Why my Wife Takes Out her own Trash from her Office


Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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73 Responses

  1. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I thought it would be the reverse at most universities with not-unionized professors (IIRC they are considered part of management) and unionized custodians.

    I know adjunct and grad student unions are often very controversial but probably needed.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to NewDealer says:

      It varies. The professors were not unionized where I went to graduate school, but they are here.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to NewDealer says:

      Why should professors be considered “management”? I should think that running an academic department is a substantively different task than formal management of component parts of the university.

      There would be some overlap in terms of input into hiring and tenure decisions, and possibly in terms of deciding which classes can be farmed out to adjuncts. But managing money, allocating tasks, HR issues, acquiring and disposing of property, tending to the physical plant — with a few exceptions such things in a big university would be handled by the administration rather than by the academics — the academics’ time is usually consumed with academic stuff like research, publication, and instruction.Report

      • I can answer only with my own experiences from the department in which I was until recently a student. The department faculty selected from among them 3 or 4 (I think 3, but I might be mistaken) people to serve the administrative goals of the department. They handled the department budget (I presume on consultation with faculty at regular meetings) and over saw the clerical staff, which in our department was very small, say, around 5 to 7 people (and that includes the graduate assistants hired to help the clerical staff).

        There’s a lot I don’t know about this setup. I don’t know how the relative smallness of the department represented the way things worked. I presume that in a larger department, where the clerical staff numbered between 10 and 15, not including GA’s, the professors may have assumed a less managerial role.

        I also don’t know what role the faculty/administrators played when it came to disciplining clerical staff. The staff was unionized and had civil service protection, too, so even a bona fide manager’s power would be limited (for better and for worse, I suppose), but the faculty-administrators could sometimes secure the transfer from the department of clerical staff who were not up to snuff, and I understood that sometimes a transfer could be the first in a series of steps that might result in job termination, or at least stagnation at a certain pay rate. But I really don’t know.

        I don’t know, either, how the university HR entered the picture. It existed, and it processed paperwork, but I’m pretty sure it did not exercise direct oversight of the employees, although I suppose it handled complaints and, probably with the union, engaged in formal disciplinary proceedings.

        Finally, in my department, probably at least half the 20 or so professors conducted classes each semester that had TA’s, and other professors, occasionally might have graduate research assistants. In those positions, they acted as direct supervisors, although the TA’s and GA’s were under contract (even before unionization made the contract general) and it was the department and/or the university that actually “hired” them.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Burt Likko says:



        The Supreme Court decided that professors at Yeshiva University weilded enough power to be considered management in 1980. This was a 5-4 decision with the usual suspects on each side for 1980. A sample paragraph from the majority:

        “The controlling consideration in this case is that the faculty of Yeshiva University exercise authority which in any other context unquestionably would be managerial. Their authority in academic matters is absolute. They decide what courses will be offered, when they will be scheduled, and to whom they will be taught. They debate and determine teaching methods, grading policies, and matriculation standards. They effectively decide which students will be admitted, retained, and graduated. On occasion their views have determined the size of the student body, the tuition to be charged, and the location of a school. When one considers the function of a university, it is difficult to imagine decisions more managerial than these. To the extent the industrial analogy applies, the faculty determines within each school the product to be produced, the terms upon which it will be offered, and the customers who will be served.”

        According to an Inside Higher Ed article, this decision has led to mixed results for faculty unions with it largely being hard at private universities.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Thanks for the research, ND.

        It’s strange. I would have said that in some ways academics act like managers as a group, but in other senses they do not at all. Also, no one academic manages anyone. If they are managers, they manage only themselves and do so as a group.

        But a court may be forced to just answer the question plainly: are they managers or are they not?Report

      • Avatar Patrick Bridges in reply to Burt Likko says:

        As a professor, I can see it both ways. I think it varies a lot depending on the type of university, as well.

        At major research universities, faculty positions, even those who aren’t chairs of departments or deans, include a solid portion of management. In addition to teaching classes and conducting research yourself, the job includes includes hiring and firing graduate research assistants, departmental committee service on curriculum, admissions, and outreach and other issues, setting budgets for labs and pursuing funding for those labs, and so on. At my university, professors are not unionized.

        My guess (and it’s just that) is that things are probably significantly different at universities where the course loads are much higher (4 classes a semester vs. 1-2) and the research expectations are lower. I expect that such faculty are much more likely to be unionized as well.Report

      • Avatar Matty in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I’m now trying to remember the course I did that touched on different organisational structures, which may be kind of relevant. It basically had to do with separating out manager in the sense of person in charge from manager in the sense of organiser.

        In most commercial organisations the people who do administration are regarded as higher ranked than those who do other tasks but there are a small number where the ‘other tasks’ are so highly regarded this is inverted. Examples would be academics, lawyers and doctors where the ‘manager’ who works out when someone is available and what their work will cost is employed by the ‘worker’ who will actually show up.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to NewDealer says:

      My parents were both professors; they were union at their university.

      IIRCH the union contract was very careful to spell out that “The University” was the faculty, staff, and students engaged in or supporting learning, research and teaching. “The Employer” was the organization that hired the faculty and staff, and to whom the students paid their tuition fees.Report

  2. Avatar Notme says:

    How much trash does your wife generate in one day?Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Notme says:

      Not much. She doesn’t go in to the office most days. I think it would benefit from being taken out on a more regular basis though because some of it might be food.Report

      • Avatar Notme in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        So what is the point then? To show us that she is a friend of the proletariat? If she and other folks all took their own trash out then the university could probably due with even fewer custodians.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Unless I’m misreading, the point is that if she doesn’t do it, no one will, because the school is no longer paying custodians to take out the trash.Report

      • The only point I’ve been able to come up with is that the end result is not ideal, but there doesn’t seem to be a good way to fix it. It doesn’t really make sense to ask highly paid professors to take out their own trash rather than custodians (though I would be hard-pressed to argue that this 1-minute task really hampers their productivity).

        I do find it a little troublesome that the group of workers that is in the worst position is the one that doesn’t have representation and is thereby the sole target of cost-cutting. I know an easy response would be that they should be unionized too, but that simply isn’t an option everywhere, and there can sometimes be very good reasons not to unionize. (For example, the university could just outsource the whole function.)Report

  3. There are some broader points implied in the OP and in Vikram’s later comments (so far) that I think need a little unpacking. First, this,

    Custodians are the exception. They make less than anyone else at the school, so paying union dues out of their paychecks would actually be noticeable.

    is probably true. But if they, for example, earn a 5% raise because of a union contract and their dues reflect only a portion of that wage increase, then the dues, while noticeable, don’t necessarily discount a net gain for the janitors. (I’m not mentioning some longterm ways in which the costs might be shifted to others, say in increases in tuition, or in opportunities for employment forgone to other potential managers.)

    Second, it’s unclear exactly what the significance of your wife taking out the trash is supposed to be, although your responses to NotMe clarify it a little. I assume it means at least partially that her job is more difficult. But how much more difficult might depend on a few things. Does she actually carry outside to the dumpster by the building, or does she carry it to a bigger trash bin on the same floor of the building that her office is on? Or somewhere in between? Having to carry it all the way outside is one thing. Having to carry it just to the common receptical on the same floor is another.

    Third, and on this point I have a lot of sympathy, the OP seems to be saying that faculty unions (and probably unions as a general rule) impose larger costs that are going to be made up somewhere.

    I’ll add something that wasn’t stated, and perhaps not even implied, in the OP, and it’s a speculative hypothesis on my part. One potential function of faculty unions, even or especially if they represent non-tenured faculty and adjuncts, is to ensconce further the power and privileges of the tenured faculty. The non-tenured and the adjuncts might benefit in some, even many, ways, and in some cases at least, fare better under rule by the tenured than rule by administrators. But faculty unions function as a way to remind them all who’s boss, and they had better obey.Report

    • To me, one of the advantages of working for a large organization is that you get specialization of labor and more ideal appropriation of labor. So instead of 1,000 people taking a few minutes out of their own day to take the trash, you have people whose job it is to take care of that for everybody. They’re likely to be more efficient and it’s less likely that they have nearly as much excess labor skill capacity as do people who were hired to be professors, administrators, etc.

      The issue being misappropriation of labor.

      Of course, the university in question just got smaller, and maybe it’s entirely appropriate that the area that was cut was custodial. Yet, according to what Vikram says, the decision wasn’t made on the basis of efficiency. It wasn’t made on the basis that the custodians were the least necessary group of employees, or the place where you can make the most cuts the most efficiently. I mean, maybe that was the case, but the decision was made on the basis of who was unionized and who was not, so in the end it may not have even mattered how efficient the custodians were or weren’t at keeping the ship sailing.Report

      • I second your thoughts about specialization. The school similarly has two guys who do all the IT stuff. That way, someone who earns little relative to a professor but is good at IT does all that stuff instead of the professors trying and failing to fix their own printing issues all day long.

        It wasn’t made on the basis that the custodians were the least necessary group of employees, or the place where you can make the most cuts the most efficiently.

        Obviously I didn’t make that clear enough. It was nothing as logical as that.

        Each union negotiates a contract that covers at least a few years. When that contract is coming to an end they negotiate a new contract for the next few years. This year, no union’s contract was up. Everyone was already under contract, so no one was there to be squeezed. So, they had to save money somewhere else regardless of the merits.Report

      • @will-truman

        It wasn’t made on the basis that the custodians were the least necessary group of employees, or the place where you can make the most cuts the most efficiently….but the decision was made on the basis of who was unionized and who was not, so in the end it may not have even mattered how efficient the custodians were or weren’t at keeping the ship sailing.

        That’s a very good point, Will.Report

      • @vikram-bath So by what you’re saying, if everyone had been unionized, and it so happened that the IT’s union contract happened to be up at the time these cuts would have been made, that the IT staff would have been cut simply because that’s the only place cuts could have been made? That makes sense, and is actually indicative of the problem moreso than the janitorial cuts (to which someone could respond “more unionization could have fixed this!”).

        Pierre, thanks.Report

      • Yes, that is what I am saying.

        Of course, there’s always going to be *some* free factor, even if everyone were unionized and no one’s contract was up. That free factor is more often than not the students. While raising tuition or reducing services might discourage future students from coming here, current students are unlikely to leave just because of a tuition hike.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Will Truman says:

        One the one hand, Vikram is ignoring the potential cost-cutting that could be made by thinning the ranks, or reducing salaries, of the administration.

        On the other hand, that’s also always ignored by college administrations seeking to cut costs. 😉Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Will Truman says:

        The school similarly has two guys who do all the IT stuff. That way, someone who earns little relative to a professor but is good at IT does all that stuff instead of the professors trying and failing to fix their own printing issues all day long.

        Two guys?

        How many people are at this school? And two guys do all the IT work, not just the helpdesk stuff?Report

      • Yes, college administrators could hardly expect to look to administration itself for cuts.

        Two guys do IT work for the School of Business, which is indeed a fairly small school and exists within its own building whose systems the two guys are responsible for. I think one of them used to work at Best Buy.

        The university as a whole, of course, has many more people running various systems around campus.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

      I’m going to use your comment to launch into a general musing. There always seems to be a never ending argument about whether regulations damper business or not or imposes external costs

      What there does not seem to be is a discussion about which regulations are necessary and important enough to justify being a negative externality on business or not.

      Do Unions hamper management and leadership decisions? Yes, at least sometimes. Do they provide a better work place and protection for members? Probably also yes. The taking out trash example is an odd thing to use to swipe at unions for. Unions were the people for fought long and hard for safe workplaces (especially in blue-collar industries), the eight-hour day, paid vacation and sick leave, etc.

      So all in all, I would say unions are a good thing. Though I’m biased.

      Other examples of this regulation fight are complaints that regulations hamper the building of housing. What regulations? Height requirements? Safety requirements? Retrofitting for Earthquakes in California? Last one is a local example. What does it say about people that we complain about regulations for safety and health and welfare being too onerous for business?Report

      • @newdealer

        I certainly plead guilty to this:

        What there does not seem to be is a discussion about which regulations are necessary and important enough to justify being a negative externality on business or not.

        I’m often so fixated on pointing out that things “come at a cost” without really engaging the issue of whether the cost in question is worth paying. In part, this habit stems from the fact that my circle of friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and (until recently) academic advisers tend to be so reflexively pro-union and pro-regulation that simply getting them to recognize there are costs involved is big undertaking.

        I think most of your other points are well-taken. But as to “what it says about people” that we complain about regulations’ supposedly hampering effect on business, my answer is complicated. First, people are usually going to complain about things that restrict their prerogatives (I could say “restrict their liberties,” but that’s too loaded a way to put it).

        Second, we have to distinguish between regulations done in the name of health and safety and the usefulness of regulations toward that end.

        Third, risk to health and safety, no matter how comprehensive the regulation, will exist in at least some case. It can’t be regulated away. So there is always, or at least often, a tradeoff. That’s not a brief against regulation per se, but it is a calculation. Tod Kelly, in other posts, has noted an example of safety regulations in construction that appear to have dramatically reduced the number of deaths, without any appreciable impact on business (or with an impact on business that while real, was well-worth the “cost” given the number of lives saved). I’d like to know more about the contingencies of that example (were other factors at play?), but I like that example. But to me, the tradeoff is often not as start, or not as obviously stark, as that example, taken by itself might suggest.

        Finally, you mention your pro-union bias. I used to share that bias, believing that the case for unionization was to be assumed from the outset and the burden was on the one arguing against unionization or unions in general. Now, I approach it on much more of a case by case basis. Although I don’t consider myself anti-union, I think others can be forgiven for believing that I am, given my reservations against unionization.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to NewDealer says:

        The taking out trash example is an odd thing to use to swipe at unions for.

        I similarly find your taking this as a swipe at unions odd. This actually is an example of the unionized work forces protecting their members from any cuts. (Having to take one’s own trash out notwithstanding.) The university administration couldn’t have done this to a group of workers that was under contract.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:


        Obviously nothing is going to be one hundred percent safe or perfect. Sometimes things just fail or an act of nature is too strong, freak accidents happen, etc.

        But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to be prepared. There is a large middle ground between absolute death trap and health hazard and what many of the right seem to think which is a cartoon parody of OSHA whenever regulations come up.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to NewDealer says:

        “What there does not seem to be is a discussion about which regulations are necessary and important enough…”

        Excellent point. Obviously with millions of regulations, the discussion needs to be somewhat abstract to be relevant. Here are my initial thoughts.

        A. WHO DECIDES? One way to sidestep the issue is to decide who gets to decide how people get to interact. If an action involves only two individuals — that is with little or no externalities — then an argument can be made that the influenced parties should decide. This path leads to maximum freedom and minimal interference and regulation. The minimal regulation aims at ensuring interactions are mutually voluntary, transparent and not fraudulent or under duress. This may be a useful rule of thumb, but is often viewed as inadequate.

        As for actions and interactions with significant externalities, these often are seen as needing regulations to protect third parties and non participants.

        B. PRIVILEGE SEEKING. One danger in any regulation is that it effectively changes the rules of the game. Regulations are inserted to get people to do something, or not do something that they otherwise would choose to do. The players often gain relative to others by gaming the rules in their favor. Even a really, really good rule can privilege one party over another, so there is no black and white rule against privilege or rent seeking. (A safety regulation may advantage a large firm over a small one, for example)

        However once rules become too complex, too detailed, too influential, the playing field risks being converted to one where the real action occurs on influencing the rules themselves. In other words we are no longer seeing people trying to decide how best to cooperate or interact, instead they seek to game the system for their own benefit. Once you can gain more by defining the rules than producing things for fellow humans, it is rational to game the system, and even to invest your money in gaming the system.

        One especially tricky problem with privilege seeking is that privilege can be used by the rule makers to offset disadvantage. This is actually extremely common and arguably justified. The logic is that if two parties interact and one is seen as having more power, the rule makers can craft regulations that try to balance the perceived imbalance with privilege to the disadvantaged party. Too much of a good thing becomes over regulation though.

        The other tricky problem with privilege is that once the rules are changed, that the parties involved react to them in such a way that eliminating privilege effectively causes harm to those playing by the rules. If building codes increase the cost of building, those later buying the homes become victims of deregulation as it will hurt their investment. They become innocent victims. Rent seekers are not always acting immorally.

        So we are left with a situation where some rules are necessary, but too many rules limit freedom, limit human problem solving and just get in our way. Even worse they can become tools of privilege and lead to destructive arms races of privilege seeking. Once established we become dependent upon them and thus we resist even eliminating bad regulations as the elimination can harm good people.

        There is a hierarchy of solutions to the problem of regulation. Some rules can be mutually voluntary, that is decided by the participants — aka bottoms up. Others can be unanimously agreed to. Others can be agreed by a supermajority of participants or their reps. Other regulations can allow opt outs or exit rights. Subsidiarity does this (imperfectly), by allowing people to choose their location and thus their rules.

        Over time, regulations almost certainly grow making any organization more sclerotic over time. Again regulations may very well be good, but too many and they break the camels back just as certainly as too many gold coins. And once regulations become numerous and complex, then they tend to pervert into arms races of rent seeking and human limitation.Report

      • @roger

        That’s a pretty good essay, and I agree with most of it. How many is too many might be where you and I would differ, although maybe not necessarily. Still, I think you sum up the problem nicely.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to NewDealer says:

        Another problem is that deregulation often makes a bad thing worse… Upsetting the apple cart’s balance.

        Over-regulation is a disease that cannot be avoided.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to NewDealer says:

        There always seems to be a never ending argument about whether regulations damper business or not or imposes external costs

        What there does not seem to be is a discussion about which regulations are necessary and important enough to justify being a negative externality on business or not.

        There’s a certain one-sidedness to this.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to NewDealer says:

        Very good comments Roger. Nicely said.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to NewDealer says:

        ND, regarding housing you are leaving out enormous categories of regulations. In any developed urban or near urban area you’re going to have zoning boards, neighborhood associations and all manner of similar groups with their own hosts of regulatory requirements that, in many cases, amount primarily to giving locals a hard stop opportunity to thumbs up or thumbs down new buildings. Local residents, who are by definition not concerned with their own ability to find housing, almost invariably oppose the construction of new housing. New housing means more traffic, more crowds and more congestion, existing locals don’t want that; they want fewer crowds and less congestion so they generally agitate against new development. They also furiously oppose things like rehab clinics, grocery stores (in their immediate neighborhood), women’s shelters, homeless shelters etc… while bemoaning the general paucity of such services in the city as a whole.

        The developmental solution to these problems generally is to follow the easiest path which is to develop the city periphery where farmers happily sell their land at high prices and there are no established interests to agitate against development. This in turn leads to enormous urban sprawl, the paving over of farm land, longer food supply chains, less local agriculture, environmental damage, decreased habitat, exposure of housing to natural disasters (ever wondered why every bloody fire in the west is menacing a bazillion homes), increased energy use, highway building, highway congestion and many other things that people complain about in general while personally opposing anything specific to fix the problem.

        This is without even touching on rent control which is one of the most effective means known to human kind short of high yield explosives to reduce affordable and absolute housing stock availability in an urban environment (and brings urban blight and a twisted new aristocracy in to boot).Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        What do you do about the people not abiding by the rules?
        The cheaters, the liars, and the ones making money off other
        people’s ignorance?Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to NewDealer says:


        The rules need enforcement mechanisms built in to be effective. Doesn’t this go in without saying? Cheaters need to be punished according to the rules.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        to do that you need inspectors. Which are themselves bribable.
        Half of the time the laws do not actually specify inspectors anyway.

        [Interesting Thought: rules are a lot easier to enforce, no matter
        how carried away we get in making them, if we do them at supply.]Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to NewDealer says:


        Excellent comment.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to NewDealer says:


        Penalizing rule breakers or cheaters may or may not require inspectors. More importantly, did I ever argue against inspectors?

        Let’s start over… What is your point?Report

    • net gain for the janitors

      Yes, the effects of unionization are often ambiguous. It is possible that the union might negotiate enough to make up for their fees, but then again, they might not. There is a unionization effort almost every year, however, and they have always voted it down. Presumably they do so for a good reason.

      does she carry it to a bigger trash bin on the same floor of the building that her office is on?

      Yes, the professors take the trash to a bigger bin on the same floor as their office. The most difficult part of the task is probably remembering to actually do it. Still, it was something that they didn’t have to do previously but now have to do, so you don’t need me to tell you how they reacted to the news.

      One potential function of faculty unions, even or especially if they represent non-tenured faculty and adjuncts, is to ensconce further the power and privileges of the tenured faculty.

      This is generally true. If you’re untenured, you don’t really have time to make sure your voice is heard within the union. And frankly, if you made the attempt your colleagues might wonder why you seem to be spending time on that rather than on your research.

      I wouldn’t say that that is unique to professorial unions, or even unions in general. Almost all representative organizations will tend to do its best to represent those within its population who have the most relative power.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        It’s also worth noting that regardless of whether it’s a net gain for the janitors, it’s definitely a net loss for society. Whatever the janitors gain in pay is offset by a loss to students (or taxpayers, or whoever), plus there are the negotiation costs and the deadweight loss from higher prices. It’s rent-seeking, and rent-seeking is welfare-destroying.Report

      • @vikram-bath

        Thanks for your answers. I’m sure you’re right that the problem does not exist solely in professorial unions, but that’s the environment I’m most closely related to.

        One thing that I didn’t note in my comment is the way your wife’s university differs from the one at which I was most recently a student. At my university, it was the janitorial staff and office/clerical staff (and later, the graduate employees) who were unionized, and the faculty union did not exist. In that situation, you had the phenomenon of janitors and clerical staff earning more money and benefits than non-tenured faculty and perhaps in some cases more even than some tenured faculty (usually the lifers who haven’t published anything since their “tenure book” about 20 years ago). I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, given that they have to put up with faculty. (Now, however, I hear there is a drive for a faculty union, they have met the legal requirements for compulsory recognition, and they are in (frustratingly for them) stalled negotiations on a contract.)


        It may very well be a net loss for society, but my biggest concern is not for “society.” It’s more for those who have to bear the costs, particularly people who now lack employment opportunities who might otherwise get them, and those who have to pay higher prices for tuition.

        I’ll add that it’s a curious feature of some people’s criticisms against unionism that these criticism sometimes revert to the needs of society, as if the workers who wish to be unionized ought to sacrifice their interests to the good of society. At the same time, those critics are often very reticent about endorsing any other sacrifices made for “society.” Is that a tu quoque? Maybe, and not relevant either to the critique of unionism’s affect on society or to the critique of the way union laws channel and help determine how unions operate. But it is food for thought. I don’t blame the janitors for voting against a union at Vikram’s wife’s school. But I also wouldn’t blame them if they had, even though I might criticize any given negotiating position their new union might take.Report

      • As for my point about Vikram’s wife’s school being the converse of what obtains at the schools I’m most familiar with, I should’ve pointed out that Newdealer beat me to it in his first comment above.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Anyone striving to better their lot is rent-seeking, unless they’re investors, because everyone else is shit.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        What is your point, Mike? You know there is a definition of rent seeking, and it is not synonymous with “trying to better your lot.” Specifically it involves HOW one tries to better ones lot.


      • I think Mike was riffing, in the way that he riffs, off of what I was claiming, in my tu quoque comment, to be a “curious feature” of some people’s criticisms against unions in the name of protecting “society.”

        I should’ve added to my comment that I indulge in that “curious feature” myself when it comes to criticizing unions. A few years ago, the CTA [Chicago Transit Authority] union voted to accept layoffs of less senior employees and accept cuts in service rather than accept a pay cut. And the Chicago Teachers strike was, to me, an example of a union disregarding a very plausible society-related concern (the city’s claim to have difficulty paying a pay increase) in favor of keeping its constituency happy with a pay increase.

        To be fair, both CTA and the Bd of Ed/Emmanuel probably were playing hardball and being less than transparent, and in some ways, the pay issue was a proxy for work-rule related issues that the union was not allowed to bargain for. And the job of a union is to protect its members when they collectively decide on what their interests are (which leaves the less senior CTA workers SOL….) and not to look out for society. (Still, I could’ve done without Karen Lewis lecturing us that foregoing a pay raise was the same thing as “taking money from our schoolchildren.”)Report

      • Avatar Notme in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Karen Lewis, a fine example of unions at their best.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I was speaking quite precisely. There’s a saying that’s heard in the sociobiological community that “an organism is but a gene’s way of replicating itself”. Likewise, a surprising number of cheerleaders for capitalism are quite open about the fact that, to them, a human is but money’s way of replicating itself, with any conflict between human values and financial ones obviously being resolved in favor of the latter, fire exits and building inspections for factories being a recently discussed example. That is, workers are merely a waste product of the great engine of capitalism.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        a surprising number of cheerleaders for capitalism are quite open about the fact that, to them, a human is but money’s way of replicating itself,

        Citation requested.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        As one of the participants of the discussion of third world factories and the questions of fire exits and other safety standards I’d like to dispute that I’ve (or most free marketers) view the workers as a waste product. In the specific case of Bangladesh the safety regulations were already there, for instance, but were not enforced. So in that case the problem was, in addition to businesses having a strong incentives to cut corners and thwart safety, bad government really not giving a damn (or being paid not to).

        What I find frustrating about the trade restrictionists or advocates of imposition of worker standards onto third world countries is that they somehow think that first world countries can export first world safety standards or responsible government to other countries the way they export cheap shoes to us. It doesn’t work that way. People typically demand better government (in the numbers necessary to get it) once they achieve certain base lines of mass economic development. If we impose trade restrictions* from our end to try and combat this kind of factory behavior there’s a severe danger that all we will achieve is to impede the economic development that those countries need and hand their shoddy governments excuses for why working standards are so poor.

        *Note that I’m thinking of this on a governmental level. Customer awareness campaigns, boycotts and other forms of buyer pressure don’t have this risk though I’m uncertain about their effectiveness.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Bought any silver lately? How about copper?
        There are tons of extraction jobs, and they all
        pretty much suck. They suck loads worse
        in the 3rd world. And even worse than that in
        China. These are jobs that are essentially
        killing people (I can cite the disease if needed).

        Mexico has a minimum wage, same as we do.
        The difference is that more than half of
        Mexican workers are working “illegally”.

        Well, that and the multinationals aren’t based in

  4. Avatar Will Truman says:

    What regulations?

    Parking requirements. Unit size requirements. The prevention of multi-family housing. Anti-density requirements. Rent control. Zoning. And yeah, height limitations.

    Safety requirements don’t bother me so much, as long as they are reasonable and as long as they are not being used to backdoor in “We just don’t want that housing here” general objections.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:

      I largely agree but I think it gets difficult when it comes to anti-density and zoning for a variety of reasons. Pure residential zoning is bad and I am all for mixed-used commercial and residential to a certain extent. Yes to retail on the ground floor and residencies on top. No to someone being allowed to a speakeasy or restaurant. I can also understand why it is a health benefit to keep industry or some industry at a distance from residencies because of adverse health effects from industrial byproducts. I can also the benefits of a “nightclub” zone for the sake of noise.

      Anti-Density and height requirements can sometimes (depending on the area) be safety related. See Earthquakes and San Francisco and the really bad fire that happened after the 1906 Earthquake. I suppose for all of these things you can be caveat emptor but I am not a caveat emptor kind of guy.Report

      • Avatar Trumwill in reply to NewDealer says:

        Sure, some height regulations may be safety-related, but when that’s the case the standard can be “What do you need to do to build up?” rather than “You can’t build up.”

        San Fransisco may be an outlier where you literally can’t build up (much) more. Really, if I wanted to get all big government, I would actually suggest trying to entice movement to cities that are not as geographically and geologically constricted as many of our major hubs.

        By virtually any measure, though, even our more compact cities are incredibly low-density. It’s not because they’re all San Francisco or because we’re just that much more safety-conscious than France, Greece, Spain, Belgium, Italy, etc.

        Safety is not unimportant, but it’s often just an excuse.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to NewDealer says:

        It should be noted ND that by and large the industries that we want to keep away from housing aren’t inclined to locate near housing in the first place. You don’t want to pay residential land prices or tax rates for your sprawling refinery or rendering plant; zoning regulation or not.Report

      • Avatar Matty in reply to NewDealer says:

        It should be noted ND that by and large the industries that we want to keep away from housing aren’t inclined to locate near housing in the first place. You don’t want to pay residential land prices or tax rates for your sprawling refinery or rendering plant; zoning regulation or not.

        I wonder if those rules were originally meant the other way round to stop the building of housing near industry. I’ve heard stories of the days before mass transit when factory owners would build housing to be rented to their workers right up against the walls. Including one story of a man who grew up with his bed 6ft from a steam hammer.

        This kind of thing could easily lead to a rule that prevents housing and heavy industry being next to each other without consideration of a future when commuting and home owning would become more prevalent.Report

  5. Avatar Kazzy says:


    What is the real cost of allowing employees to take courses for free? How many seats that would go to paying students are lost as opposed to simply adding extra students to courses? I know that some classes need to be capped, but I’d also venture to guess that a lot of classes can add a certain number of non-paying students for little to no cost.

    We face this issue in my school. Enrollment is down in my class… only 9 slots are filled out of a maximum of 14. There were some candidates who would have required decent-sized tuition assistance. The board bulked at admitting them because they were seen as a net cost to the school. To me, this made little sense. Especially since those 5 seats remain unfilled. Our tuition is approximately $18K. If we collected 50% on those 5 seats, that is an extra $45K. Yes, there would have been some additional cost for those 5 students, but nothing approaching $45K. But we got none of that money because instead of seeing the +$45K, the board saw the lost potential of another $45K on top of it… potential that eventually went unrealized. This, to me, seemed incredibly foolish. Especially for a school currently operating on a razor thing margin.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Kazzy says:

      What is the real cost of allowing employees to take courses for free?

      This is a good question. Frankly, the real economic cost might be small, but I’m not sure they do their accounting based on the marginal cost of the classes. It might hit the budget with the full tuition amount. I can say that I have heard stories from multiple people complaining that their department didn’t want them taking courses and trying to make it more difficult for them to do so even though it is a promised benefit.

      At the school, I think all classes are indeed capped, but not all reach their cap. Those that do not might tend to be graduate classes or upper class electives, which employees might be less likely to be interested in. So, it is at least plausible that they might displace real students. I should note that the interpretation I am sharing is based on my wife’s discussions with her dean and the building’s custodian. (She forgets her keys often enough, that she has to make quick friends with them.)

      Regarding what you describe at your school, I agree with your interpretation. There are dangers to making it a habit to just give away your product at a discount, but sometimes it just does not make sense to fly the plane with empty seats that could have just as easily had people in them.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I’m surprised to hear the trends with which classes fill and which do not. My hunch would have been that lower level courses, often offered as survey classes, could more easily handle a few extra students than higher level courses could, which often demand small class sizes.

        Of course, demand could explain that. If every undergrad has to take Intro to Bio, eventually you’ll run out of chairs. Meanwhile, Advanced Music Theory – Nordic String Instruments will probably always be a small class.

        There is a complicating factor with TA in that it is generally understood to be a multi-year promise. If we accept you in PreK as a half-pay family, we will treat you more or less as a half-pay family during the entirety of your enrollment unless your financial situation dramatically changes. So it is possible they are looking forward and saying we can’t risk these 5 spots staying filled of the next 10 years at half pay. But given that A) class caps go up 50% starting in K and B) I’m sure they have reasonably accurate numbers on attrition and admission rates, they could probably determine how many of those seats they can afford to fill at partial rates. My head is making a big push to shift the perspective here.

        Of course, some board members bristle at the idea of *any* TA families. So… there’s that…

        I was a university employee for one year and was entitled to X number of free credits per year. I had no trouble with enrollment. It would seem that there would be better solutions than simply running an end around on employee benefits when there are conflicts.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        It has been my experience that, at least at large schools, large mostly first-year undergraduate courses (intro psych, intro biology, etc.) fill up really fast, but universities generally realize this and offer multiple sections, some of which will not be filled (though those are probably meeting at 8 in the morning). Smaller (20-50 students) upper division undergraduate courses that fulfill degree requirements generally do not offer multiple sections, and these fill up really fast as well. These courses always have people asking the instructors for waivers, and there will always be people who sit in on the first few classes hoping someone will drop. I’ve known faculty who, realizing this, seek to scare the shit out of their students on the first day, in part at least to get rid of the people who are less interested and/or motivated, thus opening slots for students who are trying really hard to get into the class (and therefore presumably very interested and/or motivated) in.Report

      • I don’t know the situation at Vikram’s school, beyond what he’s told us here, but in the cases I’m aware of, employees who get to take free classes are usually last in line, so they don’t necessarily displace students who have the foresight to register. I suppose some displacement happens, however.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        This is a good question. Frankly, the real economic cost might be small, but I’m not sure they do their accounting based on the marginal cost of the classes. It might hit the budget with the full tuition amount.

        Certainly the argument that athletes on scholarship are not being exploited by the NCAA because “scholarship!” is always stated in terms of full tuition rather than marginal cost.Report

  6. Avatar NewDealer says:



    This was a front-page story today in the Chronicle. Many of the residents of this tower are disabled and when the elevators breakdown, they are stranded in their apartments.

    When I hear people complain about regulations hampering the building of housing, I imagine this stuff. It sounds like an admittance that “Yeah we need to let people be slumlords” to build housing. Or they simply ignore stories like this. I would like to see more people who rail against housing also concretely and directly talk about issues like elevators and access for the disabled instead of having a “Markets, yay!” attitude and that it will all work out.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

      *eyeroll* Please, do I need to start talking Manual J around here?
      Have you even heard of it before?Report

    • Avatar trumwill in reply to NewDealer says:

      @newdealer Are you then arguing that we would be better off if such apartments were not built? The thing about apartments with elevators that are not working 100% of the time is that if they house the healthy, that opens up more housing for the disabled (either at floor-level, or in buildings with more reliable elevators). At the least, it seems to me that there are other ways of approaching the situation than dismissing concerns that these regulations are making everyone worse off by restricting the overall availability of housing.

      Opposition to even well-intentioned regulations are not slumlordism. If that’s how you insist upon hearing it, I’m not sure what else can be said. It’s no less fair of me to say “You’re shrugging off development that might make housing more affordable for lower and middle class residence because you’d rather have no housing than imperfect housing. ‘Regulation, Yay!'”

      You know what San Fransisco needs? Housing. A lot of it. Tons of it.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

      in places where there is less building regulation, there are
      FEWER slumlords. The definition of a slumlord is someone
      who’s essentially putting nothing into a property, and allowing
      it to decay until nobody is willing to put up with the black widows
      (NOT a hypothetical.)Report

    • Avatar North in reply to NewDealer says:

      Disturbing ND, but also irrelevant. The building in this article is a public housing building which means it’s built, owned and operated by the San Francisco Housing Authority. That’s really not good ammo to use against. If this was a privately owned building the residents could sue or threaten to move out to incent the owner to keep the elevators working regularly; this newspaper article is probably about the maximum leverage that the residents can bring against the city’s housing authority (and their reward, some sound bites).

      Neither I nor anyone else here has advocated against regulations that require buildings to be built to safety codes or even to be handicap accessible. The regulation that typically draws our ire is antidevelopment regulations, tight zoning restrictions and of course the madness of rent control.Report

    • Avatar trumwill in reply to NewDealer says:

      Also worth pointing out: The tighter the housing scarcity, the more leverage the landlords have in how to teach their tenants. I mean, what are they going to do? Move? Move where?

      The question of what to do about elevators is interesting. On the one hand, even elevator-less housing has benefits. On the other hand, you do want places to have elevators. I mean, the ADA might be abused sometimes (particularly in California), but it’s there for a reason.

      It seems reasonable to say “You know what? There is only so much room for buildings in San Francisco. So we feel comfortable demanding that those buildings that are built have elevators that are working.”

      In a city like OKC where housing is not so constricted, you might consider levying taxes on those whose buildings don’t have elevators and sharing the bounty with those places that do. I’d say that the city could run housing that is handicap-accessible, but as North points out even San Francisco can’t manage that.

      Housing constriction is not just a matter of ideological preference. It has serious consequences for the poor and middle class most of all. I don’t care when it happens in Jackson Hole. It’s distressing that it’s happening in some of the nation’s more important cities, though (NYC-SF-DC). Not a whole lot that can be done about it, in some cases, but that to me just makes doing what you can about it all that much more important.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to NewDealer says:

      It’s not the same thing, but I want to point out that regulations can sometimes work the other way.

      Before moving to a house, we lived in a elevator-less apartment complex. The building was more than 100 years old. If they had wanted to add an elevator, the city would have screamed bloody murder for altering a historical structure.Report