Clarity Over Agreement In Liberty, As In Everything Else

I’ve seen and heard a lot of discussion in the last several days about Republican state governments and “union-busting.” And polls show that the public at once favors preserving union workers “rights,” even for “collective bargaining,” and favors getting our fiscal houses in order. One of the maxims of my favorite radio host Dennis Prager is “I prefer clarity over agreement.” It is also mine: Wittgenstein described the first task of a philosopher as that of “clarifying questions”. Agreement is hard to come by when you are crossing peoples’ low-level assumptions and sentiments. But we can clarify where we differ and not waste time talking past each other. The basic values of most Americans generally include prudence with money and fairness to labor, or the non-rich. Not incidentally, most people aren’t rich, at least not in their own eyes. But, perhaps because we most often consume the communications of people who aren’t either, most of us aren’t terribly clear in our application of these terms. Another host I listen to made a statement that left this ambiguity. He is very smart so he knows this if he thought about it, but the language of our culture has assumed connections that aren’t necessarily there. He said that our fiscal problems are the result of government…and unions. Actually the problem is government and it’s entanglement with unions and work.

By themselves, I have no problem at all with unions. If people of any trade, public or private, want to band together to market their skill, that should be their perfect right. But whether public or private, when law mandates union labor for certain tasks and payment of union dues by the workers; now I have a problem. The issue is not unions. The issue is liberty. Labor should be contracted freely and union membership and dues payment chosen freely and government should have nothing to do with it. If union negotiators poorly play their hand and work is lost or unsatisfactory or businesses close, workers can change their leaders or get out of the union.

Texas is a right-to-work state. If you qualify and want to belong to a union, you can. Or if you want to save your payment of dues and contract your own work, you can do that. And businesses can hire whom they please. See; liberty. Most of these northern and some western states are union shop. For example, when I went to trade shows in their cities, the law mandated that you must hire union labor at union scale to move your booth’s furniture and equipment to and from your display booth; you couldn’t even carry it in, yourself. I haven’t been up there in a while, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had laws against mowing your own lawn! The law says that union labor and laborers’ dues are compulsory. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is not denying anyone’s right to organize. He is only addressing one area of public workers in his state; teachers. And proposes only to free state government from the coercion of union leader demands and teachers from involuntary automatic collection of dues for the union. It’s a really mild effort to relieve the state of cost and allow local officials to do the same.

The efforts by John Kasich in Ohio and Mitch Daniels in Indiana go further: they want to make their states right-to-work states, freeing up the contracting of ALL labor and making their states more competitive environments in which to do business. Kasich is blunt about it: without such flexibility, his state with its 8 billion dollar deficit and poor business environment, will not make it. No one wants to deny the right to unionize. They only want to give businesses and workers the right to contract freely. Again; liberty. Liberty produces innovation, vitality and prosperity. The restriction of it squelches them.

States like Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, New York, California and Wisconsin even if (when?) it wins this minor skirmish, are at last at the end of their fiscal rope. They have dictated working relationships and union membership and responded to ever-rising costs with ever-rising taxes. Capital investment and business activity have been bleeding from these states for years. Detroit was a proud industrial 4th largest city in the nation when I lived there as a teenager. Today, it’s desolate and less than a third its former size. It is clear that further tax hikes for these states would only reduce revenue and make matters worse. Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has declared his intention to balance the budget WITHOUT raising taxes. La-la-land…uh California has the worst debt of all and they have public Initiative and Referendum (bad idea but hey, it’s California), and the public has already denied another tax increase. Californians want lavish state spending and union contracts, AND THEY WON’T PAY MORE FOR ANY OF IT! These Democratic states don’t even have the fantasy that it could be better if Republicans weren’t in power; THEY AREN’T!

For those who have known a whole lifetime of only government restriction of liberty, it’s the end of the world as they know it. But the issue isn’t rich versus poor or labor versus management. The issue is liberty. Like 20th century communist governments, they killed it, and that death is finally killing THEM.

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