack of food in American, namely, the homeless, point proven, the end, it’s over.

                I _also_ said that the poor are also malnourished to some extent, and that _also_ causes some deaths, but that was just an aside.

                I’m not going to sit here and argue about some hypothetical ‘poor’ people who go out and buy Big Macs as if it’s a rebuttal to my assertions that _THE HOMELESS_ die from lack of food, just because I happened to mention the poor also have problems in that regard, and some people have hallucinated that ‘the poor’ I was talking about can afford afford Big Macs. (Hint: I wasn’t talking about those poor. I was talking about the ‘eating pinto beans and rice six times a week’ poor.)

                Hell, _that_ wasn’t even my actual point, it was a damn _metaphor_, as I’ve repeatedly explained. Corporations aren’t reducing the amount of _food_ they pay us, because they’ve, uh, never paid us in food.

                Seriously, I’m finding this a very strange discussion. Almost no one is disputing my actual points. Half the people have chosen to my ‘starving us to death’ as if I actually meant that corporations were running around and taking food from us, which is just crazy insane. It’s called hyperbole and metaphor, people.

                And the other half have disputed the ‘We’re worse off than a decade ago’ thing, which, admittedly, is at least a point I was actually making, so they’re saner than the first people. Although it’s pretty obvious when you look at, I dunno, any statistic that exists at all, and I’m unsure why some people here don’t seem to know it.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well, I for one don’t stipulate that “People _do_ die due to lack of food in America.”

                What shall we do, wrestle the homeless to the ground and force-feed them their broccoli?

                [Not that that’s an impossibility the way things are going…]Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                The biggest problem with the homeless is not that they buy Big Macs rather than Salads, Parfaits, and a Chicken Sandwich for the same price, but that they buy a bottle of two buck chuck instead of food.

                The majority of the homeless are on the streets because they are insane (but not a danger to themselves/others) or because they are addicted to something (some categorize this as insane).

                For the homeless, the best way to deal with their malnutrition would be to end the war on drugs, to acknowledge that some people want to kill themselves slowly, and do what we can to offer safe indoor places to get slizzard rather than have them get slizzard outside.

                However we have to acknowledge that there is a large contingent of folks opposed to the idea of ending the war on drugs and they have much overlap with the contingent of folks opposed to the creation of safe indoor places for homeless to get slizzard.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Jaybird says:

                Jaybird, I agree entirely with your post regarding the homeless–it’s not for a lack of resources or safety nets that people end up on the streets, it’s for a lack of sanity. Sounds cruel, admittedly, but when addressing this issue, to dismiss the effect of chronic alcoholism, drug abuse, and mental illness makes such discussion meaningless. What to do? Be like Scrooge and let them die in the streets to “reduce the surface population”? Clearly, many of the homeless would be much better off if we were re-institutionalize this segment of the population.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

                Uncle Sam’s Vegan Crack House, Jaybird?

                I like it. When you drop dead, you’ll be in perfect health.Report

              • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Jaybird says:

                Most of the homeless, at least most of the homeless a decade ago, are indeed on the street because of some sort of mental problems. (As the economy has fallen apart and foreclosures have risen, I suspect the number of sane people on the street has increase, although I have no idea how much.)

                But that doesn’t really disprove the fact that they’re dying of malnutrition. Even mentally ill people will eat if they have food. If people can walk around by themselves, they will eat food if hungry. They aren’t because they don’t have food, not because they don’t want to.

                Yes, the lack of mental capacities makes plenty of them miss food they could get, but pretty much all the food is used anyway. It’s not like there’s extra food piling up with soup kitchens wishing the homeless would show up to eat it. It’s just the more mentally competent they are, the better fed they are, but that doesn’t mean even the most competent are getting _enough_ nutrients.

                And let’s not get into the fact that some of the first signs are malnutrition are deceased mental capacities. In fact, the mental problems associated with chronic alcoholism (including DTs) are actually thiamine deficiency, which obviously becomes much worse, much faster, with a diet actually low in thiamine.

                At some point, the question is ‘How many of these mental problems are caused, or at least exacerbated, by malnutrition in the first place?’.Report

      • Avatar Heidegger in reply to David Cheatham says:

        Mr. Cheatham, sorry for the rude comments–it turns out you are not, in fact, ‘a certifiably, irreversibly deranged loon!” Not yet, at least!

        However, it doesn’t take one to make a huge leap of logic and conclude from this: “Corporate America has been slowly starving everyone to death…” that you meant lots and lots of people starving to death–your words–“slowly starving everyone to death.” “Everyone” is a lot of people–certainly in the millions. I could only find one person in the last 100 years who died of starvation, a suffragist woman who died from a hunger strike. Nevertheless, my curiosity got the best of me and I ended up calling all 5759 registered hospital in the United States. Surprise, surprise–ZERO deaths of starvation! As Mr. Van Dyke stated so well, we are a kind and decent country, and we do not let our fellow citizens starve to death. You seem to be on a mission to portray the U.S. as some kind of a heartless, Dickensian Scrooge reality when in fact, based on American private charitable contributions, the United States ranks number one. Not to be overlooked, these statistics do include Bill and Hillary’s donations of used underwear in 1992. Bah humbug!Report

        • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Heidegger says:

          Really? I can think offhand someone who actually died of starvation in 2005: Terri Schiavo. Here’s someone in 2010:

          Perhaps you remember that rather absurd situation where, thanks to our absolute opposition to euthanasia of any sort, we instead starve them to death? Sorta gruesome.

          However, as I’ve repeatedly said, normal human beings do not die of ‘starvation’. Nowhere on the planet. A few get caught in cave-in or locked in rooms somewhere or have a feeding tube removed, but statistically no one dies of actual ‘starvation’. If you can find _bugs_, you don’t die of starvation.

          Saying ‘People don’t die from lack of food because no one dies of starvation is like saying ‘People don’t die from too much water because no one overdoses on water and dies of water toxicity.’

          Well, no. They just _drown_. Likewise, people die of complications of malnutrition. Here, and elsewhere.Report

    • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Heidegger says:

      Mr. Heidegger is accurate: there is no verifiable case of an American “starving to death” in verifiably recent memory.

      Such talk is bullshit. We Americans love our fellow Americans and would never let them starve.

      We even love our illegal immigrants, and we’re up to our eyebrows in ’em here in California. I would never let a fellow human being starve if I could help it, and we can help it here in California, and they don’t starve here in California or anywhere else in the USA. This is a good and decent country made up of good and decent people.

      Do I seem tired of such talk? Yeah, I do.Report

      • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to tom van dyke says:

        > We Americans love our fellow Americans and would never let them starve.

        Did you actually read my followup? No one on the entire planet actually ‘starves’ in the sense of ‘dying from lack of calories’, except people who get locked in rooms or break a leg in the wilderness or have their feeding tube removed or something. _No one_. Not even the starving kids with the bulging bellies in Ethopia or wherever.

        They, and about half the homeless deaths here, die from constant _malnutrition_, no matter what we put on the death certificate. ‘Exposure’? Caused by malnutrition weakening the body. ‘Disease’? Caused by malnutrition weakening the immune system. ‘Heart failure’? Caused by malnutrition weakening the heart.

        Homeless people die of stuff that well-fed people would live through all the time. _Poor_ people even do it. Poor people get diseases healthy people would shrug off.

        So, yes, a _lot_ of people die in this country from lack of food. They just die from something caused by a lack of vitamin C or protein or whatever, instead of dying from a lack of _calories_, which is what ‘starvation’ actually means, and requires something like two cans of soda a day to avoid, or eating a soup kitchen once a week. You cannot actually be _healthy_ on two cans of soda a day or a meal a week.

        As my comment was a metaphor about people lacking money, this really isn’t important, but it’s somewhat blowing my mind that people here think no one in America dies from a lack of food.Report

        • Avatar Heidegger in reply to David Cheatham says:

          Hey, D Cheathum, if some people want to live on marshmallows and Cheese Puffs, who are we to stop them? And why should we? Just a few days ago on the news, there was a story that the government wants to make it illegal to eat and share food you grew—in your own garden!!! WTF?Report

      • Avatar Heidegger in reply to tom van dyke says:

        Mr. Van Dyke writes:

        “I like it. When you drop dead, you’ll be in perfect health.”

        Dammit Mr. Van Dyke, I’ve been laughing for the last 15 minutes over that comment, making it impossible to eat! Oh God, that’s funny. Vegan. Crack. House. And when you drop dead you’ll be in perfect health. A classic.Report

  18. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    A couple of quick thoughts on the matter.

    First on the distinction between public sector unions and corporate rent-seeking. I think the primary distinction, at least on a theoretical basis is that the origins of their bargaining to obtain greater compensation from the state are different. How it should work is that the public sector unions are working on compensation for providing a public good, while rent-seeking by corporations is done for the purpose of continuing to perpetuate market distortions. In effect one is part of the process of correcting for market failure, the other is part of a process of reinforcing a market failure.

    Additional thoughts.

    Public sector unions don’t exist in a vacuum.In fact labor organizations as a whole don’t exist solely to compete within their chosen industry as a matter of laborer vs. employer. I think it’s also worth noting that labor organizations also tend to be a component of competition between sectors in attracting and retaining loyal, competent talent. One of the reasons labor/employer relations isn’t necessarily adversarial and there is often cooperation between employers and unions in certain industries is that they can retain a certain quality of labor.

    From a public interest perspective, the public sector does have a certain interest in maintaining a level of quality relative to the private sector in terms of qualifications and competence. Because the public sector jobs are meant to handle services that are difficult to exempt taxpayers from and taxpayers on the whole have little ability to choose when and how they’ll use them (for example very rarely do you choose when you’ll have to interact with the police, or fire fighters), the ability to differentiate between firms/localities doesn’t exist for these services and you need to be able to rely on a certain quality of service.

    For taxpayers then, looking out for their interests should at least in some measure include the provision of adequate (even exceptional) qualification for workers in those fields.

    This is especially true for workers who supposedly have “cushy” public sector jobs. At the level of compensation that presumably you’re suggesting allows for comfortable living and good job security, most qualified individuals in those positions could probably be making significantly more in the private sector, but choose not for reasons often outside simply compensation. That public sector unions are able to make sure that the compensation gap doesn’t become even greater than it is now is an important aspect of keeping those people in positions where they maximize taxpayer return for the tax dollars used to requisition certain goods and/or services.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      Full endorsement. The anarcho-capitalist critique, of course, applies to this. In a world where only private entities were competing to provide essential services, we would have choices and thus not need to ensure the quality of personnel at one particular provider. But beyond that, there is a public interest in maintaing (or attempting to maintain) quality and continuity of services that are offered by the state, if we accept that a given class of service is the proper domain of the state, since there is usually only one government that provides a particular class of services to a particular geographic constituency.

      In my view, that is a proper political question, not primarily one of rights, at least short of certain extremes. In fact, I view the entire appropriate-use-of-public-funds side of Jason’s “conflict” to be basically a proper political question, since, while you and I, Nob, can view this imperative to maintain quality as what determines our view, others can prefer less competence to lead to a rejection of certain service from the state domain by the polity. That just is the daily bread-and-butter of politics.

      This is one of the problems with a robust rights view of public affairs in my view, and it is why Jason Kuznicki writes posts entitled “Why I Hate Politics” despite, from appearances, spending nearly all of his time thinking about them. He (as is his right) views much of what you and I consider standard, day-to-day political debate to be taking place in an essentially illegitimate domain that infringes on his rights. So he runs into conflict when those standard questions (which again, he views as governed by a rational accounting of rights, rather than allowing for some legitimate space in which the hurly-burly of politics can guide their determination) such as, “What do we want government to do, and how can we try to make sure it does it as well and without corruption as possible?” run into other clear rights, such as the right to assemble and incorporate, and be dealt with collectively if one chooses.

      Now, Jason is a compatibilist, which means he is usually good at downplaying these conflicts or simply deeming in his mind which rights trump others in most situations when they conflict. But here, his talent for reconciling the irreconcilable has failed him. This is to his credit in my view.Report

  19. Avatar DMonteith says:

    Do you have a fundamental right to the cheapest possible car? Because your car would probably be cheaper without union labor.

    The reason I ask is, how is unpolluted water or roads any different from a car? They’re all goods/services, produced by workers, that are provided to you in exchange for money. If a slightly more expensive car built with union labor is not a violation of your rights, I can’t really think of a reason to think that unions policing your streets or building your roads is a violation of any of your fundamental rights either.

    This really doesn’t seem that hard.Report

    • Avatar Kyle in reply to DMonteith says:

      I think this is comparing apples and oranges. I don’t have a right to the cheapest possible car, for that matter I don’t have a right to car or even to operate one. It’s a private good the usage of which is licensed.

      On the other hand, while I don’t have a right to police or fire protection, I do have a right to public education and in the case of emergency and other services, the nature of their public provision does bestow upon me certain rights and certain restrictions/obligations on the government.

      This is why the police have restrictions on accessing my e-mail that my employer may not.

      All of which is to say that the when discussing rights and provision of goods and services, who is doing the provisioning does matter.Report

      • Avatar stillwater in reply to Kyle says:

        I’ve read this through a couple times, and it really makes no sense. The claim you responded to was that unionized labor increasing the cost of a car does not violate your rights, so unionized public service employees increasing the cost of service shouldn’t violate your rights either. The suggestion was merely/i> increasing the price of a service isn’t sufficient to constitute a rights violation.

        In responding, you suggest that certain goods and services aren’t rights, but privileges (cars), but that while police and fire protection aren’t rights, a public education is, sotherefore, the initial argument by analogy fails. argument doesn’t apply.Report

        • Avatar stillwater in reply to stillwater says:

          Oops, somehow that submitted before I was finished….
          To continue … But this appears to beg the question. Why does the right to an education differentiate unionized labor’s efforts to protect wages and benefits conflict with your right to the provided service?Report

          • Because I’m responding (only and specifically) to the proposition that “increasing the price of a service isn’t sufficient to constitute a rights violation.

            But if you have no right to that service, that right cannot be violated.

            I can argue that if x, then y. x and z are the same so if z, then y. However, if x and z are not the same then it does not follow that if z, then y.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kyle Mathews says:

              But if you have no right to that service, that right cannot be violated.

              There are a lot of things that fall under this particular umbrella, though. It’s not that I have a right to Whatever. It’s that I’m asking why do you have the right to send cops to my house and shoot my dogs because of my trying to buy Whatever?

              While whether I have a right to Whatever may be iffy and debatable, I’m really seeing a problem with the dead dogs.Report

            • Avatar stillwater in reply to Kyle Mathews says:

              OK. I guess I was confused about what you were getting at there. I thought you were making an affirmative case that a CB-based increase in the cost of a service that you have a right to somehow constituted a violation of taxpayers rights, rather than arguing only against the relevance of the analogy. In fact, I still read your comment that way, but DMontieth addressed this below.Report

      • Avatar DMonteith in reply to Kyle says:

        It’s not apples and oranges at all. Plenty of contracts for different goods/services have different terms. The police are contracted to maintain law and order within certain restrictions in the same way that you may contract a gardener to weed whack your lawn with the restriction that he refrain from harming the bark on your trees.

        I don’t have a right to the cheapest possible car, for that matter I don’t have a right to car or even to operate one. It’s a private good the usage of which is licensed.

        The car was just an example. You have the right to purchase things and those who provide those things have the right to set the prices they are willing to accept.

        The only distinction I can see here is that public goods are difficult/impossible for private enterprises to provide at a profit to themselves, but what difference does that make to the right of labor to negotiate its own price? In both cases people are demanding the product, and labor is providing it. Simple as that.Report

        • Avatar Heidegger in reply to DMonteith says:

          Hmmm, apples and oranges. Rings a bell.

          1. The king’s men have come to collect the tithe, which this week consists of a crate of apples. You knew that he would require apples, oranges, or a mixture of the two, and so you have already prepared three crates which you labeled “apples,” “oranges,” and “apples and oranges.” Now your son tells you he has switched all the labels on the crates, and your heart sinks. You only have time to reach into one box and grab one piece of fruit, for the king’s men are impatient and quick on the trigger. How do you know which is the crate of apples?Report

          • Avatar Alex Knapp in reply to Heidegger says:

            Easy peasy. Reach into the crate labeled “Apples and Oranges.”

            If you grab an apple, then that crate contains all apples, the crate labeled “Oranges” contains apples and oranges, and the crate labeled “Apples” contains oranges.

            If you grab an orange, then the crate labeled “Oranges” contains apples, and the crate labeled “Apples” contains apples and oranges.Report

            • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Alex Knapp says:

              Bravo–you are correct sir!

              Okay, how about this one (I don’t know the answer).
              Would we be better off if the tax rate was raised to 100% for everyone, or would we be better off with a tax rate of 0%? Sort of a brainteaser but definitely an interesting thought experiment. I’m inclined to say we’d be better with a tax rate 0%. In any case, clocks with snooze alarms will be selling through the roofs.Report

          • Avatar DMonteith in reply to Heidegger says:

            Is there a point to this?Report

          • Avatar Jon Rowe in reply to Heidegger says:

            Yeah that’s one of my pet peeves. But it shouldn’t be because our language is full of clumsy phrases that we know what they mean. Having sex = sleeping together and so on. When folks say compare “apples to oranges” they mean you didn’t make a good analogy. But apples to apples compares duplicates. Apples to oranges is actually a pretty good analogy. WE had this discussion a while back. Chris noted when folks say you compare apples to oranges they really mean you compare apples to lawnmowers (or something like that).Report

            • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Jon Rowe says:

              Hey Jon, great to hear from you! Where have you been hanging out these days? I miss you and miss my continuing education on the Founders of America. I think you should come over to this site because it appears to me, we’re at a complete standoff regarding whether or not we were founded as a Christian nation or a Libertarian nation whose only concerns were the abolition of Speed Limits (those buggies could fly!), smoking pot and ingesting peyote buttons with the real true Natives, same-sex marriage as long as it’s a threesome and not all three the same sex, and term limits no longer than 1 year. All the best. HReport

        • Avatar Kyle Mathews in reply to DMonteith says:

          Except that you don’t have a right to purchase things (like banned, illegal substances) nor do you have a right to set prices (see utilities, or for that matter wartime industry).

          The freedom to do something presently does not mean that there’s some inviolable right to do it in perpetuity.

          If there has to be an analogy between the private and public sector, it’s probably that if no conflict exists between shareholder rights and the rights of organized labor, then it stands to reason no similar conflict exists between taxpayers and organized public employees.

          However, any analogy is a stretch and frankly not very relevant because the public sector and private sector are different, despite the myriad of ways in which they may be superficially similar (they both use money, they both involve people, they both have power concentrated in a number very large institutions).Report

          • Avatar DMonteith in reply to Kyle Mathews says:

            I guess I’m just not following you. It seems that you’re trying to argue that somehow it’s just different when public employees collectively bargain to set their wages than when private workers do. But I can’t glean from what you’ve said any actual reason to think this is true. You want a car, people need to get paid to make that happen. You want clean air and a basic education, people need to get paid to make that happen. This really doesn’t seem like just a superficial similarity to me.

            The main problem here is that Kuznicki’s argument rests on an assertion of a “taxpayers’ right to see that their money is distributed appropriately” that’s fatally flawed. The taxpayer has a fundamental right to government products and services (education, clean air, law and order, etc.) and, via the electoral process, fundamental rights to a share in determining exactly which products those are and the overall budget for their acquisition, but taxpayers do not have a fundamental right to determine the “appropriate” distribution of the funds required to secure those products. It’s like he’s saying that the customer, because he’s buying a car, has a fundamental right to set the “appropriate” wages of the people building it. You’d think a guy from Cato would understand the information and incentive problems inherent in the proposition.Report

            • Avatar stillwater in reply to DMonteith says:

              This is exactly the problem I see with the Jason’s original analysis of the situation, as well as Kyle’s followup on it.

              Citizen taxpayers have a right, in our system, to shape policy via the electoral process. But that’s about it. After the CCers get on the Hill, we have no further ‘rights’ regarding how revenues are collected, or how those revenues are disbursed.

              As to the bigger point re: CB in the public sector, I think alot hinges on whether that right is a fundamental one, or merely a legal one. If it is a fundamental right, then there is no conflict as Jason is outlining, since the expression of that basic right is constitutive of the political process. Any resulting conflicts aren’t about the expression of basic rights, but merely disagreements about policies themselves, or consequentialist considerations about how tax revenues are distributed.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to DMonteith says:

              “[T]axpayers do not have a fundamental right to determine the “appropriate” distribution of the funds required to secure those products.”

              You need something other than bare assertion to justify this statement, because…

              “It’s like he’s saying that the customer, because he’s buying a car, has a fundamental right to set the “appropriate” wages of the people building it.”

              …the customer does have that right, in the sense that if the customer feels the workers are underpaid then he can buy a different product. That’s the whole idea behind “fair trade coffee”. That’s the whole idea behind “no sweatshop labor” movements. And, if the customer feels that the company is charging too much for the level of service it provides, he can choose a different provider.Report

              • Avatar DMonteith in reply to DensityDuck says:

                If you want to argue that because people have the right to move out of Wisconsin in protest they also have a right to prevent the employees who provide them services from collectively bargaining over wages (and furthermore, that moving out of state is tantamount to doing exactly that), knock yourself out.

                But I’m not buying it.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to DMonteith says:

                At no point did I say anything about “moving out of the state”, so I have to admit that I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about here.

                If you’re suggesting that my statement “customers can choose a different provider” translates to “residents can move to a different state”…no, that’s not what I was saying at all.Report

  20. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    Maybe someone already mentioned this, I’m still plowing through the thread, but what about the quality of workers?

    I’m not sure if losing collective bargaining rights would change it, but my first thought is to imagine a public that is cut throat against paying regulators/administrators respectable salaries/benefits, and as a result having a zombie government. Now maybe some of you would prefer that.

    Personally though, if we’re going to go to the trouble of having an EPA or FDIC or SEC, mighten they be stocked with competent individuals? Maybe you could still get them without collective bargaining, maybe you would never get them no matter what.

    But I can see, if left to their own devices, the public screaming about the costs of actually running government while at the same time screaming about the M.M.S. paying letting BP blow a well in the gulf. The public (as a singular whole) spews contradictions all the time, someone above already mentioned its ability to divorce itself from the real tradeoffs of balancing the budget.

    Does collective bargaining force the government to bestow compensation suitable to obtaining well qualified employees? Or does it simply protect overpaid slackers?Report

    • Avatar Kyle in reply to E.C. Gach says:

      I think this is a good question…my instinct is to say both. A lot of this conversation has circled around pay but there are work rules in collective bargaining agreements that are also pretty important to workers so my instinct is to say that CBU’s probably help improve the quality of the work environment for government employees.

      That said when we’re talking about government employees we’re talking about the EPA and the DMV. It seems entirely plausible that for high-skill, professional positions at major agencies pay and perks make it easier to attract people to the job or perhaps less onerous for people who would make more elsewhere. Securing them is or can be easier with CB. Whereas, they’re probably more protectionist for clerical positions in the government employ.Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Kyle says:

        Are you trying to contrast the EPA with the DMV as professional positions vs. clerical positions?Report

        • Avatar Kyle in reply to E.C. Gach says:

          I’m contrasting professional versus clerical positions but whether the EPA and DMV are good examples of that I’ll leave for someone else, I don’t know how clerical or not the work is at the EPA but I would imagine they employ more scientists and engineers than state licensing and compliance agencies do.Report

  21. Avatar Herb says:

    “is it safe to say that maybe they weren’t quite as rhetorical as you think I think they were?”

    No, but it’s safe to say that you really do seem to think people are fools. Not only do you attempt to set an obvious rhetorical trap, but you actually expect me to fall into it.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Herb says:

      Wait, so did I get your answers wrong?

      You’d think that the answers to rhetorical questions would have answers that were a lot easier to figure out…Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Herb says:

      Well, I’ll assume that I got your answers correctly and say this:

      Sincerity is not particularly an indicator of anything.

      When I was 17 I believed things much more sincerely. Now, I’m Kali. On the one hand… but on the other hand… but on the other other hand… but on the other other other hand…

      And I see how, for any given argument, there are dozens of potential answers that all have relative merits rather than One True Good Beautiful Answer and Not The One True Good Beautiful Answer.

      And I see that attacking sincerity is a good way to wave away an argument without, for example, answering a direct question.Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to Jaybird says:

        Shorter Jaybird: You didn’t answer my totally irrelevant question, so HAHA. I win.

        Let’s try this again. You say, “Sincerity is not particularly an indicator of anything.” And I get your point. Adding a little sincerity to an argument doesn’t make it stronger, and likewise, adding a little insincerity to an argument doesn’t make it weaker. An argument stands or falls based on its own merits.

        You seem to think I disagree with this. I don’t. You also don’t seem to get that my ultimate point is this:

        “Insincere people suck.”

        Now what were you saying about young earth creationists again? They make a handy diversion?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Herb says:

          “Now what were you saying about young earth creationists again? They make a handy diversion?”

          My point was that many of them were quite sincere in their beliefs.

          I was holding them up as examples as sincerely wrong people in an argument that was, I thought, about the worth of sincerity in an argument.

          Not a diversion at all as much as, I thought, a good example of how sincerity and $3.57 will get you a vente latte at Starbucks.Report

  22. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    It seems to me on this theory there’s not much to object to. You’ve got retention of talent on the top end and ensuring a decent, perhaps living, wage for positions requiring less skill at the bottom. I for one think both are worthy for the government to do: I’d rather it not be a leader in squashing low-skill wages in its market area, and I think we agree on the value of retaining talent (especially in very technical or scientific fields, where almost certainly private sector pay beats public sector).

    Obviously, that leaves the middle, where there is probably plenty of both, as well as protection of relatively unproductive bureaucrats at moderate pay going on. I still don’t see a good argument for going out of our way to make government workers be just as crappily paid in a crappy economy as everyone else. Things being equal, that will tend to degrade the quality of the gov’t workforce, and we can probably guarantee ourselves that when private wages go back up, gov’t wages won’t go with them. And in a bad economy, gov’t employees’ consumption fuels business just as much as anyone else’s. Those were the twin ideas of making government wages and benefts more stable, (meaning lower than private in the good times and more than private in the bad times_ to begin with — maintaing a quality workforce, and building in a bit of middle-class economic stabilization for severe downturns. The givernor of my state is currently attacking both those propositions.

    That doesn’t mean that the fairness argument has no visceral pull: it clearly has some. But I think these twin justification for durable public sector compensation (sustained through union protection if need be) remains a robust argument.

    I have seen government layoffs used by proponents of the Wisconsin measure as a fearsome tradeoff against which the governor portrays his desired policy as reasonable (and to be clear: the purely economic proposals he ash are</i< reasonable, and the unions have signalled willingness to work with him on them). But of course layoffs, and the resulting curtailment of services, are the honest way to go about cutting government expenditures on employee compensation if that is seen to be the necessary way the a budget must be balanced. To fist attack compensation rates negotiated in good faith by both sides and not heretofore seen as exorbitant is clearly a form of scapegoating of the public workforce for a budget problem that has to do with the economy first and foremost, and if it has to do with public compensation, then it relates to too great a slate of services offered to the public, not compensation that has conveniently been deemed to be unfairly high in the public sector. It is telling that Governor Walker is not talking about what services he would have the State of Wisconsin cease to provide for its citizens; it is much easier just to tell them that they deserve everything they are getting, and they’re just paying their public servants too much for not enough work. In my view, that is the opposite of a message that has anything to do with real shared sacrifice.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

      This was meant to respond to Kyle on his EPA-DMV distinction post above. And damnit if I have not likely italicized the rest of the thread again. Maybe time for an open thread?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Hey, the italics tab-close I tried at the beginning of the post above this one actually worked perhaps! Sweet!Report

      • I’m sure I’ll shock someone here when I say I agree, in no small part because access to such jobs has been and continues to be an important avenue of upward mobility for minorities and immigrants in America.

        I’m not sure how on board with the idea that lower wages = lower quality of work because I think the calculus is more complex. I think you might be right about an on balance drop, however, I think workplace environment, leadership, job protection (or not) and benefit packages are an important part of the picture. So consider me a fence-sitter.

        Looking at this the lion’s share of the rationale here (correct me if I’m wrong) is economic, it’s a pro-stability jobs program. In the real world, if this were the public policy option being discussed I think we’d have a different discussion.

        However, I think where problems arise – you know besides in the real world – is the difference between durable public compensation and robust public employee unions. Do we need the latter to secure the former, obviously we did 30 years ago but is that still the case? Moreover, how have the unions’ actions over the years (and periodic strategic blunders) created obstacles to securing public support for durable public compensation?

        At this point there probably should be a unions – open thread.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Kyle Mathews says:

          I’m not sure how on board with the idea that lower wages = lower quality of work because I think the calculus is more complex.

          I agree: it’s definitely not an = sign. It’s some kind of a rough proportionality, as you say, on balance, with constants and other noise thrown in. And you may be right, that the jobs program aspect is even more compelling than that, certainly right now (though in fairness, Walker is ostensibly proposing these changes so as to avoid layoffs, so he is to some extent accounting for that effect in his own way).

          That leaves unions, which is a can of worms. I don’t think there is any way to look at how committed Walker is to so drastically limiting collective bargaining in this case and conclude thereby that unions are not playing a pretty big role in sustaining these features of Wisconsin state employment and compensation that we’re talking about (stability,economic stabilization, etc.), for better or worse. It wouldn’t take much for a future legislature to get rid of even the allowance that salaries can be bargained, and that they be tied to COLA. It could pretty easily actually go the other way if this goes through, it seems to me.

          More generally, while the collective bargaining arrangements certainly are subject to public sign-off, I actually find myself pretty uncomfortable with this whole genre of commentary, that Will Wilkinson sort of relaunched in for our generation, where we sit around purporting to declare whether it’s kosher that Group Of Workers X has organized ourselves. They’re not asking anyone’s permission; that’s kind of the whole point. James Madison et al may certainly have had a good point that a large government will lead to an interested class all its own that will pursue its interest within politics. But the solution to that is to honestly try to limit the real size of government, and the number people in its employ, by straightforwardly campaigning to deny the citizenry large chunks of services that they might otherwise enjoy form the state. It isn’t not to deny or disparage or even arrogate to ourselves the right to check off on whether that group of people, once created, have the right to organize to oursue their interest. It’s actually Will Wilkinson, not Scott Walker who has done this, since Walker is merely trying to change the rules by which the state deals with that organized group, but at the same time, Walker is not approaching this the honest way, whereby he would simply tell the people of Wisconsin, “You can;t have the things from the state that you have become accustomed to, because we’re broke,” rather he prefers to say to state employees, “You can’t have the things we agreed by contract you could have, because i don’t want to raise taxes, and i don’t want to tell the people of the State they can’t have the services they’ve come to expect, so I have to change our agreement, and do it by portraying you to the public as greedy and selfish for not being sufficiently willing to accept alterations to our previous agreements before now (even though many such alterations have been accepted), and on top of that I want, in a move that has no immediate bearing on the present fiscal problem, to rearrange our longstanding mode of negotiations so that I can make future such changes unilaterally.” That is a dishonest way to present the problems that a large sector of public employees present to the public purse. They have right to organize just like anyone else, once they’re in existence. If you want to limit their impact, the honest way to do it is to say that the public will have to live without a portion of their services. If he wants to disparage their value and claim that many of their absences will not be much felt by the public, Walker could certainly do that, but he isn’t even taking that option. Instead, he holds out position eliminations as a nightmare scenario in order to portray ublic employees as selfish for simply having some residual (albeit organized) hopes that previous agreements they had entered into with the state would be honored, and he holds out this “my way or job eliminations” rhetoric as a way of signalling to the public that, even though in the abstract he might claim to be for limited government, in fact they should not be expected to forgo any expectations in terms of quality of services provided to him under this plan. As I said above, some shared sacrifice.Report

          • Avatar Kyle in reply to Michael Drew says:

            I’ve been meaning to reply to this for days.

            Again, a lot I agree with actually. With respect to the commentary issue that you bring up, I like discussions so in that sense yay Wilkinson, even if the framing isn’t quite where I’d like it to be. I think the discussion problem here is that everyone’s fighting the worst of two evils, the excesses and animosity of the anti-unionists and the abuses of the unionists. Which obscures the very real problems inherited by policies and personalities shaped by either.

            I agree that in this country, though generally everywhere, a group ought not to fight to justify its existence, at the same time if they want something they probably do have affirmative burden to prove why they deserve it. Moreover, legal regimes matter. In places where unions are alternatively required or banned, it complicates this discussion/public policy process.

            Which brings me to the Scott Walker issue which I view less passionately than most because to me it’s more (of the same) political theater and to be honest it’s a bit of the chickens coming home to roost. Is he being manipulative? Yes. Is he taking advantage of the situation to accomplish political reforms that have an ideological bent to them but probably also believes will help? Yes. Is this behavior typical of politicians? Yes.

            As for the chickens and the roosting, as much as Erik and others might complain about class war and what not, isn’t this also partisanship at it’s nineteenth century best/worst. Unions back the Democrats, they won’t back the Republicans, ergo. Unions and Republicans are sworn political enemies and if Democrats will use the power of the state to strengthen their allies and weaken the supporters of their political opposition, why shouldn’t one expect the same of Republicans? Which isn’t to defend it as exemplary behavior but it hardly seems unexpected or particularly egregious behavior. Which is to say, if you (or your group) decide to get into politics and back a winner with the expectation that this winner will help you, be prepared to lose with the people you back.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Kyle says:

              That’s fair. I actually don’t fully understand why unions have never hedged their political bets more like corps. do (though they have a bit with some Republicans here). I think it’s basically because they’ve been hanging on by the skin of their teeth for quite some time. And with the teachers unions it’s also cultural – their just liberal Democrats by and large and would blanche at the idea of cynical strategery.

              As a Wisconsinite, I can take some consolation from that fact that Walker apparently did not consider it advisable to actually run on this question as actual politics, so clearly against him would have been the politics. That could have been the public discussion about a justification for what the unions “want” (as opposed to about their very existence), i.e. to be dealt with collectively in their various groupings by the taxpayers’ representatives, and raising it clearly was Walker’s agenda all along. But rather than raise the question for the public at election, he preferred to get elected on other currents, and when he rose it after taking office he clearly massively lost the fight. As he would have as well had he made clear before the election what he wanted to take away from unions – i.e. made clear the terms of the discussion he wanted to have in which they would have had to justify what they “want.”)

              But then open public discussion of the fundamental questions at stake in policy isn’t the nature of governance via payback and spoils, so those observations aren’t inconsistent with your (non-defense!) explanation of Walker’s behavior.Report

            • Avatar Barry in reply to Kyle says:

              “As for the chickens and the roosting, as much as Erik and others might complain about class war and what not, isn’t this also partisanship at it’s nineteenth century best/worst. Unions back the Democrats, they won’t back the Republicans, ergo. Unions and Republicans are sworn political enemies …”

              (This also applies to Michael Drew’s comment)

              Remember, as of a few decades ago, this was much less stark; that, of course, was back in the days of Rockefeller Republicans and Dixiecrats.

              However, the choice was still limited – to the extent that the GOP was the party of the financial elites, they were strongly against unions (and the New Deal). This goes back to well before the 1930’s. We just don’t see it as much in history because the financial elites were unable to rein in unionism during the 40’s-60’s. The Dixiecrats, of course, were against unions (and free labor, to the extent allowed by law).

              When you split things by right/left, the right has always been on the side of the financial elites. What we see now are (a) the ability of the financial elites to crush – well, pretty much everything and (b) the polarization of the two parties and (c) the feedback in the Democratic Party where weaker unions leads to more dependence on Big Money which leads to weaker unions……

              Michael: “As a Wisconsinite, I can take some consolation from that fact that Walker apparently did not consider it advisable to actually run on this question as actual politics, so clearly against him would have been the politics. ”

              Remember that the financial elites have to be veeeery careful about what they do openly (fortunately, they have the money and lobbyists and front organizations). Their interests oppose the interests of the majority of the people in the USA. By now I’d say that their interests directly and undeniably are against the interests of at least 3/4 of the people in the USA.

              They rely on propaganda – ‘free market’, which frequently means “crony deals, tax breaks, subsidies and favorable laws for me, and tax increases, service cuts and unfavorable laws for you” – and backroom deals.Report

              • Avatar kyle in reply to Barry says:

                I don’t really agree with this. For one, I think it’s human nature to exploit advantages for personal gain and frankly I think we’d find than those with financial advantages abuse them less or about the same as those with advantages of aesthetics, intelligence, or social authority. So I don’t think there’s the necessary class conflict of interests between the world’s wealthiest .15% and the world’s wealthiest 10% implicit in your critique.

                That said, I think it’s instructive to look at two things, first the historical opposition of Dixiecrats and the GOP to Civil rights legislation, until black voters became a key voting bloc in the south. Racists and segregationists turned down the volume and some abruptly turned course. Second big business created a financially viable space within the Democratic party to be pro-business.

                Unions are powerful political players hand picking candidates, backing them with money, volunteers and gotv efforts. Surely they could make an effort to make it financially viable to be a liberal Republican in areas the gop is weak or non-existent, increasing the clout and importance of a balancing element within the opposition party, analogous to big business support of the dlc and centrist Democrats. It would be a more cynical approach to be sure, but it’s an option.

                In politics it’s hard to lose when you back both sides.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Michael Drew says:

      That’s an important point, in the good times no one is decrying government employee’s compensation/benefits. In fact, no one says anything about them because they are too busy enjoying the private enterprise gravy train (that is during boom time).

      If the economy were growing at a solid rate with full employment, public employee pensions and pay wouldn’t be on anyone’s minds.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to E.C. Gach says:

        Pensions would still be a problem, but they’d be very fixable through a process of rational negotiations, and there’d be no reason (or political space) for polarizing political stunts like this on collective bargaining from my governor. In fact, collective bargaining would likely be a very valuable tool to whoever set themselves the task of calmly fixing the public pension problem. The union busting here is just complete misdirection and scapegoating at best, if not actually just the straight-up nationally-directed political power move against the Democratic Party that the national liberal pundits want to say that it is (a meme of which I’ve been very skeptical this far).Report

    • Avatar Will H. in reply to Michael Drew says:

      More cuts to the BadgerCare program.
      I’m not sure what other kinds of cuts Walker has proposed.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will H. says:

        That’s a cut in eligibility for a government public assistance program – cash in, cash out. It’s not a cut in service that is a consequnce of Walker’s contention that public employees are too well-compensated for the fiscal situation. It’s not a limitation in the administrative costs of Badger Care via compensation limitation he is proposing there; rather it is simply shrinking eligibility. Administrative costs could change a bit, but they’re not the issue he’s making there.

        The kind of change I’m talking about is instead of saying to the public, ‘Teachers are relatively speaking greedy overpaid leeches in this economic environment, and we need to limit their contractual compensation so we don’t have to lay a lot of them off,” saying, “We’re going through a recession-caused budget crisis and can’t afford to maintain the level of human-provider-dependent services that we can in good times, so expect your kid’s class size to go up a lot next year.” Or, “Expect once-monthly trash collection for the next year.” Etc. Putting it all on the backs of recently-discovered-to-be-overcompensated public employees. Now, if you’ve long thought that sanitation workers were overcompensated, well, fair enough.Report

  23. Avatar LauraNo says:

    “Yet this right conflicts fairly strongly with the taxpayers’ right to see that their money is distributed appropriately”.

    I’d argue that the tax-payers have an ability to see that their money IS distributed appropriately. They elect those that do the bargaining on their behalf, you know. There is always another round of bargaining in future if the last contract is not acceptable. Further, the only reason public sector workers appear to have better benefits than the private sector is because the private sector’s lost ground. The exorbitant cost of health care and insurance probably plays a large part in this but ideologues put their preferences ahead of reason and practicality and THAT problem just festers out there.Report

  24. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    “I’d argue that the tax-payers have an ability to see that their money IS distributed appropriately. They elect those that do the bargaining on their behalf, you know.”

    But then, according to many, union contracts are perpetual, once signed. They can’t be modified, they can’t be cancelled, they can’t be renegotiated; if your contract says you pay each retiring worker $300,000 then each retiring worker gets $300,000 no matter what else happens.

    So, yeah, if the present administration does something I don’t like then I can vote for someone else; but what if that doesn’t actually matter?Report

    • Avatar joe from Lowell in reply to DensityDuck says:

      The “many” from whom you are getting your information are sadly misinformed.

      There are no perpetual union contracts. They are renegotiated at least every three years.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to joe from Lowell says:

        Every time I suggest that maybe pension payment could be cut instead of jobs, I get told that those contracts are an AGREEMENT that everyone AGREED to and you CAN’T CHANGE them because we all AGREED to it.Report

        • Avatar joe from Lowell in reply to DensityDuck says:

          The AGREEMENTS you’re talking about are the contracts signed by the unions and the government. They’re just like any other contracts, and can be renegotiated as long as both sides agree.

          What can’t be done is a unilateral change by the government that violates the contract it signed.

          In point of fact, the unions being targeted in Wisconsin have already agreed to sit down and negotiated some cost savings in the pension plans and health care coverage – that is, they’ve agreed to re-negotiate the contracts, just like the UAW did during the GM/Chrysler reconfiguration, and just like public and private unions do all the time. This fight is happening not because the unions cannot or will not open up negotiations, but because the government wants to bust the union, and is using his budget mess as an excuse.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to joe from Lowell says:

            “What can’t be done is a unilateral change by the government that violates the contract it signed.”

            Because those contracts are an AGREEMENT that everyone AGREED to and you CAN’T CHANGE them because we all AGREED to it…Report

            • Avatar joe from Lowell in reply to DensityDuck says:

              ….so you have to have both sides AGREE in order to make a change. One side can’t just impose a change; both sides have to AGREE to change the contract. Or, the change has to be made in the next contract.

              Just like every other situations in which two parties enter into a contract.

              I don’t understand what you aren’t understanding.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to joe from Lowell says:

                I’m agreeing with you that contracts can be renegotiated.

                Your mistake is in believing that everyone in the current situation is willing to renegotiate. What you have is the government saying “no, seriously, we haven’t got the money” and the unions saying “LALALALALALAA I CAN’T HEAR YOUUUUUU, now where’s the pension check that you’re legally obligated to give me?”Report

  25. Avatar joe from Lowell says:

    Why, pray tell, is “whatever pittance an anti-union governor feels like paying state workers” assumed to be “money distributed appropriately?”

    Anything more than Scott Walker’s wet-dream outcome, wages and conditions that aren’t influenced to any degree by negotiations with the workers, is, by definition, “inappropriate?”

    I’d also like to point out that the polls coming out of Wisconsin – the ones showing that a majority of the public sides with the unions – pretty effectively refute your implicit assumption that the taxpayers’ only interest is in ever-lower pay for state workers. Why, it’s almost as if they understand the role of government services in their lives!Report

  26. Avatar stillwater says:

    Government workers have a fundamental right to associate. Which means they may form unions. Yet this right conflicts fairly strongly with the taxpayers’ right to see that their money is distributed appropriately.

    Jason, one thing that’s wrong here is the ambiguity in the word ‘appropriately’ as it is used above. In the form of government we have, the ‘appropriate’ use of tax revenue is determined by the statutes devolving from the tax/spending powers accorded to governments by their constitutions. This is an entirely legal matter. ‘Inappropriate’ use of revenue would be spending money in a manner inconsistent with established law and accorded powers. (Likewise, inappropriate collection of taxes would be a collection that violated the law.) Citizens surely have the right to expect that government taxes and spends within these constraints.

    But that’s not how you’re using the word in the above passage. In you’re usage, ‘appropriate’ implies something normative, that spending ought to be consistent with a preferred policy. And citizens surely do not have any ‘right’ to expect that government will tax/spend according to their own idiosyncratic preferences. In the US, we elect representatives to make our case for us, but once they take office, we have no ‘right’ to expect any particular legislation to emerge.

    So insofar as public sector employees bargain in good faith, and the government spends in a way consistent with it’s legally accorded powers, there is no conflict of rights between public sector unions and citizens in general. This conflict, to the extent there is one, reduces to a mere difference of opinion about policy preferences. And the recourse for that, as mentioned, is electoral change of representatives.

    Also, a secondary criticism you made was that public sector CB agreements require a different justification than private sector CB. But I think this is without merit, since you stipulated at the beginning of the post that collective bargaining is a fundamental right (ie., a right that goes deeper than a mere legal right). Since their right to CB is fundamental, it requires no justification whatsoever.Report

  27. Avatar Barry says:

    Jason: “Yet this right conflicts fairly strongly with the taxpayers’ right to see that their money is distributed appropriately.”

    Have you actually missed the past decade? The GOP has achieved very close to a 100% rate of always striving in the interests of seeing taxpayers’ money is *not* distributed appropriately.

    In this particular case, for example, Walker is seeking to hand over a large number of state-owned power plants at a fraction of their market value, under circumstances which would allow their buyer – let’s face it, the Koch brothers – to be in a position to charge above-market rates.

    And Walker quite deliberately caused this financial crisis.

    In the big picture, and in this specific instance, if you want to deal with taxpayers’ money in a fair fashion, you find out what the GOP wants, and then do the opposite.Report