Saturday, December 15, 2012

Krauthammer Has it Just Right on RTW

Isn't it peculiar that liberals insist that we should have no choice about where we send our children to school nor should we have a choice about whether we support a union at our place of employment, but that we should be able to choose whether to kill our unborn child.

Something's not right about this. Anyway, Charles Krauthammer has a column in the Washington Post that I think sounds all the right notes on the matter of right to work.

Union people have a legitimate complaint when they object to workers benefiting from union negotiations without having to make a contribution to support those efforts.

Even so, one can be sympathetic to the union argument without completely agreeing with it. It seems to me that people should be free to join a union or not and they shouldn't have to pay union dues if they choose not to join. Perhaps the situation of workers who wish not to join is a bit like that of those who claim conscientious objector status in time of war. The conscientious objector benefits from the freedom and prosperity that our military fights to defend even though the CO refuses to participate in that defense.

The two situations are not exactly congruent, of course. The CO declines to serve because of a profound moral commitment to pacifism, whereas the worker may decline to join the union for less noble reasons. Even so, just as a society worth preserving will be able to find plenty of people willing to fight on its behalf and should tolerate those who have moral compunctions against violence, so, too, a union should be able to attract enough workers who believe in its cause that they need not coerce those who don't.

Krauthammer's take is slightly different. He begins with this:
For all the fury and fistfights outside the Lansing Capitol, what happened in Michigan this week was a simple accommodation to reality. The most famously unionized state, birthplace of the United Auto Workers, royalty of the American working class, became right-to-work.

It’s shocking, except that it was inevitable. Indiana went that way earlier this year. The entire Rust Belt will eventually follow because the heyday of the sovereign private-sector union is gone. Globalization has made splendid isolation impossible.
He elaborates with some interesting statistics.
Let’s be honest: Right-to-work laws do weaken unions. And de-unionization can lead to lower wages.

But there is another factor at play: having a job in the first place. In right-to-work states, the average wage is about 10 percent lower. But in right-to-work states, unemployment also is about 10 percent lower.

Higher wages or lower unemployment? It is a wrenching choice. Although, you would think that liberals would be more inclined to spread the wealth — i.e., the jobs — around, preferring somewhat lower pay in order to leave fewer fellow workers mired in unemployment.

Think of the moral calculus. Lower wages cause an incremental decline in one’s well-being. No doubt. But for the unemployed, the decline is categorical, sometimes catastrophic — a loss not just of income but of independence and dignity.
I also thought his conclusion was just right:
I have great admiration for the dignity and protections trade unionism has brought to American workers. I have no great desire to see the private-sector unions defenestrated. (Like FDR, Fiorello La Guardia and George Meany, however, I don’t extend that sympathy to public-sector unions.)

But rigidity and nostalgia have a price. The industrial Midwest is littered with the resulting wreckage. Michigan most notably, where its formerly great metropolis of Detroit is reduced to boarded-up bankruptcy by its inability and unwillingness to adapt to global change.

It’s easy to understand why a state such as Michigan would seek to recover its competitiveness by emulating the success of Indiana. One can sympathize with those who pine for the union glory days, while at the same time welcoming the new realism that promises not an impossible restoration but desperately needed — and doable — recalibration and recovery.
I think unions need to ask themselves why it is that there's so much popular antipathy toward them, even among people who have family members in unions. Perhaps it's at least partly because, whereas when unions first gained power they had a just cause, today people see them as organizations whose workers have it very good and want it much better. Just as the average person despises those CEOs who take huge bonuses and retirement packages, so, too, do they resent union workers who demand benefits that are driving companies like Hostess out of business.

Read the rest of Krauthammer's piece at the link.