Labor Roundtable: Dreams of a Libertarian-Labor Alliance

Related Post Roulette

154 Responses

  1. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    This deserves a post-length response, and I will provide one soon.Report

  2. Avatar Kolohe says:

    under the constant threat of governmental takeovers by libertarians

    That Ron Paul he sure came close the Presidency didn’t he? He was neck and neck with Bob Barr. Plus the Blue Guy.

    (for the record ‘takeover by conservatives’ is a real and dire threat)Report

  3. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Definitely food for thoughtReport

  4. Avatar greginak says:

    Great stuff Freddie.Report

  5. For the most part, I have no retort here – this was just excellent. However, you hint at something that seems worth digging deeper into, perhaps without realizing it.

    You write:

    The liberal vision of the future as expressed by progressives or market liberals (or whatever other term of art) is based on government redistribution through social programs. This position is perhaps most consistently expressed by Matt Yglesias, but there are many converts. It is based on the assumption that the globalization/neoliberal model we have embraced to the detriment of American labor for 30 years will persist.

    What I find interesting with this is how it parallels your argument about libertarian institutions. Assuming for the sake of this comment that your point about those institutions is correct (and I suspect that there is more to that argument than I’d like to admit, though much less than what many others would like to believe)…isn’t a similar argument probably accurate with respect to the most influential nominally left-wing institutions, and certainly with respect to the overwhelming majority of Democratic politicians?

    I don’t mean this as a tu quoque. Instead, I mean it in the sense of trying to understand why it is that the institutional left so heavily prefers the expansion of the welfare state to the increased power of labor. Health care reform ultimately passed despite losing the filibuster-proof majority, and probably would have been far more radical (though still relatively corporatist) but for a relatively small number of conservative Democrats. By contrast, EFCA* – a piece of legislation that would have increased the power of unions only very marginally – never even got to a vote in the Senate, with several Dem Senators pretty vehemently opposed. But even beyond that, the fact that labor had to work for decades just to get to that point, during which it largely had to make EFCA its biggest pure labor priority, and that it was really not likely to significantly restore the power of private sector unions…well that says something too, doesn’t it? Especially when you consider that the tradeoff for even getting to that point was in no small part that labor had to first put all of its political clout behind various other elements of the Dem agenda having at most a tangential impact on labor.

    *For the record, I’ve changed my position on card-check legislation and no longer view it as an infringement on liberty.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      My guess at the answer would be that corporate money and rich folk are at least as important if not more so then unions in the D coalition now. Corps are fine with the safety net part but don’t want to give up there power to unions. There may also be a cultural aspect, although i think those are usually overblown or downright ridiculous, in that unions are generally blue collar while the rich and corps aren’t.Report

    • Avatar You Don't Say in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      Is it cheaper TPTB to provide minimum support to the few (safety net) than decent wages and benefits to the many (unions)?Report

      • Avatar Barry in reply to You Don't Say says:

        I would suggest that it is indeed cheaper, since the ‘safety net’ can be an extremely frayed item, and the corps can frequently skim off it.

        Also unions are difficult to control; they might ask for stuff and push. A corp-run and -influenced safety net gives the recipients very little power.Report

    • Avatar Koz in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      “What I find interesting with this is how it parallels your argument about libertarian institutions.”

      And for that matter, with libertarian political influence. Libertarians are usually thought to have influence way in excess of their demographic strength. Whereas Freddie generates buzz for radical economics on the strength of literary value more than actual plausibility.

      When I was in college, the political economy instructor assigned the French theorist Georges Bataille (along with Adam Smith, Marx, etc). Essentially, the macro economy is defined by how society disposes of the unconsumed excess. Like Bataille, Freddie’s ideas would be useful if we don’t have to take them seriously.

      Ie, Freddie tells us clearly where we should be coming down wrt union v. state, or labor v. management in general. But all the analysis is critical of the neoliberal alternative (he doesn’t even deal with explicit mainstream conservatism very much). What can we hope to accomplish by doing it Freddie’s way and who can we hold accountable if what he represents doesn’t come to pass?Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      “why it is that the institutional left so heavily prefers the expansion of the welfare state to the increased power of labor”

      The propagandistic association of labor with communism has also not helped. A long Cold War that pitted ideology against ideology rather than dealing in particulars and practical real world differences has led a lot of these things to reek of Marxism for most people.

      Most of us may not know it consciously, but somewhere deep in the national psyche, in our societal DNA, labor was first attacked as a front for communism, considered an existential threat at the time, to now being synonymous with corruption in the political vocabulary of our country. When a popularly viewed commentators like Glenn Beck can link Nazis to Communists, link them along with radical Islam to pro-labor, it becomes much safer just to talk about giving money to the poor rather then advocating empowering these now “subversive” ideas.

      At least that seems to be the political calculation of the Dems overall. Who would have known their answer to the Tea Party (labor) had been sitting next to them the whole time. I live in Philadelphia and was surprised by the show of support and solidarity by Philly’s police, fireman, teachers etc. There is nothing like hearing an everyday blue collar worker shouting into a mega phone about getting a fair shake and a fair opportunity to work, all with the appropriate South Philly Italian “Yo yous guys!”Report

  6. Avatar Kolohe says:

    My contention is that unionism represents an alternative to government social programs that can slow the growth of government and act as a third force to counterbalance both government and the corporation.

    Completely agree. Which is why, in my capacity to speak for libertarianism (which is to say not all all) I am perfectly fine with, and actively encourage the growth of *private* sector unions as a player for labor in the power triumvirate (ownership/management*, labor, and state). Private sector labor interests can overlap, but are indepedent of the interests of both the Corporation and the Government. *Public* sector unions otoh create a situation were one of the triumviri has the inside track on influencing the other two.

    If that is unconvicing (‘hey corporations own the government’, ‘citizen’s united delenda est’, etc), I would then point out the mundane examples of how public sector union interests have been shown to be at cross-purposes with any attempt to scale back the drug war, and most attempts at trying to get DC public school system off its position as the most expensive institution of kind but with significantly below average institution.

    *an under analyzed facet of ‘owner/management’ as a single class (which is how my vulgar understanding of Marxism I think organizes things on the first order) is that the modern corporate form has created a big divergence in the interests of the ‘owners’ (Calpers for example, hold around $200 billion in assets, about the same as the market cap of Berkshire Hathaway ) and ‘management’. That was made abundantly clear in the 2008 financial crisis.Report

  7. Avatar stillwater says:

    First and foremost, libertarianism accepts the premise that the best society is the one with the largest overall set of mutually consistent liberties. Second, it posits that minimizing government intrusions into the fabric of the social contract, which includes free and open markets, is the best way to achieve this.

    On its face, there is nothing inconsistent with libertarian principles and accepting that citizens have the right to organize to collectively pursue their individual goals. Such a right surely isn’t inconsistent with the basic right to property. Furthermore, it’s only inconsistent if your understanding of libertarianism is very narrow: that unfettered pursuit of profit in unregulated markets is the best way to maximize overall liberty. So, in that sense, I agree with you’re basic thesis re: libertarianism and unions being consistent. In fact, I find it hard to conceive of a consistent set of basic principles that excludes the right of laborers to organize. (But that’s just me 🙂 )

    A couple of things I disagree with: neo-liberal policies have become mythologized to the point where the overall merits of the global trade are considered a truism, and as a result, maintaining those policies as the central plank of international trade seems inevitable. But as awareness of the deeper imbalances produced by those policies grows, I think political pressure can in fact be mustered in favor of some limited forms of protectionism. And in fact, I think as concern over the middle class, and domestic economic issues in general, grows, those policies will be revisited.

    Another area I disagree is a libertarian-centric consequentialist argument in favor of supporting unions as a way to reduce government intervention into the functioning of society. If libertarianism is to be taken seriously, it’s because limited government intervention follows from the core principles, rather determining core principles from the premise of limited government. To circularly – and pragmatically – advocate supporting unions because it decreases government intervention reduces libertarianism to the mere judgment that government intervention is bad. But that judgment, insofar as it is rationally held, requires an argument.Report

  8. Avatar dadanarchist says:

    This is a very wise take. Unions are bureaucracies in part because they had to shape themselves to respond to other bureaucracies, corporate and state alike. Unions could also, however, be the means through which the communal or collective control of firms could be affected, which in turn could lead to not only greater decentralization of power within society but to greater individual liberty.

    Since the mid-19th century, the goal of the historical anarchist movement which went into terminal decline following the Bolsheviks’ capture of state-power in Russia and the defeat of the CNT-FAI in Spain during the Civil War had been exactly such an approach. During the Civil War, the CNT ran the factories of Catalonia and farms of Andalucia, often in extremely innovative and productive ways.

    It is why, for example, though they disagreed over questions of property and the organization of the economy, individualist anarchists like Lysander Spooner and Benjamin Tucker retained links to and remained friendly with communist anarchists like Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman. While they disagreed over the means, they agreed that economic power was as much a threat as state power to individual liberty and that markets were distorted and perverted by concentrated economic power (foreseen of course by Adam Smith).

    I am often surprised that the writings of people like William Morris and Petr Kropotkin, not to mention Proudhon, are not more widely discussed in libertarian circles. While the first two were pronounced “communists”, they were anti-state, imaginatively trying to prefigure a reorganization of the economy that decentralized power away from concentrated industry and states to local communities.

    While this is all very utopian, I have always been puzzled why libertarians haven’t considered this material. Anarchists read Murray Rothbard, Max Stirner and other libertarian writers. If libertarians are really about decentralizing all forms of power, shouldn’t economic/financial power be treated much like state power?

    Which is a long way of saying, as usual lots of food for thought Freddie.Report

    • I agree entirely. My personal libertarianism came through contemplating the writings of Quesnay, Smith, Marx, Kropotkin, Hayek, Rawls, Nozick, and Skyrms. I cannot for the life of me figure out what is underlying the kind of “libertarianism” that favors strong patent laws or opposes unionism.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Christopher Carr says:

        “libertarianism” that favors strong patent laws

        Depends on the patent law. A patent law that says “if you discovered Widget, you can charge what you want (or license Widget out) for whatever price you want for X years. This is your reward for finding Widget. After X years, Widget enters the public domain. People can make copycat Widgets without paying a licencing fee to you.” is a patent law that most people would shrug off so long as X was seven years or so. It’s a compromise… given that the argument that the Patent was the only reason that Widget was investigated in the first place holds some sway.

        The problem is when X becomes 15 years or, in the case of copyright, in perpetuity. Those laws are BS and I don’t know of any Libertarians who support them.

        (This is without getting into the sub-argument about whether it’s possible to steal intellectual property in the first place that a sizable chunk of Libertarians enjoy.)Report

    • Avatar 62across in reply to dadanarchist says:

      “If libertarians are really about decentralizing all forms of power, shouldn’t economic/financial power be treated much like state power?”

      Considering how closely tied state power and financial power are currently (colluding for the most part), it would seem pointless to treat them differently.Report

  9. Avatar Ryan Davidson says:

    All of this is interesting, to be sure, and I’m more and more convinced that unions, at least in the private sector, are an essential part of a functioning industrial/post-industrial society.

    But I still haven’t figure out how to work in the fact that one of the biggest bastions of unionization in the private sector, i.e. the big automakers, just required a massive government bailout. Unions may increase labor power, but laborers use that power to better their own position in ways that are not always viable in the long term. The infamous jobs bank comes to mind. It isn’t for nothing that there are jokes about the work ethic of union employees.

    I’m not saying that this necessarily means that re-empowering unions isn’t the way to go, but I do want someone to talk to me about how to mitigate the known problems which are associated with unionism.

    Myself, I favor a slightly different tack. Unionism basically sets up a conflict between capital and labor where neither has the interests of the other at heart, and both sides have temptations towards short-term gains at the expense of long-term economic and social viability. Instead, I’d propose something like 51% mandatory employee ownership of corporations, where each employee was allocated a non-transferable share of the company equal to the fraction their wage/salary is of the entire company’s salary expense. All of a sudden the interests of labor and capital are more closely aligned.

    That alignment was, in theory, supposed to come from mass public ownership of stocks, but we’ve all seen how well that worked. Income and wealth inequality issues aside, where people buy stock in companies with which they have no organic, personal connection, there is no incentive to do anything but extract as much value from the stock as one can. But where one’s own salary and performance have an effect on one’s potential dividend income, those interests are more naturally aligned.

    Even more, unions become way less necessary, because workers are now automatically organized as shareholders. If enough employees want a particular corporate policy to be adopted, nothing would be able to stop them. And because employee shares would be non-transferable, there wouldn’t be any possibility of buying them out or alienating their connection with the means of production (*cough*).

    I’m not sure it’s even possible to create such a thing, given the realities of the Fifth Amendment, but Freddie didn’t seem bothered by proposing an impossibility, so why should I be?Report

    • Avatar Freddie in reply to Ryan Davidson says:

      But I still haven’t figure out how to work in the fact that one of the biggest bastions of unionization in the private sector, i.e. the big automakers, just required a massive government bailout.

      The question is instructive, in a couple of ways. First, there’s a strong case to be made that GM would never have gone bankrupt at all if it had not kept pouring huge amounts of its liquid capital into stock buybacks to artificially inflate the stock price to please the mutual funds and stockholders that owned its stock. That’s a pretty direct refutation of the notion that stockholders are always the best stewards of a company’s worth.

      Second, recognize the international context: the primary competitors to American automanufacturing, Japanese and German companies, both have to pay far less for health care for their workers thanks to broadly socialized health care. A frankly stunning amount of the Big Three’s union contributions go towards health care for current and former workers.Report

      • Avatar Ryan in reply to Freddie says:

        All of that may be true, but pointing out that the health care situation is different in other countries doesn’t change the situation in this one. And it still doesn’t explain why those sectors of the economy which are the most unionized are also struggling the hardest right now, i.e. the automakers (hell, unionized manufacturing in general), the airlines, and the public sector.

        And I’m not necessarily suggesting that shareholders are inherently good stewards. On the contrary, I think I expressed the idea that shareholders without any kind of organic connection to the company and the ability to dispose of their shares on a moment’s notice have an incentive to get as much short-term income out of stock as they can, even at the expense of long-term viability. But I’d like to think that shareholders that do have some inherent relationship with their company will have different incentives.Report

        • Avatar Pooh in reply to Ryan says:

          “And it still doesn’t explain why those sectors of the economy which are the most unionized are also struggling the hardest right now, i.e. the automakers (hell, unionized manufacturing in general), the airlines, and the public sector.”

          I think you are implicitly assuming way too much here. I might just as easily suggest that the things about these sectors which make them most amenable to unionization also make them most susceptible to the downsides of globalization.

          (Obviously public sector is a different question, and I’d probably take issue with your premise that they are “struggling” without a clearer idea of what you mean by that.)Report

        • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Ryan says:

          You imply that they’re struggling because they’re unionized. I think it’s far more likely that those companies are struggling because they put out relatively poor products.Report

          • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Christopher Carr says:

            Unions are always a repeated scapegoat for failing companies. In most cases, companies fail because they refuse to modernize or keep up. Upper management get’s cozy and stilted.

            On and incentives level, could anyone argue that those controlling the company have more to lose than those working for it? This get’s to a point father down thread, but it might center on whether people are risk averse in relation to how much they could lose, or proportionately how much they might lose.

            As an investor, I might have millions of dollars rapt up in many places. Say I have $10 million. That’s a lot. If I lose half, that’s a ton. But I still have a livelihood. If the worker’s employer shuts down, they are out and out, i.e. losing 100% (pensions, healthcare, etc.).

            One might argue the investing interest in the company has more at stake in absolute terms, and so would have a greater incentive to make sure the company stays a float, while someone else might say that the worker has less absolutely, but all relatively of their net-worth rapped up in staying employed.

            So is a union any more or less likely than a board of investors to let the company go belly up?Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Freddie says:

        “As of July 2010, 89 percent of Honda and Acura vehicles sold in the United States were built in North American plants, up from 82.2 percent a year earlier. Japanese rivals Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. each made 68 percent of vehicles sold in the U.S. at North American plants, according to the carmakers”
        http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-08-19/honda-founder-s-dream-of-u-s-production-protects-earnings-as-yen-surges.htmlReport

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Kolohe says:

          There’s a problem in those percentages. For 12 years, I consulted for several Japanese firms building screwdriver factories here in the USA. They did so for the tax advantages: the various states and taxing bodies would put together these weirdly self-defeated incentive packages to lure in the manufacturers, who would leave once their tax situation changed.

          I know another guy in Guatemala, a Canadian who scams the CAFTA agreement. Clothes are made from “flats”, pieces of cloth cut from the bolt. He cuts the flats in the USA with a precision laser machine and sends them to Guatemala where they’re sewn into clothes, leaving the hem of one sleeve unfinished. That hem is run through a sewing machine in the USA, where a “Made in USA” label is applied to it.

          Those Honda and Acura parts aren’t being made in the USA. Most of their stuff is made in El Salto Mexico or in Canada and brought over the border in parts, where it’s bolted together here. In China, they’re doing the same thing in Wuhan.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe in reply to BlaiseP says:

            That’s not the gotcha you think it is. The Big 3 US companies use the same exact supply chain integration to build stuff in both the maquiladoras and Windsor. And in any case North Americans from the Yukon to Chiapas are neither covered by the German nor the Japanese health care systems.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Kolohe says:

              Well, it is a gotcha, because the Germans don’t play that game as readily as the Japanese and Americans. The German suppliers are local, though I’ll stipulate this may be changing since I was last in that part of the integration industry.

              Japan outsourced its suppliers and moved its factories over here to the USA for the tax advantages. Their manufacturing base hollowed out. Now their system is in serious trouble: the bucho jobs aren’t there anymore because honcho-san in the front office decided it made more business sense to send bucho-san‘s job to Beikoku.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Japan outsourced its suppliers and moved its factories over here to the USA for the tax advantages. Their manufacturing base hollowed out.

                Yes. And so when Freddie says ‘The Japanese are beating the US in car manufacturing because of differentials in the health care system’ it is a factually insupportable statement. You agree?

                That’s what I’m saying.

                (and the problem with saying ‘The Germans are beating the US in car manufacturing because of differentials in the health care system” is that the Germans are not beating the US in anything but the luxury section of the US market)Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Kolohe says:

                Oh, you’re absolutely correct. I’m just trying to put a few more facts on the fire here: it’s nowhere near as simple and national-ist as it might seem.Report

              • Avatar Freddie in reply to Kolohe says:

                Of course, I didn’t say that, and your use of quotation marks around a sentence you’re making up is inappropriate.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Freddie says:

                “the primary competitors to American automanufacturing, Japanese and German companies, both have to pay far less for health care for their workers thanks to broadly socialized health care”

                ‘‘The Japanese [and Germans] are beating the US in car manufacturing because of differentials in the health care system’

                These sentences do not assert essentially the same thing? Really?

                (I’ll give you that I should have said “And so when Freddie says (to parapharase) ‘The Japanese…'”)Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Freddie says:

        And the market share of the German based auto companies (7-10%) is much lower than the market share than the Japanese based companies (35-45%) – the Korean based companies have about the same share as the Germans.
        http://chartingtheeconomy.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/book7_17264_image003.gifReport

    • Avatar Barry in reply to Ryan Davidson says:

      “But I still haven’t figure out how to work in the fact that one of the biggest bastions of unionization in the private sector, i.e. the big automakers, just required a massive government bailout. Unions may increase labor power, but laborers use that power to better their own position in ways that are not always viable in the long term.”

      This is telling – the bailout to Wall St was *at least* 10x the size, and directly to the wh*resons who crashed the world’s econommy (given the Fed’s secret loan guarantees, it might have been over 100x the size, and 1000x is plausible).

      Furthermore, the Wall St scum were not forced to take haircuts (and they should have had taken about 1′ off the top), while the executives, workers and retirees in the auto industry all took haircuts.

      But read right-wing bloggers and commenters, and one could be forgiven for not remembering that Wall St received even a free lunch.

      We’ve eaten a tremendous amount of losses directly due to the financial industry, and might not have seen even half of the total damage done. But right-wingers, especially including libertarians, still worry about problems in the auto industry.Report

  10. Avatar Sam M says:

    “the right to free speech in advocating a union, the right to assemble with your fellow workers, your right to free association in forming whatever kind of affinity group you choose, and the right to control your own labor power and sell it however you choose.”

    I am curious: When we talk about someone’s right to form a union, does that imply some kind of responsibility for the employer to recognize and negotiate with that union?

    Most libertarians I know wouldn’t resist any law that forbids people from forming a union. But they would also resist any law that forced a company to deal with that union if the management decided not to.

    So what are we talking about here? If you are saying that 20 percent or 30 percent or 50 percent or 80 percent of workers in a factory should eb able to form “Factory Union Number 5” if they damn well please, I think most libertarians I know would support it. But if you then say that the existence of the union should force the company to view that union as the representative of the workers, even those who voted against the union… most libertarians would object.

    Sorry if this is all covered in Union Politics 101. But I am honestly curious about what we are talking about here. Union formation and union recognition seem like different things. Although one doesn’t seem to make much sense without the other.

    To put it another way: “the right to control your own labor power and sell it however you choose.” If I really have the right to do this, should I be allowed to go into a unionized factory and offer to work at half the rate? No, not if the company has agreed to contract to work exclusively with the union. But once that contract expires? Should I be allowed to LEGALLY do that?Report

    • Avatar Francis in reply to Sam M says:

      Look at the issue a somewhat different way. Your employer imposes any number of conditions on your employment: you have to show up at a certain hour, you have to do the work assigned to you, etc. If the employer decides, as a condition of your employment, that a portion of your salary goes to location X (union dues, parking, health insurance deductible, etc.), you have the choice of accepting employment on those terms or rejecting it.

      The key point is that it’s the employer, not the union, that imposes the condition of paying union dues as a part of employment. Right-to-work laws actually interfere with the ability of an employer to contract with employees as it prefers.Report

    • Avatar stillwater in reply to Sam M says:

      I think this is an important, and difficult, issue. One thing that could be said is that rights entail responsibilities, but in the situation you outlined, management could honor it’s responsibility by not infringing on the right of workers to unionize, yet still (absent any law) hire non-union workers instead. Management is, in this case, not violating any rights whatsoever.

      Another way to look at is that if we agree that people have the right to organize to collectively pursue their own self-interest, but management can unilaterally deny the expression of that right by hiring non-union workers, the right to organize in the pursuit of shared interests is violated.

      A lot hinges on what we mean by ‘the right of association’ in cases like this: if it is merely a nominal (weak interpretation) right, or a right actually capable of achieving expression (strong interp.).

      My initial inclination would be to say that preventing management from violating the expression of the robust right – insofar as it is understood as a robust right – would justify government intervention to protect that right’s expression. I mean, a right is fundamentally violated if you in principle can’t act on it. Right?Report

      • Avatar Pooh in reply to stillwater says:

        “I mean, a right is fundamentally violated if you in principle can’t act on it. Right?”

        It’s not violated so much as it doesn’t exist.Report

        • Avatar stillwater in reply to Pooh says:

          I agree. Libertarianism can either accept the fundamental right to organize, in which case government protections of that right are in place; or it can simply deny that the right exists to begin with and arbitrarily limit the consistent set of basic rights.

          No fuzzy middle ground allowed.Report

    • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Sam M says:

      But once that contract expires? Should I be allowed to LEGALLY do that?

      I don’t think it should be illegal. However, I am coming around to the idea that it should be completely legal for a union to say “if you hire someone that isn’t part of the union, we’re going on strike.”Report

      • Avatar Sam MacDonald in reply to Trumwill says:

        Yeah. OK. I get that. But when they do that, can I say, “Go ahead. I’ll replace you with a while bunch of people willing to work for less”?

        My contract with the union is up. There are 100 guys who, through free association and other means, formed local 206. They want to get paid $20 an hour.

        A bunch of other guys got together through free association. They call themselves “The Scabs.” They are willing to work for $10 an hour.

        Should I have to hire the first group? Should the second group have rights of free association that allow them to organize separately? As the owner, do I have rights of free association?

        What I am getting at here is that when people talk about the “right to form a union” and “the rights of free association,” I think that goes beyond a libertarian’s common understanding of those phrases. Specifically, I think it actually means, “I have a right to associate with whomever I want, and we can force you to do what we want.”

        I fully admit that I might be wrong here. I honestly don’t know. I just want someone to explain.Report

        • Mr. McDonald dispenses with the “rights” question on its face—you can “associate” with whomever you want, make a union, whatever.

          And we just appointed Jesse Jackson as our representative and negotiator.

          And by what provision in the Constitution am I, the employer—or the employer/state—obliged to recognize Jesse Jackson? Constitutional Rights extend only to individuals, no? Human Rights?

          You have the right to organize or associate with whomever you want. And I have a right to disassociate with you or Rev. Jackson if I so choose—and I do choose to not give him the time of day—no?

          Just asking for a clarification here.Report

        • My understanding is that, at least in most places, you can indeed fire everybody and replace them all with non-union employees or employees of a different union. Functionally, though, I think it’s rarely a good move to do so since finding them is difficult as is replacing your entire workstaff at once.

          Does anyone want to clarify this?Report

        • Avatar stillwater in reply to Sam MacDonald says:

          Specifically, I think it actually means, “I have a right to associate with whomever I want, and we can force you to do what we want.”

          Minus the bit about the right to associate, this is exactly the position management is in by default – the ability to force employees to do what they want (eg., work longer hours for less pay or lose their job). On this score, they’re both (management and organized labor) using coercion to gain an advantage. Is the coercion employed by unions fundamentally differently than the coercion employed by ownership?Report

          • Mr. Stillwater, with this:

            this is exactly the position management is in by default – the ability to force employees to do what they want (eg., work longer hours for less pay or lose their job). On this score, they’re both (management and organized labor) using coercion to gain an advantage. Is the coercion employed by unions fundamentally differently than the coercion employed by ownership?

            you have inverted the original question:

            And we just appointed Jesse Jackson as our representative and negotiator.

            And by what provision in the Constitution am I, the employer—or the employer/state—obliged to recognize Jesse Jackson? Constitutional Rights extend only to individuals, no? Human Rights?

            You have the right to organize or associate with whomever you want. And I have a right to disassociate with you or Rev. Jackson if I so choose—and I do choose to not give him the time of day—no?

            You are free to accept the job as proffered, or reject it. First things first. There’s a reason people leave the farm for the Big City and it has nothiong to do with survival. Absent climate changes like the Dust Bowl and the Grapes of Wrath, farmers do not starve. If you’re hungry, just shuck some corn or eat some grain or slit Bessie’s throat. Yum. That was the elegance of the agrarian society.Report

            • Avatar stillwater in reply to tom van dyke says:

              Hello Tom,
              The original question (Sam M’s) regarded the extent of the right to associate, and whether libertarians understand that right to be strong or weak. He wrote back that the strong interpretation implied that labor could use force to get concessions from ownership (presumably a reason to reject that interpretation of the right to form a union). My comment – the one you’re responding to here – merely suggested that ownership also has the power to use force to achieve its goals, and brought up a question: in what principled way is the coercive power of ownership different than the coercive power of organized labor, such that accepting one but rejecting the other on these terms is justified?

              (Editors note: No civil rights activists were harmed in the making of this comment.)Report

  11. Avatar Louis B. says:

    This post reads like an awesome face punch.Report

  12. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Marx makes a curious and trenchant observation, which might be applied to future labor relations.

    [a] Among other economists Rossi, in particular, has expounded the following:

    The manufacturer only advances to the worker his share in the product because the worker cannot wait for its sale. If the worker could maintain himself until the product was sold he would, as an associé, afterwards claim his share, as is the case between the actual and the industrial capitalist. That the worker’s share has the particular form of wages is an accident, the result of a speculation, of a specific act which takes place alongside the production process and does not form any necessary constituent element of it. Wages are merely an accidental form of our social conditions. They do not necessarily belong to capital. They are not an indispensable factor of production. They can disappear under another organisation of society.

    [b] This whole trick amounts to the following: If the workers possessed enough accumulated labour, i.e., enough capital, not to have to live directly on the sale of their labour, the wage form would end. That is, if all workers were at the same time capitalists; which is to presuppose and preserve capital without the contrast of wage labour without which it cannot exist.

    [c] Nevertheless, the following admission is to be observed: Wages are no accidental form of bourgeois production, but the whole of bourgeois production is a passing historical form of production. All its relationships, capital as well as wages, rent, etc., are transitory and can be abolished at a certain point of development.

    What would happen if such a scheme were set up, so workers would participate more directly in the company itself?Report

  13. Spot on, BlaiseP. The assumption of risk characterizes the entrepreneur even more than talent and hard work. We cannot change the risk/reward equation by power politics alone.

    Unfortunately, the general population [read: labor] is risk-averse and indeed has to be if they’re supporting a family. But if labor could share the risk, then it naturally [not artificially via power politics] would be entitled to a greater share of the rewards. The entrepreneur-company-corporation could and would reward the sharing of risk as he would with any other capital investor.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

      Is the general pop as risk-averse as all that? Or is the current scheme jiggered to the lasting benefit of a few short-sighted Chainsaw Al types?

      Chainsaw Al got what was coming to him, the bastard. But I think it’s fair to say, without summoning up the Demon of Redistribution wherein the shortages are divided among the peasants, the moneyed class in this country has made a dog’s dinner of what could have been an even more profitable setup. What might have happened if the union movement in this country hadn’t gotten off to such a horrible start, with open warfare down there in the coalfields?

      It just didn’t have to end up this way. In Japan, much to Douglas MacArthur’s annoyance and mystification, the trade unions jumped right in bed with management.Report

      • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Yes, BlaiseP, the general population is as risk-adverse as all that.

        This is not to blame them.

        The problem with owner-labor “partnerships” is that there’s no sharing of the risk atall. Labor wants to be paid in full at the end of the week. The irony of organized labor is that with the pension schemes, labor unintentionally shared the risk.

        Mr. Gregniak makes risk relative by saying “the rich” [the investor or entrepreneur] don’t take the risk. Of course they do, in real terms. A million bucks is a million bucks. When it comes to capital, it’s unworkable to have an analog/mirror image of the graduated income tax, that my dollar deserves a greater reward than one of Donald Trump’s because I have less of them.

        As for risk-averse, the labor population may not be in a position to risk their rent and food money, but the fact is that many want 9-to-5, go home and watch TV or bounce their kiddies on their knee, and on the whole, do not have the success of the enterprise as their first concern. Those who stay late at work to make a better product tend to be the future leaders of any enterprise.

        As for “Chainsaw Al,” one can always argue the exception rather than the rule, but this is not productive. The man was a criminal. To the legitimate part of his business, dismantling unprofitable companies, the fact is that companies do reach a certain age where they tend to be no longer competitive—everyone from secretaries to middle management to the janitors are paid at the top of scale for such labor. “Dead wood.”
        ________________
        About half the jobs in America are from smaller businesses, and most of the new job creation. SimonK gets it right:

        The owners of small companies are not generally rich. The owners of big companies tend to be the general public.

        also

        Owners and managers are two distinct things. Ownership means risk. Management, not necessarily.

        Wild CEO salaries/bonuses are esthetically disgusting, but this does not skin the cat.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to tom van dyke says:

          “The owners of small companies are not generally rich. The owners of big companies tend to be the general public.”

          If by the general public you mean 10% of it.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to tom van dyke says:

          And for being risk averse. If I had swathes of capital to invest, I would not be so risk averse. If I have $100, and need to pay my bills, feed my family, and pay taxes, I’m not exactly about to go taking on more risks, as you acknowledge. And in fact, people from these socioeconomic classes who do take risks, i.e. heading to the race tracks or playing the lottery are regularly looked down upon. The only difference for the most part, is that most of the wealthier investors are betting in a casino that they themselves own.

          So as to the whole risk averse thing, on the whole, most people are all as risk averse as the next. It’s psychological and biological, and there is not so much variance as we would like to expect, despite our myths of the courageous risk taking capitalist. The defining factor between the risk takers and non-risk takers is having something to risk.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to tom van dyke says:

      That most business owners assume risk is false. Maybe if you are starting your own business that is true. But in mid and especially large business the management have no risk. They are usually wealthy and privileged to start with. At the highest levels of management where the rewards are great they received multi millions in reward completely insulating them from risk and often have platinum parachutes which are about as anti-risk as possible. A two worker family who are just making ends meet take more risk by going on a short vacation to national park then almost all management and ownership does in their business actions.Report

      • Avatar Simon K in reply to greginak says:

        Owners and managers are two distinct things. Ownership means risk. Management, not necessarily. For the most part the actual ultimate owners of almost everything are institutional investors acting on behalf of ordinary households.Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to Simon K says:

          If the owners are rich then they have little if any risk, certainly not in the way labor has risk of bankruptcy due to illness or the ownership firing everybody just to boost the price of their stock options. Wealth minimizes or eliminates vrisk.Report

          • Avatar Simon K in reply to greginak says:

            The owners of small companies are not generally rich. The owners of big companies tend to be the general public.Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to Simon K says:

              “The owners of big companies tend to be the general public.” ahhhh yeah sure. I’m still waiting for my checks from all those big companies and when do i get my vote for corporate police for all the companies on the Dow Jones. oh please, are you serious?Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to greginak says:

                I’m pretty sure by “general public” he’s talking about stockholders.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to greginak says:

                Greg,

                My 80 year old mom, a former factory worker at General Electric, owns GE stock and gets her annual dividend check. It’s substantial enough that she regularly holds off major purchases until she gets it. My mom is very much the general public–poor during her childhood and middle class the rest of her life.

                So, yes, SimonK’s point is serious.

                If you haven’t bought any of those companies stock, then you won’t get a check from them. If you own their stock, as I do, through a pension fund, then you’ll get money when you retire, but not through a check from that company.Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to James Hanley says:

                In fact, it’s even more serious than Simon lets on.

                Social Security is statutorily required to invest its receipts in US Treasuries. All other pension funds for Americans hold mostly equities, and mostly US equities. The ability to provide certain payment stream from uncertain corporate performance is a cute trick that is essentially the raison d’etre for pension actuaries.

                The secret is, that as long as the overall economy and corporate earnings perform at acceptable levels over some long time horizon, then shorter term appreciations and depreciations don’t matter. If the portfolio depreciates, the invested funds are worth less, but the new money flowing in buys more and it evens out.

                Unfortunately, we can’t rely on these requirements any more. The fundamentals of our economy are such that we can’t have any confidence that growth or corporate earnings will sustain anything. The defined benefit pension is a promise that no one can be credibly confident that they can keep. That’s one reason why pensions for public employees have become such a hot button issue.

                There’s a profound disconnect on the part of public union enthusiasts that their retirement compensation is somehow not at risk as the entire economy flounders around them.Report

              • Avatar Simon K in reply to greginak says:

                Most big companies are owned indirectly by institutional investors. Most institutional investors are managing money on behalf of ordinary households – they’re insurers, banks, mutual funds, and pensions funds and the purpose of their investments is ultimately to pay up on various savings and insurance plans. Maybe before you make assertions about who is wealthy and priveleged and therefore not deserving of any consideration you might like to learn how the US economy actually works?Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Simon K says:

                right okay you’re serious. yes large institutional investors own large parts of pretty much all large companies. And the individuals who have money in 401ks’ and such have exactly zero influence. Bob and Jane Ordinary Household have no power over the any of those companies. Bob and Jane don’t have platinum parachutes like the highest up in companies usually do which complelty protect them from the consequences of failure. Bob and Jane don’t get to vote over whether factories should be sent to India or whether the CEO, lets call her Carly, gets to pocket millions no matter the results. Bob and Jane’s 401k retirement fund is dependent on the decisions made by bankers and finance guys who they don’t know, have no influence over and who will typically make lots of money no matter what.

                Wealth=lots of money.Report

              • Avatar Simon K in reply to greginak says:

                Of course I’m serious, Greg. I’m just relaying facts to you and if you responded to the actual words I’m writing and not to whatever it is you think I’m trying to imply, we’d all be happier. You obviously feel very strongly about something that you’re trying to say but you’re using the wrong words so you’re literally not making any sense. First you stated ownership doesn’t involve risk, which is false by the definition of the words. Then you conflated ownership with management, when they’re almost always distinct. Then you assumed that all business owners are rich, which is either just false or nonsensical depending on what businesses you’re talking about. Now you’ve given up on talking about ownership and you want to talk about control, which is again different. And all the way through you’re telling little stories about people who you think deserve to have higher status than business people, which is odd because I wasn’t arguing about people’s status, I was trying to correct your use of words to get at what you were actually trying to say.

                Robin Hanson has this idea that politics is not about policy, but about raising and lowering the status of different groups. All I’m really getting from what you’re saying is that you don’t think much of business people, and think they should have lower status than struggling working families. Its your little stories that give the game away. Because I’m arguing with you you assume I’m trying to say that no, businesspeople should have higher status than working families. In fact I’m not trying to do that.

                What I’m trying to do, albeit rather drily and indirectly, is point out that “capital” and “labor” as inputs to a business are not kinds of people, so saying “yay labor” and “boo capital” doesn’t get us far. They’re inputs that need to be paid for. Those payments go, in the end, to people, but those people can be more or less anyone – the CEO is acting labor, the small investor who buys shares is acting as a capitalist, as is the family whose healthcare plan invests in the firm. In practice, for almost all companies, almost everyone on both sides is “not rich”, so if you enact policies based on “yay labor” and “boo capital” what you’ll actually do is divert money from some middle class people to other middle class people. The people you actually want to get at will be largely unaffected. Indeed they might well benefit.

                Because if your goal here is prevent parasites like Carly from doing their thing and making sure Bob and Jane get a fair return on their 401(k) then I’m in complete agreement. But saying “boo capital” isn’t going to help you, because the problem isn’t with the ultimate beneficiaries of the investment, who are Bob and Jane, the problem is with the intermediaries and managers between them, like Carly, and the people doing the productive work (some of whom, by the way, are businesspeople), like Bob and Jane again. Most “boo capital” policies in fact end up restricting Bob and Jane’s ability to directly invest and participate in business and therefore further requiring the intercession of people like Carly. This is why it is extremely important, and not just a nit-pick, to understand the differences between ownership, management and control.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Simon K says:

                What I’m trying to do, albeit rather drily and indirectly, is point out that “capital” and “labor” as inputs to a business are not kinds of people, so saying “yay labor” and “boo capital” doesn’t get us far. They’re inputs that need to be paid for. Those payments go, in the end, to people, but those people can be more or less anyone – the CEO is acting labor, the small investor who buys shares is acting as a capitalist, as is the family whose healthcare plan invests in the firm. In practice, for almost all companies, almost everyone on both sides is “not rich”, so if you enact policies based on “yay labor” and “boo capital” what you’ll actually do is divert money from some middle class people to other middle class people. The people you actually want to get at will be largely unaffected. Indeed they might well benefit.

                I’d be curious, does anyone know of any data pertaining to how much money the median household invests?

                And what about Freddie’s charts? The majority of capital invested is invested by very few people. So I’m confused about your point with average joes and janes.

                Average joes and janes don’t have all that much to invest, EVEN in aggregate. 10% owns 2/3s of the country’s assets. The bottom 80% control’s less than a 1/4.

                What is it that I’m missing? Because it seems that you’ve greatly inflated the amount of capital that is flowing from the middle and working class.

                Because if your goal here is prevent parasites like Carly from doing their thing and making sure Bob and Jane get a fair return on their 401(k)

                I might be misinterpreting this part of the statement. What do you mean by “fair?”Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Simon K says:

                E.C.,

                I don’t think the issue here is about proportions that are invested. Of course the wealthy have more invested in corporations. The wealthy always have more of everything–that’s what being wealthy means.

                But all the average joes who have any kind of pension plan normally have it ultimately invested in stocks, and stocks are certificates of a share of ownership in a company.

                As Simon K, noted, he’s not arguing about control, just the bare fact of ownership.

                As one of my grad profs once mused, “I’m labor, because I get paid a regular wage to do my work, and I’m capital, because all my retirement investments are in mutual funds that buy stocks. So which side of the revolution should I be on?”Report

              • Avatar Simon K in reply to Simon K says:

                EC – I don’t believe there are any reliable numbers for net household investments, but very approximately the average savings rate it something like 3% across the last 30 years (although its been very uneven) and the average income is about $45k, so the average household invests about $1350 per year in something (including bank accounts, which the bank of course ultimately invests for you). Very approximately then the average househould accumulates about $225k across their working lives (assuming 5% interest which is historically about right). This excludes debt repayments (most importantly mortgages), and insurance policies and other things I was including above where people are indirect beneficiaries of investments.

                There’s obviously enormous variance within that – some people with huge incomes save nothing, some poor people are prodigious savers. There’s also a gigantic cohort effect – the average 20-something saves less than nothing, most people do whatever saving they’re going to do between 35 and 50, so older households have much, much more wealth than younger ones.

                I’m not sure about Freddie’s charts, because I don’t know what the Norton & Ariely study they’re based on counted as wealth or where they got the numbers. To my knowledge no-one really tracks the net households assets of American citizens (income is another matter since the IRS obviously does that) so its a non-trivial exercise to estimate the numbers. Its possible the study is merely showing the cohort effect, (ie. that the baby boomers currently have more assets than anyone else since they’re about to retire) but I don’t know since I don’t have the underlying numbers. I also don’t know how they’re acounting for indirect investments (eg. life insurance) and if they are how they’re figuring the ultimate beneficiary.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Simon K says:

                Look at the charts. Sum up all the possible income to be invested. Corporations are not owned by the “public,” they are owned by a few millions of people.

                Does that mean that the rest of the public doesn’t have some assets tied up in investment? No, they most certainly do, but the idea that we are all capitalists because the majority of people have few bucks invested in the markets is a joke. And it really is a few bucks, because when you compare invested amounts, it’s like comparing apples and oranges.

                Proportions are at issue here, because of Simon’s previous statement:

                The owners of small companies are not generally rich. The owners of big companies tend to be the general public.Report

              • Avatar Simon K in reply to Simon K says:

                EC- I think you and others are reading things into that wealth distribution chart that may not be there. As I pointed out in my previous comment, there are factors it doesn’t consider that make the conclusion you’re drawing – that 85% of US capital is controlled by only 20% of households, and that 20% consists of “the rich” – doesn’t really follow. Its likely, for example, that that 20% simply consists of people between the ages of 50 and 75 who are preparing to retire or already retired. Its also very likely that the vast majority of US capital not not household wealth and therefore does not show up directly in this survey at all. Until someone show me the original data, I’m reserving judgement.Report

            • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Simon K says:

              The owners of big companies tend to be the general public.

              Did I miss the revolution or something?Report

  14. Avatar North says:

    Freddie, I’m buried in work at the moment and bereft of my usual time to comment as extensively as I would like to but I’d really like to take a moment to say this is really an excellent bit of writing. Good job.Report

  15. Avatar Freddie says:

    People are getting it backwards. So called “Right to Work” laws against closed shop aren’t an impediment to a union’s rights; they’re an impediment to business’s rights. A business should have the right to say “we will only hire members of the union,” and to enter into such an agreement with the union. The union should then have the right to strike if that pledge is broken.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Freddie says:

      I think Tim Carney says much the same thing here Freddie.Report

    • Avatar stillwater in reply to Freddie says:

      So called “Right to Work” laws against closed shop aren’t an impediment to a union’s rights; they’re an impediment to business’s rights.

      Right to work laws certainly restrict ownerships freedoms to employ only union labor under a CB contract, which a libertarian – as you imply – ought to reject. But whether they violate union’s rights depends on what rights you ascribe to unions. Prior to Taft Hartley, unions (and management) had the freedom to contractually agree to a closed shop, which restricted by that law. Right to work laws continue this trend by making union shops illegal, with the practical result that labor has limited, or in some sectors nonexistent, bargaining power to promote the goals which the freedom (or right) to organize is an expression of. Of course, one may dispute that laborers have a right to organize, or form unions, and that it’s not a basic liberty. But if that substantive right is conceded, actions by the state to circumvent it, or actions by ownership to unilateral weaken the union by deliberately hiring outside labor, constitutes a violation of that right. As I wrote upthread: A right (or liberty) is fundamentally violated if you in can’t in principle act on it.

      I really don’t see that there’s a middle ground here. Am I wrong?Report

    • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Freddie says:

      So, are you saying a plant/company union should have the power/right to stop or prohibit some poor, outta work man/woman from getting a job at a plant where the union has a contract that in fact says the company must only hire members of the aforementioned union?
      I’m no theologian but something doesn’t seem right here. Also, isn’t it true that when a person applies for a job at a factory and is hired they THEN join the union? e.g. you are required to be a union member AFTER the company hires you?

      This is a smart thread and economics is a mystery to me. Let me ask this question which I will acknowledge is STUPID so as to save you fellows the required snark: Why don’t we just jack up the tariffs on those countries that are having economic sex with us by prohibiting American goods into their countries? Each country’s tariff will be determined by how bad they’re screwing us.
      Also, instead of solving this problem (employing as many Americans as possible) by ahereing to some statist paradigm, why don’t we solve it in terms of an appropriate and righteous capitalist method by say: eliminating taxes on capital gains altogether (after all who really pays the tax?), getting rid of really, really stupid regulations, and doing whatever we can to enhance the production of profitable, well made AMerican goods (my guess is you econ guys can name a couple of dozen ideas along those lines)?
      Hey, for you socialist fellows we can attache additional taxes on those American corporations (if there are any left) who move any part of their production facilities overseas or across our borders…I mean just screw the hell outta them. Also, as mentioned above any foreign manufacturer that establishes factories in this country that produce all of the goods sold in the USA get really nice tax incentives from the feds and state.
      The goal here is ‘full employment’ so that we don’t have the transfer of wealth bs that expands the corrupt federal/state bureaucracies that SOME here just love.
      Hep me here?Report

  16. To stir the pot a bit:

    I’ve read through all the comment threads to all the posts in this labor roundtable and it seems to me that there are three topics which have been largely taken for granted or underserved in the discussion thus far: libertarianism’s historical relationship to the labor movement, the relationship between American corporations and globalization, and the role of intellectual property rights in creating the current wealth distribution.

    As for the first topic, libertarianism’s historical relationship to the labor movement, no one here has acknowledged that libertarianism more or less grew out of the union movement in Europe as that faction which proposed a return to the principles of classical liberalism (Adam Smith) against the coercively entrenched interests of state/capital at the turn of the twentieth century.

    If libertarianism has been effectively subverted to corporate interests in the United States, which is Noam Chomsky’s contention, this must be because either (1) libertarian scholarship has been captured by corporate special interests, (2) New Deal excesses of government seemed like a more serious threat to liberty than corporate power at that time, or (3) having strong labor counterbalance strong capital is no longer considered a priority. The first cause assumes bad faith or widespread indoctrination in the libertarian camp (and this is a surprisingly mainstream position within the left-wing camp, especially after the Kochtopus affair). The idea that libertarian institutions are simply corporate echo-chambers strikes me as an unserious contention. The second and third causes – that many libertarians now consider government to be a more serious threat to liberty or that they consider unionization to be relatively unimportant – makes sense for a variety of reasons, such as those repeatedly articulated by James Hanley, or faith in progressive technology to mitigate the harsh realities of wage-slavery. I’ll extrapolate on these and more if anyone wants me to.

    The second point which it seems has not been adequately discussed is the relationship between American corporations and globalization. Work (of the hammer and sickle variety) is now done disproportionately outside of the United States and under different political jurisdiction or by machines. The standard of living for all has been made better by technology. We look at that top 0.001 percent or whatever arbitrary shock-number Mother Jones comes up with and feel like it’s unfair that so many Fortune 500 CEOs are making bank while workers are denied healthcare (and we should, since everyone should be entitled to healthcare at this point); but a significant portion of the people in that top 0.001 percent are people whose fortunes rest on the backs of Stupid Brown People Who Don’t Matter – not Americans; and (if the way we usually discuss casualty figures for our various nation-building projects is any indication) no one cares about Stupid Brown People Who Don’t Matter. This is a serious problem for humanity, but it explains why there has been an absurd wealth expansion for the richest class of Americans while the rest of us see none of that.

    I’m all for unions as a counterbalance to corporate power (If management can organize then labor can organize too. That’s not even debatable as far as I’m concerned, as a libertarian.); but how are we to positively affect the formation of coffee-growers unions in Ethiopia or tech-support-service unions in India? Most of the people working in jobs that Americans consider beyond any reasonable standards of what people should have to work for are happy simply to no longer be engaged in the war of all against all, or to finally be able to afford AIDS medication for their children. (And we want to cut only the paltry amount of foreign aid we give to balance the budget.) Unless Americans suddenly embrace an extremely aggressive standard of ethical consumerism – or at least stop our net-exploitative consumption – we can expect more and more outsourcing of labor followed by more of the American middle class looking the other way and buying more blood coffee.

    What we should be doing, really, is not propping up failing domestic unions at all (I agree with Messrs. Carson and Thompson that any codification of procedure will be used disproportionately in the interests of capital.) Instead of a bunch of experienced, fifty-something manufacturers continuing to make mediocre cars that nobody wants to buy, they could be teaching the people of Ghana or Bangladesh to do the same for cheaper. Instead, the Chinese have taken the initiative in consulting to the developing world. It will be a Chinese tide that lifts all boats, apparently, after years of those nations languishing in Western exploitation.

    Finally, it seems like a lot of what we all desire here – like more empowered workers, workers owning the means of production, a more equitable distribution of income, etc., could be accomplished most non-invasively by (1) at least loosening intellectual property rights laws to correspond with what seems to be an acceleration of technological advance – that way workers can capitalize on their own knowledge and make better products for all to consume at cheaper prices. (2) Allowing and even encouraging workers with sufficient knowledge capital to engage the new, international economy. As it is, we have nothing close to anything resembling free trade; we have a highly managed trade regime which centers around government contracts and only allows the powerful few to access the world’s markets.

    In short, any contentions vis-a-vis unions and management should be based on the fact that our economy is global, but our political jurisdiction only comprises a small part of that economy.Report

  17. Avatar James Hanley says:

    A couple of quibbles with Mr. DeBoer;

    One of the divides in current political discourse…, is whether American liberals should favor a labor-based vision or a government redistribution-based vision.

    For most libertarians, I believe, the labor-based versionis a government redistribution-based system, because companies whose employees are unionized are required by law to engage in collective bargaining.

    This closely relates to his claim that libertarians can support unions because they are an alternative to government. This misses the point that libertarians don’t oppose government because it’s called government, but because it exercises coercive authority. To the extent labor exercises coercive authority–particularly as it uses the coercive power of government to generate wealth transfers–it’s not actually an alternative to government, but a close substitute for it, or purely an extension of it.

    Sure, libertarians can have no reasonable objection to people working together collaboratively. It’s when that collaboration is endowed with the power of government to force others to negotiate with it that libertarians jump ship.

    For that reason, a labor-libertarian alliance seems to me to entirely implausible, as legally mandated collective bargaining is strictly in opposition to basic libertarian principles of freedom of association.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

      Redistribution? As with “inflammable”, let’s dispose of that confusing prefix and get to the heart of the matter:

      Distribution.

      Also, let’s get rid of this “coercive” government. That’s redundant. It’s just government. All government is coercive. More linguistics, co-ercere to put in the same enclosure. When government’s doing what we want, oh that’s the will of the people but when it’s no, oh dear, that’s coercion. The Libertarian must make his case clearer: either he wants law enforced or he wants no law at all and I wouldn’t put words in anyone’s mouth and neither choice is terribly appetizing.

      As for Wealth Transfer, there is that troublesome detail about payment for services. I know no wealthy teachers.

      Labor and Libertarians won’t ever get along, that much is true. It’s true because the Libertarian can’t decide what sort of government he wants. When Rome had its elections during the very early Republic, men would gather together in literal sheep pens at the Ovile. The Plebs of Rome revolted at least three times until they got the right to run for office and a tribune of their own.

      There is no power without unity: the Libertarian had best conclude where along the line between anarchy and tyranny he wants to put down his stake. Doing the hokey-pokey, simultaneously praising collaboration and damning coercion, well, it’s varies between farcical and tragic.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Coercion is, in my view, that which defeats the will without convincing the intellect. A gun can do nicely here, as can the persuasive threat of prison. Even deception can be understood as a kind of coercion.

        Humans are creatures of will and intellect. These are two things that make us special and, as far as we know, unique. And while minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure — the utilitarian’s preferred standard — is great in a lot of cases, it also runs the risk of debasing either the will or the intellect, of lessening the human dignity that comes with being free to conceive and follow one’s own life plans.

        That society that maximally permits and coordinates humans’ plans is the most free and, I think, also the most desirable politically. That’s because, trivially, I’m a libertarian. Not everyone will agree, and I recognize that.

        Note as well that no society will ever be able to coordinate all plans; some people will always form plans that can’t be fit into any such scheme. In those cases, coercion becomes justified. It is, however, a last resort.

        This is all very theoretical, and I know it risks derailing the thread, particularly if we get into specifics. But I hope I’m at least presenting something you can think about and not find transparently self-contradictory.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          Ultimately, all laws require enforcement, yes even naked power in the form of weapons and jails, to bring about some form of justice. The Libertarian, like the twee Communists of yore, presume men are angels: persuade their intellects and appeal to their dignity and they will follow. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Law is the guardrails on the roads of society.

          The proposition of a Libertarian-Labor alliance would start with the Libertarian notion of groups of humans operating in their own best interests against other cabals and confederations of humans who are similarly motivated. If there is any inequity in society, that inequity must be addressed from the position of power and unity.

          When the Senate of Rome convened, the fasces was carried into the hall by a wounded veteran. Strength derives from unity of purpose. Coercion is not the last resort of government, it is the first, and if the governed are to push back against tyranny, they will do so via agencies that resemble unions in form if not in name. That’s reality, Jason.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          Coercion is, in my view, that which defeats the will without convincing the intellect

          Would you not consider advertising/propaganda as coercive? Fundamentally they work by keeping certain information from the receiver, thereby convincing the intellect by default or by lack of alternatives. It just seems like even argumentation can be coercive. I guess I would also call into question one’s ability to be convinced vs. be-ing convinced, i.e. you persuaded me vs. I am persuaded. The former seems coercive in that I am passive, the latter seems more free and includes my “willing” it, your second distinguishing factor.

          Of course, I’m skeptical of people’s ability to “will” things as well, given that we are confined by our biology, sociology, and the context in which we are acting.

          As such, I’m skeptical of, “lessening the human dignity that comes with being free to conceive and follow one’s own life plans.”

          It presumes a high level of innate freedom and that one’s “own life plans,” really are one’s own life plans.

          And once libertarianism introduces the restrictive notion of negative rights, i.e. ways in which I may not “interfere” in some one else’s “life plans,” the flood gates are opened.

          Maybe you could correct me on this Jason, but traditional libertarianism as I understand it restricts the carrying out of certain life plans that might conflict with other life plans. And you note that, “…no society will ever be able to coordinate all plans…” which leads the principle of “liberty” to appear somewhat arbitrary. I mean, what objective metric can we use to evaluate people’s “life plans?” And if at least some “life plans” are bound to conflict, how do we decide which is more legitimate?Report

        • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          Jason writes:

          “Humans are creatures of will and intellect. These are two things that make us special and, as far as we know, unique.”

          Jason, interesting observation. Of which leads to this question–why, of all the billions of species of life on this planet, were homo sapiens the only organism to have made such a spectacular, cognitive leap? Would it not be just as advantageous for our fellow cousins, (all other primates), to have just as large a brain as ours? What anatomical or cognitive deficiencies were present that caused such a radical evolutionary departure from our hominidae brothers and sisters? The environments were virtually identical for chimps, gorillas, humans, and orangutans. And I’m not a Creationist, just curious.

          Humans are creatures of will and intellect. These are two things that make us special and, as far as we know, unique. AndReport

          • “Will” and “intellect” are unique to humans because they are words emerging from culture, specifically nineteenth century physiological psychology, which evolved into behavioral neuroscience. “Will” and “intellect” make us special and unique because de facto they apply to only humans. In fact, mammals and higher birds are all capable of “initiating action”. A frog, on the other hand, is a mindless automaton.

            Several species of hominid did have brains just as large as humans; Neanderthal brains were larger, for instance. And the slim pickings of the hominoid archeological record casts doubt on the very notion of speciation vis-a-vis human evolution. We likely diverged several times and remixed with each other several times. The groups with the most social cohesion tended to be more successful. And this process continues today with the nation state.Report

      • Avatar stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

        That’s some damn fine writing up there. And the content’s pretty good too 🙂 I personally agree with all of it. Especially this:

        There is no power without unity: the Libertarian had best conclude where along the line between anarchy and tyranny he wants to put down his stake. Doing the hokey-pokey, simultaneously praising collaboration and damning coercion, well, it’s varies between farcical and tragic.Report

    • Avatar stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

      Sure, libertarians can have no reasonable objection to people working together collaboratively. It’s when that collaboration is endowed with the power of government to force others to negotiate with it that libertarians jump ship.

      This sounds stipulative. If the right to organize is basic and fundamental, and that right is understood to mean the right to work collectively to pursue their own economic interests, then it is exactly the kind of thing ‘the power of government’ is expected to protect.

      Coercion exists on both sides: unions request certain benefits or they’ll strike; ownership demands more work for less pay or you lose your job. That the government ought to permit one form of coercion, but ought to be prevented from permitting the other requires an argument.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to stillwater says:

        If the right to organize is basic and fundamental, and that right is understood to mean the right to work collectively to pursue their own economic interests, then it is exactly the kind of thing ‘the power of government’ is expected to protect.

        The government protecting the right to organize and requiring the company to engage in collective bargaining are two very different things. If you and I organize to create a strategy for bargaining with our employer, and he comes in and forcibly prevents us from discussing how to do that, it’s quite possible that he’s violated our rights and that government ought to protect us.

        But to say that our right to organize involves a right to force, as a matter of law, the company owner to negotiate only with our organization* is not the same thing at all.

        Consider an analogy. I think we would all agree that I have a right to negotiate with my boss. He can’t have me thrown in jail or fined for trying to negotiate with him. But that does not mean I have a right to have the law force the boss to negotiate with me. As much as I have a right to try to negotiate with him, he has a right to refuse to negotiate with me.

        The fact that you’re obscuring is that a right to do something does not imply a right to have others respond in a particular way. And in that gap between the two is where libertarians (mostly) stand. You can certainly choose not to stand there with them. You can say that it is “right” to require others to respond in a certain way to our exercise of our rights. But you can’t, as a matter of logic, deny that the gap exists.

        _________________________________
        *Assuming the owner hasn’t already agreed, as a matter of contract, to do so–contracts, of course, should be enforced.Report

        • Avatar stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

          But to say that our right to organize involves a right to force, as a matter of law, the company owner to negotiate only with our organization* is not the same thing at all.

          Unless the right to organize is understood to mean something more than sitting around and talking. Look, I admit that there are various ways to understand the purported ‘right to organize’. I do think, however, that for the right to mean anything at all, it must include the ability to act in the principle that the right imbues. And if ownership can unilaterally prevent labor from expressing that right, by (eg.) hiring non-union workers, then the mere possession of that right means nothing at all.

          The fact that you’re obscuring is that a right to do something does not imply a right to have others respond in a particular way.

          Yes it does. Rights entail obligations, otherwise the whole business of basing society on rights is besides the point. In general, insofar as I have a right to do X, others have an obligation to refrain from engaging in activities that in principle deny the expression of that right.Report

        • Avatar stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

          And by the way, to use the negotiations between a non-union employee and management as a paradigm by which to inform issues regarding the the rights of unions to negotiate with management begs the question. I mean, it really couldn’t be more question begging.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to stillwater says:

            Stillwater,

            Not question-begging at all. All groups are made up of individuals, and then the group acts as an individual. So using an individual-based analogy is a clarifying exercise, not begging the question at all.

            As to your understanding of rights, I think it leads in unsustainable directions. I have a right to free speech–your logic implies that the right is meaningless unless I can ensure someone listens to me. So to make that right meaningful, should I have the attendant right of being able to have government command others to listen?

            Your understanding just isn’t generalizable to other rights. I have a right to purse my dream of employment in the porn industry. i don’t think anyone can deny that I have such a right. But that right is meaningless if no one in the industry employs me, so can I have government require that the porn industry hire me?

            As to rights implying obligations, those obligations are normally only against the government, not against others. My right to have a roof over my head does not obligate you to let me sleep in your house–it only obligates the government not to prohibit anyone from letting me sleep in their house.Report

            • Avatar stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

              I have a right to free speech–your logic implies that the right is meaningless unless I can ensure someone listens to me.

              No. You’re not thinking about this clearly. If you have the right to free speech, you have no right to be heard, but others have an obligation to not violate your right (by shutting you out of the public square, or whatever).

              As to rights implying obligations, those obligations are normally only against the government, not against others.

              Untrue. The entire calculus of individual rights entails individual obligations, a nexus which forms the basis of the social contract. Insofar as other people can violate my rights, they have an obligation not to do so, in insofar as they do (and it violates the law) government is required to act on my behalf.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to stillwater says:

                Well, Stillwater, I’m not sure there’s much point in going on here. My bottom line is that you and I have a right to collaborate in bargaining, but that does not entail that we have a right to have government force our employer to treat us as a single unit. I mean, we do have that legal right, but it doesn’t follow of logical necessity from the fact that we have a right to collaborate and try to act as one.

                The equivalent action to someone suppressing my free speech is the employer preventing us from strategizing together for negotiations. The equivalent to someone ignoring my speech is the employer ignoring our efforts.

                You and I can certainly tell the employer, “you must deal with us as one; you must give us the same wage, the same hours, and the same benefits.” We have the right to do that. But that does not logically entail the right to be successful in our attempts, to be able to force him to give us the same wages, etc. The right to come together voluntarily is not a right to force others to treat us as a single unit.

                My kids have the right to join together as a unit for bargaining on allowance and housecleaning duties. It would be wrong of me to say, “you cannot ever discuss these things together, and you cannot come to me as a group and make your requests as a single unit.” But they do not have a right to have a third party force me to agree to deal with them as a unit. I have a right–whether it is ethical or not is a separate matter, and I make no implications about that–to try to frustrate their efforts to act as a unit.

                My students have a right to come to me as a unit and make demands, about reading loads or timing of tests, or whatnot. That does not imply a right for me to pay any attention to their group demands.

                Back to the free speech example, others having a duty to not prevent me from speaking means only that they have a negative duty, not an affirmative duty. The duty to listen to me would be an affirmative duty. But you are claiming that the employer has an affirmative duty–not just a negative duty to not block the employees from trying to act as a unit, but an affirmative duty to respond to them as a unit. That doesn’t follow. Again, I think you’re taking an outcome-based approach.Report

              • And yet we are legally obliged to recognize corporations as single units.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                Good point. This is clearly another case where judgments consistently fall in only one direction, without presenting any relevant distinctions on which those judgments are based.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                But you are claiming that the employer has an affirmative duty–not just a negative duty to not block the employees from trying to act as a unit, but an affirmative duty to respond to them as a unit.

                Insofar as the right of organizing is understood to mean collective action to pursue shared interests, and the means of expressing that right can be unilaterally violated by ownership, then, yes, that’s what I’m saying. All of this is contingent on accepting the strong view of what the right to organize means. I mean, it just seems like an unargued value preference that permits you to deny that ownership has any obligations wrt labor.

                The alternative to this is to conclude that the ‘right to organize’ effectively means the right to chat about dreams of a better tomorrow. But how does this even make any sense? I mean, the very concept of labor organization implies that it is for a specific purpose: to gain leverage in the negotiating process.

                You obviously don’t agree, and I’m sorry you think we’re done here. But where is the disagreement precisely? Do you reject the strong interpretation of the labor’s right to organize, and opt for the weaker claim in which labor merely has the right to ineffectually plot and scheme? Or do you reject the view that if such a right exists, then ownership does not violate it if they were to (for example) systematically and unilaterally decide to hire scabs (or whatever)?Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to stillwater says:

                That last sentence should read “Or do you (alternatively) accept the view that even if such a right exists ….” (I gotta learn to proof this stuff better.)Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to stillwater says:

                But I don’t agree that my rights create affirmative duties on others. That’s a fundamental point of disagreement, so at least we’ve clarified where we differ.

                I have a right to life, but that doesn’t mean you have an affirmative duty to pull me out of the river when I’m drowning, even if you could do so with no risk to yourself. You have a right to pursue education, but that doesn’t mean my college has a duty to admit you.

                And the right to organize collectively does not mean just the right to chat about a better together. You’re making an all or nothing claim, but there’s definitely a middle ground.

                First, just sharing salary information is advantageous. Why do all employers hate employees talking about their salaries? Because it is effectively a form of collective bargaining. “Hey, Joe’s getting $15/hour, and I’m only getting $13! I want more!”

                Second, employees can collaboratively decide to engage in work actions that aid their negotiations, from slowdowns to strikes. This kind of behavior is almost inevitably useless when engaged in individually (unless you’re a superstar athlete), but can be very effective collectively. That’s risky behavior, no doubt, but if the employer would lose more from bringing in untrained people to replace you, it’s very effective in persuading them to meet demands.

                There’s also the ability to make an employer aware that everyone is dissatisfied, that it’s not just a few troublemakers. That information can have a real effect on an employer.

                Heck, here’s an example. In 1989 I was working in a cafeteria in Yellowstone Nat’l Park. As seasonal labor, we certainly weren’t unionized. We had a manager who was an ass, but a handful of individual complaints to superiors didn’t result in any improvement. One day we went on a very spontaneous wildcat strike. A manager who was superior t our manager soon came rushing over to find out what was going on, and conditions quickly improved for us. As seasonal labor, we individually were among the weakest of all employees anywhere. But collectively we posed the risk that more than half the employees of the cafeteria would walk out in the middle of the busy season, which meant we had real collective power, even though we had no legal status as a bargaining unit.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                But I don’t agree that my rights create affirmative duties on others.

                I don’t either, so we agree on that. Unless you’re construing ‘permitting the exercise of the basic right’ to be an affirmative duty.

                So it must be something else….Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Um, requiring the employer to bargain with the employees as a unit is imposing an affirmative duty.

                I don’t think that’s really disputable.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                Not if denying such bargaining is the violation of a basic right, (which you have yet to tease you’re way through via argument). In which case it’s a negative duty. Good God, man, the sole content of oh so many threads here has been about this very topic!

                But really, this is a great argument technique, a real time saver. I wish you would have stipulated hours ago that there’s indisputably! no inherent problems in positing labors right to organize and the rights of ownership to evade organized labor. Me, and others, wouldn’t have spent so much time disputing it.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Evading bargaining as a denial of a basic right?

                You’re working in a paradigm wholly foreign to me, and which I honestly think makes no logical sense.

                As I said, I think it’s just outcome based. I think it’s fundamentally flawed, and inevitably wrong.

                I honestly don’t see where further discussion can lead us. I don’t meant that nastily, but when two people are working in such radically different paradigms, what’s to be gained?Report

    • Avatar Freddie in reply to James Hanley says:

      Gotta work to eat, gotta eat or die. That’s about as coercive as it gets. Basic libertarian principles of freedom should address this, but they don’t. The fact that the ideology as defined by you is incompatible with reality is your problem and not mine.

      Go to your average miserable workplace. You will find acres of coercion. And yet your commitments to moneyed actors prevents you from seeing it that way.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Freddie says:

        Yeah, when we define coercion that broadly, then we’ve conflated some very different types of behaviors and destroyed our ability to make meaningful distinctions between them. And that leads to the end of ability to engage in truly reasonable debate.

        This kind of smearing of different things together is engaged in only by those intending to obfuscate rather than enlighten.Report

        • Avatar stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

          Then why not enlighten us (well me, anyway) by precisely defining the types of coercion you’re referring to, why they are relevant, and why market-based coercion exerted by ownership and management is categorically different? I (for one) would truly like to know.Report

          • Avatar stillwater in reply to stillwater says:

            Ahh, already did upthread. Thanks.Report

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

            Dang, you beat me to it stillwater.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to stillwater says:

            stillwater,

            The error is in the phrase “market based coercion.”

            When I go into Wal Mart, I’m not coerced. They have a set price they’re willing to accept and I have a set price I’m willing to pay. If those align up nicely, then we make a deal. Otherwise, I walk out of their store and nobody tries to stop me. Where’s the coercion?

            Likewise, if I apply for a job at Wal Mart I have a set price (wage) I’m willing to accept and they have a set price (wage) they’re willing to pay. If those align properly, I get offered, and accept, the job. Otherwise they figuratively walk out of my “labor for sale” store and I don’t try to stop them. Where’s the coercion?

            Coercion involves forcing someone to do something, and in the market no one is forcing anyone to do anything.

            I know the standard argument is that the corporation has more “power” than the individual. But just how does that alleged power play out? Both sides have to agree to an employment contract–each side has equal power to decline. Sure, the prospective employee may need the job more than the corporation needs that particular employee, but that’s still not coercion.

            I know people will argue it is a type of coercion–I had a long argument a couple months ago with a colleague who claims Nike coerces people in developing countries to work for them because those people have no other options. That argument makes no sense to me. I argue that Nike gets those people to work for them by giving them a better option than any other they have.

            Think of where the “market coercion” line of argument leads. Anytime you are in a position where you have better options than someone else, and you act on that, we would be defining your actions as coercive.

            But that’s a far cry from putting a gun to someone’s head, or asking the government to force them into a certain behavior. We might legitimately call that situation “taking advantage” of someone, and there’s no implication here that it has to be considered morally admirable. But to equate it with putting a gun to someone’s head or asking government to effectively put a gun to their head for you seems to me to be conflating substantively different things.

            This gets also to E.C.’s question about whether propaganda/advertising is coercive. Without making any moral implications about those things, I think that to call them coercion is to conflate different things, and importantly it is to devalue the seriousness of real coercion. It’s the difference between seduction and rape–seduction can be pleasant and fun, or it can be really kind of ugly and pressuring. There may not be a bright clear line between them. Yet we recognize a difference, and we treat one as legal and one as a heinous crime.

            If we conflate trying to persuade through advertising with putting a gun to a person’s head by calling them both coercion, haven’t we lost some real analytical purchase? Haven’t we lost sight of really important distinctions?Report

            • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to James Hanley says:

              Propaganda doesn’t kill people, people kill people, especially after being fed a lot of propaganda.

              You’ll accuse me of wanting to conflate again, but how much of a difference is there between seduction and rape?

              A HUGE ONE. When you seduce someone, you make them think they want it (whether they really do/did, who will ever know). When you rape them, you just skip the seduction part.

              But yes yes, I understand there is an important difference. But I also think that in that difference there is something sinister, and that is, the ability to convince someone that they want something (whether or not it’s in their best interest) and the ability to force them to take it, full well knowing that they don’t want it.

              For me, the key difference is that propaganda coerces without the receiver being aware, which seems to me to be the more sinister part. Would you rather have the Juggernaut telling you want to do, or Charles Xavier incepting the idea into your head without your knowledge?

              Now advertising can be good. You can tell me, hey, here is a drug that is fantastic for headaches. It clears them up, and you’ll feel as sunny and fun as this guy. BUT, it also has these negative side effects that I’m going to tell you about really quickly and nearly unintelligibly.

              In that case, we’ve gotten pretty close to me making a somewhat informed decision.

              Now an image of a beach babe smoking a luck strike with no surgeon general’s warning, less so.

              So maybe I should amend what I said earlier, on your insightful behalf (I was too rash earlier in my definitional pronouncements).

              Advertising is not always coercive, but persuasion is. If I’ve been persuaded, it isn’t willed. I think it’s the difference between:

              1) being persuaded to do something
              vs.
              2) deciding to do something (based perhaps on someone else’s presentation of arguments/evidence)

              But that get’s at this whole power issue.

              Knowledge is power, no? So if you have more information, like say, your drug cures my headache but gives me diarrhea, and I only know that the drug cures my headache, but not the other part, I could conceivably “decide” to take the drug if having the runs is not important to me, thus that extra info wouldn’t matter. But I don’t think that would often be the case.

              So do you hold that knowledge is not power? And that unequal power results in unfair business transactions?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                how much of a difference is there between seduction and rape?

                Oh, about ten to life.

                As to advertising and persuasion, it may not be hard to persuade someone to try a product. Humans are natural experimenters after all (it still amazes me that “primitive” people discovered you could take certain poisonous plants, run them through three or four different operations, and come out with something both tasty and safe).

                The trick is for advertising to persuade you to try something twice. At that point all it really can do is remind you of your prior experience, and then it’s either reminding you of a pleasant experience or an unpleasant one.

                Campbell’s Soup once tried doing away with advertising, to save money. After all, everyone knew of the “red aisle,” and if they wanted soup, that’s where they want. But it turned out that people forgot to put soup on their grocery list if they weren’t reminded. So Campbell’s actually lost money from that decision, and responded with their classic “mm mm good” and “soup is good food” campaigns. Persuasion? Seduction? No, just reminding us of something pleasant.

                Conversely, no amount of advertising can persuade (using your term carefully here, to include implications of coercion) us to try something we dislike a second time. For example, McDonald’s McRib sandwich. My mom loved it, but I thought it was vile. I literally would not eat one for free, would have to be paid to eat it. No advertising campaign could persuade me to eat another one.

                As to your example of smoking, I grant that addictive substances may establish the limits of my general argument. Addictive substances test the boundaries of libertarianism’s insistence on treating adults as competent decision-makers. I’m not sure just where I stand on how those things ought to be treated, and I can’t offer more than the most feeble objections to any argument that advertising/propaganda/persuasion ought to be more heavily constrained there. I still wouldn’t call it coercion, though, as I think that conflates two distinct problems. But I agree that addiction is a problem that justifies a different analysis.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to James Hanley says:

                Conversely, no amount of advertising can persuade (using your term carefully here, to include implications of coercion) us to try something we dislike a second time.

                You didn’t really engage with me on this.

                What about all the times you do like something, but it has negative consequences you didn’t know about?

                For example, you love water bottles, but the chemistry of the plastic leads the water to be harmful after sitting in it for to long. Do I stop buying the water bottles because I don’t like them, no. Do I stop buying them because I have learned something new that now factors into my decision calculus, perhaps.

                The same thing could be said about any number of things. There can be negative consequences to things we like that we may not be aware of.
                And if the advertiser does not make us aware of them, we can not enter into the transaction on equal footing, and I may be convinced to do something that, had I known as much as the other person, I would not have done.

                Conversely, no amount of advertising can persuade (using your term carefully here, to include implications of coercion) us to try something we dislike a second time.

                Liking and disliking is one part of entering into the exchange. There is an entire other dimension you haven’t addressed yet, namely, disparity in access to the information.

                So again I’ll ask, is information power? And why isn’t power coercive? If I trade my little brother for his most awesome baseball card, cause he’s 5 and doesn’t know many things about it, like it’s value and rarity, and I say, hey, I’ll give you 10 candy bars for it, and he’s like, awesome, have I not coerced him into the trade by withholding info? That is to say, if I had been forth coming, and if as a result he would have chosen not to trade, then by not being forthcoming and getting him to trade based on false understanding, how have I not coerced him?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                E.C.,

                The theory of perfect markets requires perfect information. The less perfect the information, the greater the potential for market failure. The greater the potential for market failure, the more justified government is in intervening.

                The real question is what kind of intervention? Some people immediately leap to regulatory intervention–i.e., bans. I prefer that government intervene by ensuring that greater information be made available (that can also be regulatory, so I’m using that word a bit loosely here, I admit). Government is a notoriously poor regulator (that is, it successfully passes lots of regulations, but it’s track record of achieving good outcomes it not so great) but I think it has a particular ability to disseminate information, and in those cases should do so. I also staunchly support food labeling laws. I even support country of origin laws, even though I think it’s a pretty stupid basis for making consumption decisions. If that’s the basis others want to use, I think they ought to have that information.

                It may be a good time to note–since I haven’t been around here in a while–that I’m not against all government regulation, just most of it.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                Take it from someone who traded on the floor of CBOT and has done a fair number of expert systems for futures trading: the need for perfect information is bunk. What’s needed is to know when a big futures trader climbs up to the back of the SELL trading octagon with a thousand-lot.

                What the market needs is a system to separate Winners from Losers. The titanic failure of the credit default swaps markets demonstrates why such contracts should be publicly traded. Government is a fine regulator: account settlement separates winners from losers with almost perfect efficiency.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to James Hanley says:

                So again I’ll ask, is information power? And why isn’t power coercive?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                , is information power? And why isn’t power coercive?

                OK, the popular saying is “knowledge is power.” I think it’s legitimate enough to phrase that as “information is power.” But what exactly do we mean by that? I think we mean knowledge and information are advantageous–they work to your benefit, and you’re disadvantaged by not having them.

                If we say that type of power equals coercion, then anytime someone is advantaged by information that someone else doesn’t have, they are coercing them. And then, again, I think we’re using the term coercion so loosely that we lose the power to make meaningful distinctions.

                Let’s start with coercion as being a gun to the head (as Mao said, “power comes from the barrel of a gun”). Do we want to lump in the benefits of knowledge and information into that same category? If so, haven’t we obscured very important differences between them?

                For example, when I go out to buy a used car, I know how much I’m willing to pay, but the person selling doesn’t. So I may be able to bargain him down below the price I’m willing to pay. Likewise, he knows the price he’s willing to accept, and I don’t, so he will try to bargain me up to a price greater than what he’s willing to settle for. Are we coercing each other? Is our negotiation at all similar enough to one of us putting a gun to the other’s head and forcing payment at a certain price that we really want to use the same word to describe the two actions?

                When I go into the markets in Damascus and spend an hour bargaining over the price of a souvenir, is that in any meaningful way comparable to walking into one of those stores with a gun and just taking the souvenir without paying?

                I hadn’t thought about it before (the great advantage of decent discussions like this, is the way they bring new insights) but it seems to me that we use the word power too broadly. Assuming information is properly called power, is all power coercive? My car has power, but that’s not coercive. The other night in an ice storm we lost power, but later got it back. Did we lose some degree of coercive ability then get it back? I know that sounds silly, but it indicates the looseness of the word “power.”

                I have the power to choose whether I am going to go to the movies today–that choice is, we say, within my power. Is anyone coerced by my choice to go to the movies or not?

                So when we say “power is coercive,” I think we mean, “certain types of power are coercive,” and then we have to set about figuring out which types of power are. And it seems to me that information is not always coercive, even if sometimes it is.

                Perhaps the problem is really in our language, which isn’t always fine enough. Perhaps we need a taxonomy, like the Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, etc. taxonomy. Perhaps seduction and rape belong to the same larger class of things, but that we lack a word for that higher-order class, so we resort to using the word coercion, even though it is more accurately used for a lower-order classification that includes rape but not seduction. And so on.Report

            • Avatar stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

              Thanks for the response. And to clarify one point, when I wrote ‘market-based coercion’, I was a little too loose. I meant the type of coercion that management can employ against labor that is often justified by appeal to the market.

              I think your argument really can be summarized by this one sentence from your comment:

              I argue that Nike gets those people to work for them by giving them a better option than any other they have.

              There are many problems with this (I know you won’t agree). The first is that oppression can lead to such dire circumstances that moving up to wage slavery can be considered a blessing, but that doesn’t entail that the practice isn’t coercive. In fact, the argument employed by the anti-sweat shop folks is that the wages are only the least of the oppressive measures employed by factory managers (I’ll leave out the list).

              Another thing is that institutional structures imposed by domestic governments in these sweat shops (the maquiladoras are a good example of this) restrict the movement of labor out of the work zone, force them to work long hours against their will, and often don’t pay them the promised wages. To say that the people freely, or non-coercively, entered into that agreement would be false.

              Now, these specific points generalize in one important sense: to say that people are free to take a situation that is marginally worse than they once had or desired, but one that it is still better than having no situation at all, is very close to the definition of coercion (albeit non-physical coercion), given the two choices being offered.

              Likewise, but importantly, an employee demanding a raise or he’ll leave, knowing that management needs his services, is an example of coercion as well.

              And regarding this:

              Think of where the “market coercion” line of argument leads. Anytime you are in a position where you have better options than someone else, and you act on that, we would be defining your actions as coercive.

              I surely didn’t intend to say anything suggesting this line of argument. So if I did, it’s because I wasn’t as clear as I could have been.Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to stillwater says:

                Thee nature of current capital/state collaboration is inherently coercive, and this goes well beyond merely buying things. I would say capitalism – not to be confused with free markets – is coercive by design.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                E.D.,

                What do you see as the difference between capitalism and free markets?

                I see capitalism as a natural consequence of free markets that develops when the returns to capital accumulation outweigh the costs of large-scale organization.

                I.e., it takes large quantities of capital to create an efficient auto company. That doesn’t mean there’s any conflict with the free market, though. Someone asks others to invest some of their capital in a car company, and people freely decide whether to do so or not. No free market contradictions. Of course those are contractual arrangements, enforced by the state, but so are most free market transactions.

                Now if you mean the corporate/state entanglement, I don’t think capitalism is the appropriate word, but I’ll wholeheartedly and unreservedly agree that that is a coercive arrangement. In fact it was the recognition of the corporate/state entanglement that shifted me from standard run-of-the-mill liberal to libertarian.Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to James Hanley says:

                I understand that many libertarians hold their beliefs because they see state and corporate entanglement. But I think this discussion of inequality has shown me that many libertarians are still not aware enough of just how integral that entanglement is to the extreme levels of disparity in this country. No libertarian should be championing inequality, or championing creature comforts as illustrative of a successful middle class.

                On your capitalist vs. free market question I’ll have to answer later. The baby calls!Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                Well, I’m certainly not championing inequality, so I hope you’re not slipping into that implication that I’ve already repeatedly objected to.

                As far as championing creature comforts as the indicator of a successful middle class, I sure am, and I have yet to see anything resembling a persuasive objection to that. Again, are you willing to swap places with someone in a place/time with radically diminished creature comforts? An 18th century Welsh coalminer, perhaps? I do see creature comforts as being a pretty significant indicator of well-being, and I’m waiting to see the coherent rebuttal of that.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                What do you see as the difference between capitalism and free markets?

                You didn’t ask me, but I’ll answer anyway (this will be too short, and maybe incite a riot, but…).

                Recall that the justification of any particular theory of political-economy is that it better serves the public interest and promotes the general welfare (given its consistency with basic rights) than any competing theory.

                Given this, free market ideology is the idea that markets free of monopoly interests, state sponsored extra-market support of favored sectors or individuals, and unnecessary government regulation or intervention, would best serve the public interest.

                Capitalism, on the other hand, is the idea – in short – that unmitigated greed, expressed by maximizing profits within a monopoly controlled market or via state sponsorship, is the best way to serve the public interest.

                Pretty stark contrast, don’t you think?Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                Free markets are wonderful things. Capitalism, on the other hand, is an ideology based on elimination of competition in the market place, rent seeking, trade restrictions that favor individual investors or corporations rather than markets, complete capture of regulatory agencies that would report or prosecute corruption or other illegal practices, the ruthless insistence that any wage is too high, etc.

                Adam Smith worried about all these things too. Capitalists don’t like to be reminded of that. (Maybe he wasn’t pure enough, you know?) I’d like to hear more of your thoughts on this tho. Separate post?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to stillwater says:

                Stillwater,

                Agreed. I don’t agree.

                As to your closing line, I didn’t mean to imply that you intended that line of argument. I am claiming that this is where your line of argument leads.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to James Hanley says:

          And yet you respond in general platitudes:

          This kind of smearing of different things together is engaged in only by those intending to obfuscate rather than enlighten.

          When you disagree it’s obfuscation, when you agree it’s enlightenment.

          What better definition of coercion would you use?Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

          Conversely, the Libertarian has made his bed very hard. Collective forces are sums of individual vectors. The Libertarian likes the individual vector but gets a bit wobbly when it comes to that Collective business.

          When I think Libertarian, I think of Murray Bookchin. Maybe that’s an unfair rush-to-ideation. Bookchin was a respectable man in my book, (far more respectable than his violent and idiotic counterparts in the Sixties) a scholar of Trotsky and the father of Communalism.

          All politics is local, goes the old cliché. Bookchin promulgated Small Government primarily focused at the municipal level. And that’s where Bookchin’s theories splinter into absurdity: local politics is a vicious, partisan thing. I know a thing or three about local politics: attend your own city council meetings to see how fractious things can become. In Eau Claire Wisconsin, “King John” Menard has kept every other hardware chain from opening a franchise in “his” town. The old boy was found to have hauled off arsenic- and chromium-laden hazardous waste so he could throw it in his household garbage cans. Menard’s in Eau Claire is proof local politics can be completely dominated by a single man. Hell, King John got $4.2 million from the State of Wisconsin on a $20 grand investment in then-Governor Doyle’s campaign.

          The dissected bunny rabbit never jumps again. The Libertarians, in their insistence on dissecting away the individual from the collective, espouse a terrible fallacy, one which goes to the heart of Libertarian thought across the spectrum.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

            Collective forces are sums of individual vectors. The Libertarian likes the individual vector but gets a bit wobbly when it comes to that Collective business.

            Maybe some libertarians do, but it’s hardly a general rule. think of Hayek, for example, who is something of a god to many libertarians. He argued that human institutions are the product of human action but not human design. That is, he was fascinated by the outcomes of humans working together–the collective forces of individual vectors as you put it.

            But for a libertarian, those collective forces should be the outcome of voluntary individual vectors, not coerced ones. When it’s voluntary, libertarianism has no problem with the collective. I grant that certain libertarians (or may I say “libertarians”) are so individualistic that they seem to hate any socially collaborative efforts. But there’s nothing in the logic of libertarianism that necessarily leads to that outcome, and I think much that leads away from that outcome.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

              Maybe some libertarians do, but it’s hardly a general rule. think of Hayek, for example, who is something of a god to many libertarians. He argued that human institutions are the product of human action but not human design. That is, he was fascinated by the outcomes of humans working together–the collective forces of individual vectors as you put it.

              So stipulated. As I said, my views on Libertarian philosophy are mostly derived from Bookchin and Trotsky: I studied both in horrified fascination. I wrote a long series of essays on Trotsky: if he hadn’t been exiled and murdered, the world would have been a very different place indeed.

              Hayek, Mises and the rest of the Austrians are not to be taken seriously. Once you’ve gotten past all this unscientific bafflegap about Spontaneous Order and the rest of that fact-free twaddle, you’re left with a truckload of criticism with nothing to replace it. We saw what happened when people did take the Austrians seriously: the results were not pretty.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I’ll give you Mises and most of the Austrians, but you’re wrong about Hayek. And you’re wrong about spontaneous order. Evolution by natural selection is an example of spontaneous order, and it’s quite scientific. It also applies quite well to human social organization. If not, explain to me who exactly designed our current social order, if not a multitude of individual decisions generally made in complete ignorance of all the other individual decisions that were simultaneously being made?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                Human society is shaped by those with the power to shape it. It is never a spontaneous thing: no sooner does a crowd form than it assumes an identity of its own, into which the individual elements are subsumed.

                To be sure, Hayek was a great thinker armed with the wisdom of his day but he extrapolated too much from very little evidence. The Libertarian presumes too much of and ascribes too much power to the individual. The only leader is the leader of the crowd, of whom Gustave le Bon speaks:

                As soon as a certain number of living beings are gathered together, whether they be animals or men, they place themselves instinctively under the authority of a chief.

                In the case of human crowds the chief is often nothing more than a ringleader or agitator, but as such he plays a considerable part. His will is the nucleus around which the opinions of the crowd are grouped and attain to identity. He constitutes the first element towards the organisation of heterogeneous crowds, and paves the way for their organisation in sects; in the meantime he directs them. A crowd is a servile flock that is incapable of ever doing without a master.

                The leader has most often started as one of the led. He has himself been hypnotised by the idea, whose apostle he has since become. It has taken possession of him to such a degree that everything outside it vanishes, and that every contrary opinion appears to him an error or a superstition. An example in point is Robespierre, hypnotised by the philosophical ideas of Rousseau, and employing the methods of the Inquisition to propagate them.

                The leaders we speak of are more frequently men of action than thinkers. They are not gifted with keen foresight, nor could they be, as this quality generally conduces to doubt and inactivity.

                They are especially recruited from the ranks of those morbidly nervous, excitable, half-deranged persons who are bordering on madness. However absurd may be the idea they uphold or the goal they pursue, their convictions are so strong that all reasoning is lost upon them. Contempt and persecution do not affect them, or only serve to excite them the more. They sacrifice their personal interest, their family — everything. The very instinct of self-preservation is entirely obliterated in them, and so much so that often the only recompense they solicit is that of martyrdom. The intensity of their faith gives great power of suggestion to their words. The multitude is always ready to listen to the strong-willed man, who knows how to impose himself upon it. Men gathered in a crowd lose all force of will, and turn instinctively to the person who possesses the quality they lack.

                Nations have never lacked leaders, but all of the latter have by no means been animated by those strong convictions proper to apostles. These leaders are often subtle rhetoricians, seeking only their own personal interest, and endeavouring to persuade by flattering base instincts. The influence they can assert in this manner may be very great, but it is always ephemeral. The men of ardent convictions who have stirred the soul of crowds, the Peter the Hermits, the Luthers, the Savonarolas, the men of the French Revolution, have only exercised their fascination after having been themselves fascinated first of all by a creed. They are then able to call up in the souls of their fellows that formidable force known as faith, which renders a man the absolute slave of his dream.

                Slaves of the dream. If ever there was a slave to the dream, it was Hayek.Report

              • It seems like you’re taking historical narrative as historical fact.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Christopher Carr says:

                Sadly, History and Facts seldom square up, heh. I can only offer my own opinions, and am always taught by those who actually hold a position. I’ve watched Groupthink at work. It’s an ugly sight. If the Libertarian believes it all comes down to the Individual, I don’t see it in real life. Doesn’t mean it isn’t true, just means I’ve never seen it.Report

              • I don’t think libertarianism was ever intended to be a positive description of how things always work, but a normative description of how things should work. It’s more an alternative model based on allowing individuals the maximum amount of freedoms to pursue the things they want to pursue without being coerced and without coercing others.

                Granted, libertarianism has suffered from crude utopianism, but for the most part, people are happier when they are able to pursue the things they want according to their own knowledge.Report

              • Let me rephrase that slightly:

                I don’t think libertarianism was ever intended to be a positive description of how things always work, but a normative description of how things should or could work given the right conditions. It’s more an alternative model based on allowing individuals the maximum amount of freedoms to pursue the things they want to pursue without being coerced and without coercing others.Report

              • Does that make you a crude determinist, modernist then, BlaiseP?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Christopher Carr says:

                That’s one way of putting it, I suppose. I’ve read Road to Serfdom and it’s quite the blood-stirring work, but I could disabuse anyone who takes his economics seriously in five minutes on an actual trading floor.Report

              • But trading is a game. It’s totally different. I have a friend who is a trader; he spends most of his time betting on government policy instead of financing companies with good fundamentals.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

            Too much focus on the collective at the expense of the individual has been done a handful of times in history as well.

            Scylla and Charybdis seem a decent metaphor. Sure, let’s say that life, civilization, The Children, and etc requires a balance of both.

            Over time, have we drifted more to Charybdis than we have in the past?

            Even if you want to criticize those for wanting to be sooooo close to Scylla that it be certain that folks be eaten, can we still acknowledge that maybe we ought to be a little less close to Charybdis than we happen to be right now?

            (And if we are to err on who we are closest to… isn’t it best to err closer to Scylla?)

            Or would only a barbarian consider such an analogy apt?Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Freddie says:

        Gotta work to eat, gotta eat or die. That’s about as coercive as it gets. Basic libertarian principles of freedom should address this, but they don’t. The fact that the ideology as defined by you is incompatible with reality is your problem and not mine.

        Go to your average miserable workplace. You will find acres of coercion. And yet your commitments to moneyed actors prevents you from seeing it that way.

        Freddie, you make it very hard to agree with you, which is what I’ve been preparing to do. At least with a lot of the main post, anyway.

        Here though you conflate basic facts of nature — work or starve — with things that we can prevent humans from doing with law.

        If you would really blame libertarians for the fact that wealth is ultimate made, not legislated, then there is little common ground between us. Abolish the toil of the workplace, and you abolish the ability to eat. I wish it were otherwise. It isn’t. Value can’t be wished into existence.

        We can certainly discuss how difficult the toil must be, and of course I prefer less difficult to more. Who doesn’t? But getting there isn’t always so easy, and a lot of the shortcuts lead nowhere that we want to be.Report

  18. Avatar stillwater says:

    Good suggestions and analysis here. But you’re final comment

    In short, any contentions vis-a-vis unions and management should be based on the fact that our economy is global, but our political jurisdiction only comprises a small part of that economy.

    seems to me to undermine much of it. Capital has always gained from open labor policies – either by bringing outside labor to capital centers, or by bringing capital centers to outside labor. In that sense, a global economy based on easy movement of capital without any cost in repatriating either the goods and services, or the profits accrued, inherently tilts towards capital and against labor. In this sense, the current era of globalization is no different than the Gilded Age, which gave rise to the labor union movement.

    The goals of labor unions have always been to restrict ownership’s access to available competing labor, particularly labor that will undermine the meager wage gains that experience and entrenchment sometimes permit. So a solution based on giving up on ‘failed’ domestic unions and resourcing those workers to developing countries only exacerbates the fundamental problem by creating even more readily available – and competing – labor sources for capital to relocate to.

    And this may be fine in the near term, if a person views the US primarily as a service economy. But outsourcing of those services, and offshoring of the capital centers providing them, are inevitable as the number of educated, lower-paid people increases in cheaper labor markets.

    It seems to me the solution is to support and expand the presence of unions in this country (if that means fundamentally shaking up the work-ethic, the political affiliations, the class interests adopted by them, then so be it). But unions aren’t, in my view, the only answer here. Preventing the continued erosion of domestic middle class labor sectors due to outsourcing and capital movement to cheaper labor, as well as (perhaps) restricting the flow of cheaper labor into the country, seems to me necessary. That is, after all, the ultimate goal of organized labor: to restrict ownership’s ability to use labor competition to drive down wages and benefits.

    This may perhaps be accomplished by something as simple as a raising the tax on repatriating profits accrued from outsourced, foreign business ventures. A tax on this income would serve the practical purpose of encouraging business to retain domestic labor, thereby strengthening labor markets (from the labor’s point of view) while at the same time funding the overall increase in necessary domestic services from taxes on the increased income that results from neo-liberal policies.Report

    • Avatar stillwater in reply to stillwater says:

      Oops. This was meant to reply to Cristopher Carr.Report

    • “(A) global economy based on easy movement of capital without any cost in repatriating either the goods and services, or the profits accrued, inherently tilts towards capital and against labor.”

      Yes, and that explains the inequality quite nicely. It’s not that the middle class is getting relatively poorer so much as it is that the richest class of Americans is getting infinitely richer through access to a much larger economy. This puts a hole in the standard far left narrative of zero-sum pies that the rich keep taking bigger pieces of. In the real world, globalization results in a super-rich super-minority at the top and (much) cheaper consumer goods for the rest. Is anyone going to argue against this?Report

  19. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I never thought about a libertarian/labor alliance, which is strange because my father was a union rep for 20+ years (IBEW) and his politics are basically right wing libertarian. The flipside to this, of course, is that whether or not unions and libertarians have found the alliance sensible, there has long been an alliance between state paternalism and corporatism.Report

  20. Avatar Chris_H says:

    “and in a cyclical political system that ensures that such a takeover will eventually take place.”

    This needn’t be so. In other Western European countries, there’s not such a huge swing between elections. There’s much more focus on what is to be done, not philosophical warfare over things that’ll never come to pass. It’s like American politics is one big blog comments section or something — everyone wants to prove their worldview once and for all, but people neither have the power to do anything nor are they held accountable for their ideas. I mean, Palin can babble on about this or that, but she will never have the power to prove her theories wrong (which is great for her alienated followers anyway). Where governments give more power to parties, those parties are less focused on ideological battles, and more focused on the policy problems. Applied here, the *actual* problem is how best to tackle the major inequality in the U.S. This isn’t solved by quoting Hayak or debating Rawls, but can be addressed by getting rid of the filibuster and getting rid of some veto points. That way, the Dems couldn’t conveniently blame lack of action on their lack of power, the EFCA would be a reality, and unions would be more powerful. As a bonus, the GOP would be less nuts because their failures wouldn’t be government’s fault, but their own.

    “Recent history gives us every reason not to trust our ability to maintain even the existing social welfare state.”

    This is the same sort of anti-state urges that fuel libertarians. I understand the frustration, and this sentiment is definitely symptomatic of the times, but liberals always tend to re-double their efforts to make government and parties more responsive, rather than attack them and let them rot.

    “My contention is that unionism represents an alternative to government social programs that can slow the growth of government and act as a third force to counterbalance both government and the corporation.”

    This is incredibly interesting. But, like other “liberal-tarian” proposals from the left, there’s absolutely zero movement from libertarian groups. Like you said: think tank-types aren’t interested in biting the hand that feeds, and in any case, those philosophical-type libertarians don’t make up much of the populace. Besides, these sort of thought experiments wouldn’t be necessary if we had a government that worked.Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *