12 December 2008

Thou shalt not "bash" unions, for they are good, holy, and pure as the wind-driven snow

So here's Marie Cocco, again, explaining how unions are the solution to all society's ills, not the cause of them (*hurl*):


As Congress and the White House lurch toward possible approval of a loan package for the crippled auto industry, we are undoubtedly in store for more union-bashing. Note well that we did not hear any such tirades when vastly larger sums of taxpayer money -- with fewer strings attached -- were lavished upon the banks and financial industry wizards who created the credit crisis.
First, I have no idea where she could have been when people were launching tirades about the vast sums of money lavished on AIG and others. Heck Glenn Beck alone spent every hour of his show for, I think, two whole weeks -- maybe even more -- launching tirades about the bailouts. I don't know how she could have missed all that. Well, I do have an idea. She missed it because corporation-bashing is music to her ears; therefore, it's like music you have playing in the background while you do your work. It's there but you are not really attentive to it. Union-bashing, on the other hand, must be to her something like fingernails on a chalk-board. That, she can hear quite well indeed.

Second, there is so much blame to go round for this credit crisis, that I just don't know where she and her ilk get off narrowing it down to the "banks and financial industry wizards who created the credit crisis." Again, it's never any leftist policy, or any mixture of markets and government interventionism. Never. On the other hand, if by "banks and financial industry wizards" she wishes to include the founders and subsequent managers of the Federal Reserve System, I'll get all over that with her. But I don't think she does.

On Cocco's view, it's just wrong to "cast blame on workers who want nothing more than to maintain a middle-class life." You see, all the unions ever wanted is to build a "viable middle class." The poor dears: to misunderstood all these years. It breaks the heart. After all, we know that no "viable" middle class ever existed in any civilization; the unions changed all that. Of course, Cocco might remind me that it took unions to build the sort of middle class that could earn a pay-check for not working. Now, that really is something to be proud of. And it is quite clear that such a practice could never have any deleterious effects upon an economy. No, just poor management.

Besides, Cocco and I (a former socialist) both understand, I'm sure, that by "viable" middle class we meant "dictatorship of the proletariat." Oh, let the owners continue to enjoy the pretense of ownership, like Romans enjoyed the pretense of republican government in the early years of the empire. That ownership means nothing when workers strike. When workers strike owners have terms dictated to them, and what we settle for today.

One must give Cocco credit: she has really simplified this economic crisis. Now we can all understand it quite easily:


Strip away the financial mumbo jumbo and the credit crisis comes down to this: For decades, as wages and benefits for working and middle-class people stagnated or fell, the only way for them to purchase the goods that make the economy hum was through credit. This was true whether the item purchased was a home, a car -- or all the unnecessary gizmos that retailers have been more than happy to tell consumers were the must-haves of the day. Until we understand that we are in the midst of two crises -- one the short-term credit crisis and one the longer-term crisis in the failure to pay workers what they need to sustain themselves -- we are doomed to repeat this horror.
I have lived now through three or four increases in the minimum wage, which, among other things, puts people out of work. So, if you're wondering how she can assert that wages are stagnating or falling, I've an idea that what she's getting at is the failure of wages to keep pace with inflation. Fair enough, but who's fault is that? What causes inflation?

Due to this stagnation, she says, people have to rely upon credit to purchase the things that make the economy hum. No curiosity about where the notion comes from that spending makes the economy hum. (Hint: It's not, despite assertions to the contrary, a capitalist notion.) Note also that she blames retailers, not these dear middle class worker-consumers, for credit purchases of "all the unnecessary gizmos". Some of us think that others' lack of sales resistance is their own darn fault.

What's troubling is that Cocco isn't talking about purchases of necessities of life. She's talking about purchases of things that make the economy hum. Purchases of the necessities of life don't require much, if anything, in the way of credit. A purchased home isn't a necessity, a rented or leased home will do just as nicely if not better. (No, it's not throwing your money away.) And it doesn't require credit to purchase a car either. One of the autos I've purchased was purchased with cash, much to the dealer's grave disappointment. I had to save up that cash, but a little patience goes a long way. If these are the things Cocco really has mind as she discusses this "short-term credit crisis" then the people experiencing that crisis have only themselves -- and their lack of contentment -- to blame. And, therefore, there's certainly no defense of unions to be found in that (i.e., the short-term credit) crisis.

Moving on, Cocco refers to another "crisis" -- the "crisis in the failure to pay workers what they need to sustain themselves." I can think of at least two objections to the notion of this crisis. First, it continues the practice of overlooking just why workers' wages stagnate and fall, which is rooted in the fall in the purchasing power of those wages. (The people who have it harder than the workers are those on fixed incomes. And they have it harder for the same reason that workers' purchasing power falls.) This is so, because of increases in the money supply, not simply that employers are being nasty. Second, the notion that employers have an obligation to pay workers what they need to sustain themselves ultimately implies that there are people who have a duty to start and operate businesses; and this for the sole purpose of providing wages, not for any purposes an entrepreneur might identify. If workers have a right to wages which will sustain them, then they have a right that there should be people who exist to pay them these wages. (Not only that, but who decides what "sustain" means?) It also means that we have rights to other people's property. What you have in your bill-fold, purse, or wallet is something in which I have a share -- but only, of course, if I get my hands on it indirectly, from the government, rather than directly.

I don't care that Cocco likes unions and sees them as an unqualified good. I care that she seems a bit superficial in her approach to these issues. The credit crisis means nothing more or less than that workers make so little that they must purchase things on credit; and they can't afford to pay off these charges. Therefore, the obvious solution is just increase wages, which is what unions are all about. Problem solved.

There's more to it than that -- much, much more.

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James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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