Re: Black-Ties Have the Best Toasts, but Workers Eat Asbestos
I have to admit to being somewhat astonished, Michael, at your protestation that the American worker is at the rock bottom of exploitation. Perhaps I’ve been distracted by the sheer volume of consumer goods that workers are able to afford. By their lengthening life spans. By their expanding educations. It is true that I lean toward the college-loans-as-indenture interpretation, but somehow that doesn’t seem to be what you’re talking about.
On what grounds, I wonder, do you make your dehumanizing judgment of your private-sector peers? If, that is, you consider proudly indignant cattle to be your peers. I’ll be the last to insist that Rhode Island is defined by an insistence on the empowerment of private sector workers. The state is a cauldron constructed to distill exploitation to its purest form. Still, I think my understanding of my own circumstances is sufficiently considered that a theoretician of the sort who founded our country might consider me free.
In contrast, I’m not sure exactly how a system in which “people who decide who gets what are not spending their own money” is at all more likely to offer workers “decent wage[s] commensurate with their ability and value to the economy.” Indeed, one need only look to the structure of teachers’ salaries to find a tendency toward calculations that shun such distinctions (unless, of course, union bosses are taken as supremely valuable).
Like it or not, there is a market rate for a given job — what the performance of that job is worth. If unions wish to embellish that amount, they must ultimately do so by limiting the number of people who can hold it. Either prices must be forced higher, reducing the amount of work available, or barriers must be erected to enter the field of work. In the case of arbitrary price increases, the battle will be made more bloody for the shrinking opportunity. Exploitation will increase, as will incentive to behave as powerless pawns. In the case of a shrunken employment gate, somebody must decide on its shape and location, and somebody must guard it, thus creating an additional position of power, at which exploitation and siphoning can occur.
In any system that we might contrive to implement, some people will begin from positions of advantage. Qualitatively, these are the same folks (which is to say that they are equally human), whether they are businessmen, public policy intellectuals, union bosses, or career politicians. Whatever the basis for their initial advantage, I would prefer to see those strings in the tenuous grasp of men and women whose positions depend mostly on their ability to find work and ensure that it gets done.
How much more the pawns are those who, by their submission to unions, haven’t even the leverage that comes with the threat of switching from employee to competition. Unionization may serve to enhance the income of a minority — especially when they are negotiating with people who aren’t spending their own money — but where they become universal, they become imperious and oppressive. Where they are not universal, they squeeze their advantage not from the powerful, but from the trapped herd.