Unions

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With anarchist exceptions, libertarians align with their wealthy funders to oppose unions. Supposedly unions have special privileges from government: but these libertarians somehow don't notice that corporations have special privileges from government. John Kenneth Galbraith pointed this out in his theory of countervailing powers.

Links

Belated Feudalism: Labor, the Law, and Liberal Development in the United States (book)
Trade unions and the New Deal institution of collective bargaining helped end the feudal common law of master and servant that made capitalism so inegalitarian and undemocratic.
Don’t Blame Econ 101 for the Plight of Essential Workers [More...]
"We made these essential jobs bad jobs. The burden is on us to make them good ones."
Econ 101 No Longer Explains the Job Market [More...]
"Together with the evidence on minimum wage, this new evidence suggests that the competitive supply-and-demand model of labor markets is fundamentally broken. If employers have the power to set wages, then not just minimum wage, but other labor market policies -- for example, union-friendly laws -- can be expected to help workers a lot more than popular introductory economics textbooks now predict."
Firm Market Power and the Earnings Distribution [More...]
Market power, a form of market failure, produces a positive relationship between a firm's labor supply elasticity and the earnings of its workers. This paper provides empirical evidence measuring market power and showing that employers with more power pay lower wages. Especially at lowest incomes.
Keynes on Laissez-Faire [More...]
Gavin Kennedy writes: "‘Laissez-nous faire’ is not advocated as a universal principle for merchants and their customers; it was a very partial principle for merchants only... [Mill and mine owners] wrapped themselves in laissez-faire flags to wipe up the blood of their employees when they demanded their own freedoms and not those of their labourers or their customers."
Monopsony in Motion (book)
Analyzes labor markets from the real-world perspective that employers have significant market (or monopsony) power over their workers because of transaction costs of changing jobs. "The book addresses the theoretical implications of monopsony and presents a wealth of empirical evidence."
Predistribution: wages and unions (extract from Economics in Two Lessons) [More...]
"The wages that emerge from labor markets are the products of a complex process of implicit and explicit bargaining between workers, employers and (where they exist) unions. The outcomes of those bargains depend on the relative power of the parties and that in turn depends on the rules set out by society."
Revive the Middle Class by Bringing Back Unions [More...]
"If combined with Manley’s idea for competing labor organizations and proportional representation in negotiations, sectoral bargaining would undo the decades-long decline in private-sector collective bargaining almost overnight."
Right To Work (1 link)
In the USA, this is a cynical ploy to strike down unions and regulation. Libertarians should have no objection to a private contract between an employer and a union that requires that the employer only hire from the union membership. Nor should libertarians object to a similar private contract requiring that all employees pay union dues, whether or not they are members of the union.
The bad teacher conspiracy [More...]
Statistics show that the problems in American education are not bad teachers, but instead are strongly correlated with poverty. The distraction from this fact, the emphasis on bashing teachers, comes from right wingers determined to break unions.
The Best Reason to Protect Workers From Covid-19 [More...]
"History shows that countries that treat labor badly have slower growth... But the key idea is that institutions of both the formal and informal kind last for a long time and govern human behavior in ways that can’t easily be explained by rational individual action."
The Fallacy of Tuna Fish Economics [More...]
Andrei Shleifer caught propagandizing for privatization at Harvard. "Of all people, Professor Shleifer should know that contracting out and privatization do not always work as advertised." He was the director of the corrupt privatization of post-Soviet Russia.
The Left's Big Sellout: How The ACLU and Human Rights Groups Quietly Exterminated Labor Rights [More...]
"I went to the websites of three of the biggest names in liberal activist politics: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the ACLU. Checking their websites, I was surprised to find that not one of those three organizations lists labor as a major topic or issue that it covers." Hayek and Koch influences are blamed.
The Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011–2012 [More...]
There has been a huge, nationwide, state-level attack on workers led by ALEC and others. "This policy agenda undercuts the ability of low- and middle-wage workers, both union and non-union, to earn a decent wage."
There is no necessary trade-off between good work and more work [More...]
"A macroeconomic perspective also shows the short-sightedness of laissez-faire fundamentalism. Even if, in the short term, a “low road” of exploitive labor practices benefits many in their role as consumers, they will eventually end up losing out as producers."
Three sentences no one should forget about unions [More...]
"[...] unions are inherently conservative institutions, which historically developed parallel with the development of capitalism itself. They are as much a part of capitalism as Henry Ford or Apple. Unions use contracts -- and there's nothing more intrinsic to capitalism than the right of contract -- to link their members to the fortunes of the companies they contract with."
Unions and Productivity [More...]
Cross-country studies show unions increase productivity. They are a more flexible alternative to regulation. They are also associated with lower CEO compensation.
Unions Did Great Things for the Working Class [More...]
"Other than massive government redistribution of income and wealth, there’s really no other obvious way to address the country’s rising inequality. Also, there’s the chance that unions might be an effective remedy for the problem of increasing corporate market power -- evidence suggests that when unionization rates are high, industry concentration is less effective at suppressing wages."
“Public” choice [More...]
Henry Farrell's savage takedown of the blindness, ideology, and biases of Public Choice Theory.

Quotations

Odes of praise to the common law, and mistrust of legislative modifications of it, allow libertarians to say that the true benchmark of rights is provided by the older rules, not the newer ones. Judged against this standard, of course, the rules that benefit employers, landlords and manufacturers simply define liberty and property rights whereas the rules that benefit workers, tenants and consumers are interferences with liberty. The rules one likes are the foundations of sacred property rights, those one does not like are meddlesome regulation. This is a nice trick...
James Boyle, "Foucault in cyberspace -- Chapter 2: Libertarianism, Property and Harm" pg. 19.
Freedom from trade unions and collective bargaining means the freedom to suppress wages. Freedom from regulation means the freedom to poison rivers, endanger workers, charge iniquitous rates of interest and design exotic financial instruments. Freedom from tax means freedom from the distribution of wealth that lifts people out of poverty.
George Monbiot, "Neoliberalism, the ideology at the root of all our problems"
The more fundamental change that is needed is a revision of assumptions that are taken for granted, throughout the political process, that corporations are a natural feature of market economies, while unions are an alien intrusion[...] corporations, like unions, are social constructions, which could not exist except as a result of conscious policy decisions to change the rules of a market economy.
John Quiggin, "Predistribution: wages and unions (extract from Economics in Two Lessons)"
For all this vast and sparkling intellectual production, though, we hear surprisingly little about what it’s like to be managed. Perhaps the reason for this is because, when viewed from below, all the glittering, dazzling theories of management seem to come down to the same ugly thing. This is the lesson that Barbara Ehrenreich learns from the series of low-wage jobs that she works and then describes in all their bitter detail in her new book, Nickel and Dimed. Pious chatter about “free agents” and “empowered workers” may illuminate the covers of Fast Company and Business 2.0, but what strikes one most forcefully about the world of waitresses, maids, and Wal-Mart workers that Ehrenreich enters is the overwhelming power of management, the intimidating array of advantages it holds in its endless war on wages. This is a place where even jobs like housecleaning have been Taylorized to extract maximum output from workers (“You know, all this was figured out with a stopwatch,” Ehrenreich is told by a proud manager at a maid service), where omnipresent personality and drug tests screen out those of assertive nature, where even the lowliest of employees are overseen by professional-grade hierarchs who crack the whip without remorse or relent, where workers are cautioned against “stealing time” from their employer by thinking about anything other than their immediate task, and where every bit of legal, moral, psychological, and anthropological guile available to advanced civilization is deployed to prevent the problem of pay from ever impeding the upward curve of profitability. This is the real story of life under markets.
Thomas Frank, "The God That Sucked"
The masters, being fewer in number, can combine much more easily: and the law, besides, authorises, or at least does not prohibit, their combinations, while it prohibits those of the workmen. We have no acts of parliament against combining to lower the price of work, but many against combining to raise it. In all such disputes, the masters can hold out much longer.
Adam Smith, "The Wealth of Nations" VIII
We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform, combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate. To violate this combination is everywhere a most unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his neighbours and equals. We seldom, indeed, hear of this combination, because it is the usual, and, one may say, the natural state of things, which nobody ever hears of. Masters, too, sometimes enter into particular combinations to sink the wages of labour even below this rate. These are always conducted with the utmost silence and secrecy till the moment of execution; and when the workmen yield, as they sometimes do without resistance, though severely felt by them, they are never heard of by other people.
Adam Smith, "The Wealth of Nations" VIII
Workmen, on the contrary, when they are liberally paid by the piece, are very apt to overwork themselves, and to ruin their health and constitution in a few years... Almost every class of artificers is subject to some peculiar infirmity occasioned by excessive application to their peculiar species of work. .. Great labour, either of mind or body, continued for several days together is, in most men, naturally followed by a great desire of relaxation, which, if not restrained by force, or by some strong necessity, is almost irresistible... If it is not complied with, the consequences are often dangerous and sometimes fatal, and such as almost always, sooner or later, bring on the peculiar infirmity of the trade. If masters would always listen to the dictates of reason and humanity, they have frequently occasion rather to moderate, than to animate the application of many of their workmen. It will be found, I believe, in every sort of trade, that the man who works so moderately, as to be able to work constantly, not only preserves his health the longest, but, in the course of the year, executes the greatest quantity of work.
Adam Smith, "The Wealth of Nations" VIII
Where public choice people seem to perceive a “public” that collectively wants to return to work, I see something different – a set of asymmetric power relations that public choice scholars are systematically blind to in the ways that Chris, Alex Gourevitch and Corey identified eight years ago, when they wrote about “bleeding heart libertarians” (a constituency that strongly overlaps with public choice).
Henry Farrell, "“Public” choice"
Rather than starting from the many definitions of public choice offered by its enemies, I’ll begin with the definition provided by one of its major proponents. As described by the late Charles Rowley, longtime editor of the journal Public Choice, the public choice approach is a ““program of scientific endeavor that exposed government failure coupled to a programme of moral philosophy that supported constitutional reform designed to limit government.” In other words, it is not a neutral research program, but one that has a clear political philosophy and set of aims. Bluntly put, it starts from governments bad, markets good, and further assumes that the intersection between governments and markets (where private interests are able to “capture” government) is very bad indeed.
Henry Farrell, "“Public” choice"
In particular, public choice notoriously tends to define questions of private power out of existence, treating them as freely entered contracts that hence reflect the interests of the contractees. This is why Mancur Olson accused his public choice colleagues of “monodiabolism” and an “almost utopian lack of concern about other problems” than the unrestrained state. Public choice economists tend to wave away private power as being irrelevant to the understanding of outcomes, except when it acquires the additional force of state coercion.
Henry Farrell, "“Public” choice"
There is an interesting affinity between public choice and Marxism, another analytic approach with an associated political program. Both agree on the awful things that can happen when government and business interests are in cahoots, even if each sees a different party as the serpent in its paradise.
Henry Farrell, "“Public” choice"