Archive for the ‘political theory’ Category

It should be recognized that most people are stupid about most things; myself included. However, there is a certain lack of self-critical thinking I want to pick on at this moment, and I am going to call this mode of thought the “Preference Fallacy.” I will define it as this: the dissonance that inheres in what people say they prefer to be the case, and what they signal and/or choose to be the case by their actions. I’m noting that this is not some broad form of hypocrisy, since it is not so much someone saying “People shouldn’t do this” and then they go do it, but rather they say something like “This should be the case,” yet they do nothing of themselves to achieve that. Note how I say that it is of themselves, a very specific distinction I make for political cases, where the Preference Fallacy crops up very often.

Consider this image, which I have seen several times and which certainly has been seen by others:

What is meant to be illustrated? First, there is the bare fact that wealth distribution is unequal. That’s a given, and anybody with a brain recognizes that attempts to “reduce inequality” will inevitably lead to wealth destruction. I’m not going to hammer on that point. The other thing meant to be illustrated is this quaint notion many individuals seem to hold that “distribution should be equaler.” Why? Well, just because, but I’m going to challenge exactly this stated preference, since it not only fails to reflect reality (not a shortcoming of any preference in itself) and is beside the point, but because people don’t actually behave like this is the ideal. In fact, attempts to behave in order to fulfill this stated preference clearly, by demonstrated preference, would cost people what they prefer more. As such, this “stated preference” essentially doesn’t matter.

Here is a thought experiment. Equalitarian Edward states that he would prefer for society to be more equal. He insists that he behaves in accordance with this preference whenever he can. However, as we observe his behavior in the market, we see that this stated preference informs his decisions not at all. Who does he choose to buy his car from? Subaru, thereby increasing the profit of the company and by extension to a larger degree its owners, as opposed to the employees. Why does he buy a Subaru? Because he prefers its comfort, reliability, and style. He chooses not to buy the beater from Poverty Pam, even though doing so would help decrease wealth inequality, since now his money is going not to those who are already wealthy but to someone who is poor.

Where does Edward buy his groceries? The bulk come from Cub Foods, because it is most convenient, they have a wide selection, and the prices are cheaper. Once again, he passes over Pam. Likewise for where he buys his coffee (Starbucks), his clothes (JCPenney’s and assorted boutiques), his books (Amazon), his internet (Charter), his cell phone (Apple) and service (Verizon), so on and so forth, virtually every purchase of his lines the pockets of the wealthier more than those who are less wealthy. What seems a better explanation of his behavior, that he has a preference for lessening wealth inequality or increasing it? Between only those two options, the latter seems clearly to be the case.

But but but, you will certainly say, there are other explanations! And I say that is certainly the case! I don’t actually think he has a preference for increasing wealth inequality so much as he simply prefers better quality and service in his purchases, and it just so happens that this has a high degree of correlation to increasing the wealth of the wealthier. It is not that he has a preference for increasing wealth inequality, only that he doesn’t really have a preference either way. If it so happens that buying from a person who is poorer gives him a better quality good, he will do so; but that the person was poor won’t affect his decision so much as the product itself. In the market, people choose products, not people.

So what are we to make of the “ideal” distribution of wealth shown in the above graph? Precisely nothing. The demonstrated preferences of people in the market happens to support more wealth inequality rather than less. (Caveat: I say that it supports the present distribution only because the American society happens to have capitalistic elements. More accurately, the USA has a distributed socialist-corporatist economy with capitalistic elements peppered here and there. I’m not pretending a full-fledged capitalism won’t have “huge” wealth inequality, though I do believe the “true measures of wealth” would in fact be more equal. For an elaboration on my views here, read my paper.)

I understand that some who remain sold on the intrinsic good of “equaler wealth distribution” would like to point to other problems, say that while a company like Subaru might choose to disproportionately give its profit to the owners and elite controllers of the company, it shouldn’t. It just so happens that people don’t have a lot of say about how the companies they buy from are structured. To this, I would point out that this just pushes the Preference Fallacy back another step. Sure, one might state they have a preference for “more equally distributed profits” within a company, but once again, the business models that happen to correlate most with the products they prefer for itself are these companies where the CEO’s pay is many hundreds time that of the average worker within that company. I think distributists are especially prone to this way of thinking, and all my ire to them where that is concerned.

So I’ve chosen in particular the issue of economic inequality for my focus of the fallacy, but it certainly occurs throughout just about everything people say they prefer. Women say they prefer Nice Guys, but they run off with Bad Boys. People say they prefer the minimum wage higher, but they still shop around for cheaper prices and don’t tip those people who do work minimum wage (honestly, have you ever seen someone tip the cashier at McDonald’s?). They want men and women to have equal pay, yet (like the issue of business models) they consistently support those models in which women are paid less. (I’m not going to explain this one: here’s a video which deals with it in short order.)

There are so many things people say they prefer to be the case, but they won’t help to establish that for themselves. Sure, they might be a political activist, but note that the introduction of the power of the state to cure problems doesn’t count as exercising one’s own preferences but penalizing and prohibiting the preferences of others.

Don’t look to what people say, look at what they do. There is nearly always some degree of bullshit in what people say they prefer. This bullshit is the Preference Fallacy.

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An anarchist guide to voting? Seems a contradiction. Well, yes, to some degree, but let me explain my preliminary reasoning on the matter. One, there’s not really any chance of my convincing a significant amount of people before the 2012 election to not vote, or else to vote for an anarchist candidate who would do all in his power to disband government. This means I am, to some degree, left to work out a preferable state of affairs with tools that are, admittedly, incredibly lackluster. However, no matter that it is an injustice for one to have to vote at all just to try and keep more of what is his own, if one can somehow influence his captors to not molest him to such a great extent, he may as well. So long as other Catholic bloggers and clergy of conservative or liberal bent have it in their mind to produce voting guides, I may as well chime in with my view.

Let us consider first the principles of what one can politically support within the limited sphere of such political expression as your humble anarchist might conscientiously partake.

I could not support a murderer, so Obama is out. He has, through the machinery of government and its military, effected the assassination of innocent civilians in foreign lands. Murderers ought to be brought to justice, but well, as we anarchists are all too aware of, politicians never pay for the suffering they inflict on people through whatever policies and decisions they effect.

For that, I am not confident Romney would restrain himself from engaging in the same capricious behaviors available to the president of the United States and commander-in-chief. He is likely to continue and perhaps even increase the US’s current foreign policy of provocation and aggression against nations like Iran for the sin of trying to develop modern modes of energy production. He has, after all, campaigned on the promise to increase the military’s budget, and essentially every budget increase is anathema to an anarchist.

Yet, there circulates the argument that a Catholic in good conscience can, or might even be obliged, to vote in the “lesser of two evils.” Is Obama or Romney that lesser of two evils? I will not attempt such a futile calculus of despair; I will only note my preference to perish than support such great evils. Do I draw the line too soon for complicity in such evil? I do not know, I am only sure that neither a Democrat nor a Republican in power will do anything substantial to void the course America is socially and politically set on, so it would not matter. If I gun were put to my head, and needed to make a choice between those two, I would toss a coin: heads for Obama, tails for Romney. Let me flip a coin and find out… Obama. So, if you would like to know who I endorse between the two evils under such a condition, there you go. You can put that on the record.

Frankly, neither of the two major candidates will save America from going over the cliff of social decay and degeneracy. As an empire, such elements of popular apathy and corruption of social institutions has set in like mesothelioma. Politics is playacting, politicians appeal to the base elements of security over liberty. Panem et circenses!

Are there third-party candidates who can change anything? I’m deeply skeptical of such. Besides, one of the two Greater Evils will be elected no matter. Some make the argument that voting in such a way does help incrementally bring focus to those of a more libertarian or alternately socialist bent, so that such a candidate is elected for in 40 years, but it will be too late for that to matter, as any substantial change they’d be interested in will have already been effected just by the destruction government brought on itself.

The only politically charged vote an anarchist might make is to not vote. Can it accomplish anything? No. Could acting differently accomplish anything? Nothing meaningful. So, I have to state for the record that I will just not be voting for a president this election, and I think anyone who believes their vote makes a difference is deluded. The Republicans have not kept their promises to conservatives for either “fiscal sanity” (as if funding government were sane in the first place! ha!) or the advocacy of conservative social values (as if government should be making such decisions for society!). No, the Republicans are, for all intents and purposes, statists and politicians, and they will act to preserve their present power at any expense. Socialists, on the other hand, should be happy to have an increasingly centralized government, since it can only indicate increasing control of society overall.

Ah, but what of Catholic values, don’t I mean to speak for those? Are there not pressing concerns at stake, such as the fate of the contraception mandate, the future Supreme Court justices who might be called to make a ruling on the legality of abortion, and so on? Aren’t we supposed to take our faith into the public square and exercise it in politics? After all, don’t I believe that abortion ought to be illegal and that the contraception mandate infringes on our religious rights?

Sure, of course I do. However, saying that, I find this concurrent faith in government ludicrous. You think that Romney will make things better? Sure, he might do something about the contraception mandate, but that’s only one issue of literally hundreds that are at odds with the corpus of values I hold as a Catholic. Is being one step less evil by being only at odds with my Catholic values in 101 ways better than the other candidate who is at odds in 102 ways? Hmm. I can’t divine the significant difference; in fact, I couldn’t tell you which of either the Greater Evils is that 101! Would I prefer that we kill Pakistanis or Iranians? That seems to be the only lives hanging in the difference here. Then again, I have no idea which group of people will be more persecuted by either candidate, so that’s a crap shoot, assuming either would even be different, which any rational person should doubt. Politicians can obviously conclude that the voting public are fools, since no promise for peace is ever kept. Are you a fool? No. So why give politicians the conceit that they matter to you?

That is a Catholic reason for not voting. No matter which president gets in office, neither will respect the dignity of people, unborn or foreign. The only way to give the impression to the politicians that we do not believe them, to spread the message to other people that we no longer believe in this meaningless and contrived system, is to not vote. Go out into the public square and protest loudly that you are not voting because it is not an effective means of securing justice.

The right to live, the right to practice our religion, the right to keep one’s own property, the right to associate as one will and to do as one pleases is not up for a vote! Why give truth to the lie that voting was ever about something that should be decided by people whose place it isn’t the right to make such a decision, whether it be the murderous and tyrannical politicians or a foolish mob? At this point we do not need to only protest the politicians, we need to protest the political system itself! A vote, no matter which politician it favors or disfavors, only affirms the essential rightness of the corrupt system that we can no longer abide.

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In the process of defending their statism, statists of the conservative, libertarian, or classical liberal variety often appeal to the concept of “limited government,” as though I, an anarchist, am interested in the advocacy of “a limited amount of coercion” or am impressed by the inevitable lack of success of institutions and groups meant to constrain government’s ever-increasing tyranny. Perhaps that is uncharitable, but I do wonder how charitable I must be when someone is fundamentally in favor of holding a gun to my head in order to expropriate from me what they deem a limited but sufficient amount. There seems that inevitable cognitive dissonance which accompanies statism wherever it arises and for whatever reasons. Friends don’t put guns to the head of their friends, right? I believe statists must, no matter how limited they want their state, must give up being able to say they wouldn’t put a gun to the head of their friends (unless they’re just in favor of tribe-favoring governments á la Afria). But if we assume that our representative statists in question believe in equal treatment before the law, then they would put a gun to their friend’s head.

Anyway, that cognitive dissonance aside, “limited government” is theoretically incoherent, and this can be very easily demonstrated. This is based on the definition of “limited government” as the “essential limiting of the powers of government, so that there will be in its very institution the disallowing of certain powers it might otherwise claim.”

A government is, by definition, that organization which in a society has ultimate decision-making power and final jurisprudence on whether something shall be allowed. It follows that, in principle, the only limits that might be imposed on government must come from itself. This is how limited government types suppose government would be limited. However, it remains the case that the government still has that ultimate decision-making power, so in essence the government is unlimited, since a power cannot be restricted by possessing that power (e.g. I cannot limit myself from making choices by having the power of choice). In other words, if the government has final authority, then it is also the final authority on the extent of its power. Since there is nothing external to it which essentially limits it, and it cannot essentially limit itself, it follows that the government is essentially unlimited. In theory, there can be no such thing as limited government because, as soon as you have government, it has that place in society from which, so long as it remains the government (for instance, people still accept it as “legitimate” government, whatever that means), it is the governor over its use of power.

Now, it may be objected that the government derives its legitimacy from the “consent of the governed.” This is the basic moral theory of democracy. However, that objection is quickly shown vapid if one, for whatever reason, withdraws their consent, at which point they will be either coerced into giving their consent (that’s absurd, says our liberal; yes, yes it is!), exiled, or executed. That is not consent of the governed. However, I will admit that there is some level of consent, namely, the consent by the majority to impose their majoritarian tyranny on others, to govern against the governed.

Another objection might be that, historically and realistically, governments are limited by their societies. As such, we simply must be vigilant in teaching society to value liberty and individualism and to be watchful and suspicious of the government. However, this objection is really beside the point, since we are speaking of theory. Yes, a government might happen to not choose to exercise its power to its fullest extent, and yes, people might reserve their support of government at some sufficient level of tyranny, but those are accidental considerations. Essentially, government exists provided it has the support of some, and provided this is the definition of government, then there is no basis on which some should be able to dissent from it since its supposed to have precisely that ultimate decision-making authority on what is and isn’t the legitimate exercise of power.

If someone would under certain instances reserve their support of government, then they must go all the way in always reserving their support since the basis of their decision to reserve their support is precisely because the government arrogates to itself the authority that they wish to deny it. If the government is unlimited in essence, and someone would only support limited government, then because there can be no such thing as limited government they must never support government.

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I wish to propose a principle concerning the epistemology of social and political policies. The principle is this: “Unless one understands the costs associated with the implementation of a policy, they do not understand the policy they advocate.” This principle is obviously very relevant to politicians. How many times have we caught them suggesting that the costs of their favored policy proposal are essentially nil? Of course, that rhetoric is probably because people are just very poor thinkers in the first place; if someone acknowledged the costs, while their opponent didn’t, suddenly it seems that only one plan has costs, no matter that this obviously can’t be the case. I don’t think we can expect politicians to speak intellectually on politics, since politics is, after all, the business of persuasion, rhetoric, and image (the cult of personality is just this to the extreme, and is different from most politicians’ practices by degree, not quality).

For that, we should expect intellectuals to be up front about the costs of their policy proposals, obviously with the assumption that the benefits will outweigh them. Yet how often do Krugman et al. acknowledge the costs of Keynesian spending and inflationary policies? Then again, perhaps they are no longer intellectuals but political lackeys. Such would be an “uncharitable” supposition, but then again academics have pretty much always been in support of the presiding political regime, and if they dissent, they tend to dissent to the extreme representation of that regime. Fine, I suppose we can cut academics-qua-academia out of the group of intellectuals as well. I have no hard feelings on the matter.

But who does this leave that will acknowledge the costs of proposed policies? Most people, in my experience, aren’t even able to comprehend the fact that there is no such thing as costless activity. In fact, when one tries to be up front about cost, others just jump on that as the primary reason to not support what you’re proposing. What, in anarchy it might be harder to separate children from neglectful and abusive parents? Sure. But then again, in statism it’s too easy to separate children from their parents for wanting to homeschool. Which cost do we prefer here? Some children broken at the hands of their parents, or some children broken at the hands of the system? Not an easy decision, but not one we can’t pretend to side with either way.

I’m going to be formulating and attempting to describe the social institution of justice (i.e. laws, police, courts, defense, etc) as it would happen in anarchy in the upcoming months. I bring this up because most objections to an anarchical arrangement of this social institution has to do with costs that are likely to be real, albeit to a degree far lesser than supposed and certainly to a degree lesser than it would likely occur under statism (and this as the comparison of the arrangement in similar cultures, not, say, the tribalistic and warlord favoring culture of Somalia vs. the individualistic and liberty preferencing culture of America). This is just some framework building as I think up my means of presentation.

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The problem with empiricism is that you cannot, by empiricism, explain what is empirically received. You cannot move from sensation to explanation; as Hume put it, we are witness to one event occurring, and then another, and what of it? We cannot, by the principle of observation alone, provide an understanding of that which is observed. It is a body without legs to run, as it were, a set of objects grouped arbitrarily and not by any principle which proposes an adequation to the mind.

Some would take this as my meaning that there is no use to observation, as if we might understand what there is in the world apart from going out and looking at it. This is not my meaning. I will draw an analogy to geometry. By pure rationalism, we can construct theoretical systems; that, from the positing of certain axioms and definitions, the mind can recognize these things for themselves as well as perceive certain logical consequences of the postulated axioms. But knowing whether they represent one’s own world is a different matter. Consider the question “Is Euclidean geometry true?” Literally, the question is nonsense. It doesn’t ask anything, that is, whether something is the case of something. You may as well ask “Is 5 apples true?” Maybe, maybe not, it depends on what you are asking the question of. “Does Euclidean geometry describe our own universe?” would be a better question, and in order to answer it, one would need to undertake experiments. (Now, even if Euclidean geometry were not true of our universe, its theorems would still be true within the system of Euclidean geometry. It is theory, a description of what might be in some world, even if that possible world is not our own.)

But recognize that we are still being firmly rationalistic, or a priori/metaphysical in our examination of the question so far. In fact, answering “What experiment and its results would show us that the world is Euclidean?” is still not an empirical pursuit.

We can take this model of “spatial understanding,” as it were, and apply it to the whole of science. We can build in our minds models of the world, and then we test whether those models “map onto” or are “in accordance” with the world. Science boils down to answering questions like “Is there milk in the fridge” by figuring out how to open the refrigerator.

I bring up all this about rationalism because I want to apply it to the explanation of social phenomena. I would contend that without a rationalistic social theory, one cannot explain why social events take place as they do. Social phenomena are events like prices on oil rising, certain politicians coming to power, monarchs abdicating their thrones, Truman dropping the bombs, the spreading of Internet memes, and so on. Without a rationalistic, a priori/metaphysical social theory in place, we are powerless to try and explain for what reasons they occurred. We are left in the Humean problem of inducting from observations; without an a priori framework which puts together and gives meaning to our senses, there is nothing which justifies our taking together of disparate occurrences in the world and marking them down in our minds as propositions which are true or false.

But note this as peculiar. A rationalistic system is observationally unfalsifiable. This allows propositions of a rationalistic character to wield a particular kind of power; that power is of explanation. Falsifiable propositions are not explanatory; “There is milk in the fridge” explains nothing. (Now, I recognize that we might offer sentences in everyday conversation which are grammatically like this. “Why did he buy milk?” “There was no milk in his fridge.” However, these statements are implicitly married to additional propositions, like “He wanted to have milk in his fridge” or something of that sort.) “There is milk in the fridge because it was found desirable to have milk in the fridge,” on the other hand, does provide some explanation, because it positions the state of affairs as resting on another which are essentially capable of doing so. In other words, it provides explanation because desire has as its end to manifest in the achieving of concrete states of affairs. That is just what desire is.

When it comes to considering desire or what we will be technically referring to as “rational action,” we recognize intuitively* certain axioms and definitions, and thus can perceive logical consequences that come about from this. We are in the same place as with geometry. We can build up a system of rational action, what has been called by Mises praxeology, which serves as a deductive system which provides explanation to social phenomena. The only question left is whether, as we are most interested in knowing, humans are rational actors.

*I recognize that there is some baggage to the word “intuition.” For here, I mean precisely that an idea is understood for itself by the powers of the mind, and the mind is capable of doing so by its own power because that is what the mind is. I don’t mean something like “recognized as true,” because that requires postulating an “intuitively understood proposition” as true of some particular state of affairs, i.e. “space in our world” or “people in our world.”

Rational action is behavior committed for a purpose. A purpose is some end in which the actor understands themselves to be made better off by engaging in this behavior. It does not matter what the particular end is; only that the actor has some end in sight. The actor will by necessity find this end to be of a greater good for oneself from among other options understood and considered.

Now assuming that humans are rational actors (I will leave the demonstration of this to another time), then praxeology would provided explanation for social phenomena. An example of a praxeological proposition is that “As demand for a good increases, price increases.” I wish to analyze this proposition as an example in the broadest praxeological sense. As such, I am divorcing it from its usual economic connotation. The meaning comes out as this; if something is desired more, it follows that one is willing to give up more of other things in order to have it. It does not matter what one is getting and giving up (be it money, time, the pleasure of reading a book, composing a song, or writing this blog post) and for what reasons one weighs the goods gained and given up. We simply understand it to be the case that, if you demand (or desire) something more, then it follows you are willing to give up more to have it. You find it (relatively) more desirable than another thing.

This praxeological law of demand cannot be falsified, but it follows from the action principle, that our actors are rational. Of the principle itself, we see that there is a positive correlation between demand and willingness to give up other things (“price”). That is important to understand when we do a praxeological analysis of social phenomena and conditions. Of the essence of a praxeological proposition, it must be understood and weighed by itself; it is a common reflex for people to try and falsify the principle by describing some case in which people seemed to not give up as much as they would have for something due to other conditions that were present. But this misses the point and represents a misunderstanding.

It is easier to show the misunderstanding if we zoom out and look at more concrete instances of human action. Usually in economics propositions are expressed in reference to the market, meaning that typically the praxeological proposition is expressed explicitly in terms of money. Hence, the law of demand becomes, by economics, “when demand for a good increases, its monetary price increases, ceteris paribus.” Two things are added. One, it is explicitly expressed that money forms an element; take out money, and it is no longer economics. (This might be misguided, but I’m not attempting any meta-economic critique right now.) Two, the qualifier of ceteris paribus is attached, which means “other things held equal.” This is in order to express the principle of itself. What is meant is that, assuming every other factor that influences the monetary price of a good remains the same, then what will occur when demand increases is that the price increases. So, if we witness that demand for a product increases and the price falls, this does not form a falsifying example of the (economic) law of demand. It simply means that the law of demand was not the dominant factor influencing the monetary price of the good; perhaps, among other things, the good in question became much cheaper to produce due to increase in technology. (Economics-qua-economics is a descriptive science. It can only tell you the effects in principle of certain policies or conditions in the economy. It cannot tell you which are preferable. That is a question of morality; however, economics can help inform one in which policies/conditions ought to be adopted in order to achieve one’s moral end. This is why economic illiteracy of well-meaning people perpetually and consistently produces bad results.)

Let’s zoom in again to praxeology, where we are not concerned with stating these laws in terms of money. Can a thoroughgoing social theory go without engaging in a rationalistic system? I believe no. Now, some might choose other principles than the action principle (aka the founding principle of praxeology) to base the rationalistic elements of the their social theory on, but that there must be rationalistic elements is a foregone conclusion, because without them we are powerless to explain social phenomena. We must at some point analyze and embrace rationalistic principles, for otherwise our social theory will be powerless, and like the economically illiterate, we will be unable to provide solutions for the problems that strike us as being in need of solving.

If one takes a dim view of the idea of rationalistic principles in social theory, then they will be in principle unable to critique or prescribe certain policies and conditions for their own or others’ societies, adrift at sea without a rudder. We can later come back to proving the truth of praxeology in particular, but for here my point is that a social theory requires a commitment to some level of rationalism and apriorism/metaphysics.

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This is following from my previous post on The Moral Neutrality of Unions. Now we can move on to treat of certain political realities and problems surrounding unions. I understand that I am arguing against an edifice of propaganda that has unjustifiably construed the “cause” of workers, though I hope that following my last post it’s been adequately explained how unions are nothing but a cartel over the selling of labor. As such, they face certain economic realities, namely, competition from unrepresented workers; since unions suffer in their cause by having to compete with other workers, they are not intrinsically pro-worker, since they oppose the presence of other workers who might choose to enter the union’s syndicate without being a member of the union. The reasoning behind this is quite plain, but I will detail it in terms that are less controversial.

Suppose there is some grocery store in town called Charley’s. Charley’s refuses to sell apples below $5/lb. There is another grocery store in town, however, Dave’s, that sells apples at $2/lb. The average consumer will, if he wants to buy apples, choose to buy them at Dave’s; and there is nothing wrong with that. Charley’s loses business and must either start selling its products at a competitive rate or go out of business entirely.

Now suppose that Charley’s attempts a non-market solution. He seeks from his town council a legal monopoly on the selling of apples. If anyone wants to buy apples, they must now do business with Charley’s. Dave’s is coerced into not competing with Dave’s on the selling of apples.

Clearly, not only are consumers worse off (since now Charley’s can sell apples at arbitrarily high prices, and anyone who wants apples will just have to suck it up), but injustice is committed against Dave’s, who is excluded from selling apples even though they have done no wrong.

Here’s the thing. Charley’s price for apples is only feasible provided they are able to effectively obtain a legal monopoly on the selling of those apples. Anyone who grows apples must sell through Charley’s, and any consumers who want apples must buy through Charley’s. Charley’s has monopolized apple selling so that they can keep prices artificially high. They keep out all competitors, and can do so because they have the legal power to do so. Consumers are harmed and other sellers are harmed. The only one to win is Charley’s, and perhaps the town council who has secured Charley’s vote.

I think it is easy to agree that sellers of some product should not be allowed to obtain a legal monopoly over the selling of that product.

But it isn’t easy to agree when you say this about the product of labor. This is despite the fact that all the conditions are the same as above. (Albeit with a change of the number of sellers and buyers.)

Coal miners at Charley Co. desire a raise. However, any time workers have refused to work below a certain price, Charley Co. has simply terminated those workers’ contracts and hired others who were willing to work at those wages. They decide to seek a legal solution. They go to the town council and have an ordinance passed which requires that employers must bargain with unions. The workers then form a union, and Charley Co. is forced to bargain, unable to simply terminate the workers and hire others (who would be perfectly willing to work). Charley Co., the consumer, has its rights restricted; it can no longer buy from anyone selling. The union of coal miners has effectively monopolized the labor of coal miners, and if Charley Co. wants to buy, it must buy through the union. It simply isn’t allowed to buy labor without the union standing between them, and anyone willing to work at a wage lower than the union sets is excluded by law.

This is one way of unions getting around their inability to thrive in marketplaces, and it is generally their political reality.

It now becomes the case that if Dave wants to work at Charley Co., and he’s willing to work at $2/hr, Charley Co. cannot buy from him even though he’s selling his labor of his own free will. Dave has been excluded by legal fiat and the muscle of the union.

This more or less encompasses the political problem of unions. Since unions cannot thrive in the market, they can only exist if they seek legal powers that serve to restrict the rights of employers (consumers of labor). They require legal injunction (coercion) to exist in most cases. It is why unions are inevitably political beasts and lackeys of the state. It establishes the precedent of legally favored products; it is legal to form cartels and monopolize on labor, but not other products/services. As seen from before and will be explained much further in my next post, this doesn’t even especially favor workers in general but those already a part of the system, and excludes those who are not yet included and who are less likely to actually gain entry. It is a gain for those represented, a loss for all others. This kind of thuggishness by unions is no different from a mafia boss informing a legal firm that it will hire his son, since “It’d be a shame for the place to burn down.” Only a mafia is understood to be wrong in doing what it does, while the government is somehow right to do the same sort of thing.

The economics of unions will be examined next.

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Unions are a hot topic in the last few weeks, especially following the Wisconsin recall election and the implementation of right to work laws in some states that have predictably irked those who would be irked and been praised by those who would praise. In this post (and a few others to come) I want to analyze unions, what they are, how they (can feasibly) work, and what they imply about workers and the economy. Here, I want to analyze the moral neutrality of unions.

This is in contradistinction from many who holds that unions are intrinsically good, being lauded as “pro-worker,” “pro-labor,” a defense of the employed from his employer, and various other neat labels which can be easily applied and are supposedly hard to argue with. It seems to me that many of these labels are dubious; some imply a moral good to unions that they don’t (in principle) have, and others are plain wrong.

What is a union? A union is a collection of workers in some particular company or industry (we’ll just refer to these as “syndicates” instead of always typing out “company or industry” since for our purposes here the effect is the same) that negotiates on the behalf of those represented to get them better pay and benefits. The theory is that, by collecting together the negotiating power of individuals and bringing them to force in one unified movement, they are more likely to get better wages. Employers have less of an advantage when they must negotiate with the entirety of those they wish to employ rather than individuals who are competing against each other for the position.

That’s essentially what a union is; an aggregate of workers (and potential workers) who agree to not sell their labor below a certain price. If this aggregate cannot agree to the same price and you have defectors, i.e. those who choose employment at a lower wage than the union’s price, then the union cannot effectively function and it fails to produce any benefit for its represented workers.

Those who rail against price fixing ought to see the implications of my terms, which are perfectly accurate to describe the activities of unions. Unions are, in essence, a cartel of workers. Just look at the opening sentences of this Wikipedia article, and replace “firms” with “workers.” It fits perfectly the activities and feasibility of unions. Notice I’m not saying there is anything morally bad about cartels; they are agreements made willingly by individuals of their own free will about things which it is their right to decide the conditions of trade. People are free to gather together and form whatever kind of organization they wish, whether it be political, economic, religious, philosophical, sports, etc.

However, there is a problem with cartels; it is in the interests of the individuals represented by that cartel (or even those not represented) to sell at a lower price. This secures, for businesses, a place within the marketplace by competing against their competitors. For workers, this helps secure a job and income. There is one difference, though; usually there are a very great number of potential workers, as opposed to businesses in which the cost of entry can be very high.

Usually, when people see that a profession brings wages they consider high, they are more likely to enter that profession. If a bunch of unionized workers have secured a high wage for themselves, this attracts other workers to that profession who seek that high wage. However, these potential workers have a greater ability to negotiate (as individuals) than they otherwise have, since they are willing to compete with the unionized workers by selling their labor at a lower price. This undercuts the unionized workers, and reduces the advantage a union can have in negotiating for any workers; it is in the union’s interest to prevent other workers from competing with its represented workers on price. It follows that unions are not intrinsically pro-worker or anything of the sort. They might represent the interests of some workers, but it is practically impossible for it to represent the interests of all workers within a particular syndicate, since there will always be potential workers who might enter the syndicate and compete on price in order to get a job. As such, the union is pro-represented worker and anti-non-represented worker.

You might notice the derogatory terms and language fostered by unions and their sympathizers about those who choose to work rather than strike, or who choose to be employed without being a member of the union. Strike breakers are scabs, they don’t care about the cause of workers, they hurt the cause of workers’ rights, so on and so forth. This language is thoroughly propagandistic and disregards the rights of employers to negotiate as they will about the use of their own property. (This will be the topic of my next post, on the political problems of unions.) But really, are those who defect evil? Unions would have you believe so, since they “steal the jobs of workers.”

But that’s ridiculous. If one grocery store refuses to sell apples below $5/lb., and another grocery store will sell apples at a lower price, is that second grocery store evil? Hardly. Are those who choose to shop at the second grocery store evil? No. So why is it any different when we’re speaking about workers competing with each other and the employers who hire them? Employers are, arbitrarily, treated differently as consumers, even though we allow consumers of products/services other than labor to act in ways that would, were the same principles surrounding unions followed, imply that we are all scabs and opposed to the progress of workers’ rights.

Unions are only effective if they are able to monopolize on the availability of labor for some particular syndicate, in the same way that cartels are only effective if they are able to monopolize the availability of some product. Without these monopolizing conditions, unions cannot thrive in a marketplace, because there will always be a pool of available workers who will sell some particular labor at a lower price than those who become members of the union, and the union members would summarily lose their jobs, an effect counterproductive to the union’s activities. Unions are, under free trade conditions, morally neutral, an agreement between people to not sell something below a certain price, a gathering of individuals who are looking to make more money by forming a cartel; people are free to join them or not join them, free to negotiate with them or not negotiate with them. In principle, there is nothing good or bad about unions.

However, we need to take into account certain political realities of unions. That will be the subject of my next post on this topic.

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