The Liberal-Radical Relationship

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The radical and the liberal suffer from opposite afflictions.*

The radical, taking her distance from the mainstream as a measure of her probity, hastens the isolating slide. Existing in a brutally unjust world, her marginality, she reasons, is prima facie proof of her rectitude; if proximity to the center is a proxy for determining one’s rightness, the further one’s position from the middle the better. Powerlessness, to her, is desirable—the hallowed halls are in fact irredeemably sullied, irreversibly tarnished. Occupying the fringe is a badge of honor, so engagement with those to one’s right is suspect. Purity-induced paralysis, the radical finds, is comforting in its uncontaminated inaction.

The liberal, viewing pragmatism as a cardinal virtue, habituated to holding political power, likes to think of himself as results oriented. The radical can keep her purity. His singular focus is on delivering concrete victories. He’s willing to “dirty his hands” to achieve legislative success. In fact, he relishes this selfless prioritization of incremental progress over the radical’s puerile purity. If the radical’s occasional crime is sanctimony, the liberal’s sin is sheepishness, more apt to defend decorum than animating principles. An upstanding member of the political consensus—he’s one to tinker, not transform—he consorts with conservatives more frequently than leftists. His Sister Soujah moment isn’t a passing occurrence but a recurring episode, a deftly wielded weapon among the most frequently deployed in his arsenal: “I’m worth paying attention to, to debating, unlike those loons on my left.” Often this vitriol has turned into outright repression. As documented in the indispensable The Liberals and J. Edgar Hoover, postwar liberals, mostly out of political expediency, gave the state free reign to rein in radicals—a role the center-left, from German social democrats to ADA liberals, have played with startling frequency.

The liberal’s realism is a curious one, however. Left to his own devices, he doesn’t merely narrow the scope of social change, but undermines his own political aims. Busy preening before his pragmatic mirror, he overlooks the vital role of the radical in securing liberal ends. So spooked of appearing “extreme,” so convinced that demanding a full liberal loaf would have him tossed out of the legislative bakery, he forecloses the forward march he claims to champion.

The utility of the radical, to the liberal, is 1) She makes the unabashed liberal position seem moderate by comparison. This expansion of the Overton window opens up space to his left, giving liberals a better shot at realizing their ideals. Think 1930s radicalism serving, often unwittingly, as a propellant for the New Deal. 2) She anchors liberalism, tempering the natural tendency of its proponents to drift to the center. Unmoored and under attack, the liberal is wont to seek out safer pastures—and quickly finds himself apologizing for policies he previously declared anathema. In sum, radicals push liberals in periods of left potency and beckon them back in times of conservative dominance.

Over the last few decades, the lack of a sizable radical flank has been catastrophic: liberal victories reversed, labor decimated, a revanchist right emboldened. All predictable outcomes of a left without a genuine Left. Yet liberals have remained stubbornly unlettered in the precipitants of social change. They haven’t learned from their postwar myopia when, either overcome with delusions of omnipotence or consumed with contempt for radicals, they purged CIO only to discover that, absent a radical wing, business had little reason to bargain with labor and all the reason to bludgeon it.

The liberal’s incorrigible love for conciliatiation— to the detriment of their presumed principles—has again been on display throughout the immigration reform debate, especially since nativist House Republicans have dug in their heels. In an editorial earlier this month, the New York Times, that custodian of American liberalism, appealed to Republican “party leaders and moderates” to “push back against Tea Party no-dealers and hard-core members, like Steve King of Iowa, who want to kill any bill that allows undocumented immigrants to become Americans.” It was quintessential grand-bargain liberalism: appealing for sanity, lionizing compromise. Left unexamined was the malodorous state of the Senate bill, a militaristic, xenophobic, private prison-augmenting piece of legislation that should affront liberals and radicals alike. Critiques from the left exist, but they haven’t counterbalanced reactionary intransigence. With Republicans elites almost universally supportive of immigration reform, liberals should have been in a strong bargaining position. Instead they’re championing a bill whose “liberal” component is a “path to citizenship” in name only.

So the question for liberals, on immigration and every other issue, is whether sustaining the current consensus or burnishing their consensus credentials is more important than advancing liberal ends. For the realistic radical, it’s whether liberal gains should be disregarded, or expanded, extended, and pushed in a radical direction. Whether the liberal is someone to simply scorn, or to try to radicalize. I’m of the same opinion as Michael Harrington, who said in the early 70s,“It ill-behooves the radical to denounce the liberal, because the liberal is either going to be the radical of the future, or there will be no radicalism to think about in any serious way.”

The relationship between radicals and liberals is always going to be acrimonious and strained and tension-filled. But if the left is smart, it’s also symbiotic.

 

*Generalizations, sure, but I think astute observers will see more than a modicum of truth in them.

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59 thoughts on “The Liberal-Radical Relationship

  1. I was honestly hoping to be able to tell you that this piece was the best thing I’ve ever read that you’ve written.
    But I think you dropped the ball in a bad way; starting with the ends and working toward the means.
    Both the radical and the liberal have positions founded on belief– they’re no different from the conservative in that. It’s only the manner of belief which is different.

    And you really need to separate “labor” from “labor organizations.”
    Labor has made great strides. Labor organizations, not so much.
    And for a guy that risked his livelihood in so much organizing work, knowing what I know now, there is now way in hell I would ever vote to organize a shop were that to come to me. Over half my time as a journeyman has been spent in trying to work around my business agent.
    Over half the membership of the AFL-CIO is government employees and teachers. When politicians speak to “unions,” those are exactly the groups they are talking about.

    Screw making illegal immigrants citizens.
    Do you really think those people came over here, risking their lives, saying, “I will go to del Norte, and become a citizen there?”
    I have a sister-in-law that’s Australian. She could have American citizenship any time she wants it. We were talking about it one day, and she said, “Why would I want it? What good is it?”
    Those people came here to live and work. They deserve the protection of our laws.
    Citizenship? What good is it? That’s trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

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  2. I strongly disagree with the notion that radicals help liberals by making them look moderate. Many conservatives have long opposed the demands of the liberals as being nothing more than a stepping stone towards something more radical.

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  3. I generally have no patience for “holier than thou” politics whether on the left, the right, or libertarians.

    Nor do I have a lot of patience for the idea that purity will win elections and/or things just need to get really bad before people see the light. This is not true when the far-right says it and it is not true when the far left says it. And unnecessary suffering is to be avoided at all costs.

    Politics is the art of the possible and as Vikram said in another post and context, I live in this world, not a fantasy one. Now I think that part of making the world a better place involves changing the world and views (Tikkun Olam) but the demands of reality still need to be met.

    I moderate Democratic politician while not enacting everything I want or believe in is still behoven to certain beliefs of the party.

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      • The job thing is vexing. I’m not opposed to protectionism on the job-creating front and I am not a liberal but not a neo-liberal. I disagree with the neo-liberals who assume it will all be highly-educated workers or low-wage McJobs.

        I think the issue is that the United States might have picked all the low-hanging fruit unless some radical innovation comes along. The post-War era was unique because the Cold War took away competition from the USSR and a lot of other places. Most of Europe was bombed out to nothing. It is very easy to create a good-paying job (or better paying) in an economy where a lot of people worked as sustenance farmers. It is not so easy to create these jobs in Western countries. I don’t think a return to communalism is the answer though.

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      • Heightening the contradictions was a term invented by Vladimir Lenin to describe what the Bolsheviks should do during WWI. He argued that rather than supporting policies that would ease the problems caused by WWI, the Bolsheviks should actually try to exasperate the problems in order to make people more radical and get them to support the Bolsheviks rather than more moderate political parties.

        In American politics, the idea would be to the let the GOP have full reign and do what they want in order to make things so bad that some sort of radical leftist change is inevitable.

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      • I think you mean “exacerbate” but “exasperate” works rather better. I like that very much.

        The only places where Communism ever took root were feudal societies, where only the gentry owned land. As long as the peasants could be cowed and kept under control through various schemes — religion and patriotism (which were one and the same in the Tsar’s Russia) they wouldn’t revolt. Lenin knew he had to alienate the people, not only from their feudal overlords, but induce enough alienation against each other for them to reach the boiling point of revolution.

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  4. Radicals of many persuasions roam the earth. Radicals are distinguished only by the scope and depth of their vision of change. It’s all quite existential: radicals don’t view themselves as marginal. They view themselves as essential, the voice of the masses. Jefferson said mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. The radicals just have a lower threshold for sufferable evil. The more effective radicals understand all this.

    Liberals aren’t especially pragmatic. Nor are Conservatives or any other political faction. Everyone knows the political process is sullied and tarnished. Political power is not a surgical instrument, sterile and sharp, neatly laid out on a tray. Political power is a big old metaphorical shovel. In fact, it’s usually an aircraft carrier, a big old piece of steel floating in the ocean, an expensive machine whose sole objective is the projection of power.

    I’m amused to read this sort of nonsense about Liberal Sheepishness. Unlettered in the factors of social change, you say. Stupidest statement I’ve seen around here recently. American Liberals are doing just fine these days: we’ve shamed this nation into rejecting a host of evils as we’ve been doing for at least six decades. Today’s Conservatives are all going through their wardrobes, throwing out some of their more unstylish attitudes.

    American trade unions are in full retreat because Americans have played Beggar Thy Neighbour a few times too often as each state contends with all the others, offering concessions to whichever corporation is willing to build a screwdriver factory in their territory. Tax abatements, subsidies of every sort — it’s all quite skeevy and pathetic, really. No sooner do the tax abatements lapse than the corporations move on again, leaving big slabs of concrete behind. Do you know, these days, they unbolt these metal barn-factories and take them along to the next location? It’s become a travelling circus: the world is round. Instead of exporting what we’ve learned about how to build a prosperous nation, America has lapsed into a parody of itself, leveraging other nations’ lack of workers’ rights and market regulation.

    And what the hell is this about Liberal love for conciliation? Gude, there are two fundamental and incompatible visions of America: the first is rural, the second is urban. The urban vision is winning and you can hear it in every third country music song these days. Rural, conservative America is a bit down at the heel. The New York Times is published in New York City, the most cosmopolitan city on the planet.

    Liberals don’t have to worry about sustaining some consensus. The world is going urban, not rural. Conservatives need to look to their own future: their constituency is old and getting older. It was never terribly well-educated and if it’s served the cause of big business, big business has betrayed them anyway.

    Hatin’ on the Immigrant has been a constant and productive vein of ore for American populism but America’s been build by successive waves of those damned old immigrants. Best not to conflate the American Liberal with the Democratic Party: I’ve lived long enough to see the Democrats win their battles by half-measures where they couldn’t win them with a full court press. And it’s at that difference where the more-pragmatic Liberals have given the Radicals fits over the years: immediate change leads to immediate disaster.

    I wouldn’t worry about the Death of Liberalism if I were you. Radicals think thing are simple, Liberals know better. Radicals are naifs. They don’t understand the nature of power. Most intelligent radicals do learn how to pull the levers of power and lay off all the cheap talk about Revolution. The world revolves and changes, whether or not we do anything about it and whether or not we like those changes.

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    • I think the radicals serve a useful purpose in expanding our conceptualization of the possible. While the value of any single idea generated may be somewhat questionable, that ideas are being generated is itself of value.

      You’re likely correct in saying the nation is more urban than rural. I would contrast this in saying that the movement was more suburban than either over the past twenty years or so.
      It’s an odd thing, that the urban & rural cannot exist the one without the other. I see no reason they should be at odds; and I wonder if there might be a system somewhere that would demonstrate this.

      The trade unions are largely a victim of their own excesses, from what I can see. A lot of it is mismanagement (and from talking with the old timers, this is the main reason the South is no longer heavily unionized). There are a lot of locals that need their charters pulled, but the system is slow to react.
      In my union, there were some suits from national that came down to check on one particular local. They were met at the plane by a couple of nice gentlemen who informed them that, if they didn’t turn around and get back on the plane, they would be going home floating down the river. They turned back around and left. No further action.
      This was the same local where a guy was shot in the head in an open meeting– in front of some 2000 people– and no one saw anything.
      But I might be turning a corner in my views on public employee unions. I’ve seen a situation where the county has a source of free labor, which is used to cut some corners and take care of some dirty work. The employees of similar responsibility have a well-earned reputation for compliance with procedure, but they’re being thrown under the bus by the county; and it looks to me like it’s to protect their source of free labor.
      All in all, I would say the devil is in the details– not so much that unions in and of themselves are good or bad.

      Point well taken about Liberals being a distinct group apart from the Democratic Party. I’ve been around long enough to see the Dems re-invent themselves a few times (for better or worse), but prevalent thought among the people remains largely unchanged.
      Although I tend to like Obama as a president, that is one valid criticism of him– that he still isn’t so much a leader within the party, but instead looks like he’s being led around by the nose by them on many occasions. The Dems still have a leadership problem; just not nearly so bad as the R’s.

      The immigration issue (as far as I’m concerned) can be divided into humanitarian concerns and economic concerns. Even were all the illegals who are here now granted full citizenship overnight, those humanitarian concerns would remain untouched, and the economic pressures would continue unabated. Granting them full titles as English nobility would address all the same issues in much the same manner as citizenship, and I don’t see why the one solution isn’t being discussed with the same somber air as the other.
      About the most sane thing I’ve heard on immigration in a long time came from Calderón, and his talk of a “special relationship” between Mexico & the US; though I disagree strongly with his assumptions of what course of action that arrangement entails.

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      • Radicals aren’t a vision of the possible. Radicals don’t have any unique vision, they’re more about how fast they want what everyone else wants anyway. Their outrage is mostly directed at people who think radicals want everything right away.

        I’d question the statement wherein Liberals are a suburban phenomenon. People vote their zip codes. The collar counties around Chicago are awfully Republican and Conservative. Cities are the Blue Islands in Red States. As for rural and urban coexisting, I don’t buy any of that sauce either. The rural identity is disappearing into some sad steel guitar solos: small town America is on its way out. Day was when you could make a living on 100 acres. You can’t, anymore: now these farms are four or five sections, more automation than most factories. Farming is a business, not a lifestyle.

        Demonising the trade union is facile nonsense. Surprised to see you saying such things. I would only repeat myself in saying the American trade union movement came of age in an era of violence and repression — and like many children of violence, they became violent themselves. Belay all such talk about union violence. The unions lost. We’re not going back to any semblance of workers’ rights, ever again. The Big Bad Wolves of trade unions disappeared long ago but they still turn up as villains in the fairy tales anyway.

        The devil is not in the details. The devil is in the theories. The American worker is fucked and some people think that’s just great. Aided and abetted by our Libertarian buddies, soon enough we shall return to the glory days of the Gilded Age.

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      • Not all trade unions are as horrible as my own, granted. I just happen to be a member in one of the worst. And I’ve been a victim of blacklisting myself; a highly illegal practice which no one really gives a sh!t about.

        The pension system prevents change. We have a national pension (one for Canadians, and one for Americans), and then a local pension. How much goes into each is a matter of local vote. But the pensions maintain the system of local fiefdoms.
        With most unions, a transfer card is issued when a journeyman goes into another jurisdiction– the local where they are members is transferred. Some journeymen can put their name on any out-of-work list in the nation. I get a travel card. Everything goes through my home local, to a state where I haven’t set foot in over 8 years. My BA handles the work calls, and he seems to be a bit slim on the concept of the feasible. That’s why I favor the Western states, where not all business is done BA-to-BA. I can call the organizer in Kansas, and go to work there without all the hassle.
        But a traveler is always low man on the totem pole, and gets every sh!t job, always the first in line for the layoff. And there’s no representation in the local for a traveler.

        Effectively, the contractors have two levels of representation: one through the contractors’ association, and another through the locals.

        The old days were full of excesses when the unions were strong; people playing cards on the clock and the like; people pulling a check that never showed up on site.
        A better play for the long-term is taking care of the contractor. A lot of guys don’t see it like that.

        There are greater concerns with governance other than its form.

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      • “Not all trade unions are as horrible as my own, granted.”

        Given that, according to you, your union shoots people in the head at open meetings without repurcussion, that seems reasonable.

        Damning with faint praise.

        As a side note, we know, empirically, what heavy unionization does to a country:

        “In the mid-1950s, 36% of the United States labor force was unionized. At America’s union peak in the 1950s, union membership was lower in the United States than in most comparable countries. By 1989, that figure had dropped to about 16%, the lowest percentage of any developed democracy, except France. Other union membership for other developed democracies, in 1990 were:[1]

        95% in Sweden and Denmark.
        85% in Finland
        Over 60% in Norway and Austria
        Over 60% in Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
        Over 30% in West Germany and Italy.

        In 1987, United States unionization was 37 points below the average of seventeen countries surveyed, down from 17 points below average in 1970.[1] Between 1970 and 1987, union membership declined in only three other countries: Austria, by 3%, Japan, by 7%, and the Netherlands, by 4%. In the United States, union membership had declined by 14%.[2]
        In 2008, 12.4% of U.S. wage and salary workers were union members. 36.8% of public sector workers were union members, but only 7.6% of workers in private sector industries were.[3] The most unionized sectors of the economy have had the greatest decline in union membership. From 1953 to the late 1980s membership in construction fell from 84% to 22%, manufacturing from 42% to 25%, mining from 65% to 15%, and transportation from 80% to 37%.[4][5]
        From 1971 to the late 1980s, there was a 10% drop in union membership in the U.S. public sector and a 42% drop in union membership in the U.S. private sector.[6] For comparison, there was no drop in union membership in the private sector in Sweden. In other countries drops included: [7]
        2% in Canada,
        3% in Norway,
        6% in West Germany,
        7% in Switzerland,
        9% in Austria,
        14% in the United Kingdom,
        15% in Italy.”

        Conservatives want to go back to the 50’s, but they don’t like the unionization that helped make the 50’s possible. And no one wants the hell that is these other unionized countries. (Especially their teachers unions that somehow do better than our unionized teachers.)

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      • I’m sick of hearing horror stories about trade unions. The American system is screwed up because it operates in an openly adversarial relationship to management. I always tell novice coders: nobody sets out to build a screwed up system. When you find one, you’re looking at an ugly compromise. Comment the hell out of it and write a big old test harness for it, so you can see how it behaves.

        So the unions are screwed up. Let’s not make any excuses for them. We know how they got that way. In an era where Management makes everyone piss in a bottle and monitors your every move, paying maniacs to screw up corporations by encumbering them with debt and jacking the stock price destroying every semblance of workplace dignity, reducing the working man to so many Lego Minifigs, I find it the height of irony to hear folks complaining about the excesses of trade unions and what goes on with the union pension funds.

        The solution is amazingly obvious, though Americans wander around like so many Muppet Martians in search of a resolution. We make closed unions illegal and put workers’ representatives on the boards of directors. I’ve said it a thousand times around here. It never sinks in, of course. Instead, folks just will Troll the Ancient Carol of Evil Trade Unions.

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      • I’m not sold on unions. I don’t think that associations can weather a nearly unlimited supply. I would rather tie immigration to unemployment rates. Workers will really only have power when there is a certain amount of scarcity.

        I’m not sure my perspective is right….. what about high price athlete unions?

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      • Workers will really only have power when there is a certain amount of scarcity.

        I think that’s right, myself, as a matter of logic. But I think judgments about what that claim means depend on what a person thinks of as a worker and how scarcity is achieved. For example, the Old School Paradigm reduced individuals performing tasks to the roles they played in a capitalist society, thereby obliterating, to some extent, what might be (on some views) important distinctions in individual decisionmaking as well as the purpose under which those workers are employed to begin with. The purpose of unions back in the day was achieve equitable remuneration given an understood and acceptable level of work performed. That seems to have changed, in my opinion, in recent decades.

        One way unions in the trades could re-emerge as socially and economically useful – and vibrantly so! – would be to revise their mission from one promoting a “bloated” paycheck for members based on an outdated conception of “equitably” to promoting higher efficiency and quality given the pay demanded. That would require reversing the logic justifying unions, to some extent, and I’m not optimistic American’s would be willing or able to do that.

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      • To be clear, that didn’t get shot by the union; that was something that went on at that local. Like I said, there are some locals that need their charters yanked.

        I’m aware of the data for unionization. I don’t see how it’s meaningful.
        What I wonder is this:
        What do you suppose the benefit of a union is? Seriously.
        What do you suppose the difference is between a union job and a non-union job?
        Do you have any idea what type of treatment that people who are organized in get?

        I’ve got a short list of three strong points I could make here, but I would rather hear from others first. I would like to see how the beliefs of the union supporters match up with the facts on the ground.
        And it’s not the money. Sure, the hourly wage may be higher, but that’s no indication of expenses.

        Yes, the unions are about quality; much more so than pay. I don’t want to get to that part just yet; but union labor is premium goods.

        As Blaise said, the relationship to management is important. I would take that a step further, and say that relationship is more important than whether representation occurs collectively or individually.

        In the end, unions aren’t a particular type of organization, but a certain class of organizations. “Union” means a lot of different things, depending in no small part on which union you’re talking about.

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      • The South was never heavily unionized. Anglo communities largely resisted unionization. Unions took hold in the Northeast and Midwest (and a bit of the West) which had larger immigrant and non-Anglo populations.

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      • You need to drop the economic rhetoric that unions help the little guy. The entire premise is silly.

        Voluntary unions may be great at consolidating bargaining, but they are not really sustainable. Thus unions tend to be coercive, and as I have repeatedly illustrated, this can only lead to beggaring those not in unions and/or bleeding their industry to death.

        Funny that the richest, most technologically advanced nation on earth ( and ever) which is the vanguard of material progress for last century is the place most resistant to unions. For further evidence, see what happened to union industries facing competition or the relative growth rates of closed shop vs non closed shop states.

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      • What is the benefit of a trade union? We need to clarify what’s implied by a union. I don’t like the tone of that “seriously” bit. Implies nothing could possibly be gained or improved through association.

        A trade union can serve as a training ground where apprentices can learn the trade under supervision of more qualified personnel. A trade union can serve to improve working conditions, recommending needed safety measures, providing useful feedback to management and ownership, increasing the viability of the workplace. Note that I conjugated all that in the conditional: when management and labour are set in opposition, often we get the exact opposite.

        Physicians and lawyers and electricians and policemen and military and hairdressers and many another trade are closed societies. We keep unqualified people out of their ranks, often by laws requiring a certain number of hours of training, laws against impersonating them and the imposition of memberships in professional associations before we allow them to work.

        Being a physician or an electrician is more than a job: people’s lives depend on them doing their jobs correctly. I know this offends a good many Libertarians, who would tell us licensing hairdressers is just so much government interference. I strongly recommend all such people first get a haircut from their wives or husbands before they say such stupid things again. I would extend this proposition much more widely: even the humblest job can benefit from labour association.

        Any job can be done well or done badly. No job is just a job. I take a near-religious view of work: it gives meaning to life, a job well done benefits all who come in contact with it. A job worth doing is worth paying a worker well to do it. This is the era of the machine, of automation and technological improvements of every sort. Perversely, we need the human mind more than ever. We need professionals, people who take their jobs seriously. Being a pro just means you get paid for it. We can get machines to obey rules, that’s easy. We can’t get machines to handle exceptions. For that we need people who believe in what they’re doing, people to help the client, people who believe in more than a goddamn paycheck.

        Want some Facts on the Ground? Try dealing with an electrical fire from a badly wired wall socket installed by an unqualified electrician or complications from botched surgery by an incompetent surgeon.

        There’s no good reason for workers and management to live in the antique prison Marx described: the pointless struggle of proles and bourgeois. It’s a prison locked from the inside. Workers and management need to get on the same side of the table, with the customers on the other. That’s the way capitalism works best.

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      • Roger, with you it’s like pulling the string on a Chatty Cathy doll. Only you’re pulling your own string. If I hear anyone using the word Coercive in the context of trade unions, considering the beatdown the trade union movement has taken over the last three decades and the last few factory fires in Bangladesh and Pakistan, I’m going to get out my red-hot rhetorical poker and shove it up that person’s backside.

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      • Thank you for responding.
        The ‘seriously’ thing was more directed at the citer of statistics; i.e., something more serious than raw data.

        Worker safety is more of a priority on union jobs. I think OSHA has done more over the last 50 years than the unions for worker safety, and particularly in the non-union sector. Not to say that there aren’t some dangerous people, and even some dangerous contractors on union jobs; just that it’s so much worse on the non-union jobs.
        In fact, safety personnel is often used on union jobs as a hit squad to get rid of people. A lot of safety personnel, perhaps the majority, view their effectiveness as being measured by the number of people they run off a job rather than unsafe practices being eliminated.
        I’ve also seen non-union contractors pressure their employees into a number of illegal practices. This really isn’t so uncommon.

        Union jobs are staffed with adequate tools. I’ve only worked for a couple of union contractors where the needed tools weren’t on site. It’s really common with non-union contractors.
        Providing your own tools doesn’t cover showing up on site with a 3 ton chainfall and all the needed chokers. Non-union contractors often use manpower rather than the proper tools to move and secure materials. This is an unsafe practice, and detracts from the quality of work.

        Quality of work overall would be the third big difference in a union vs. non-union job; though again, this isn’t true in all cases. There are a lot of good non-union hands; they just tend to perform at the level expected of them.
        I’ve also seen the management strategy of turning employees against each other in non-union shops; not an ordinary thing, but not uncommon.

        Take a look around your home, and note how much of your furniture came from the Dollar Store. Surely, were there no other consideration other than the price of goods & services, this would be a fairly high percentage in all households.

        There are occasions where I’ve seen the union provide the mechanism for feedback to the contractor for improved safety, eliminating unsafe conditions and practices. There are an equal number of occasions where I’ve seen those concerns swept aside when they appear to be pressing issues, for the sake of the contractor gaining a greater share of work, or completing a task quicker.

        Unions are really strong on certifications these days. Professional certifications outside of the union are basically my ticket out from under the thumb of my BA; something more technical, something requiring more and more certification. That’s the only guy I’ve got looking out for me– the BA of other jurisdictions are concerned with the members of their respective locals– and he’s not doing such a good job of it.

        If you have a family emergency, and you’re required to be away from your job for two weeks, you’re a lot more likely to lose your job as a union employee.
        Going to work means being away from your home for a week or more at a time. There’s a territory to consider. That is something that I am very sick of. I happen to like my little pile of trash I have over here.
        No matter what type of stupid thing a contractor asks for, you’re expected to produce it, no questions asked. Someone else already agreed for you. I’ve even had my credit report requested of me, when it was a foregone conclusion that I wouldn’t be applying for credit through the contractor.
        More tired of thinking about it than tired of talking about it.

        Unions are by no means a panacea or fix-all for all the problems in the work place.
        They tend to change the nature of those problems rather than eliminate them.
        As I’ve noted, neither good nor bad conceptually, but capable of both good and bad in specific instances.
        Generally, unions in right to work states tend to be more responsive to the membership. They have to be.

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      • OSHA isn’t even fifty years old. I really don’t understand how you can possibly conclude OSHA did more than the unions. I’d be more willing to accept your tales about Union Hit Squads if there were any concessions to how such safety teams came to be organised.

        I don’t follow the Dollar Store analogy. Lots of homes are furnished with cheap shit from Ikea. I see a good deal of fake Amish furniture running around these parts.

        Look, I’m a contractor. I don’t cut corners in the course of what I do. I go everywhere. I charge a lot for what I do. I wish there were a software guild, where I could go to find qualified talent. No such entity exists. My industry is infested with incompetence and lies and cut-rate talent — and I’m ever so thankful American management is as stupid as it is, because by the time I get the call, the Pain Point has reached Deep Fat Fry and they don’t hesitate to pay what I charge them. I’m not advocating for the union as it is and I’m growing weary of trying to explain the difference between what we’ve got at present and what I see routinely in Europe and Japan, where there are no closed unions and workers do have representation in the power structure.

        But mostly I’m tired of being told unions aren’t a panacea and even more tired of this babbling and roaring about how Unions are Coercive. In the struggle for power, victory is always denominated in dollars and time and lives. The unions saved this nation from becoming a banana republic and with their demise that’s exactly what we’re going back to, folks. “Right to Work” is a disgusting euphemism for “Castrated Workers”

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      • I was a union member for 30 years in the steel industry. As you may be aware this industry has undergone a severe contraction over the period from 1950 to the present. A number of factors contributed to this. Over capacity, unfair trade practices from importing countries, labor force shrinkage due to technological advances, poor planning by management (principally failure to modernize) and intransigence of both parties at the negotiation table. Several Dow 30 Industrial companies no longer exist. I leave for last one of the principal parties, the American consumer. American consumers have shown no loyalty to American workers and manufacturers whatsoever, unlike most other advanced countries of the world. When American manufacturers can’t compete with foreign labor costs, regulatory costs, etc. they are faced with the choice of either exporting manufacturing facilities and jobs or of dying a slow death. Who can blame them for facing reality and choosing survival? And now Americans decry stubborn unemployment, and lack of high paying, full time jobs. How did that happen I wonder? The imbalance of trade financed the high standard of living enjoyed in this country for more than a generation but the choices we made have finally come home to roost.

        The Company I worked for tried union employee involvement but it was too little too late. The company ended up insolvent and out of business. I ended up in a different line of work – self employed. As an employer I have had the opportunity to look through both ends of the lens. From both the employers and the employees perspective. Providing a quality service/product at a competitive price is the only way to stay in business. To be much more than just a vendor is expected today. It is impossible to perform at that level without employees who genuinely are driven to see their employer succeed. Easier said than done.

        The whole conversation seems to have drifted away from the original topic. Shawn I apologize for my part in hi-jacking your post but I couldn’t resist the urge to respond to some other comments.

        professional Ball Player unions?? don’t make me laugh. They have no idea.

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      • OSHA sends out inspectors and offers training programs. I’m OSHA-10 certified myself.
        You’d be amazed at how many companies are sending people up unsafe ladders. That’s one thing that OSHA is really strict on.

        I understand safety personnel a lot better after sharing an office space with the lead safety guy for the boilermakers last year; one of the best safety men I’ve ever run across. He was actually a retired boilermaker that came out of retirement to become a safety man.
        The worst ones are the fresh ones– college grads that learned all about safety by reading textbooks and sitting through lectures, who really have no idea of what the work entails.
        I do appreciate the attention to safety. What I don’t care for is the implementation of safety regs to the exclusion of rational faculty.

        Blaise, I was just trying to state what’s actually going on here. I recognize that there is a better way of going about it.
        Open shops would be a great start. For employment to be dependent on union membership, which in cases like mine involve cajoling some surly hack more interested in throwing his weight around than representing the workers, is probably not the best way to go about doing business.
        I think unionizing the software industry is doable. AFAIK, there are some infrastructure basics which are lacking– a certification program, and credentials which are recognized. But then, were those things already in place, the draw to employers would be reduced.

        How do you deal with a man who consistently shows up late for work?
        It depends if he’s a local hand or a traveler.
        If he’s a local hand, you talk to him. If that doesn’t work, you talk to him again. Rinse and repeat.
        If he’s a traveler, this is your opportunity to make an example of someone.

        There has to be a better way.

        Steelworkers aren’t all about steel. Most of the school cafeteria workers in my locale are steelworkers.
        These days, there are a lot of furnace rebuilds to handle the petro coke from the oil sands crude.
        Lake Michigan still handles a lot of steel traffic.

        Used to, American steel was the best in the world. These days, Ukranian steel is just as good; perhaps a few other places I haven’t seen.
        But the issue of the loyalty of American consumers is well taken. It seems that same mindset leaks into other areas as well.

        One of the sayings you’ll hear a lot is: There’s money in confusion. This is used to justify not addressing work site issues. I don’t care for that saying, and I tend to tell people off when I hear it– something along the lines of: There’s money where there’s not confusion too, and it’s a better long-term strategy than insolvency.
        Long ago, I worked with an old man from Vermont. It was bitter cold, and most of us were huddled up around heaters, and those still moving were moving a bit slow. Not that old man.
        I said something to him about it, complimenting his drive. He said, “I’m from Vermont. We have very few contractors there, and we have to take care of them.” I still carry that with me.

        Just a disenchanted true believer here.
        I wish things could be better, but I don’t see things taking that tilt any time soon.
        I think it would be to the benefit of the unions as a whole were some unions gone.

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      • It just occurred to me, and I found it humorous, so I felt it was comment-worthy.

        The view that more organizing is needed is sort of old by now– more of the same.
        The view that the time for unions to be useful is done and over, and that some new manner of structure need take its place is a much less widely-accepted view.

        In that, it’s me that’s likely the true radical, and not Shawn.
        I would rather see the power structure shift away from what has been seen before.

        Go figure.

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    • I think that unions are still useful especially with collective bargaining. I don’t buy the libertarian, freedom of contract, Lochner fantasy that a low-skilled or semi-skilled employee is going to have equal bargaining power with an employer. It is the aggregate of unionism that gets raises and benefits. We might be approaching a point where only super-stars have that kind of equal bargaining power.

      Freedom of Contract is a libertarian, fantasy and candyland myth. Freedom of Contract did not help solve the Triangle Fire Problem. Unions did.

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      • Of course they are useful for collective bargaining. What they are not very useful for is raising long term average prosperity. The real myth here is how the left refuses to acknowedge the actual causes of economic prosperity and constantly pushes this economic “just so” story.

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  5. It is a generally unacknowledged fact that during the nations primaries the aspirants cater to the will of the their party. During Obama’s recent candidacy a minor stir occurred in the news when his campaign manager mentioned the “reset’ in the campaign for the general election. This spin doctor generated election rhetoric leads me to the assumption that the entire electoral process is deeply flawed and could benefit greatly from a general overhaul. No useful information for selecting a candidate can be found in a candidates election promises or in the inane focus on minutia so prevalent in the media.That half of every election cycle is spent in gradually increasing campaign fervor and that all of each campaign cycle is spent “dialing for dollars” leaves the prospect for meaningful dialog among our legislators a distant hope. Thanks to the Supreme’s the only way to make a meaningful change in our campaign finance laws is by Constitutional amendment which is unlikely at best. Polarization of the national legislature is built in by default at this point and is if anything likely to worsen. While it was once true that Politics is the art of the possible that required a willingness to compromise. The current state of campaign finance has made that a very risky proposition for anyone seeking re-election.

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    • While it was once true that Politics is the art of the possible that required a willingness to compromise. The current state of campaign finance has made that a very risky proposition for anyone seeking re-election.

      America, she is broken. To borrow Abe’s analogy of a marriage, it’s really time to move on.

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  6. The following is a completely unjustified attack on all radicals:

    “The radical, taking her distance from the mainstream as a measure of her probity, hastens the isolating slide. Existing in a brutally unjust world, her marginality, she reasons, is prima facie proof of her rectitude; if proximity to the center is a proxy for determining one’s rightness, the further one’s position from the middle the better. Powerlessness, to her, is desirable—the hallowed halls are in fact irredeemably sullied, irreversibly tarnished. Occupying the fringe is a badge of honor, so engagement with those to one’s right is suspect. Purity-induced paralysis, the radical finds, is comforting in its uncontaminated inaction.”

    In simpler terms, you mean that radicals believe what they do because they want to be different. They aren’t committed to having true beliefs about such and such principles, which in turn make them different from most, they just want to stand out, like Goth kids or something.

    Here are some radicals, or at least people widely regarded amd/or self-described as radicals from history:

    Socrates, Spinoza, Bertrand Russell, MLK, Fredrik Douglass, Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, Gandhi.

    Surely, you aren’t speaking of them in these ad hominem terms?

    If you have someone specific in mind as believing she is right because she believes something different from the masses, state her name (or their names) and give evidence that she (or they) are as you say. Otherwise, this post is totally unjustified bile. Don’t mean to be rude, but you’re committing many cardinal sins against clear, fair, amd well reasoned discourse here.

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  7. I don’t think the word radical is being used correctly here. There are quite a few radicals in the Republican Party who think of themselves as the truest of conservatives, and Ronald Reagan’s quote of Patrick Henry: “We have it within us to begin the world again” is about as radical as you can get.

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    • I don’t think the word radical is being used correctly here. There are quite a few radicals in the Republican Party who think of themselves as the truest of conservatives,

      It’s called the Tea Party, or sometimes the House of Representatives.

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      • Nothing is more radical than wanting to dismantle or alter the entirety of government’s relation to individuals and society. For many conservatives, radical is … well … conservative. And conservative is liberal. And liberal is radical. I know this is a triviality, but the semantics of political terms are contextually determined. They border on meaninglessness.

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    • I agree with this but for a general usage of the term, people on the left are generally more likely to describe themselves as radicals because of a variety of historical reasons. I imagine that people who describe themselves as radicals put themselves to the left of the Democratic Party.

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  8. Critiques from the left exist, but they haven’t counterbalanced reactionary intransigence.

    The ‘critique from the left’ is that the bill proposes adding enforcement agents to a porous border and does not propose granting legal residency and citizenship to the sum total of 11 million people who violated the law in coming here.

    ===

    There is not much point in speaking of ‘radicals’ except as a sociological phenomenon of modest significance. Victor Navasky has not a clue about public policy and the whole strand of thought he manifests is sterile.

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  9. “Voluntary unions may be great at consolidating bargaining, but they are not really sustainable. Thus unions tend to be coercive, and as I have repeatedly illustrated, this can only lead to beggaring those not in unions and/or bleeding their industry to death.”

    I know you’ve said this before, but I haven’t engaged, mostly because by the time I see it, the comments have already passed me by.

    I don’t deny that most unionism–outside of the purely voluntary kind that is difficult to sustain–has an element of coercion, either by the shaming tactics, “conscience committee” style threats of violence, or by invoking the state through compulsory negotiation. The coercive nature of (most) unionism is one of the reasons (actually, the principal reason) I have reservations about unions. But I don’t think that having established it’s coercive, we have established that it’s therefore always wrong. It’s suspect, but not necessarily wrong.

    One metric by which it might be right, is addressed (and refuted, at least partially) by your comment here:

    “Funny that the richest, most technologically advanced nation on earth ( and ever) which is the vanguard of material progress for last century is the place most resistant to unions. For further evidence, see what happened to union industries facing competition or the relative growth rates of closed shop vs non closed shop states.”

    I can’t refute much of this, although I think there’s a certain just-so’ism (if states were forbidden to outlaw the union shop*, we wouldn’t see the same type of competition between union shop and anti-union shop states). I’m also very worried, as you seem to have suggested in other comments, that a heavily unionized market might have the result of impeding labor mobility (although another word for “labor mobility” can sometimes be “joblessness”….people on the labor market don’t necessarily like being there).

    Still, I see some promise in unionism. In some situations, it’s helpful to have a brake on management in the way it treats its workers. I’m not talking primarily of wages, but of arbitrary treatment. Some of the stories I’ve heard about how Walmart treats its employees (compelling workers to work off the clock, e.g.), could (assuming the stories are true and represent systemic abuses) be addressed by a strong union. There’d be tradeoffs, of course, and the principal of counterposing force cannot be applied as effectively in all labor-management situations, but I see that principal, in at least some situations, as a good in itself.

    You’re probably right, when you’ve said (in other comments, and I paraphrase, so please correct if I’m wrong), that the higher wages associated with unions do not benefit workers in general and tend to impose costs on an industry. I have a hard time arguing against this (both because it’s probably largely correct and because I don’t understand economics all that well). But I have a hard time faulting a group of workers who want to advance their own interests and for not sacrificing their own interests “for the good of the industry” or “for the good of the working class as a whole.” Now, I realize that framing it this way is a bit question-begging (I’m assuming certain things that need to be demonstrated, and I’m bracketing the question of coercion), but I don’t want to completely abandon this way of looking at things.

    *”Closed shop” is a term of art. In theory, most “closed shops” are supposedly illegal under Taft-Hartley, although there exist arrangements that seem to me to be “closed shops” in all but name (e.g., union-controlled hiring halls).

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    • Hi Pierre,

      Feel free to engage me late on threads. I usually subscribe to them and screen my email, and do not care if others are no longer following along. Dialogue is a great way to learn — not just how I think, but also how I can explain.

      When I use the term coercion, it does not include using shame, which I am fine with. Coercion basically relates to using force, threats of force, and deception. The reason I think these are wrong is that they tend to lead to zero sum, win-lose outcomes defined as one person gaining at another person’s expense.

      From a utilitarian perspective, win lose interactions tend to destroy utility and stimulate destructive arms races (per basic game theory, personal experience and common sense). From an altruistic perspective, win-lose interactions harm others. From an egoist position, win lose interactions tend to stimulate retaliation and destroy cooperation and thus lead to a worse personal world (selfishness only pays if only I get to do it). I am not a utilitarian, egoist or altruist, but I believe the meeting place of these three belief systems is a great starting place for a workable, consequentialist ethics.

      So when I say union coercion is wrong, it is shorthand for my way of saying from a consequentialist perspective, I believe it is likely to lead to a worse world. That said, for a selfish person, and most people can be partly selfish, if a union worker can exploit others by using coercion, I totally understand why they do so. The same reason why people steal, rape, and lobby for special privileges. They do so because they can and they are sure the other guy will if they don’t. In a dog eat dog world, you might as well have schnauzer for dinner.

      Do note that I am equally against coercion from any other party. I am against a dog eat dog world, and am trying to appeal to people to voluntarily create institutional solutions which avoid such destructiveness. I believe this is central to the nature of human progress, something our progressive friends tend to dismiss ( talk about irony!)

      I agree with your suggestion that employee representation on the board is a great idea. Though my personal experience is that the HR executives also could and should (and in many cases do) also play this role.

      There is a lot of whining about how screwed up management is on these pages. My experience is that managers similarly whine about how lazy, shifty and stupid employees are. My answer to both is that people are people, and by and large neither group is anywhere as bad as the other makes out. It’s just petty tribalism. Our team good. Theirs bad. If people really are in whole worse than we expect (again, something I often disagree with) , then look not at the people, but the institutions or beliefs which incentivize them to be as they are.

      I think coercive unions and coercive employers are a really, really bad institution. I do not agree though that power imbalance constitutes coercion, unless it is extreme to such a degree as to invalidate any contractual promises altogether (something which would totally rmasculate and impoverish all employees if we were to believe it) Progressives routinely play the game of picking favorites (ie the little guy), rationaliIng that the system is balanced against the little guy, and then fixing it with coercion (and a promise to vote for our team). They effectively promote eating the schnauzer.

      Btw, I should be back in town by mid month.

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      • Roger,

        Thanks for your response. I’ll probably have to mull over it a bit.

        I will say that I can certainly respect the position that you oppose coercion in the case of unionism (and in other cases) because it can/does lead to a worse world. (I’d actually add some sorts of shaming inasmuch as they go beyond pure shaming and edge toward “shaming with implied threat of force”….but at that point, you and I are just bargaining about price.)

        A few thoughts:

        1. “if a union worker can exploit others by using coercion, I totally understand why they do so. The same reason why people steal, rape, and lobby for special privileges.” That strikes me as quite a big jump and perhaps an overreaching analogy. The coercion one finds in bread-and-butter unionism (i.e., not the anarcho-syndicalist terrorist unionism of the IWW) is to me several steps removed from stealing and rape, although perhaps not from the rent-seeking involved with lobbying for special privileges. I suppose what I mean is that even if we concede that all coercion is bad, some is worse than others, and the type of coercion involved in the formal unions seems to me pretty far removed from outright threats of violence implied by the words “rape” or “theft.” Unionists who win a union shop and therefore compulsory dues deductions from paychecks are in a sense “exploiting” what they’d call the free riders to the union contract and union representation. That really is coercion, especially when the union tries to enforce rules its members by compulsion disagree with (or engage in politicking). But in another sense, these union shop arrangements are ways to compel everyone to pay for what they benefit from. On some level it is indeed something like a protection racket, but it’s also, again, a few steps removed from outright “rape” and “theft.”

        2. “I am against a dog eat dog world, and am trying to appeal to people to voluntarily create institutional solutions which avoid such destructiveness.” Most institutional solutions I can think of have some element of coercion in the background. There seems to be a certain baseline of coercion even in a free society for when the voluntarism breaks down. We are free to enter a contract, but when we break our terms of the contract, the person we broke it against can appeal to the state for a judgment for damages, for example. I suppose it’s possible to construct institutions that exist independently of the state, with the “coercion” being solely expulsion from the voluntary arrangement or loss of a deposit. My point isn’t so much to do a tu quoque as it is to suggest that coercion always (or almost always) lingers in the background.

        3. “I agree with your suggestion that employee representation on the board is a great idea. Though my personal experience is that the HR executives also could and should (and in many cases do) also play this role.” I’m actually not very optimistic about a token (or even more than token) employee representative on a board of directors being much of a solution to anything, although it seems to work in Germany. I’m also skeptical about HR execs being able to effectively advocate for the workers. Not to diss the execs, but frankly, they serve at least two masters and their job strikes me as more like risk management for the company (and in the process ensuring fair treatment of workers as the best way to manage risk) than as worker advocates.

        4. Concerning whining about management and workers. I agree for the most part. I remember in my quasi-marxist days, I used to think of management as “the enemy” and workers as people who could do little or no wrong. I think that’s wrong. Management are people, too, just like workers (and some of management aren’t even paid more than workers or even if they are, they have responsibilities that workers don’t always want). I also think they often have a lot of interests in common: if labor costs make it hard to stay in business, the workers suffer; if management loses its source of income, the business suffers, and the number employed decreases.

        Still, I think there is a built-in antagonism or conflict of interests between workers and management. It’s nuanced and not necessarily predicated on the notion that one side is evil and the other is as virtuous as cheesecake. The job of management is to get as much out of the worker as possible and the worker is trying to get as much money (or the equivalent) as possible. And at least in some jobs, it’s a bear for the worker to keep even a little bit of dignity at the time that they’re hustling for the management.

        5. “I do not agree though that power imbalance constitutes coercion, unless it is extreme to such a degree as to invalidate any contractual promises altogether (something which would totally rmasculate and impoverish all employees if we were to believe it)” Perhaps one difference between you and me is how frequently we think power imbalances “extreme to such a degree as to invalidate any contractual promises altogether” exist. I just think they’re much more common than you (apparently) think they are. I’m not quite sure how to parse the “contractual promises” part of your statement, because I, perhaps to an unwarranted degree, don’t envision all “violations caused by power imbalances” as something necessarily implicated in the meeting-of-the-minds-for-consideration one thinks of when it comes to contracts. My idea here is not very well fleshed out, but I thought I’d say it anyway.

        Nice to hear you’ll be back in town soon. Since the wedding is now a thing of the past, I have more free time to meet when you can.

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      • I actually agree with much of your pushback. I was going to add a lesser crime. I thought about “passing gas on a crowded plane” but censored myself. I of course would say that employees should be free to work for an employer and waive all fees and benefits.

        I agree most institutions have a shadow of coercion in the background. I am a fan of taking baby steps to move the shadow further and further back. In general, I would like it to be a last resort as a means of fighting fire with the threat of fire. In addition, I am fine with people agreeing to rules of the game which include punishment for rule transgressions. This is voluntary at the higher level.

        I believe the best, empirically proven way to improve the condition of workers is constructive competition in a world with steadily rising productivity and standards of living. Indeed, I think all other paths are likely to lead to long term disaster ( especially for the intended beneficiaries). HR managers can be tools, but companies compete for labor and long term this leads to wages and working conditions which are twenty to a hundred times higher than baseline. This is what constructive competition delivered. I believe unions just slowed the gains. Coercion is a headwind against progress.

        I also believe that supply and demand pretty much neutralizes power imbalance. It isn’t the power balance between employer and employee that matters. The real conflict has always been between employees (who are reasonably balanced up until the scalliwags form a coercive union which allows the privileged to repress the unprivileged (unemployed non members).

        Employees compete with others for jobs. Employers compete with each other for hires. Characterizing the struggle as between the cooperators totally mis-frames the issue. This is the crux of my issue with pro union progressives. They have a complete and total framing error. They are making a fundamental paradigm mistake.

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      • Roger,

        I suppose I’m with you most of the way (and I agree, too, that employees are competing against each other), although I see two points where we probably differ, at least given what I’ve seen you say on this thread and other threads.

        One is, things look very different on the ground floor. It gets very messy, and it’s sometimes hard to see the beneficent workings of the market when one is in the thick of it. Sometimes it’s not so much that the manager or whoever is tyrannical, but that the situation is so intense the worker needs for his/her own mental health to resist at least a little bit (to get a little rest from the seemingly relentless drive of shop floor demands, to preserve a little bit of self-respect when dealing with belligerent customers, etc.). Unions aren’t necessarily the answer to this problem (assuming one agrees it is a problem), and they might even complicate matters with sometimes overly complicated work rules and with union leaders who, in order to enforce the contract, have to be the whip for management. But there’s something that in the right (or wrong) situation borders on the primal when it comes to work that isn’t captured fully in the language of contracts.

        Second, you’re probably right that the gains in the past have been great and I’m willing even to concede that unions probably slowed the gains. However, the notion of “the gains” seems to me a bit abstract and general. Some gain more than others, and even if all eventually gain, they don’t always gain right away or even in the same generation.

        There’s a little bit of “promised land”-speak in all this. A promise that if people surrender their prerogatives, or just sacrifice a little (or a lot) for the future, then in the future, we’ll all arrive at the new Jerusalem of more and more wealth. And I’ve been a beneficiary from all this, and no doubt most people in the U.S. and other industrialized countries have so benefited. None of this is an argument for unionism so much as it’s an argument for seeing why people might for their own self interest rationally and without malice endorse something to preserve their prerogatives. There’s a certain logic that gets lost in the language of (eventual) wealth maximization.

        In passing, I’ll say that one thing that is very interesting is that when I talk with you, I probably come off as an apologist (if mild one) for the progressive pro-union argument, but when I tried to raise some of the points you raise with the (mostly) leftist professors on my dissertation committee, they treated me nicely, but warily, as if I’m a libertarian proselytizer.

        Having said that, thanks for the exchange, but it’s getting past my bedtime. If you write an answer, I’ll promise I’ll read it, but I might not respond.

        Good night!

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      • Roger,
        http://www.nber.org/papers/w18315
        What if your paradigm is wrong?
        What if we’re not going to see productivity increases continuing?
        What if we’re going to gradually (or rapidly) slide back into a zero sum world?
        (by which I mean the only way to get wealthy is at someone else’s expense, see slavery for an egregious exemplar)

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      • “What if your paradigm is wrong?”

        I strive to continuously update it. I believe paradigms need to match reality, not vice versa. That said, which paradigm? The paradigm that zero sum interactions are less constructive (or more destructive) than mutually agreed upon interactions? I am pretty sure I can make a good case for that, if you are interested…

        Or are you assuming that I believe prosperity increases are inevitable? I don’t. I think progress is rare and special, and needs careful nurturing. I think there is a good chance that in the near future growth rates can slow to a crawl and even stop or go negative. If so, people will become even more zero sum, and the dystopia will self amplify. Indeed I see this as the normal social pattern… States prosper for a period until rent seekers, exploiters, parasites and incumbents shut it down. If we are fortunate, progress moves somewhere else. If not, our grand kids are screwed.

        Prosperity attracts exploitation from within, without and above. All complex organizations/organisms decay and become sclerotic over time. In my study of the first 13.8 billion years or so, the work around to this problem has always been starting anew. Reproduction. New colonies. Reinvention. Creative destruction (replacing old inefficient firms with new creative ones) and so on.

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  10. Who are these radicals? I assume you mean folks like Greenwald or former Leaguer Freddie? Or yourself?

    For a lot of such “radicals” (that word feels almost dirty), the problem they see is pretty straightforward: They can not criticize liberals, for fear that something worse will gain power, which essentially means liberals get to keep on doin’ what they’re doin’, and what they’re doin’ is pretty damn shitty, or they can criticize liberals in the hopes that either liberals will get better or someone will replace them, with the risk that while they’re getting better or being replaced, something worse will gain power.

    My own thought is that it doesn’t make a bit of difference what the “radicals” do. Unlike on the other end of the American political spectrum, the left ain’t the Democrats base. Hell, the progressives are barely their base, and they can only be considered that because when mobilized, they knock on more doors. The democrats aren’t the least bit beholden to the left, and since the only people who hear “radicals” on this end of the spectrum tend to be other “radicals,” or at least other near “radicals,” criticizing the Democrats doesn’t hurt them at all. I’ve seen no evidence that they care. I mean, Greenwald may have done some damage because of the attention that his Snowden story has gotten, but what was he supposed to do, not report it when someone like Snowden came to him because it might hurt the major political party closest to him on social issues? And now that he has his 15 minutes of fame, is he supposed to change the message that he’s been on about for years? To what end? It’s not like it’s going to hurt Democrats’ funding, or door knocking, or anything that Democrats might care about. It’d just mean a few less negative news cycles more than a year out from the next elections.

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    • Part of the problem for left wing radicals is also that their north star* went and exploded in the early 90’s. If you read Freddie (and I do and enjoy him enormously) there’s a hold in his reasoning that pops up whenever he starts really snarling about capitalism and that hole is that he doesn’t have something better on tap to offer.
      I dare say one of the strengths of right wing radicals is that their ideal end goals either haven’t been ever tried in the real world (pure modern libertarianism) or cannot logically fail (the vaguer theocratic traditionalism of the rest of the right wing coalition**). With left wing radicals you often get to the “what exactly are you after” and you can almost hear the drive belt pop off and they start uncomfortably talking about things that are kind of like the status quos just a bit more liberally tinted.
      *With the exception of ecoleftists who haven’t fully had an ecotopian state yet but they’ve overreached and discovered enough times to their enormous chagrin where the environment rates with most of the electorate (squarely and solidly behind employment and prosperity) that they can emphasize.
      **special call out to the neocons who actually DID get to try out their ideals during Bush Minor’s term, suffered a catastrophic failure and still are gasping and trying to wrap their heads around the idea that they’ve been utterly discredited by a bunch of peasant in the middle east with cheap modern weapons and a 17th century attitude.

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      • That star has been detonating for quite a while longer. The Hard Left in the USA was smothered in the early 1970s, though it probably was gasping for air as early as 1968, in the fumes of all that tear gas and smoke from the burning American inner cities.

        Cities are like theatres. They last as long as someone can profitably put on shows there. But when they burn down, they’re usually gone forever. The Hard Left’s constituency was always in the inner cities. When those were destroyed or collapsed on themselves, so did the Hard Left.

        The factories were in the inner cities because that’s where the workers were, in the vast tenement houses. The factories moved away, first to the burbs, then to the intersections of the Interstates, then overseas. Hard Left politics was always associated with large bodies of workers. Disperse those workers and the Hard Left disappears.

        The riots of 1968 and 1969 were the end, for all practical purposes, of any serious leftist movement in the USA. Dr. King and Robert Kennedy were murdered in 1968. Nixon wins the presidential election. That’s all she wrote. Everything since is a pitiful joke.

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      • You’re undoubtably correct domestically BP, and over that same time period you’re describing the ideals of non-market economies (communism and her various iterations) were finally (by the 90’s) pretty much entirely discredited. So that left our left wing radicals with a great deal of failure of some of their ideals*.

        *Let it be said emphatically that the real world examples of communism were not “pure communism” but they were close enough and on pretty much every level it collapsed. Humans are ownership and relationship critters; they like to own things, they want to have relationships with people and what they don’t and those they don’t know directly they treat like crap. On those rocks communism founders.

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      • squarely and solidly behind employment and prosperity

        Heh. You’re implying it’s solidly in third place, North. That’s a bronze medal at the Olympics. Sadly, I think it performs about as well as the Jamaican bobsled team.

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      • Historically, it’s been the high-born who kept the vision of open spaces alive. Granted, they didn’t want the Great Unwashed prowling around in the King’s Forests. The sniper’s ghillie suit was invented for gamekeepers to catch poachers in the act.

        It’s been a great trial, keeping the vision of open spaces / environmentalism alive in ordinary folks. But there comes a point, nobody’s quite sure when, when ordinary people will burst out in anger over some breach of the unwritten environmental contract. Usually it’s when the water supply is polluted. Love Canal was the breaking point, I think, when people began to realise how atrocious the carelessness had become. After that, all the sneering about Eco Weenies fell on deaf ears. To this day, when some libertarian or conservative jackass starts carrying on about Lefties and the Environment, I just wish I had the courage to say “How about a nice cold glass of Love Canal water and a thick slice of STFU, buddy?”

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