TAMPA, December 10, 2012 – Lansing, Michigan is bracing for an onslaught of protestors following Republican Governor Rick Snyder’s indication that he would sign “Right to Work” legislation currently making its way through the state legislature. President Obama and Harry Reid have both joined Michigan Democrats in denouncing the bill.
As usual, both liberals and conservatives are already demonstrating their skewed perception of reality in weighing in on this debate. President Obama told workers at an engine plant outside Detroit that “what we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages,” as if the law would do any such thing.
However, Harry Reid surpassed all in obtuseness when he called the legislation a “blatant attempt by Michigan Republicans to assault the collective bargaining process and undermine the standard of living it has helped foster.”
Perhaps the senator should ask the residents of Detroit, an entire city laid waste by New Deal union legislation, how they are enjoying the standard of living it has produced.
Libertarians haven’t been able to say this in quite a while, but the conservatives are mostly right on this one, although perhaps for the wrong reasons.
The only troubling sentiment coming from grassroots conservatives is the animosity towards labor unions themselves. Many seem to believe that the mere existence of labor unions causes economic distortions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Labor unions themselves are not the problem.
Like virtually all human misery, labor market distortions are caused by the government. Specifically in this case, they are rooted in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (a.k.a. the Wagner Act).
There is some good in the Act. It enumerates the natural right of freedom of association exercised when workers agree to form a contract between themselves to bargain collectively for higher wages, more benefits, better working conditions, etc.
The problem is that it violates the employer’s equal right to refuse to contract with the union. It reads,
“Sec. 8. [§ 158.] (a) [Unfair labor practices by employer] It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer…
(5) to refuse to bargain collectively with the representatives of his employees, subject to the provisions of section 9(a) [section 159(a) of this title].”
No one who understands the nature of the employment contract could possibly support such a preposterous law. As obvious as it might seem, all sides of this argument seem to have forgotten what “a job” is.
A job is nothing more than a contract between a buyer (the employer) and a seller (the employee). There is no difference between this agreement and the one between you and Walmart when you buy socks or groceries there.
The cited language in the Wagner Act is the equivalent of legally requiring you to buy from Walmart, even if you can get the same pair of socks elsewhere at half the price. It doesn’t take a Carl Menger to figure out that under those conditions, Walmart’s prices would rise to unnatural levels.
In fact, this is the basis of the spurious arguments made in favor of anti-trust legislation. Supposedly, the biggest company in a free market will put everyone else out of business and then raise its prices to impoverishing levels. It’s never actually happened in a free market, but this is just what happened to Detroit, when the government gave unions a government-enforced monopoly on the labor market.
This is not to discount the economic distortions caused by the existence of corporations. In addition to the harm done to consumers and potential competitors, corporate privileges and the regulations that accompany them also result in fewer choices for workers – a smaller market in which to sell their product.
However, the solution to government-created distortions is not more intervention. The Wagner Act isn’t the government breaking your leg and handing you a crutch. It’s breaking your leg and handing you a bottle of arsenic. This poison took decades to work, but it achieved its inevitable result.
If you’re wondering why Detroit died and why manufacturing jobs really go overseas, look to the Wagner Act and other government interventions into the labor market. These are the simple cause and effect relationships that Americans seem unable to recognize, no matter how obvious they are.
Do individuals have a right not to buy something that they don’t want to? The Wagner Act and Obamacare say they don’t. America was founded upon the principle that they do.
Right to Work laws don’t seek to undo any of this. They merely seek to keep non-union members from being compelled to pay union dues at a union shop. This has prompted opponents of the law to label the exempt employees “freeloaders” for accepting the inflated wages and benefits the employer is forced to pay while not paying the union, who “won them.”
This is somewhat analogous to the moronic “I guess I won’t see you driving on government roads” rejoinder often leveled at libertarians. After being forced to buy the road and prohibited from building his own, the libertarian is expected to forego the right to travel.
This is where we are in the land of the free. I couldn’t make this stuff up.
Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.