03 March 2011

More Rhetoric on Unions

Another predictably tendentious piece, this time from Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker.

Mr. Hertzberg bemoans the fate of labor since its hay day on the middle of the previous century, completely disregarding the fact that corporations, big businesses, fat cats and the rest of the usual suspects don't sit around drinking cognac, smoking cigars and burning dollar bills they've stolen from the surplus value of the labor they've exploited. They've paid market wages for the labor required for production. Any so-called surplus value is typically reinvested, either directly or indirectly. This leads to increasing productivity and innovation. This leads to many goods and services increasing in relative quality will becoming relatively cheaper.

Think of computers. It was almost the stuff of fiction to think that people would have computers in their homes in 1970. It was expensive but feasible in 1980. Slightly cheaper and better and more common in 1990. Almost ubiquitous in 2000. In 2010most people carry around with them phones that have more computing power than anything imaginable by the gentlemen who turned ENIAC on in 1955. And it's a phone. And a camera. And a radio. And, in real terms, much cheaper than anything you could have bought in 1980.

Life has gotten better because companies can pay market wages for the services provided by employees and not occur dead-weight losses due to union wages.

As we produce more, we all benefit. Increasing "income inequality" is a social fiction. Saying rich people make more than they did in 1970 is a fool's argument. And one, not surprisingly, embraced by Mr. Hertzberg. First of all, GDP growth has outpaced population growth. So while the "top earners" may have more, percentage wise, of the "take," everyone is earning more money. And with all due respect to P.J. Proudhon, property is not theft. The CEO of WeWantToRuinTheEarthAndPoisonYourChildren Oil Co. making $150 million dollars does not mean that you or me or anyone else earns less money. Just as the Yankees presumably paying Albert Pujols $300 million over the next ten years doesn't mean there's any less money out there for you or me. A capitalist system is not a closed system. Capital can increase, especially as the factors of production become more efficient, cheaper, better &c.

My absolutely favorite line of the whole piece by Hertzberg is this one describing the new "anti-union" movement in Wisconsin: "The bill, dictated by the new Republican governor, Scott Walker..." Classy move. The verb in the dependent clause is brilliant. Denotatively, Hertzberg is covered in that the wording of the bill was probably crafted by the governor. But he is also able to present the man as a dictator. Never mind that the bill was introduced to the state senate for a vote and it is the Democrats who fled the state, making a vote on the measure impossible.

The rhetoric is that the bill came out of nowhere and the Democrats wanted time for what was in the bill to become public. Well, it's public. It has been for two weeks. If you don't like a bill, vote against it. If it becomes law that you don't like, introduce a bill that will change it. But running out on your job? Because your "side" might lose? And the governor is dictatorial?

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