Labor Roundtable: The Labor Movement, Redistributive Justice, and Procedural Fairness

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189 Responses

  1. Avatar Ferny Reyes says:

    The problem is that Americans seem to believe that there is such a thing as procedural fairness.Report

  2. More specifically, I contend that the labor movement will fail to win many converts because it either cannot or will not approach the issues as most Americans do: by focusing on procedural fairness, rather than substantive outcomes.

    Thus, the fact that as many Americans disfavor as favor public employee unions strikes liberals as evidence of a stupid or brainwashed population captured by powerful corporate interests.

    These two statements appear to contradict each other. The reader (i.e., me) sees that “most Americans” approach issues of redistributive justice through the lens of procedural fairness and yet also learns that at an apparently equal number of Americans favor as disfavor public employees’ unions, with all their procedural unfairness.

    Now, I realize, these statements are not in direct contradiction or even necessarily contradictory. Maybe the split of “percentage of Americans who support public employee unions” as opposed to those who do not is 20% to 20%, with 60% undecided (obviously, I did not read Mr. Kowal’s link). Maybe the American proceduralists simply don’t see the procedural disadvantages enjoyed by the public employee unions. Still, Mr. Kowal is making two different claims that don’t entirely jive with each other: so many Americans are proceduralists while so many of them also favor public employee unions.

    As for this quotation:

    (Incidentally, the same basic argument runs with respect to wealthy financiers. Mainstream Americans are not overly bothered by the notion that someone, somewhere, might be very rich. They are bothered instead by the idea that they might have become rich because of unfair tax policies, unfair regulatory schemes, or outright fraud—all of which are examples of procedural unfairness.)

    Maybe “unfair tax policies” etc. are merely the reasons people give, but perhaps their underlying reasoning is “that guy’s too rich and he shouldn’t be….something must be unfair about the process!” Of course, good luck getting people to admit that, but to the extent that Mr. Kowal’s argument depends on the claim that most Americans value proceduralism–assuming, as Ferny Reyes points out above, that there is such an animal or that it resides in the US of A–then it is possible this argument of “all most people want is procedural fairness” is not very strong.Report

    • Avatar tom van dyke says:

      The crisis is public sector unions bankrupting the states; “corporations!” are a separate issue, but the diversionary tactic is to conflate them. Economist filmmaker Michael Moore was just doing this in Madison, blaming the rich, corporations and other blahblah.

      Mickey Kaus noticed this tactic a week ago.

      Kevin Drum Gives Up on Unionism: Isn’t it odd that the defense of unionism on the left by Paul Krugman and Mother Jones‘ Kevin Drum focuses almost exclusively on labor’s role as “countervailing” political power to business–especially its role in supporting the Democratic party with money and manpower? Time was pro-labor economists argued mainly about the actual effect of unions within individual firms and industries–they raised wages, we were told, not only redistributing profits but providing workers with a “voice” that even resulted in increased productivity. You don’t hear these arguments that much anymore. After the collapse of two of the three big UAW auto firms–beaten in the market by non-union American factories run by Honda, Hyundai and Toyota–the idea the unions actually help employers compete has apparently become too implausible for Drum and Krugman to advance with a straight face.

      Read more:

      • I wasn’t particularly screaming “corporations!,” at least not in the comment you appear to have been addressing.

        For what it’s worth, I should say that as a general rule, I recognize that the issues of corporate wealth, employee organizing, et cetera, und so weiter, are too complicated to cry “much of anything!”Report

        • Avatar tom van dyke says:

          I agree and thx, Mr. Corneille. My comment wasn’t directed at you particularly, and I apologize for the confusion.

          However, Michael Moore was indeed screeding on “the injustice of it all” in Madison. There’s a certain game of hide-the-salami going on here, changing the subject from the current crisis, the public union/Democrat Party circle, that of buying votes [and politically active boots on the ground] with the taxpayers’ money.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Huh? Honda has trade unions. Has them in the UK and of course China.Report

    • Avatar Tim Kowal says:


      My post deals in pretty broad abstractions. The validity of my argument does not depend on Americans consistently favoring process over substance in all cases. I’m talking about the general framework underlying most decision making. Incidentally, there’s an interesting piece about how most people think about politics at Legal Insurrection:

      • Avatar tom van dyke says:

        Thx for the link, Mr. Kowal. The money grafs on the current issue:

        People are also more reluctant to take things away than to not begin giving them in the first place. People often don’t like being the bad guy. Thus, asking about taking away collective bargaining rights is in some ways a biased wording (and not just because of the loaded word “rights”) compared to asking whether or not public employees should negotiate their salaries. On the other hand, there is a real challenge to producing a media narrative that words the situation any other way.

        4. There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch – But As Long As It’s On The Menu, People Will Order It

        When not forced to prioritize, people tend to prefer cutting taxes and increasing or retaining individual spending items. Combined with the inclination not to assent to negative proposals, this will lead to opposing specific cuts to government even while at the same time supporting smaller government in theory.

        This also means that the tough decisions required to rein in runaway spending will usually be unpopular, at least without political cover from a severe crisis paired with bipartisan consensus or extremely unpopular scapegoats. The question facing Republicans is not necessarily “How can we balance the budget in a way that does not cost public support,” but “Given that the Democrats are unwilling to forgo political advantage for the sake of the country, how can we save our fiscal future at the lowest political cost.”

        5. Options Provided Sometimes Matter

        Pollsters usually provide options for respondents’ answers to each question. Sometimes the manner in which the policy space is divided can influence results. For instance, the recent NYT/CBS poll on public sector unions asks if people prefer balancing the budget by raising taxes, cutting public employee benefits, cutting roads, or cutting education. The pollsters note that a plurality prefer to raise taxes. In dividing spending cuts into multiple options, while only having one tax increase option, the poll creates the illusion that more people back tax increases than spending cuts, when in fact more people opted for the latter.Report

      • Mr. Kowal,

        Thanks for your response (and I do realize my comments here have been picking nits more than is perhaps called for), but it does seem to me that the “abstractions'” relevancy rests at least on the way people talk about things, if not deeper, more underlying attitudes.

        If it is your argument, as someone clarified below and as you appeared to agree in your follow-up comment, that liberals merely trend toward outcomes while conservatives merely trend toward process (and the trending being conversed when it’s a question of foreign affairs than of domestic issues), then I see your point more clearly.Report

        • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

          Mr. Corneille,

          I think that’s a fair recapitulation. “Trending” is an interesting word for what I’m referring to, and I think a helpful term. I might also couch the concept in terms of worldviews, as Mr. Van Dyke referenced, qualifying it by observing that by no means do we always act consistently with our worldviews.

          The overall idea is to hopefully provide a basic model by which we can begin to explain why “the other side” thinks the way it does: e.g., why liberals don’t think public sector unions are such a “bad” thing (i.e., that no political/legal “correction” is necessary), and why conservatives don’t think people falling on hard luck is such a “bad” thing (i.e., that no political/legal “correction” necessary).Report

  3. Public employee unions lobby against laws, such as Right to Work, that prohibit coercive and anti-competitive practices.

    Whatever else may be said about the unfair procedural advantages (special-exemption-from-generally-available-procedural-fairness), lobbying against right to work laws does not mean lobbying against right to work laws only as they apply to public employee unions.

    The disparity in substantive outcomes that results between public and private employees—despite their being otherwise similarly situated—is evidence of the fundamental procedural problem.

    This seems to be a bit question-begging. It seems to me that part of your argument is that public employee unions are not similarly situated to begin with, hence the procedural unfairness.

    Look, I have a lot of qualms with the idea of public employee unions, for many of the reasons Mr. Kowal cites. But this argument appears a bit too jingoistic for my tastes, and poses what seems to me a false dichotomy: procedural fairness or substantive outcomes. I realize that Mr. Kowal is, in part, arguing merely that this is how liberals and their opponents (conservatives? libertarians?) see things, and to some extent, he is right–they both talk past each other. But do liberals really, as a whole, insist on exactly equal substantive outcomes? Do those who oppose them insist that procedures should be set in stone or never allow for any exceptions or for corrections of “market failures” if and when they exist?Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      Depending on which liberal you talk to, the answer seems to vary. Some think that the government should guarantee a middle class existence to any who seek it (and bell curves & economic realities be damned). Others think the government should just guarantee that every person have access to the opportunities to achieve the middle class (i.e. access to education, health, and economic opportunities).Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        A: None of the above. Liberals are more interested in how the process works. See, both Conservatives and Liberals understand most people don’t vote. Don’t appeal to the masses, they don’t know what they want and usually never will, until things get so bad they will turn out to vote. Even then, it’s usually a Throw Out the Bums message that gets ’em off their dead asses.

        And let’s dispense with another myth: most Conservatives aren’t rich. To motivate a poor man, you have to scare him. That’s true for both sides, by the way.

        Most Liberals I know consider political power according to Maxwell’s Field Equations. Think of Faraday’s Law of Induction: rotate a small magnet quickly or a large magnet slowly to get the same induction. It’s hard to get lots of people to join your cause, but you don’t need very many to make a significant impact if you can charge up the right people and apply it to a political motor.

        Conservatives have known this for many years: I always laff when I hear people getting angry about Special Interests. That’s democracy in action. All interests are special. The very first lobbyist was some guy who worked to get benefits for the veterans of the Revolutionary War.

        Liberals understand a few things about how Conservatism works: the Conservative can back the status quo, right up to the point where it stops being the status quo. Then they just look stupid. They’re always two steps behind, politically, like they were during Civil Rights. But they have a countervailing advantage: they let the Liberals run through the political minefield and make all the mistakes.

        Liberals know the Middle Class is an illusion. We know there’s a growing fraction of poor people in this country. But the poor are hard to motivate: they don’t see that they have any input. They don’t have the money, they don’t have the time to participate. But given the right stimulus, in this case, the predictably awful track record of Conservatives and their Status Quo business (and that’s inescapable, because the Conservative is always trying to sell his stuff past its By Date) , well, they turn out in great numbers, like they did for Obama.

        But as with every issue, the poor don’t stay on track. They didn’t turn out in 2010, and the Conservatives were so angry, they did. So there you have it. It has nothing to do with the Middle Class or Entitlements or any of that happy horseshit. It’s a question of who represents the poor at any given time.Report

  4. Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

    @ Tim

    I don’t have an argument against your bullet point list, but I’d like to point out that simply substituting a few words in here or there (and not changing any of the underlying logic) gets you an equally valid list pointing out difficulties with corporations.

    The reality is that individuals aggregated in an organization fundamentally don’t act like disorganized aggregated individuals, even like minded ones. A collective organization, of any sort, has more political clout than a bunch of individuals of the same mind who don’t pool their resources.

    > While many people might believe they should earn more
    > money, for example, they eschew procedurally unfair
    > mechanisms to achieve it. The abuse of procedural
    > mechanisms, however, is precisely the criticism lodged
    > against public sector unions.

    You can just stub out “public sector unions” and write “corporate America” in that paragraph and voila, you have a liberal screed.

    If abuse of procedural mechanisms is bad (and I believe it is), then let’s take steps to curtail the abuse of procedural mechanisms.Report

    • Avatar Tim Kowal says:


      I generally agree. I think there are some important differences between corporations and public sector unions, particularly, that corporations may have a de facto anti-democratic influence, while public unions have a de jure anti-democratic influence. But the problem is still there. Having been writing on the subject of public sector unions a great deal lately, I’ve become more interested in formulating a response.Report

      • Avatar Ian M. says:

        Tim, something I never see conservatives address is that government is a monopsony labor purchaser – no one else is buying teachers. You could argue private schools do, but then you agree that the market for education is basically working. When a labor buyer has a monopsony (or oligopsony) free markets are not existent and the purchaser can be expected to suppress wages through their market dominance.
        The only way to effectively counter a monopsony labor buyer is by organizing as a monopoly labor seller. That is what public sector unions do, so I don’t actually see this a particularly unbalancing as a power dynamic.Report

        • Avatar tom van dyke says:

          Good word, monopsony. However, what do you call it

          “…with public unions who have places on both sides of the bargaining table. After all, public unions have assembled huge war chests that help elect legislators who are beholden to them, and intimidate those who are not. Now it should be clear why long-term structure matters. The legislature that grants collective bargaining rights to unions today has implicitly bound future legislatures to find the funds to fulfill those union contracts. Think of the bargaining rights as a huge capital expenditure, and the givebacks in a given bargaining cycle as an annual payment of far less amount.

          • Avatar Ian M. says:

            I would say it is obvious that public unions do not “have places on both sides of the bargaining table.” and what follows is, necessarily, horseshit.Report

          • Avatar Bill Sherlock says:

            I do believe you’ve just describe the entire defense industry, the NRA, and AARP, to name just a few.Report

        • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

          Ian M.,

          I provided what I now realize is an incomplete argument in a recent post outlining the many differences between private and public sector unions. It provides at least a beginning to a response to your very good question:

          Public sector union advocates suggest that collective bargaining in the public sector is essentially no different than in the private sector, and that far from being a problem, it is a positive good. To evaluate this argument, first briefly consider the policy reasons for authorizing private sector unions. Primarily due to unequal bargaining power, negotiations between employers and individual workers in many circumstances result in working conditions and compensation below desired public policy standards. In order to improve these conditions and compensation levels to meet those standards, the government can do one of two things: (1) it can pass legislation requiring by law that industries meet those minimum desired standards; or (2) it can pass legislation permitting workers in those industries to collectively bargain, and thus to more collaboratively and efficiently meet those standards within the confines of market realities. It is easy to see why collective bargaining is the more attractive approach in the private sector context.

          With that in mind, consider now the public sector. Again, assuming working conditions or compensation fall below desired policy standards, consider again the government’s above choices: (1) it can require the employer to meet those standards; or (2) it can authorize collective bargaining. Obviously, this is an absurd choice when the employer is the government: Conceptually, the working and compensation standards of the government-employer could never fall below the standards of the government in the first place. And if it somehow did, what help could a collective bargaining agent provide in ameliorating it?

          • Avatar Ian M. says:

            Tim, I’ve pointed to the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike as an obvious counter-factual to this argument. Basically, governments are not run as a unit, but in departments which compete for funds like a number of small businesses. Administrators and managers gain promotions and career advancements by holding down departmental budgets. There is a great incentive for governments to abuse their employees in the real world. The intellectual construct you’ve alid out is simply not convincing.Report

            • Avatar Tim Kowal says:


              You make an interesting point with the Memphis strike. Consider the conditions there: racism, discriminatory pay, deaths due to deadly working conditions, etc. Did the government-employer practices and policies reflect the general sentiment of the political majority? Quite possibly! When acts of government based on evil notions of racial superiority result in similarly evil working conditions, are counter-majoritarian checks necessary? Yes! Sometimes, anyway. I also agree with the result in Brown v. Board, for example, even though that was also a triumph of substance over process. Substance is certainly not for nothing, and I don’t meant to suggest otherwise by the simplified model I’ve proposed in my post. But we do fight long, hard battles to learn which kinds of substantive justice are fundamental to political integrity (e.g., prohibiting invidious discrimination of race and religion). Thus, in my view, the types of substantive issues that trump process are rare enough so as not to upset the integrity of a process-oriented system.

              With that in mind, when we look at public employers today, we are not seeing the sorts of rare and egregious abuses against racial or otherwise disfavored minority employees that were present in 1968 Memphis.

              If I’m wrong on the latter point, I’m happy to be corrected: Are there instances were public sector unions are necessary to prevent racial, religious, gender, or other such forms of roundly and constitutionally condemned discrimination?Report

            • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

              I also note, just because I find this sort of thing amusing, that good checks against bad democracies are called “counter-majoritarian,” but bad checks against good democracies are called “anti-majoritarian.”Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          “something I never see conservatives address is that government is a monopsony labor purchaser – no one else is buying teachers. You could argue private schools do, but then you agree that the market for education is basically working.”

          So, wait, your argument is that the government declares that it has a legal monopoly on teaching, and that therefore the response is to collude with that monpoly so that instead of it screwing you, you both get together to screw someone else?Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            Let me attempt to expand your fact base on private schools.

            Private school teachers come in three flavors: religious schools, charter schools and elite private academies. Religious schools make their teachers pass religious tests and pay the lay teachers more than public schools. Elite private academies always pay about double what the public school system pays. The charter schools have more autonomy than private schools, but they also tend to pay their teachers somewhat more than public schools, because they can solicit private donations and they teach specialized material which requires a more-credentialed teacher.

            So in every case, the private sector pays more than the public sector, with the sole exception of the religious schools using men and women of the cloth.

            Try again. This time bring a few facts along.Report

            • Avatar Ian M. says:

              BlaiseP –
              You cite no data, try again this time bring a few facts along.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                If you want, I can lay out my salary as a public school teacher for five years, compared to the salaries of my peers in other schools. Teachers do talk about how much they make, I have the conversations over the 25 years she taught.

                It used to be private school teachers made less, until the states began to push for all-certified teachers for accreditation. It drove off the low-salary do-gooders immediately. Private schools responded by raising their tuition, the trend continued.Report

              • Avatar Ian M. says:

                BlaiseP, your anecdotal life experiences do not justify your claims.
                Let’s consider Montessori schools – these are not religious, are generally not considered elite and although occasionally charter schools, are not exclusively charter schools. So I question your classification scheme. My son went to a private, non-Montessori, school last year which also doesn’t fit this scheme. The teacher’s there made slightly less than public school teachers of comparable experience in most cases.

                On salaries, here’s a link to Montessori’s 2009 salaries (check page 22):
                Here’s a link to the master contract for the Metropolitan Nashville Teacher’s Association (check page 43):

                I would call these wages basically comparable.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                So stipulated. Thank you for your input: the Montessori model proves in some cases the salaries are roughly comparable. My data is obviously personal, but it’s quite different: my data is based on the private schools of Kane and Dupage Counties in Illinois and the Illinois Math and Science Academy, where first-rate teachers receive first-rate salaries.Report

          • Avatar Ian M. says:

            DensityDuck –
            I am pointing out some Econ 101 insights about the nature of markets, not providing a value judgment on the situation. To clarify, I am saying public sector unions organize to oppose government management not collude with government management.Report

  5. Avatar Chris says:

    As a matter of first principles, all Americans are entitled to a minimum standard of living.
    As a matter of observed fact, impersonal market forces sometimes do not result in compensation that comports with that preconceived standard of living.
    Therefore, the market is an unsatisfactory mechanism for assigning economic values to labor.

    This is a strange argument for the existence of labor unions, today or ever. I’ve never heard it before. I wonder where you’ve seen it, or something like it.

    To me, it looks like you’ve produced some positions that the left definitely adheres to, connected them (in the case of 1 and 2 connecting to 3, connected them very loosely), left out the premises behind both these positions and the support for labor unions that are doing all the work, and sold it as an argument of your ideological opponents. Instead, you’d do well to start from the actual position(s) that the left starts from, if you want to do this sort of analysis.As Adam Smith put it:

    “It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labor as to be themselves tolerable well fed, clothed and lodged.”

    You’ll notice the difference between your position and this one. You’re arguing that the left starts from the position that all people are entitled to a minimum standard of living. Smith, and like him labor for most of the last 2 centuries, was starting from the premise that as an integral part of the production process, labor deserves a fair, or equitable (not minimum!) share of the profits – enough that they can live quality lives. This is not to say that the left doesn’t believe in a minimum standard of living – this is what the welfare state is for, though, not labor unions.

    As stated, this is a strange argument for the existence of unions, and certainly not one I’ve ever heard. At the very least, it leaves out a bunch of connecting premises that are actually doing the bulk of the work.

    The idea behind unions was quite simple: not that people simply deserve a minimum living standard, but that those who produce the goods and services that produce profit deserve their fair share of that profit.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      That was my thought. The way the argument is set up in the post suggests that workers get upset because they just don’t understand how “impersonal market forces” work and expect more money than the market allows, when really what people get upset by is when the company is doing well and something or other different from “impersonal market forces” votes for a much larger percentage of the profits going to management than labor. Setting it up as unions exist because workers always want to be paid well in spite of the market is stacking the deck.Report

    • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

      Time constraints prevent me from providing a more thoughtful response which this comment deserves, but in short, I don’t think there’s a meaningful difference between “a fair, or equitable” wage, and a “minimum standard of living,” as far as liberal political ideology goes. But it’s a fair point, and one I’m willing to think about some more.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Oh, I think there’s a very, very big difference. Implying that a minimum standard of living and a fair or equable wage. A minimum standard of living, again, is what the welfare state is supposed to provide. We can quibble about what this entails, but it will differ very much from an equitable or fair standard of living in all but the direst of economic climates. A fair or equitable standard of living for workers is going to vary with the economy/market, and in good times, will be well above the minimum standard of living. The idea of unions is not to make sure employees eat, but to make sure they’re not exploited by people living high on the hog as a result of their labor. Unions are there to insure that labor gets its fair share of the pie. Of course, if workers aren’t making enough to eat or clothe themselves, or put a roof over their heads, unions are going to have something to say about that, but unions came into being because the balance of power between capital and labor changed in favor of capital with industrialization, and unions were supposed to balance things out a bit. That’s just not what you’re saying, or really all that close to it.Report

        • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

          Perhaps it is unfair (ha!) of me to stand upon my qualifier of meaningful difference. You’ve spotted a difference that, in other contexts, is quite important. But for purposes of this post, I don’t think it is terribly different. Whether liberals want to guarantee a “minimum” standard of living or a “fair” or “equitable” wage I am content to let liberals quibble over. For purposes of my argument, it is enough to acknowledge that liberals would guarantee any substantive outcome ex ante.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            Except a “fair” outcome isn’t a single outcome, it is in fact a procedural one. It’s about justice and fairness, not about a minimum or some particular standard. This is why the difference matters (as I tried to point out below). Your entire post hinges on your characterization of the liberal position, and since you’ve gotten it completely wrong, the rest of the post falls apart, or at least fails to address, as Tom says below, reality.Report

  6. Avatar CRM says:

    Can you please fix the links you provide? Linking to locked Google docs is, well, annoying.Report

  7. Avatar 62across says:

    Could you do more to make the case for this statement, because as it sits I don’t buy it at all:

    “As a matter of practical reality, the two conceptions of justice are mutually exclusive: The guarantee of procedural fairness is precisely the guarantee of fixed procedures in order to achieve particularized outcomes based on individual merit. The guarantee of substantive fairness is precisely the guarantee of particularized procedures in order to achieve fixed outcomes based on conceptions of a “human right” to membership in the Middle Class.”

    Put aside for the moment the somewhat baseless presumption that liberals define substantive fairness as a “human right” to membership in the Middle Class. I am more interested in this idea that procedural fairness and substantive fairness are mutually exclusive. I would expect that if the fixed procedures were fairly designed, the substantive outcomes would be have to be somewhat fair. Granting that the outcomes would not be “fixed” based on individual merit, one should still be able defend disparate outcomes as aligning to some degree with disparate merit. If such a case can not be made, isn’t it legitimate to call into question the fairness of the procedures?Report

    • Avatar tom van dyke says:

      Actually, that’s the flaw in the meme, that unequal outcomes are the result of unfair process.

      Hence, we keep passing new legislations and institute social engineering programs until one day life is finally fair.

      But that must come at the cost of liberty and excellence: you cannot make the slowest run as fast as the fastest, you can only slow down the faster to bring them back to the pack.Report

      • Avatar 62across says:

        tvd –

        That is your meme, not mine. I don’t believe unequal outcomes are unfair and I think most liberals would agree with that.

        No, what I said was that the unequal outcomes need to at least roughly follow the unequal merit that led to those outcomes. I’d add that merit is something that should be objectively definable and the case for unequal outcomes should be defendable to a reasonable audience.

        Kudos to the fastest! I wish them all the rewards they can garnish. I too read “Harrison Bergeron”, so I’m not going to call for pulling anyone “back to the pack”. My contention is that when the measurably fastest keeps losing to the guy who owns the racetrack or the guy who knows the finish line judge, it’s time to question the “fixed” procedures that consistently allow that to happen. Because there’s no way in hell they are fair.Report

        • Avatar tom van dyke says:

          Mr. 62, disparate outcomes are easy to discern, but not why. It appears from your proposition that the reason must be unfair procedure, but this would be a guess if not mere assertion in the current crisis.

          This is not to say we should be complacent about those who cheat and manipulate the system in their favor. But my first inclination isn’t to blame systems, but the people who inhabit them.

          Man is not by nature a virtuous creature. The best-designed systems are built for imperfect men, not perfect ones. [Madison: If men were angels we’d need no gov’t; Kant: If only men were but reasonable devils!]

          Again it comes down to worldview: one either believe merit will triumph or will tend to be frustrated, whether one believes the individual controls his destiny, or The Powers That Be.

          I would say that our [semi-]permanent underclass has been inculcated with the latter view, the logical reaction being “why bother trying,” since the deck is stacked against you.

          And the problem with inculcating that worldview—and I do believe it’s the province of the left—is that it makes politics the solution, the end of man, and not the pursuit of his own excellence, his merit.

          Now, I don’t dispute that some have the deck stacked in their favor: Kennedys, Bushes, Gores whathaveyou, The Lucky Sperm Club. However, one can also believe that merit cannot be frustrated in the long run, and indeed such a dynamic has been at the core of what makes America not-Europe, or most tribe-class-generational societies.

          And that said, I favor “cheating” the system a bit in favor of desirable outcomes. A few that come to mind are the EIC, a negative income tax for the working poor; as much of the Great Society war on poverty that was successful, the part that permanently took 10% off the poverty rate; and “back door” affirmative action such as guaranteed admission of the top 10% of high school students to the state universities [a rule that creates positive statistical outcomes for minorities].

          There’s a place for wisdom and prudence in statemanship, it’s just that when laws must become essentially unjust in order to assure desirable outcomes, they have fractured the process, the process which must be considered just in order to have the consent of the governed.

          Again, the problem and error—and a destructive one—that I see is the argument that disparate outcomes are necessarily the result of an unjust system, i.e., that the poor are poor because The Powers That Be make them so. Even if you don’t hold that position, I hope you’ll allow that that’s the argument in many quarters. I consider it corrosive to the polity.

          So when you write:

          I would expect that if the fixed procedures were fairly designed, the substantive outcomes would be have to be somewhat fair. Granting that the outcomes would not be “fixed” based on individual merit, one should still be able defend disparate outcomes as aligning to some degree with disparate merit.

          I infer from this a worldview that the substantive outcomes in our polity are not even somewhat fair, hence my original demurral.Report

          • Avatar 62across says:

            tvd –

            I’ve heard the “the poor are poor because The Powers That Be make them so” argument and like you find it problematic. I believe great progress has been made in helping the poor, creating dependency on government can be counterproductive and that there are some poor beyond helping, sadly.

            I think we may be caught up on the parameters of my term “somewhat”. If I wasn’t clear, I think there is a great difference between fair and equal, so I don’t take issue with there being winners and losers of every level along that continuum. Fair isn’t finishing in a pack; fair is an order of finish that aligns with merit and value. Note that I’m calling merely for general alignment and not correlation.

            Here’s a case in point – in ’78 CEOs made approximately 35 times what their average employee made. That’s not close to an equal result, but I can see the case being made that CEOs delivered 35 times as much value as an average employee. Outcome roughly aligns with value – seems fair. In ’06, CEOs made approximately 260 times more than their average employee. For fairness to hold, I would think it possible to credibly argue a seven-fold increase in the relative value of the CEO over the average employee in the last 30 years. I’ve not heard this case made. Can you make this case? Employees are delivering greater productivity year over year. What are CEOs doing that weighs so hugely in their favor – laying golden eggs?

            Perhaps it does come down to worldview. I would love to hold the belief that merit will triumph, but faced with the realities I see – the opposing trends of ever growing concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer and ever shrinking class mobility – I have lost my faith. It isn’t that my first inclination is to blame the system. It is that of the people who inhabit the system, I fear those with power more than those without.Report

            • Avatar tom van dyke says:

              We are “fairly” in agreement on the parameters, Mr. 62.


              Like WFBuckley, I find CEO pay obscene, however, I do not see any acceptable legal remedy for it. It’s the shareholders who take it in the shorts, and I think T. Boone Pickens stockholder insurgencies to be the only reasonable cure.

              It’s a private matter, and one of not much concern to the republic. Sell your stock if you don’t like it.

              Neither have I been convinced that the whole “wealth [or income] inequality” trope of the left is more than an esthetic offense.

              Again, it’s not whether the rich have too much, only that the poor have enough. I’m going to hang with that one until somebody successfully counterargues it, and they have not to date. How much Donald Trump has is none of my business.

              Therefore, when you say “fairness must hold,”

              In ’06, CEOs made approximately 260 times more than their average employee. For fairness to hold, I would think it possible to credibly argue a seven-fold increase in the relative value of the CEO over the average employee in the last 30 years.

              when it comes to this issue, I shrug my shoulders. It’s your mishigas, not mine, and frankly I see it as envy and class warfare, and not a political issue.

              For it appears you are indeed arguing “fairness” as equality here, more precisely that [income] inequality = unfairness.

              I do not know how the math would come out if the CEO were paid less, how much more the thousands of employees would make. I’d be interested in that one, you know, numerical literacy. My back-of-the-envelope calculations were that the 2005 “tax cuts for the rich” amounted to $60B or so, the latest go-round on extending them perhaps more but not that much more.

              In a $1-1.6 TRILLION deficit, this seems like arguing over who gets to lick the pizza box.

              Which obliges me to note again that the subject was the current crisis, the public unions fleecing the taxpayer, but here we are again discussing the leftish change of subject, income inequality, CEO/corporations, etc.

              But I do appreciate the civility and productiveness of our discussion here, 62, really do. And I do believe merit will rise. Perhaps not in every instance, but as much as the unfairness of life permits. And unions are by nature dedicated to the average rather than the exceptional, indeed defending their worst from getting fired more than seeing their best members rewarded for their merit.Report

              • Avatar 62across says:

                I appreciate the civility as well, but as we’ve reached a point where you are settled on the idea that I’m the meshugener for believing that income (and wealth) inequality to the degree it has grown in recent years is THE political issue, believing this is directly related to (and not somehow a change of subject from) the current situation where you’re claiming its the public union employees that are fleecing America and not accepting that if the poor have enough stuff it doesn’t matter that they are disenfranchised, well further discussion is unwarranted. I’ll take my craziness over yours, thank you very much.Report

    • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

      62across — You say: “I would expect that if the fixed procedures were fairly designed, the substantive outcomes would be have to be somewhat fair. ”

      You’ve got it. What I posit is that, under liberal ideology, “fairness” is not enough; the outcome must meet with basic, preconceived minimum standards of what “fairness” is. That is, under liberal ideology, process does not mean fairness; process sometimes results in fairness, as if by accident. When it doesn’t, we have to fix it, even if that means twisting the process.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Tim- I’ll admit i’m only a liberal so i must assume you are brainwashed, but this respsonse doesn’t make any sense. 62 raised an obvious point, if a process doesn’t lead to something that looks like fairness, why isn’t fixing it an obvious answer.

        Of course process is part of fairness, i don’t recall ever hearing a liberal say it isn’t. This is a strawman to assume liberals don’t believe the process has to be fair. So what is the problem with an outcome meeting some standard of fairness? How else to we judge fairness? Really, how do we know if an outcome is fair is we don’t compare it to some standard we have.

        Twisting the process?? But if the process isn’t coming out with some sort of fair result then the process is flawed. How do you know a process is fair, aren’t you using some sort of preconceived, minimum version of a fair process? Why is the process sacrosanct and must not be twisted? Where does your standard for a fair process come from?Report

        • Avatar Kyle says:

          A couple of thoughts, I think there’s a difference (and Tim can correct me if i’m wrong) between claiming liberals don’t believe the process has to be fair and what I saw as his actual claim that Liberals prioritize some idea of fair outcomes that is more important than upholding procedural fairness. (e.g. “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” – President Obama)

          That said, I think the left has voiced significantly more support for the rule of law vis a vis the war on terror than the right so I think like most generalizations this leaves much to be desired.

          However, I do think you’re on to something when you say that unfair outcomes indicate a problem with an ostensibly fair system. Any system of rules will undoubtedly favor certain advantages over others, which doesn’t necessarily invalidate the system prima facie, but it does mean we should be cognizant of what kind of system we’re talking about and what modifications can be made before they begin to invalidate belief in the system.

          Which brings me to the usefulness of Tim’s point/post – that some of the struggle the left-labor axis has in building wider support for itself is of its own making – a chronic insensitivity to or undervaluing of how important other people view the legitimacy of added wealth and the process by which it was gained.Report

          • Avatar Tim Kowal says:


            Yes, that’s the idea.

            Also, a while back I started building a list of the kind of contradictions you point out. I.e., conservatives generally are more concerned about process in domestic matters, and liberals more about outcomes. Yet, this is flipped when we get to the foreign affairs arena. Also, conservatives tend to have longer time horizons than liberals, yet this seems to be flipped when we talk about environmental concerns. One of these days I’ll turn that into a blog post.Report

          • Avatar 62across says:

            I think the claim of different prioritization for substantive outcome over procedural fairness is a fair one, but I would not agree with the suggestion that liberals devalue fairness in procedure. To my mind, it is a question of magnitude of the problem. Yes, it is bad (even VERY bad) that some public sector employees game the rules by any of the means Tim lists above. I agree that abuse of procedural mechanisms is bad and I would support any steps taken to go after these abuses. I won’t pretend they are fair. But, frankly, I am less concerned with these abuses of “the rules” than I am with a system that routinely allows “the rules” to be written in such a way as to favor the powerful and to declare those rules as written to be unquestionably “fair”. It’s that gaming of the system that carries the higher cost to society.Report

            • Avatar Kyle says:

              Isn’t that the point though?

              That that divergence causes liberals and Con/Libertarians to speak past each other neither side is sufficiently sympathetic enough to the goals/concerns of the other to find some compromising bridge.

              IOW, cons/libertarians are much more likely to see the attitude of “let me sacrifice my fidelity to procedural fairness to score one for the little guys” as being potentially very dangerous. At least as dangerous to society as say suspending the rule of law to make sure the score one for safety. Even a likely trade for short term “gain” at a substantially high long term cost.

              The two sides may disagree as to what ought to be changed and how urgent/important problems are but the key point that nobody liberal seems to have responded to is whether that bit of prioritizing is hampering the ability to build civic support for the change sought. It’s an important point/question. Even if your moral priority here is the better one, it certainly isn’t self-evident, which means persuasion not coercion is necessary.

              Personally, I won’t say the rules are unquestionably fair, but perhaps they’re as fair as can be without risking worse outcomes…nor that they should be an insurmountable impediment to continual improvement and experimentation.Report

              • Avatar 62across says:

                Sorry, Kyle, but I think you are moving the goalposts.

                You claim nobody liberal is responding to the possibility their priorities may be hampering a build up of civic support for their positions, but over my lifetime, I’ve seen the Left concede more and more to the Right for this very purpose. In this thread, I’ve granted that public sector unions are corruptible and that this corruption is a real issue. I have doubts about all sorts of leftist positions as well. Most liberal writers I read do too.

                But it’s liberals who are terrifyingly self-confident and conservatives/libertarians who acquiesce by granting that the rules aren’t fair, but they may be the best that we can do.Report

              • Avatar Kyle says:

                a couple of things…I don’t think it’s that liberal priorities are hurting their ability to expand their base, it’s the way they go about achieving them.

                Moreover, I find it incredibly dubious the the left cedes anything to the right, because it makes for better long term politics/is generally persuasive. That doesn’t make sense to me.

                What I see is that the left concedes to the right precisely because public support for various things is so limited.

                To my point, so much virtual ink has been spilled saying unions = good, unions = bad which is interesting to be sure but it dodges the obvious question of if unions are so good why aren’t they bigger, more beloved, more popular?Report

        • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

          In a perfect world, we have fair process and fair outcomes. But when the rubber hits the road and you’re not winding up with fair outcomes, my claim is that liberals are more willing to tweak the process to get better, “fairer” results. Conservatives/libertarians, on the other hand, have a different conception of fair outcomes that is entirely dependent on whether the process is fair. If it is, look no further, say conservatives and libertarians. In that sense, the principal problem in much of domestic policy does not even exist in a conservative/libertarian model.Report

          • Avatar greginak says:

            But is it that conservatives and libertarians focus on the process being fair or that they are fine with the outcomes that result from their vision of a fair process? It seems like C+L’s are just as concerned with outcomes and any deviations from the outcomes they want means the process isn’t fair. You are making assumption that your version of fair is truly and objectively fair. Why is your fair process more fair or better then my fair process?Report

            • Avatar Kyle says:

              The underlying tension here is very personal for me because on balance I assign more weight to liberal critiques than most conservatives and more than most libertarians believe there ought to be a role for government in addressing the problems raised.

              On the other hand, the liberal bandwagon has a terrifying lack of doubt or self-criticism (or perhaps an alarming insensitivity to conservative concerns/criticisms) and I want off.

              I think L/C’s think fairer processes are a.) more likely to result in better outcomes for everyone, repeatedly and b.) are more likely to produce and maintain stability, probably respectively.

              Take for example a card game where one player consistently gets crappier cards than the rest. They’re miserable, what do you do.

              The conservative solution – Nothing? Maybe it’s their lot in life, or they’re playing the wrong game.

              The libertarian solution – Well if the cards are statistically out of the norm, lets see if we can introduce methods to increase randomization in shuffling, dealing, etc…

              The liberal solution – Let’s find a way to give that player better cards.

              Now in some cases, say a child’s birthday party that might be a perfectly harmless solution. In a poker tournament or the wild west, that would lead to any number of challenges, if not an outright abandonment of the process/game. Why does this matter?

              For two reasons, games and other institutions are like paper money in that they’re propped up predominately by belief in legitimacy and a common understanding of it. Modifications that undermine that legitimacy, threaten the solvency of the institution itself, the collapse of which can be (but need not be) significantly more problematic than the original injustice or disparity.

              The second is that while rules and processes may have elements that are unfair, they also bind participants to certain norms. Again, dismantling some of those norms may precipitate a counter-reaction that results in worse outcomes than the original problem.

              Going back to the card game example. If the liberal can’t change the rules, cheats and just gives the person better cards and then there’s a saloon shootout, well that wasn’t really the better choice.

              The illustration might seem a bit silly but it happens. Look at countries that nationalize, default on debt, and then subsequently fail to attract badly needed commercial investment as stakeholders exit a system that no longer has enough incentives to keep them in it.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                > On the other hand, the liberal bandwagon
                > has a terrifying lack of doubt or self-
                > criticism (or perhaps an alarming insensitivity
                > to conservative concerns/criticisms) and
                > I want off.

                Yeah, I savvy that.

                I like your card analogy. What I find annoying is that I find your various characterizations apropos (conservatives do nothing, liberals try to stack the deck), where neither side is willing to explore the question of whether or not, at this particular table, the problem is that of luck or a rigged game or something else entirely.

                Indeed, at the tournament with 100 different tables, the conservatives look at a wide variety of tables and conclude nothing is wrong, and the liberals are convinced that the dealer is rigging the game at every table. Regardless of outcome.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                Does not every study of power demonstrate that in fact, every table IS rigged? And that to have power is to be able to rig the table?

                Kyle get’s at this point in a more subtle way earlier I think. That no matter how you set up the rules, those rules will always favor someone or something. So even if applied “fairly,” all rules will be to the benefit of certain advantages. You could take any sport, and change the rules, then apply them fairly, and have different outcomes because different inherent advantages (height, speed, strength, coordination) would be given more or less weight in each case.

                So whether one table is rigged by corporations, and another by government, and another by unions, the fact is that all the tables are rigged, and it’s only the loser that cry about it.

                So that rules should be applied “fairly” seems obvious. But what those rules should be seems the infinitely hard question that no one wants to address, accept in general platitudes: we value assertiveness, discipline, determination, hard work, leadership, teamwork, etc.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                > So whether one table is rigged by
                > corporations, and another by government,
                > and another by unions, the fact is that all
                > the tables are rigged, and it’s only the
                > loser that cry about it.

                That’s a different way of looking at the same analogy, and it’s another fair point (although it sort of breaks the analogy and reframes it differently).

                If you want to look at it that way, both sides (conservatives and liberals) are insisting that some of the tables are rigged at the tournament, they just argue about which tables are rigged and which agent is doing the rigging.

                If you’re going down that road, I’ll happily accept that the tables are all individually rigged as long as the rigging is reasonably corrected by the other tables.

                Some players might be at a disadvantage at one table, but then have an advantage at another. As long as we all have enough in the kitty to play at the next tournament (and the next, and the next), pervasive (but small) rigging is less important than having systemic rigged outcomes.Report

              • Avatar 62across says:

                Just so you know, the rules always favor the House.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                Indeed, in the poker example, a player who has a better ability to ‘read’ his opponents–analysing their unconcious behaviors to get a sense of their confidence about their hands–has an advantage due to the ‘rule’ that you’re allowed to look at your opponents.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                @ DD

                That doesn’t make the table “rigged”, nor is it unfair.

                Provided, of course, your ability to read your opponent is due to your own capabilities. Now the analogy is really stretching at its limits; in the practical case, I don’t know that many of those who have advantage at this game came about it from their own recognizance, talents, or work.

                Usually, they sat down at the table with an extra $10,000 in chips, that they were awarded through one of a number of different venues to which the average bloke didn’t have access.Report

      • Avatar 62across says:

        Tim –

        You say – “under liberal ideology, “fairness” is not enough; the outcome must meet with basic, preconceived minimum standards of what “fairness” is.”

        I say, that’s a cute little construction you’ve come up with to make a dubious argument. In the first half of this statement, the “fairness” that liberals find is not enough is implicitly organic and therefore valid, while what liberals call “fairness” is preconceived and therefore invalid. That’s just bunk. “Fairness” is a nebulous term, but it isn’t unknowable. For your duality to have any meaning, the term would mean the same thing in both procedural and substantive constructs.

        There are objective measures of merit and value. It’s just that capitalism doesn’t assign value to labor very well. IMO when liberals ask for “fair”, conservatives like to say liberals are asking for “equal”, because it saves conservatives explaining how it can possibly be fair for the very best school teacher in the country to make 1/100th what the most mediocre hedge fund manager makes.

        As greg states, it’s not about twisting the process. It’s acknowledging that a fair process is likely broken if unfair outcomes (again, not unequal outcomes) can’t be defended with reason.Report

        • Avatar Kyle says:

          Reasonable defense, like so many things, is in the eye of the beholder, no?Report

          • Avatar 62across says:

            I don’t think this is true. Granted one may not be able to convince everyone that movie stars are worth more than cops, but consensus is possible. In a democracy, consensus is enough.Report

            • Avatar Kyle says:

              And those are two wildly different standards, which is my point, without making any kind of normative judgement here.

              Who’s in favor of changing the rules? Say Aye. The Aye’s have it.

              Is different from. I want to change this rule, can anyone defend it? No. The rule is changed!

              Consensus (or even considerably less) may be enough for democracy but it has no necessary link to either reasonableness or rationality.Report

              • Avatar 62across says:

                “Is different from. I want to change this rule, can anyone defend it? No. The rule is changed!”

                Which is also different from – I think this rule is unfair, can anyone defend it? No? Then, who’s in favor of changing the rule! Say Aye. The Aye’s have it – which is what I’m advocating.Report

              • Avatar Kyle says:

                Maybe that’s good, maybe it’s not. I don’t really feel particularly strongly about it either way, my only point in commenting was that the problem is the people who bring the motion to the table are nearly always more likely to find defenses of the rule unreasonable.

                I took – perhaps mistakenly – your point to be instead, “I think this rule is unfair, can anyone defend it? Yes, well that’s not a very legitimate/reasonable reason. Who’s in favor of changing the rule! Say Aye. The Aye’s have it.Report

              • Avatar 62across says:

                I’m an empiricist, Kyle, so if you bring data to the table to go against my motion, I can be persuaded. My experience is that conservatives and libertarians are more apt to hold to dogma.Report

        • Avatar Tim Kowal says:


          When I said

          “under liberal ideology, “fairness” is not enough….”

          I should have said,

          “under liberal ideology, “proceduralfairness” is not enough….”Report

    • Avatar Koz says:

      “I am more interested in this idea that procedural fairness and substantive fairness are mutually exclusive. I would expect that if the fixed procedures were fairly designed, the substantive outcomes would be have to be somewhat fair.”

      Because we’re speaking the voice of public policy, not God. We might be able to control inputs (or not), we’ve got no chance at all to control outcomes in a way that preserves their essential meaning.Report

  8. Avatar James B Franks says:

    You really need to address the issue of captive workforce. Although we have freedom of movement in the United States there is a cost associated with it. For the very poor who own nothing it is minimal, for the upper middle class it is bearable but for those in between it is not economically feasible unless there are absolutely no jobs in the area. And that is purely monetary costs, what are the emotional costs of moving?Report

    • I would also add–although it appears you would disagree–that the costs for moving for the very poor can be much greater than it might appear at first sight.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        That would be remarkable since to anyone capable of perceiving those costs in context for the “very” poor, it should be obvious that in most cases they will be prohibitive in the short term. (Poor people do have stuff. What they don’t have is money or jobs. Frequently transportation costs are not the problem, but simply an inability to procure housing in the new location.) The claim with respect to the middle class is the more uncertain one, though much less so since the onset of the foreclosure crisisReport

        • Avatar James B Franks says:

          I could easily be wrong about the very poor; it’s not a situation I’ve been in although I am close.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew says:

            Didn’t mean to sound harsh there. Moving is costly, even if you’re poor. That’s all/ You’re very right about the emotional element as well. Not that we endure anything like what the Chinese among many others do to go where there is work. Nevertheless, an involuntary, economically-necessitated move will always be traumatic – particularly if you are experiencing extreme economic insecurity, which if you are forced to undertake one, is likely the case.Report

  9. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    You know, most of the “mainstream Americans” I know are pretty damned conflicted about public sector unions. They recognize all the unfairness, procedural and otherwise, that gets protected by those unions, while not really seeing a good reason that public employees shouldn’t be allowed to organize- it seems like liberals disagree with the first part of that (about procedural unfairness) and conservatives the second part (about government employees having the right to organize) and, in general, they all think that their unassailable wisdom will eventually prevail.Report

    • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

      You’re probably right. But I’d suggest that if most Americans didn’t have a strong precommitment to process, they wouldn’t be conflicted at all–they’d have already jumped on the liberal, labor-as-a-countervailing-force-to-corporatism bandwagon. The fact that there is any reluctance to adopt the liberal view proves that Americans are process-oriented, in my view.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        That’s a high bar for “proof” you’ve set for your argument there.Report

        • Avatar tom van dyke says:

          Mr. Drew, I give Mr. Kowal high marks for setting a high bar for counterarguments to his thesis, which has stood up quite well despite summary dismissals by wouldbe “fiskers.”

          [Rhetorically/sophistically/formally speaking of course. It’s quite a modest argument, simply delineating the difference between process and outcome; it might even be accurate!]Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew says:

            Good one, Tom. You really got me there. The old “use the same language in a different way” trick. I never saw it coming.Report

            • Avatar tom van dyke says:

              Mr. Drew, “The old ‘use the same language in a different way’ trick” is classic sophistry. I did not mean to twist your words: such “victories” are hollow. My reply was quite sincere: Mr. Kowal did a good job of stating his thesis modestly, and the only rebuttals have been summary dismissals, not principled counterarguments.

              I think he has hit this nail on the head. I do think that sensible and principled persons alike admire fairness of process, a nation of laws, not men.

              [In fact, I endorsed a bit of fudging around the edges, because laws are a bit stupid when it comes to the realities of life. One might call that wisdom or statesmanship: if the top 10% of the the graduating high school class is guaranteed admission to a state’s universities, and that benefits minorities, I’m good with that.

              Pls do read me charitably, fully and carefully, OK? You & I have had principled and productive discussions in the past and I would hate to lose that. The current environment at this blog has been dismissive and polarizing, and it’s up to we sane folks not to give in to that.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                If you want to engage productively, then engage productively. You simply used the expression I chose to issue a generalized compliment to the post. That’s unimpressive in its own right; besides which, as you can see from the location of this comment, it is a reply to the comment made above it, not a riticism of the piece. Kowal makes a remarkable claim: that “any(!) reluctance to adopt the liberal view” proves(!) …well, anything. In America of all places. I say that is at best a low bar to set for a claim of proof (not evidence — but proof!!) of any proposition. Any relutance. Low bar hell; it is patently ridiculous. Perhaps it was just a rhetorical misstatement, but in any case the result was an inanity.

                If you want to engage, engage on that.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                I’ve grown to like you, Mr. Drew. Yes, I generally liked Mr. Kowal’s post. Pls do restate your questions and objections.

                As in all good-faith discussions, you share the burden of proof with Mr. Kowal. Rock on.

                As for my own observations, engage them or ignore them. The latter course is usually chosen by the commenters here, since they [rightfully] suspect I’m fully willing and able to back them up and kick their ass to the curb.

                Go back to praising that BlaiseP fellow, to whom I give his head. He’s learned to give me a wide berth, and I let him do so. He occasionally says something interesting, and is somewhat good for the blog.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                Though as it happens I do agree with much that BlaiseP has to say on this topic, and I respect his experience in education, actually that comment, if read closely isn’t, praise per se. It is just a statement that I am glad that his particular viewpoint is being expressed here with regularity. For that matter, I am also glad that the viewpoint of Robert Cheeks gains regular exposure here as well. He, too, I hope keeps on keepin’ on.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                As to the post itself – as you can see I have made no direct response to it. I’ve only responded to certain comments in the thread. I am not moved to respond to the post; it simply doesn’t particularly impress me. I notice the same from basically every contributor to the blog. No estan. That’s not usual. Kuznicki has already said that public employee unions represent for him “A Basic Conflict” – i.e. both they and the public have legitimate claims that are legitimately in tension. I voiced my agreement with that assessment in that post. I don’t believe this post adds significantly to Jason’s consideration of the question.Report

  10. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Your argument is broken from its inception: pure capitalism according to your principles would never have a public sector at all.

    The forces of capitalism are not all on the side of the capitalist.Report

  11. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    A proper fisking.

    If the Left has an alignment with unions, this hasn’t always been borne out in political history. The unions sided against the Left in the Vietnam War, violently. This assertion about a Liberal concept of Redistributive Justice has nothing to do with unions and never did. The unions support their own members and the non-union world can go hang.

    Labor is a commodity, and as such, can be substituted for any other commodity in capitalism. It follows from that substitution that the agents who control its supply may set its price. Where that commodity is fungible, the consumer may find alternate suppliers. Where that commodity is not fungible, as in the case of public sector jobs such as teachers and firemen, the union arises as a necessary component of bargaining: who else is going to negotiate the salaries with an equally non-transferable entity such as government?

    Let’s put aside, as you said, these contumacious assertions about what the Left believes: the Left in the USA has been moribund for many decades.

    And do us all a favour: next time you feel like writing “fairness”, type it out, mark the word and delete it. Fair is what you think is fair and your mileage may vary from mine. We have already established you do not believe in a living wage, ascribing this to the Bogeyman Left. It will make your argument all the stronger to dispense with the hypocrisy.

    The problem with public sector unions has been building for a very long time. For many years now, the public sector has been promised retirement benefits in lieu of wage rises. Those contracts were negotiated in good faith with many administrations. Government lowers taxes on corporations but cries poverty: once again, just dispense with the Newspeak and the double talk.

    Be liberated from your hypocrisy, Conservatives. You don’t want to pay for a public sector but still make those tax cuts? Very well, you shall be treated to the tender mercies of the mob you roused up.

    Remember, there will always be more poor than rich. And there is no shortage of rope or light posts. Once, the Conservative correctly feared and hated the poor. That lesson, it seems, must be relearned in our times.

    All power is political power. We have already established the government
    has a monopoly on taxation and has preferentially lowered taxes on those its favours, a form of redistribution and reward as surely as any other.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      It’s lovely to have an Old-School Liberal commenting here regularly now. Keep on keepin’ on, BlaiseP!Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      “The unions sided against the Left in the Vietnam War, violently.”

      No, they didn’t. They sided against the progressive movement. That movement was not specifically aligned with the Left/Democrats until the people running the Democrats realized that they could get more votes by playing to the progressives than they’d lose by ditching the traditional blue collar, Old South base.

      “It follows from that substitution that the agents who control its supply may set its price.”

      Congratulations, you’ve shown that the worker–who is, after all, the supplier of labor–should negotiate on their own, and that unions aren’t necessary.

      Or, wait, are you arguing that unions are actually corporate entities who contract with other corporations to supply a service? (in this case, labor.)

      “Where [labor] is not fungible, as in the case of public sector jobs such as teachers and firemen, the union arises as a necessary component of bargaining: who else is going to negotiate the salaries with an equally non-transferable entity such as government?”

      Hang on, you’re saying that teachers and firemen are unique and non-replaceable resources, and that therefore they do need a union to represent them? Isn’t the whole purpose of unions to ameliorate the power differential between owner and individual worker? If said worker is a unique and non-replaceable resource, then doesn’t that already reduce that differential?Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Um… I have vivid recollections of the Hard Hat Riot. It wasn’t about progressives. It was union leadership beholden to Richard Nixon, a very nasty episode you were probably not old enough to remember.

        As for controlling supply, it’s not much different than iTunes or the App Store. When your labor is just a commodity, like water, and it is, you can go back to charging a premium for water if it you regain control of the faucet. Am I to assume you believe this isn’t fair? Is Steve Jobs a big meanie because he makes those developers pay him a fraction of what he charges? I wouldn’t want to think you’re one of those goddamn Redistributors, now, gettin’ in the way of Market Forces and all that Commie Statist Bullshit, because that’s exactly where you are.Report

    • Avatar David Cheatham says:

      Labor is a commodity, and as such, can be substituted for any other commodity in capitalism. It follows from that substitution that the agents who control its supply may set its price. Where that commodity is fungible, the consumer may find alternate suppliers. Where that commodity is not fungible, as in the case of public sector jobs such as teachers and firemen, the union arises as a necessary component of bargaining: who else is going to negotiate the salaries with an equally non-transferable entity such as government?

      Yes, I get really baffled by this, also. The right have invented this thinking of unions as ‘unions’, as some unique evil thing that exists.

      Unions are corporations supplying services. They are no different than any other corporation. They sell services to other corporations, and to the government.

      Anything restricting their ability to negotiate or restricting their ability to write contracts (Like a contract stating that they are the sole permissible supplier, which they cannot write in right-to-work states.) is a government restriction on business, and as such should be anathema to all these die hard ‘no government interference in business’ people.

      Seriously, this is insane.

      Imagine the government interjecting itself between your company and your company’s cleaning service, and demanding that your company not have the right to ask them to come in three times a week, or something crazy like that. Or saying your cleaning service contract couldn’t charge you extra when you called them in for an emergency.

      And imagine if the government, when hiring government contractors to supply steel, demanded that they just give them steel. Sure, they started with a contract, but, eh, that’s not important. The government can just _make_ that corporation do stuff for them. If that corporation does not supply the stuff, if it refuses, the government can just dissolve it and operate the steel mill itself.

      I want people to stop and think about those analogies, and how conservatives would react if they happen. _Really_ think about them.

      But somehow, when it’s a supplier of labor, called a ‘union’, as opposed to a supplier of, well, anything else, conservatives pull a 180. Oh, no, _that_ organization, that business that is selling stuff, has no rights to negotiate specific contract terms. It has no right to exclusivity. It has no right to choose not to supply the government.

      Because _that_ sort of organization, a union, is owned and operated by working class people, and the superrich owned businesses have a right to do whatever they want to those people.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Let’s not forget trade unions were illegal under the English for many centuries, starting in the 14th century with the Ordinance of Labourers.

        The most sensible approach to the problem of the trade union is Germany’s policy of putting a worker’s representative on the Board of Directors of any company with more than 500 employees.

        As for public sector unions, this is a harder problem to resolve. In the wake of the PATCO strike and the Wisconsin kerfuffle currently blazing merrily in Madison, it’s difficult to envisage an outcome where the public sector unions will ever regain their status again.

        Money is power. We done had our 200 good years. And like Rome, we’re in for our 400 bad years, just like Rome. Happens to every government in time. Senatus Populusque Romanus, the Senate and the People of Rome. They still kept the acronym, long after the emperors had gutted the Senate and reduced the people to slaves.Report

      • Avatar tom van dyke says:

        This is a blurring of distinctions. Every x does not equal y. Public unions are sui generis, because they are also monopolies on service, and not only unions but civil service as well.

        And unlike corporations, public unions make little effort to provide an excellent product; in fact, they are more likely to defend a bad worker than reward an extraordinary one.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Corporations generally produce crap, wrap it in gold foil and try to sell it as chocolate. Without some regulatory mechanism whereby chocolate may be defined, and platoons of hateful Bureaucrats to periodically inspect the product, you may bet your life on the fact that crap is cheaper than cocoa beans, Tom van Dyke. Public unions are not sui generis, you don’t know enough Latin or economics to realize the public union is a perfect reflection and reaction to the monopoly of government itself.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

            Public unions are not sui generis

            Of course they’re of the same genus as pigs — that allows them to eat slops from the public though.Report

          • Avatar tom van dyke says:

            BlaiseP, your scorched-earth approach to reality is not engageable. Corporations with bad products go bankrupt.

            And yes, public unions have too many differences from private unions, not to mention corporations, to be discussed interchangably or even analogously. [Although that is the current tactic, to create an undifferentiated stew.]

            They are indeed sui generis. If coal miners or Caterpillar workers go on strike, the result is simply no coal or tractors. If public unions go on strike—esp police and fire—people will die. Even in the case of teachers, the irreplacable time of youth is wasted: we cannot have an impasse of a year and have the children lose a year of their lives.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              Corporations with bad products go bankrupt.

              Never heard of Microsoft, I see.Report

            • Avatar David Cheatham says:

              If public unions go on strike—esp police and fire—people will die.

              If corporations do not produce weapons for our police, people will die. If they do not produce firetrucks, people will die. If drug companies do not produce needed medication, people will die.

              Strangely, no one ever seems to want to _require_ them to do this or be dissolved by the government. Odd, that.Report

        • Avatar David Cheatham says:

          Public unions are sui generis, because they are also monopolies on service,

          How on earth can you monopolize labor? Do other people not exist?

          Not that conservatives appear to care that much about other sorts of monopolies anyway, but unions workers are only 14% of the population, so cannot possibly have any sort of monopoly, even pretending they were all in the same union, and not in a bunch of different unions that competed against each other.

          and not only unions but civil service as well.

          Yes, unions are the sole members in the category you invented to contain unions and nothing else. And thus, because they’re in a singular category that you’ve invented, they need to be regulated in ways that you’ve just stated they need to be regulated, without any reason why.

          It’s like how car washes are special, because they have a monopoly on car washing, and they’re the only service that wash cars. And thus should be forbidden from selling soft drinks. Q.E.D.

          And unlike corporations, public unions make little effort to provide an excellent product; in fact, they are more likely to defend a bad worker than reward an extraordinary one.

          You know, that sentence right there says a lot about how conservatives think. I really should just let that sentence stand by itself. In fact, I should demand it get tattooed on every conservative’s forehead. Corporations can do no wrong.

          When’s the last time a union’s shoddy work killed someone because they decided to save a few thousand dollars? When’s the last time a union sold people toxic products? When’s the last time they poisoned a lake?

          We know the only possible sin in this universe is not giving your employers all your time and energy.Report

          • Avatar tom van dyke says:

            Mr. Cheatham, again I object to your changing the subject to “corporations.” They are a different subject.

            Neither is “public union” an invented term; it’s a necessary clarification and distinction against the attempt to blur necessary distinctions, to win by sophistry and equivocality that which cannot be won by argument.

            All unions were not created equal.

            Further, the public unions do NOT ensure a quality product, unlike, say, IATSE, which will make sure the guy who drops the boom mic on a shoot never gets the chance to drop another. An IATSE worker is worth his salt, and good on him.

            Neither is the fire truck maker or weapons mfg going on strike of any real urgency; further, there is always another manufacturer. This is not so of public employees and their unions.

            Except PATCO. Now, that was cool.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:


              Okay, Tom, so let’s grant for the sake of the discussion that the public unions are nonlinkable to profit motive and classical incentives the way a private union is. I’ll give you that.

              Given, then, that the public union is at the same time disjoin from easily measurable outcomes, and that the public union is in many cases providing urgent services (which are primarily worth nothing until they’re needed, at which point they’re worth everything to the requestor in many cases), how to we decide what is an equitable mechanism for determining their compensation, if we get rid o’ the union?

              Remember that we presumably want decent folk in these jobs, so we have to offer a competitive wage vis-a-vis the marketplace value of their labor, even though their labor is in many ways difficult to gauge or map onto a comparative member of the general workforce.

              I mean, I’ll grant that a fireman is probably easier to pop than a top-flight research scientist. On the other hand, the psychology required for a good firefighter is in and of itself a rare breed of psychology, just like the brains for a top-flight research scientist is a rare commodity.

              So how do we decide what is fair?

              How to we protect the public sector employee (who we would hope would be nonpartisan in the execution of their duties, regardless of their personal politics) from the cycles of political power in the public arena?Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Mr. C: “Close enough for government work” is the sardonic cliche.

                Most public union folks come under civil service law protection. Enough protection. Probably too much. To return to


                “…the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that private workers have a 20 percent chance of losing their job in a given year compared to 6 percent for government workers.”

                The public unions do not guarantee a quality product. In fact, they defend their inferior products.

                Cops & firemen, hard to say, since they’re sui generis as well, since their lives are on the line and you could go home dead tonight, unlike bureaucratic functionaries.

                This is why cops & firemen are often partitioned off from the rest of the public sector union issue. What’s it worth to risk your life every day?

                I don’t see a partisan divide here: conservatives are sympathetic to the military, and these brave men and women are more military than they’re like the fat fuck at the Department of Motor Vehicles who seems to make everything harder instead of easier.

                I should and shall leave off here, Pat. Thx for asking.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                > The public unions do not guarantee a
                > quality product. In fact, they defend
                > their inferior products.

                Okay, I’ll accept that characterization too, for the nonce, as default behavior. Do you think this is due to the inherent nature of the structure of the union, or the particular case of the public sector union, or something else?

                If we get rid of the union, does this go away? If it doesn’t… and we have to correct it anyway… does getting rid of the union actually do us any good in this regard? Otherwise, are we just getting rid of the union as a punitive measure because we’re pissed at them for their historical behavior, when we’re going to have to fix this using some mechanism regardless of whether or not the union exists? (To be clear, I’m not adverse to punitive measures, provided we’re penalizing the right cats for misbehavior).

                See, I look at WI and I see a union that fought pretty hard because they think (legitimately or no) that their work is at least as important as they think it is. Now, I will agree with you to the extent that I think their work is probably not worth what they think it is. On the other hand, I really don’t think anybody is worth what the average corp. exec makes in this country, so I’m not sure what my agreement is worth.

                To clarify further: I think everybody in this country is massively overpaid relative to the actual net value of their work on a planet of 6 billion plus people, but that’s an additional conversation for another time.

                Moreover, they look at other people whose work is arguably not as important as theirs (certainly at least in their own minds), who are walking around with tax breaks and bailout money, and they say, “Hey, why the hell is this belt tightening on me?”

                Now, whether or not that’s fair or not, or what’s best for the economy or not, or any other consideration… it’s certainly an understandable human reaction to the current state of economic affairs. And, when pressed mightily hard, I’m given to understand that they gave in to the Governor’s proposed pension change and effective salary cut… just like, when pressed, the airline attendant union came to see the light and adjusted their union situation with the corporations that employed them, even though they didn’t have the “company might burn down” motivation. And unlike, I’ll note, bonus-holders at Goldman adjusted their expectations. Although some of those bonus-holders at Goldman may have turned around and upped their charitable donations, I dunno.

                So I’m not entirely sure that they’re always going to defend their bad workers and demand more pay. It’s demonstrably true that you can make ’em see some sort of reason (albeit maybe only after the barn door is closed and the cow is burned down, to mix a metaphor).

                Not sure what the point of this last screed is, I had three glasses of wine tonight.Report

  12. Avatar Kyle says:

    Tim, there’s quite a bit I agree with here but for brevity, i want to highlight your insight into feelings about wealth and perceptions of legitimacy. Or i guess how accepting we are of disparity if we perceive it to be fairly produced, even if, ferny & Greg, there is no objective standard fairness.

    Still if one wants to challenge the existence or usefulness of procedural fairness, i don’t see how you can still argue that social justice or distributive fairness has any more relevance.Report

  13. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    Usually your arguments are cogent. This one derails at: “Those contracts were negotiated in good faith with many administrations.” Yeah, with the threat of a ‘public’ strike facing incompetent and cowardly BOE’s, city councils, and county board’s of commission.
    Then toward the end, when you realize your arguement is thin gruel indeed, you get all wobbly with that violence bs.
    I dunno but the last time the American Left/radical ‘students’/unionists got all fired up and started to do the destruction of property/anarchy thing was at Kent State. Well, that dog sure as hell didn’t hunt.
    If you’re going to revolt you’d better know what your doing and why your doing it. My goodness, I’d watch Katie Couric and the news if the Wisconsin teachers went to the barricades. That would be entertainment.Report

  14. Avatar Freddie says:

    I think this post is indicative of the whole damn show. Everything you have written here is utterly, unfailingly shorn from real world context. Nothing that you regard here speaks to the world as it exists. Everything speaks to some halcyon America that does not exist.

    Unfairness? Please. If you want a tour of unfairness, drop me a line. We’ll go to the poor parts of town. Unfairness? When so much of this country’s resources are held in the hands of so few? Sell fairness somewhere else. It has nothing to do with winner take all America.Report

    • Avatar Koz says:

      Yikes. If you want to understand the world as it really exists, by all means talk to Freddie cuz he’s got the monopoly of the knowledge of that.Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:


        In fairness to Freddy, certainty of phrasing is a common malady around here. It would be interesting to have a linguist dig through the last six months’ worth of commentary and postings and see how ideological bent correlates to declarative language.

        I have a sneaking suspicion that the more classical Liberal/Conservatives among us (ya’ll know who you are) are going to have a high correlation to “it is/we know/it is known” language while the more squishy middle folk have a higher correlation to “I think/it seems likely”.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          It has been established that Batman, and by extension, DC Comics in general is far, far superior to Marvel.

          To be honest, I have to question whether someone who argues pro-Marvel sentiments is on the payroll, or is related to someone who is, or is merely stupid, or just enjoys being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian without having any real opinion of his or her own like some soulless golem who was programed by his or her rabbi to spout nonsense in the face of studied research.

          Which of those are you?Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

            Wait, I can’t honestly think that Marvel is superior? That aside, maybe the answer is none of the above, or all of the above. Does it matter?

            Sometimes I suspect I know an answer, but I’ve got a problem with my answer. Someone else says they know the answer, and their answer resembles mine. Hey, here’s my chance, maybe they don’t have the same problem that I have with the answer we share in common. Digging into that person’s argument might make mine better. I do this a lot. Maybe it’s a habit I should get out of; it’s led to misunderstandings on many an occasion.

            Sometimes someone has the same answer I do, but they’re saying really stupid things in support of my answer. I don’t really want to be associated with their stupid things, so I’d like them to explain the answer better, or reveal something brilliant to me that shows that their support isn’t so stupid after all.

            Sometimes I have no idea if what I’m saying makes any sense to anyone but me, so I’m trying to find out if I’m crazy or not.

            Sometimes I don’t have a dog in a fight but I see two people who both seem reasonably intelligent fighting like crazy, and jumping in is the best way to find out if maybe I ought to care one way or another. They certainly do. They seem smart enough. Is there something there?

            Sometimes I’m commenting while grumpy, and thus I sound like I’m way more sure of my answer than I am. Shoot, dude, I’m human.

            Very, very, often I suspect that people have very good answers but I just can’t see how to get *there* from *here*. Also, sometimes I agree that *there* would be a bitchin’ ass place to be, but I suspect that if we get there someone is just going to ruin it for everybody, because *there* is going to be populated by a whole bunch of people and most of them don’t think like me or the person with the idea.

            Very, very often I hear people offering framework arguments that I’d agree with except I think their framework is limited, and I’m trying to get them to the root principle so that I can at least get them to say, “Assuming my assumption is true. It might not be true” (this is rarely successful). If the whole world was less certain about themselves, things would probably be on the whole much mo’ bettah. Happily this happens here less than many other places.

            Very, very often I hear people offering answers that directly contradict other things they say, so either I’m misunderstanding them or there’s some nuance I’m trying to get teased out so that I know whether or not they’re being inconsistent or not. This tells me nothing about the rightness or wrongness of the particular issue under discussion but it tells me something about the person in question.

            After all, I’m a big believer in context so sometimes I like big solutions and sometimes I like small ones; sometimes they’re better coming from above and sometimes they’re better coming from below. Almost always I see exception scenarios in everybody’s solutions (including my own) so I point ’em out to see if anybody’s thought of them and has an answer. I like answers.

            Sometimes, I’m playing Devil’s Advocate because far too often I’ve made huge errors in my own thinking that might have been helped by having someone around me give me some pushback.

            Very often, people put me in a sack with their intellectual opponents because I agree with one specific thing their intellectual opponents say. Then they start accusing me of being all those things (this also does not happen here too often). My first gut impulse is not to deny it, but start asking them why these things are so bad. Hey, if someone’s going to hang a label on me I want to know if it’s pejorative or not so I know whether or not they’re trying to be insulting.

            Sometimes it’s Thursday.

            Sometimes I’m just trying to find out if someone is trying to sell me a Turbo Encabulator.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

              For the record, First Adventures kicked both Marvel and DC’s collective butts. Pause while I pour out a forty.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Would you like some historical examples of things that were honestly thought?

              In my case, when I look at the world I see a number of things that people (both Conservative and Liberal) say are matters of morality that, I swear to goodness, strike me as a matter of taste. Or, if I am willing to agree that they are a matter of morality, the proposed solution usually involves a violation of something that others consider a matter of morality (and, usually, this gets waved away as “not really being a matter of morality” which, hey, I’m down with but then people get all pissed when I start waving my hand around).

              What fascinates me is what many call “hypocrisy” but I see as more of “dissonance”… e.g., seeing someone who argues for a strong cultural relativism one moment then screams about individual rights the second (or vice versa). That sort of thing. It’s not the hypocrisy that I find interesting (good lord, I don’t even see how others find it interesting!), but how people can justify to themselves THIS on this day and THAT on that day without it necessarily being something that benefits them both days. That stuff is *FASCINATING*.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                Are you trying to psychoanalyze me based upon my post pattern? (I ask because I did the same thing to your posts and it would be further proof that we’re alike and unalike in that Bizzaro sort of way).

                Just ask me, dude. E.D. has my email, if you can’t find the right me on Google (which would be sort of surprising). I doubt the rest of the League cares 🙂Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Do you think that I’m trying to psychoanalyze you?

                Does that make you uncomfortable?

                (Honestly: I see psychoanalysis as something that is done to people who are somehow “off”… and my definition of “off” probably doesn’t map 1:1 with most folks’. Instead, I dig on seeing what underlying philosophy other folks have. I mean, politically, Maribou is very, very left. She’s Canadian and she’s left for one of those. She married me despite my being to her right. And not just Labour to her Green, but, like, John Birch to her Socialist Party. Our underlying philosophies make this union not only possible but pleasant. It’s possible to meet other folks out there who, despite differences in opinions and moral intuitions, one can still hang, chill, and otherwise dawdle with these folks. I always dig on finding such. And it’s always interesting to see who shares 95% of your opinions who you absolutely cannot FREAKIN’ STAND!!! And so on. All that to say, dude, we should get a beer.)Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                > Instead, I dig on seeing what
                > underlying philosophy other folks have.

                Yeah, that’s what I meant by psychoanalyze, actually. And nah, it doesn’t make me uncomfortable, although it does on occasion make other people uncomfortable when I do it to them.

                My wife is likewise to the left of me, if you can say that I’m anywhere on the political spectrum. If you needed to put me into a really short box in a comment thread, I’d say that if I was in a perfect version of my world, I’d be on a planetary colony with about 10,000 other people and we’d probably all be non-objectivist quasi-libertarians with a very strong empathy for helping each other out when shit happens and an intentionally very rudimentary economic engine.

                Since we’re stuck on spaceship Earth, and since most people aren’t libertarians and indeed it doesn’t seem like a majority of people ever will be (even the aforementioned colony within a few generations of its founding), I’m trying to figure out a way to have the least pessimum situation with what I’ve got. Sometimes that means building things deliberately to make it difficult for either side of the political spectrum to run buck wild.

                I grok your fondness for tribes. I think our natural affinity for tribes works may have something to do with the way human species evolved from way back when until 6,000 BC or so, a timeline which far exceeds from then until today. I think that’s why the whole “individual vs. the collective” argument is sort of specious.

                At the same time, I find both of those positions to be intellectually fascinating, so I like picking them apart. I can get pretty distracted by that because I like formal logic a lot. Sometimes it leads people to think I’m trying to burn them to the ground when I’m not.

                I like morality, but I’m pretty convinced that I’m never really going to be able to definitively judge what’s moral or not, so I try to limit my intersection with public policy to keep my own morality out of other people’s biznitz. I get cranky about this because a lot of people insist on acting in ways that’s clearly immoral and in many ways downright evil but they like to dance right on the other side of that line of making it my biznitz.

                But if you found a particular set of my commentary odd over the last few days, feel free to ask me in email. I’ve had diarrhea of the mouth so I’m not sure what exactly I’ve said 🙂Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                “Tribe” is a perfect word for what I look for.

                It’s not agreement on conclusion or even necessarily on process (I have some tribe members who aren’t particularly self-reflective at all, for example… they don’t read, they don’t write, the internet is for pr0n, and they watch stuff like Deal or No Deal unironically. And I’d take a bullet for them.)

                Why this one and not that one?

                Surely it doesn’t amount to a sense of humor… surely not.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                As for email, come on over to Mindless Diversions and leave a real email in the email field with one of your comments there. (I won’t give it out!)Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                Actually, a sense of humor links together most of the people that have stayed within a reasonable delta of my inner circle over the years. You might have something profound there.

                Humorless folk, of all stripes, have a tendency to drift away.Report

  15. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I think it’s safe to say that this question of public opinion is in flux. And in any case, what conclusion are you asking us to draw from equal favorability to unfavorability? Surely not that public employee unions are particularly unpopular, much as that would be helpful to the point you seem to want to advance here. Public employee unions, it seems, are viewed almost exactly as favorably as labor unions generally are right now.

    Oh, and you’ll notice that the supposed equality between favor and disfavor for public employee unions disappears when we look at polling that doesn’t have a widely acknowledged ideological skew. Those are numbers, by the way, that are based on surveys done Feb 2-7 of this year, meaning that they reflect none of the backlash that is clearly taking place on the question as a result of the actions of my state’s Governor.Report

  16. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Liberals are stupid. They have stupid goals and pursue them stupidly. They are even too stupid to realize why people who aren’t as stupid as they are don’t like them.

    Is that a complete summary of the post, or did I stupidly leave anything out?Report

  17. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    I should probably start by saying I agree with the overall tone (I think, though I may be misinterpreting you).

    I agree that “liberals” can often end up arguing in favor of fair outcomes rather than fair procedures. And hell, who wouldn’t want fair procedures? Everyone starts the race at the same time, same rules, and then of we go. And yes, some people will win, others will finish late, and some not at all.

    As an American theme, we mostly seem to feel that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is not a guaranteed outcome, but that we should all receive a fair shake in achieving that.

    But I have a few questions. As far as unions exerting political pressure during campaigns, well so do corporations, and if we have a problem with that, we might as well change how we fund/campaign for elections rather than use it as an argument to dismantle either corporations or unions. So in what ways do you feel that unions are in a unique position to benefit from campaign contributions? For every act that could favor a union, there is another act that could favor a corporation or other interest group. And by contributing to a campaign, a union is always taking a risk, that if they lose, the winner will not look so kindly upon them. And isn’t this what we’re seeing right now in Wisconsin? If unions really did have unfair leverage in political campaigns, would they even be in this spot to begin with?

    And just so I am clear, before scurrying for links, you are maintaining that private sector employees in similar positions with similar credentials are not paid as much as public ones?

    And if bad deals are negotiated, why is it not the government (aka, the people of that locality/state) not to be held responsible?

    The employer with whom public employee unions negotiate—the government—is not just another industry, and thus normal market constraints are often supplanted by political restraints and more flexible accounting practices that enable unfair and unrealistic concessions in favor of unions.

    You seem to suggest the government is an entity estranged from public interests, as when you suggest that unions negotiate with “the government,” rather than with “the people” as represented by their elected officials. I’m confused as to why a public that is already inherently prejudiced against the practices and nature of public unions need be protected from them, as if the public is so easily taken advantage of and or tricked. Perhaps, in the same way you feel that unions are fine in the private sector but not in the public sector, you have a similar argument for why moral hazard is fine in the private sector, but not in the public sector.Report

    • Avatar Tim Kowal says:

      As far as unions exerting political pressure during campaigns, well so do corporations, and if we have a problem with that, we might as well change how we fund/campaign for elections rather than use it as an argument to dismantle either corporations or unions.

      Yes, I did mention above that I agree one must wage the “public unions are bad because they’re a too-powerful special interest” argument side-by-side against any other too-powerful special interest. I mentioned that public unions have negotiated special legal status which most other special interests don’t have and which entitle them to large amounts of power over the public fisc and the police power. This is separately problematic. But yes, a powerful special interest is bad because it is a powerful special interest.

      As for the question why did public unions lose political power in Wisconsin, I’d guess because 2010 was an historic election? Unprecedented number of Republican victories? I mean, Wisconsin might not have been as hopelessly liberal as California, but I don’t think it means public unions didn’t have more political power than they had a right to. But I’m guessing here. I really don’t know the dollar amounts of public union campaign contributions in Wisconsin for its recent elections. It’s a fair point you’re making.

      I’m going to skip ahead to one question I really want to answer:

      And if bad deals are negotiated, why is it not the government (aka, the people of that locality/state) not to be held responsible?

      As we’re seeing, the people are being held responsible. See my link above concerning the hapless citizens of San Diego, left holding the bag after long out-of-office officials negotiated imprudent pension increases. It’s easy for officials to give into public unions on the backend, since they’ll be long gone by the time the storm hits. Plus, government accounting comes with lots more room for accounting tricks than corporations have.

      All this is why we have such a huge pension mess. The argument can be made, and it’s right in theory, that taking the long view, defined-benefit pensions are no different from defined-contribution pensions. The problem is, when you have historic recessions like we have now, can local governments survive while they pay out pensions that account for 50% or more of their payroll? Unless courts enforce constitutional retroactive pay increase prohibitions and debt limitations, many of these local governments are surely headed for BK.Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

        > As we’re seeing, the people are being held responsible.

        They’re sure trying to duck that, though, aren’t they?

        > See my link above concerning the hapless citizens of
        > San Diego, left holding the bag after long out-of-office
        > officials negotiated imprudent pension increases.

        Yes, those poor hapless citizens of San Diego. San Diego County, population 3,001,072.

        San Diego County, registered voters (… 1.5 million of 2 million eligible.

        San Diego County has 524,386 registered Democrats and 605,974 registered Republicans, with another 310,415 nonpartisan voters.

        SDC seems to net about 60% registered voter turnout.

        So, out of 2 million voters, they get 900,000 ballots. Sounds to me like those other 1.1 million voters are hardly hapless. They *outnumber* the actual voters.

        > It’s easy for officials to give into public unions on
        > the backend, since they’ll be long gone by the time
        > the storm hits.

        Absolutely true. This is only correctable through the legislative process. So your options are vote the turkeys out, or introduce a state Constitutional amendment that limits the sorts of contracts that a legislator can sign. We only let the Federal government have a 2-year Army budget, why do we let state legislators sign N year contracts?

        > Plus, government accounting comes with lots more
        > room for accounting tricks than corporations have.

        I don’t buy this assertion one bit. I just took a Financial Accounting class through Drucker, and the number of accounting tricks available for anybody under U.S. GAAP is effectively limited only by your imagination and how ballsy you’re willing to be that you won’t get prosecuted.Report

  18. Avatar Francis says:

    Is this intended as a discussion piece or as a diatribe? Because it certainly reads more like the latter. The purported existence of a monolithic left, the evils of redistribution, the claimed procedural unfairness of public sector unions — these are common themes among those who are trying to drum up support for the Governor in Wisconsin; they don’t work so well if you’re actually trying to have a meaningful discussion with one’s political opposition.

    Public unions are a good idea because:
    1. They are nothing more than the exercise of First Amendment rights by government workers.
    2. They serve as a political counterweight to the owners of capital who seek to use the power of government for their own purposes. (How many representatives of labor are found on the Federal Reserve Board, for example?)Report

    • Avatar Koz says:

      Not quite. #1, workers in America have First Amendment rights without unions. In fact, where unions exist, they are almost always subsidized by compulsory dues, which is actually one of the main issues in Wisconsin. #2, government as an employer doesn’t represent private capital, so there’s no “imperative” for a counterweight to it.Report

  19. Avatar Chris says:

    Since it may be difficult to see the connection between my earlier point — that Kowal’s grossly mischaracterizes the liberal justification for unions — and Kowal’s general point about process vs. outcomes, I’ll lay it out more directly, without getting into public sector unions specifically (in short, I think the liberal support of public sector unions, while partly principled, is largely pragmatic — with the erosion of private sector unions, it’s really the last remaining salient occupied by powerful labor).

    Unions are meant to be a merger of outcome and process, but by misrepresenting the justification and purpose of unions, Kowal misses this. Unions are not about a single outcome (the “minimum level” in Kowal’s characterization), but about fairness. The way unions are supposed to operate — and I think many if not most liberals would admit that they don’t always work this way — is by setting the compensation of workers relative to the value of the product they are producing. When the value of the product, or the company, goes up, their fair share goes up, and when the value goes down, their fair share goes down. This is why labor unions, when they’re functioning well, make concessions in rough economic times (or just rough times for their particular market), for example.

    I find it interesting that there’s a lot of talk of the compensation of public vs. private employees. This is largely dependent on the industry, of course, and public employees generally work for the back end (pensions and retirement benefits), while private employees generally work for the front end, so in some ways we end up comparing apples to oranges. But you’d be hard pressed to find a supporter of unionization who won’t point out a simple fact to you: a large part of why private employees have been basically getting screwed for the last couple decades, whereas public employees, where they’re allowed to collectively bargain, have not, is that private unions have all but dropped off the face of the Earth in this country. While there may be other reasons (related to the source of public employees’ compensation) for being against public unions, the fact that private employees are getting screwed, by and large, is a pretty crappy anti-public union argument, from either a process or outcome perspective. Wherever labor is able to share power with capital, or management, labor will do better than in sectors where it is unable to.Report

    • Avatar tom van dyke says:

      I object strongly to the accusation that Mr. Kowal has mischaracterized anything. He has argued cleanly, and modestly.

      The mischaracterization is in abstracting and analogizing the issue of public unions to any- or everything else.

      The reality is that they’re sui generis, and even FDR made that distinction. Public sector unions are as easily analogized to the military as they are to a monopsonistic [great word, that] coal mine.

      At some point, one must discuss reality. Or at least he ought.


      • Avatar Francis says:

        Those in the service of power have the privilege of arguing modestly. Those trying to take power? Not so much. The working man and woman didn’t get what they’ve got by being nice, or modest.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Tom, I’ve pointed out above how he’s mischaracterized the justification of unions. It has nothing to do with “minimum standards,” or any single outcome. The only outcome in question is fairness. So whatever reality he’s discussing, it ain’t the liberal position on unions, much less the leftist one.Report

        • Avatar tom van dyke says:

          “Fairness” always seems to have a thumb on the scale in these things, and often has me reaching for my wallet. I for one appreciated the distinction between public and private sector unions: In the case of public unions, they do indeed have representatives on both sides of the negotiating table.

          This seems unfair. I think that’s at the heart of his point, and I think it holds.Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

            > In the case of public unions, they do indeed
            > have representatives on both sides of the
            > negotiating table.

            Again, this is equally applicable to corporations, who have representatives on both sides of the negotiating table.

            This begs the question for you, Tom… why do you characterize this as “unfair” in the case of unions (as in, this isn’t right we ought to fix it) while saying that it’s perfectly fair in the case of corporations (as in, it’s protected speech and there’s nothing we can do)?Report

            • Avatar tom van dyke says:

              Mr. Cahalan, again I object to changing the subject to corporations when the topic is public unions.

              I’ll be happy to look at “the corporation problem” at a different time. They are not in the same continuum and it muddies the waters to treat them as such.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                Your objection is noted and summarily dismissed, with a merry laugh and a wink.

                I try to engage you, Tom, but you will only fight the battles you wish to fight, using the exact same tactics you eschew or reject or politely ignore when other battlefields are proposed.

                If you want me to take you seriously, you need to explain to me why your argument (which, taken on its face, is reasonable) does not generalize when the consequence is something you don’t like. You don’t do that.

                Organization A has bargainers on both sides of the negotiation table. You assert that this is a problem.

                I will accept your characterization that this is a problem if and only if you will explain to me why this does not apply to Organization A+n, for all n. Your argument generalizes, or it does not.

                If it generalizes, you must stop complaining when it has consequences you don’t like, or I can’t take you seriously.

                If it does not (and it certainly may not, I grant that possibility), you *must explain to me why it does not* for me to understand the full context of your position.

                If you cannot do that, I will not accept your characterization.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill says:

                I had a discussion along time ago with a libertarian wherein I mentioned that it’s highly problematic for a corporation that does business with the government to lobby the government. He came back with “Then you must hate unions, too. BOOM!”

                Kinda took the wind out of his sails when I said that while I don’t hate unions (I don’t hate corporations, either), the same dynamic is basically in play as far as I am concerned. It’s problematic. It’s also, of course, free speech.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                It’s libertarians like that that give the other 5% of us a bad name.

                I would have gone down the “what other groups do you think ought to have their First Amendment rights restricted?” road, myself. Depending on whether I had been drinking, maybe I would have worked book burning into the question… sigh. Woulda coulda shoulda.

                In any case: Don’t trust the 95% of Libertarians who respond to every issue as if you were on Team Blue… whether or not you happen to be.

                Team Gold is not Team Red and ought not argue as if they were.Report

              • Avatar Kitty says:

                > Depending on whether I had been
                > drinking, maybe I would have
                > worked book burning into the question…

                I’m again struck by the fact that we really need to meet at a bar somewhere and hoist a few.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                Damn it, that was me again.Report

    • Avatar Kyle says:

      A series of pushback questions on this.

      First, with respect to a key difference between the public/private sector. The government doesn’t have to and rarely does abide by the same constraints of the market vis-a-vis product valuation fluctuations. The President doesn’t make more when times are good and less when times are bad. Government salaries tend overwhelmingly to go in one direction, upward. Personnel expenditure cuts come more from layoffs than they do from compensation adjustment. Isn’t the usefulness of the product valuation line of reasoning limited to private sector unions?

      If so, then increases in price value can only meaningfully correspond to profitability, in which case it can be and has been argued that stagnant private sector incomes has as much to do with increased competition (and thus declining profitability) in unionised industries, along with a rapid increase in health care costs, paid by the employer. Incomes may be stagnant but I’d be shocked if the actual cost of employees to employers has been. AFAIK the only industry that lends itself well to large scale unionisation that is still really profitable is mining, where rising commodity prices stand in contrast to the decline and slowly rising costs of air travel and automobile production have not, or steel production.

      Final question, if the widely panned (by the left) decline in private sector unionisation has yet to produce either a return to Triangle Shirtwaist/Pullman Rail Co. or any kind of grass roots private worker pro-union movement, are unions still vitally necessary? Or have we come to enshrine in worker protection laws and a public that supports them a valuation of worker rights that lives past unions, making them institutionally less vital, which some might say is a triumph greater than any arbitrary or particular level of unionisation?Report

      • Avatar tom van dyke says:

        Kyle provides needed clarity here, on several points:

        —The private sector unions did indeed realize that they were “partners” afterall, in the success of the business/corporation. Of late they have recognized the need for “givebacks” that responded to the ups-and-downs of business cycles.

        Probably too late, since most of their golden gooses are dead. I lived in Miami back in the day, and everybody knew Eastern Airlines was the gold standard of unionized entitlement. Even better than a gov’t job.

        Eastern Airlines is gone now, of course, first dead and long dead.

        We have the American auto workers of course, still alive somewhat; Ford’s have “given back,” the other two Government Motors, I dunno. It’s too soon to know.

        —Public unions of course, only ratchet up, never back down, just like in the Olden Days. I’ll not assert it as fact, but the current factoid is that Wisconsin teachers average $100K between salary and benefits. I will assert as fact that anyone north of 100 IQ has the Right Stuff to be a teacher, ed majors being the most average of all university admittees. You want the lowest avg SATs, that the ed dept.

        $100K is pretty danged good, on average, twice our avg per capita.

        —Kyle also reinforces a point I saw elsewhere today, that worker safety, once the righteous province of union agitation, is now governmentalized via OSHA. Hence, the union is superfluous here in the 21st c.

        Well observed and well done, sir.Report

        • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

          Yes, congrats to Kyle and TVD for some productive and interesting explications of the ongoing crisis.Report

        • Avatar NoPublic says:

          Nice shell game with “teachers” and “per-capita”. Now do it with “teachers” and “similarly educated members of the private workforce”. I’ll wait. Probably a long time.Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

            He doesn’t have to jump over that bar, he already disclaimed it here:

            “I will assert as fact that anyone north of 100 IQ has the Right Stuff to be a teacher, ed majors being the most average of all university admittees.”

            Now, that’s a pretty bald assertion and I don’t buy it one bit, but that’s just me.Report

            • Avatar NoPublic says:

              No, he didn’t disclaim that one. Because “per-capita” income doesn’t include only uni enrolled (or graduated) folks. It includes the guy who sweeps the floors at the WalMart 30 hours a week for next to nothing (And the CEOs making millions).Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Mr. No Public, don’t be lazy and mouthy. Pls bring a counterfactual for your challenge. What’s the avg salary for a bachelor’s degree?Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                You need more than a bachelor’s degree to be a credentialed teacher (in this state, anyway).Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                But, to answer your question:



                $46,000 as of March 8th. Average credentialed teacher? $50,000. Average teacher (counting non-credentialed, emergency credentialed, etc.)? $36,000.

                This does not seem to widely out of whack.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                $100K with benefits in Wisconsin.

                “The conservative think tank said the average annual compensation for a Milwaukee Public Schools teacher would exceed $100,000 in 2011. As of July 1, 2011, according to the school district, that figure will be $101,091.

                MacIver’s claim is True.”


                So what we have here appears to be the lower strata of SAT college grads making much more than the average for similar grads in other fields.

                I’m willing to re-look at the figures, but right now, the Wisc teachers’ [partial] ownership of the Wisc Democratic Party seems to be paying itself with taxpayer money.

                This is a problem.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                “$59,500 in salary and $41,591 in benefits.”

                Do those benefits mean healthcare? Or do they encompass other benefits as well?Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                “Mr. TVD, don’t be lazy and mouthy. Pls bring a counterfactual for your challenge. What’s the avg compensation package for a bachelor’s degree?”

                Ball’s in your court.

                Also, please to be explaining why this is a problem in Wisconsin. You’d have to pay me more than the average to live there rather than here, I’m a spoiled California boy.

                Note also: IS specialists make $65 k out the gate, on average. They’ve traded some benefits for extra “up front” cash. You have not done much in the way of lifting to support your contention that any average bloke can be a good teacher, so why we’re comparing teachers to the average college grad is as yet unsubstantiated.

                I imagine this also means that you’re all on board for finding those poor sods who make well under the average (if Wisconsinites are making $56,095 in average salary, there’s a bunch of teachers out there who are making $36,000, they must be vastly exploited, by your premise(s).Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                Was that directed at me? I’m confused. I was legit asking that.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                No, that was a timing thing (and a nested comment problem).Report

              • Avatar NoPublic says:

                I would guess that nobody cares about actual data at this point, but in WI (and yes, I do live here):


                BA/S: Private 65,302
                BA/S: Public 47174

                Masters: Private 80,323
                Masters: Public 57,305

                Total Compensation

                BA/S: Private 82,134
                BA/S: Public 61,668

                Masters: Private 100,296
                Masters: Public 74,056

                Averages of full-time (over 1000 hrs/yr) employees.
                Data from BLS (2009) and Census(2006)Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                I rebutted your argument, Mr. Cahalan. Absent a substantive counterargument, pls leave me alone. I don’t live in Wisconsin either, and my fate is Jerry Brown’s, as yours is. I even voted for him out of desperation with the current crisis here.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                You, in fact, did not rebut my argument, Tom.

                You asked for a salary comparison. I gave one. You then moved goalposts and started talking about compensation, but provided only half of the relevant information necessary to make a comparison.

                You are therefore lacking in the counterfactuals.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                So go find the compensation figures and rebut me, sir. Otherwise, it’s worth neither of our time, this tooth-and-nail business.

                My ire was directed at a pseudonym who came in with much swagger and challenge no facts. You & I have always managed civility. If you have a point, simply make it. It seems clear Wisc can’t pay teachers an avg of $100K [and more to come] no matter how you slice it. Further, there is the self-dealing issue.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                > It seems clear Wisc can’t pay teachers
                > an avg of $100K [and more to come]
                > no matter how you slice it.

                I know zero about Wisconsin, so I won’t make a declarative assessment, but I’m willing to accept this as-is for the sake of argument, at this point.

                Let’s assume, therefore, that you and I live in Wisconsin and it’s our business to decide how much they ought to pay their teachers.

                Here’s the rub: how do you propose *we solve this problem*? How is your solution applicable to this problem, while still not interfering with similar situations where you have already staked out a negative claim to this very solution space?

                You said farther upthread:

                > Like WFBuckley, I find CEO pay
                > obscene, however, I do not see
                > any acceptable legal remedy for it.

                Likewise, I see no acceptable legal remedies for the current situation with public employee unions (the cap on contract length I mentioned elsewhere being one of the few mitigating steps that wouldn’t make the problem “go away”), unless we are to revisit those remedies that you’ve already rejected as not usable.

                > Otherwise, it’s worth neither of
                > our time, this tooth-and-nail business.

                This is the hump I’m trying to get *over*, dude. The tooth and nail business is attempting to strip this argument down so that I can see if we can align anywhere.

                I’m willing to meet you halfway in several cases. For the sake of the discussion, I’m willing to admit that public sector unions have the negative features that our OP listed. I’m willing to admit that I think these things can be bad. I’m on the fence as to whether or not they are bad in this particular incident, but so what? I’m willing to grant it to move to the next step.

                What do you propose we do?

                How do you propose we fix this instance without using a solution that you’ve already rejected on principle for other similar situations? Curtailing their free speech (and by extension, according to many of the League on the various other thread, their political contributions in filthy lucre) seems right out. Canceling their contracts by fiat seems right out.

                > Which obliges me to note again
                > that the subject was the current
                > crisis, the public unions fleecing
                > the taxpayer, but here we are
                > again discussing the leftish
                > change of subject, income
                > inequality, CEO/corporations,
                > etc.

                They are *inextricably entwined*, as near as I can tell. I’m not bringing them up because I’m leftist (I’ll insist again that I’m not, you’re free to take issue if you wish but that’s not really germane).

                I’m bringing them up because the treatment of organizations – be they union (by the Right) or corporate (by the Left) – seems to have wildly disparate approaches inside the groupthink of the political persuasion.

                “Corporation good! Cannot interfere anyway on account of Principle! But Union bad! Can interfere even though contradict Principle Grog just say!” vs “Union good! Cannot interfere anyway on account of Principle! But Corporation bad! Can interfere even though contradict Principle Grog just say!”

                And here I am in the middle, wondering why I don’t understand how neither side sees how their treatment is completely inconsistent. If I can’t understand it, either I’m broken (which is certainly possible) … or both the Right and the Left are full of shit.

                *Explain* it to me, dude. Why is it different? What am I missing? If anything, here, I’d think the Libs have an advantage: they are claiming that the organization they’re talking about *is* a political one, whose *purpose* is speech. The Cons though have weaker sauce, since they’re talking about an organization whose purpose *isn’t* politics, but profit. If it’s a battle of nuance, the Libs have an edge. Of course, neither side is arguing the nuance.

                Lay some on me!Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

            Case in point: if any old body can be an effective teacher, it completely fails to explain how there can be *any* bad teachers, let alone a pervasive number of them.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              A “bad” teacher is not only a teacher that you would choose to not teach your children, but the children of a dear friend of yours who has moved to another state entirely and who you will most likely not see again excepting various holiday-related reasons.

              This seems a good enough measurement for me.Report

        • Avatar tom van dyke says:

          Worse than I thought: “47 percent of America’s K-12 teachers come from the bottom one-third of their college classes (as measured by SAT scores).”

          Read more:

  20. Avatar tom van dyke says:

    Ah, Francis, you defend extremism. He who lacks the power yells loudest, that is true.

    But the fact is, he who is right can speak the softest. As it turns out, he who yells the loudest is most often the wronger. That’s why he yells—not to be heard, but to shout down the other side.

    Change is a whisper spoken when all the thunder dies away…Report

  21. Avatar Kevin Carson says:

    I’d like nothing better than to do away with automatic dues collection where it exists — provided you also do away with the other side of the coin, which is the requirement that unions represent scabs who come running to them for help the first time they have trouble with a manager despite never having paid a dollar in dues.

    In my federal workplace (a VA hospital), labor relations were governed by something like a state RTW law: union membership and dues payment were voluntary, and a minority of workers belonged — but the union had to represent everyone in the bargaining unit, including freeloading scabs.

    I also didn’t like the fact that, as a two-card Wobbly, I was excluded from leadership positions by bylaws that prohibited those with outside union affiliations from serving.Report

    • Avatar Koz says:

      As far as having to represent non-duespaying members, there is a point there. But you can appreciate that’s in substantial tension with the idea that joining a union is an expression of the members’ 1st amendment rights.

      The essential prerogative for a union, institutionally, is that they are the representation for the concerns of all their members. That may not be in an individual member’s best interest, and is certainly not done the individual’s autonomy in mind.Report

  22. “The two groups hopelessly talk past each other, then, as they are each lobbying for disparate forms of justice. As a matter of practical reality, the two conceptions of justice are mutually exclusive: The guarantee of procedural fairness is precisely the guarantee of fixed procedures in order to achieve particularized outcomes based on individual merit. The guarantee of substantive fairness is precisely the guarantee of particularized procedures in order to achieve fixed outcomes based on conceptions of a “human right” to membership in the Middle Class.”

    It seems the right is saying we should all be screwed equally, whereas the left is saying we should all be equally screwed.Report

  23. Avatar NoPublic says:

    One would have to assume that procedural fairness would result in, for instance, all forms of income being taxed equally.

    One wonders what effect that would have on income inequality.

    Now which side doesn’t believe in this again?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      NoPublic, both of them seem to.

      Should my 100,000th dollar be taxed at the same rate as my 10,000th?

      Should my dividend from the company be taxed when the company makes the profit, then again when they give me my share of the profit?Report