Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Economy

Public-Sector Unions, Why not?

Professor Bainbridge explains the problem with public sector unions.  He gives a good analysis, which I recommend in its entirety, but here's what I take to be the key paragraph:

A core problem with public sector unionism is that it creates a uniquely powerful interest group. In theory, bureaucrats are supposed to work for and be accountable to the elected representatives of the people. But suppose those bureaucrats organize into large, well-funded, powerful unions that can tip election results. With very few and very unique exceptions, no workplace in which the employees elect the supervisors functions well for long. Yet, research by Terry Moe (22 J.L. Econ. & Org. 1) into the electoral power of teachers' unions finds just such an outcome.

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Discussions - 6 Comments

Basically, the combination of public sector unions and politicians supported by them is the kind of dynamic that Eisenhower was worried about with his warning about "the military-industrial" complex---a combination of interests operating in a mutually beneficial process that would siphon off funds from the public fisc in a steadily increasing spiral that was out of proportion to actual need.

There's a closed feedback loop of taxpayer money: Taxes pay the public employees' salaries, a cut goes to unions in the form of mandatory dues (I believe this is the case in WI), and then those dues are used to leverage fundraising and other forms of electoral activism that have a big impact on who gets to be the government officials that "negotiate" (often behind closed doors) with the public-employee unions.

It's a self-licking ice-cream cone that has now dripped a sticky mess all over the public finances of several states. WI next year is projected to run a $1.5 billion deficit.

I've been thinking for a while that one of the basic issues causing Progressivism to flame out in such spectacular fashion is that they are trying to take urban political methods (particularly the rough and ready portion thereof) and apply them to the entire country. I think they will find that inner city political styles (especially the intimidation factor) may only work in the inner city--and that as Detroit and pre-Giuliani New York show (or snowbound Bloomberg New York), "work" is a relative term, and one not guaranteed to be able to used indefinitely (for as Detroit shows, cities can essentially collapse and as Bloomberg's snow problems show, residents at the end of the day will not forever happily be subjects of public sector union whims).

Antagonistic interest is inherent in unionization; it is a tool of contention and "leverage" against the employer. Who in their right mind would allow government workers to unionize against their employers (essentially, the public)? The current system is an abomination, and the sooner over the better. No one is forced to work for government, nor should anyone be forced to pay monopoly rents to government workers.

Note to readers, the New York Supreme Court is actually a trial court not the highest appelate court.

I absolutely agree with this portion from Bainbridge:

"The prevailing theories treat bureaucrats as mere subordinates, controlled from above by political authorities. But the control relationship can run both ways, and not just because bureaucrats have expertise and other sources of private information."

I would submit that the theories that are not prevailing borrow insight as a starting point from Hegel's Master/Slave dialectic, that is a true understanding of the agent/principal distinction.

In the scheme of this I am not sure this is right: "Nothing is more dangerous to public welfare than to admit that hired servants of the State can dictate to the government the hours, the wages and conditions under which they will carry on essential services vital to the welfare, safety, and security of the citizen."

In some sense nothing is more dangerous than to admit that they can't.

If the community cannot tolerate a disruption in services, then it must pay what the public workers demand, if it can tolerate it then it need not. If public workers cannot tolerate a reduction in bennefits then they need not accept one.

Both sides can dictate, neither need consent so long as it is willing to pay the price.

The state interest is for a dollar a day wages, the public workers demand a thousand. Demands on both sides will become more reasonable(folks become willing to consent) thus averting a principled struggle to the death.

The interest of those voters who are government workers is for high wages. That's where the analogy to private-sector unions breaks down. Their interest is not in paying a dollar a day. to themselves, but in paying as much as possible. To a degree, in other words, the bosses in a democratic republic are the voters, not just the office-holers. The more government employees there are, and the more they think of themselves as a unified group, the worse the problem of being judges in their own case.

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