Josh Marshall published a rant from a reader today explaining, I guess, why some people are anti-union. A snippet:
On my Son’s little league team, one of his teammates father was a teacher in the LAUSD. He told me that he wouldn’t know what to do if he had to work in the summertime. Really? I’ve only been doing it for a quarter century. But I do see his point, working has put a bit of a crimp in my life. Especially in the summertime. Actually, in reality, work is my life.
In addition to this, the LAUSD fires like 1 teacher a year, and it usually cost big money and lengthy litigation to get rid of absolute pond scum. Of course, once you don’t have accountability, you get the obligatory sex scandal, which has rocked the LAUSD this year, with multiple instances of teachers engaged in inappropriate behavior with students, being moved around the district.
So I think there is a preception that the pay for teachers isn’t great, but not terrible either. But great benefits, a chance for a decent to good retirement, and it seems a bit like, if not a part time job, certainly not a full time job in any sense that I would recognize it. And pretty much limited accountability.
Additionally, are we really paying a market wage and benefits? Whenever they hire Firemen or Police Officers it seems like there are 50 applicants for each opening. When the job attracts that ratio of qualified applicants per job, I think that says something about what we are paying versus what we should or could be paying.
That is how non-union people get paid. Based on how much value you offer relative to others. Wages are usually governed by the laws of supply and demand for non-union workers.
Look, I don’t want to argue that unions are a panacea or that they are all good or whatever. There are clearly pros and cons. There is, indeed, a lot of rent seeking and nepotism and so on. But here is the issue. When you look at the major challenges in public policy, is the major problem, really, that working class, union members are doing too well? Is this really what ails the economy?
Of course not.
The major trend that define our current economic woes is the stagnation of median wages for the past 30 years. A secondary — though maybe related — trend is increased level of indebtedness. The demographic that makes up union works is barely treading water, even as national income and productivity increase. So, yeah, while we can debate, in the abstract whether or not union members are overpaid, or their benefits are too generous, it is really a pretty minor issue, and one that is at odds with macro trends. If union members are getting such a great deal, then why have median wages — even of union members — stagnated for 30 years?
The major trend that defines our fiscal woes is the collapse of tax revenue over the past decade in the face of multiple, successive, deficit-funded tax cuts combined with the longest and deepest period of depressed economic performance since the 1930s. There has, yes, been an increase in the structural level of government spending, exclusively due to higher spending on health care. The federal workforce has declined consistently over the past 30 years. And even at the state and local level, government employment has been declining as a percentage of the population. Our deficits are not, in short, due to anything public sector workers are receiving. Again, we can debate, in the abstract, whether government employee benefits are fair or whatever. But regardless, they aren’t the problem in any macro sense.
Union are not the cause of our current problems, nor is union-busting an answer for them. Now, was this always true? I don’t know. Maybe unions were more of a problem 30 years ago, before Reagan. Yes, at that time, a lot of union contracts featured automatic CPI-linked wage increases, that served to spiral inflation. And yes, inflation was a major public policy challenge even if it wasn’t the end of the world either.
But right now, the problem isn’t inflation, and it isn’t out of control spending. It is collapsing tax revenues and inequality that is affecting aggregate demand.
Debating union in the abstract is pointless. The question is, are unions the cause of our problems today? And obviously, they aren’t.