The Poverty Of Class Analysis

Some leftists and libertarians like to portray life as a class struggle, between rich and poor, management and workers, white collar and blue collar. Unions are championed as representing the little guy, businesses merely the interests of the wealthy. But as Megan McArdle points out,

The people being hurt by the strike, unfortunately, are mostly people who make less than the transit workers do. Small businesses are being gutted by this; the last few days before Christmas is the busiest time of the year for most retail establishments, and their customers can't get to them. One of the news shows had small businessmen complaining that this was going to bankrupt them, and I've no doubt that it's true for at least some of New York's retail stores, which often operate on a shoestring.

Meanwhile, poor workers, who tend to work hourly, are losing salary that they can ill-afford.

There are lots of little guys, and lots of groups of little guys, and different unions represent different little guys, and most little guys don't have any union to represent them. Some little guys are bigger than other little guys. Any special benefit that any particular union garners for one set of little guys comes at the detriment not just from businesses, but also from other little guys. Usually the other little guys, should they get uppity and try to compete with the big little guys, are labeled "scabs" and threatened with violence while the big fat cat little guys reap special privilege. Similarly, when a company manages to pass legislation that protects its own goods from competition, it comes at the burden of not just poor consumers who have to pay higher prices, but also at the expense of every other company large and small, that has to compete in an unfair marketplace. It ain't about big guys vs little guys.

In democracies, classes don't fight each other, organized groups do. Concentrated interests, regardless of "class", have far more incentive to engage in political activism than do dispersed ones.

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Jonathan, I think that your

Jonathan, I think that your analysis leaves a lot of questions unanswered, but suppose we grant, arguendo, that this is a good account of how things are. Now what? Are we supposed to give up class analysis? If so, why? It seems that what you've offered here is just a claim that there are more classes than simply a monolithic managerial class and a monolithic working class, and that some classes of workers might seek to benefit at the expense of others?

(Or, to put it another way: if you aren't offering a class analysis of the transit strike, what level of analysis are you offering? Individual?)

Generally speaking, the idea of an "aristocracy of labor," and of the possibility that people at higher strata within the working class might try to benefit at the expense of people at lower strata -- including by means of labor unions -- is not exactly new. In fact it's a standard part of many radical Left critiques of the AFL and related unions. (See Paul Buhle's Taking Care of Business for one example.) It doesn't demonstrate "the poverty of class analysis;" it just demonstrates the need for, well, richer class analysis.

What libertarians portray

What libertarians portray life that way?

What libertarians portray

What libertarians portray life that way?

Precisely the type of a question a rich person would ask.

Rad, Jonathan seems to be

Rad,

Jonathan seems to be saying that none of the typical conglomerations deemed "classes" have a unified self-interest, as is suggested by some. While in a manner of speaking, every group consisting of more than one person (perhaps even one person is enough) is a class unto itself, my guess is Jonathan is referring to groups more traditionally referred to as such. He gives examples of what he means.

I pray that before arguing further, the both of you clear up what seems to be nothing more than a disagreement on definitions, not substance.

If you aren’t offering a

If you aren’t offering a class analysis of the transit strike, what level of analysis are you offering?

Interest group analysis?

Me, to Wilde: Or, to put it

Me, to Wilde: Or, to put it another way: if you aren’t offering a class analysis of the transit strike, what level of analysis are you offering? Individual?

Berg: Interest group analysis?

And interest groups whose membership are are defined by their jobs, income levels, and level of control over terms of employment are usually called "classes," or (more precisely) "socioeconomic classes." Aren't they?

Schuele: Jonathan seems to be saying that none of the typical conglomerations deemed "classes" have a unified self-interest, as is suggested by some.

I don't know what you mean by "a unified self-interest." There are lots of things that you might mean when you apply a predicate to a set. Is it supposed to mean (a) "a self-interest shared by each and every member of the class," (b) "a self-interest mostly shared by members of the class" (with some kind of statistical meaning attached to "mostly"), (c) "a self-interest typically shared by members of the class (under normal conditions)", (d) "a self-interest not necessarily shared by individual members of the class but somehow held by the class itself," or something else?

I ask because if you mean (a), then I don't know of any class theorists who have suggested that classes have "a unified self-interest" in that sense. (I think they typically mean something more like (c), although I suppose there may be some who, through various sorts of mystification, try to hold (d).) In any case, if you mean (b)-(d), then Wilde's merely pointing out that there are members of the class who individually don't share the class's self-interest does not tell against the accuracy of class analysis, any more than poor Tibbles, who has been maimed and shaved, tells against the accuracy of a natural history documentary that says "Domestic cats have four legs and a soft coat of fur."

If, on the other hand, you mean something more like claim (c), as I think Jonathan seems to, then the sort of exceptions you'd need to point out to even begin undermining the analysis have to be systematic exceptions to the alleged uniformity of self-interest. Which Jonathan does do, above. But the thing is that the systematic exceptions he points out are exceptions on the basis of factors that we usually take to differentiate between socioeconomic classes -- jobs, pay, control over terms of employment, etc. -- and in spite of his later protest that "It ain't about big guys vs little guys" he explicitly says above that this is about bigger vs. littler guys: "Some little guys are bigger than other little guys. Any special benefit that any particular union garners for one set of little guys comes at the detriment not just from businesses, but also from other little guys."

He seems to suggest toward the end that conscious organization, or perhaps access to the political means, better explain systematic differences of interest within the supposed "working class" than factors that mark out socioeconomic classes. But (1) the idea that either of those factors are independent of socioeconomic class is not at all obvious, and (2) neither saying "group X is better organized on behalf of its interests than group Y" or "group X has a greater ability to serve its interests through political pressure than group Y" explains what it is about group X and group Y that make for the difference in interests to be served in the first place. In the case that Jonathan seems to be discussing, the difference seems to be made on the basis of the socioeconomic factors I mentioned. (Specifically, the distinction between an "aristocracy of labor" and workers that are comparatively less well-off in terms of jobs, income, and organizational resources -- a class distinction within the larger working class that has been discussed and fleshed out by many analysts who gladly make use of class analysis, and in regard to the history of labor organizing in particular.)

Kennedy: Say what? In a market unions can't do anything "at the expense" of others since the only people who will do business with them are those that profit from doing business with them.

Well, I think there's clearly a sense of "expense" and "detriment" in the English language, under which peaceful market competition can produce profits at the expense of, or be to the detriment of, third parties. (Businesspeople use it all the time -- if Wal-Mart is eating K-Mart's lunch, then there is some sense in which Wal-Mart's competition is detrimental to K-Mart's owners, or Wal-Mart's greater profits are coming at the expense of K-Mart.) Of course, what I think you're right to point out here is that these senses of "expense" and "detriment" aren't senses in which profiting at someone's expense, or doing something to their detriment, is in itself an objectionable thing to do.

To be fair, though, Jonathan et al. are operating from the presumption that unions are availing themselves of legal coercion in order to enforce their bargaining position, in ways that unorganized workers aren't able to. (That's true enough, but I think that the balance of political power in the late strike, given that it was against a government employer that had the power to throw union organizers in jail for continuing to strike, and publicly contemplated doing so, is clearly not in favor of the union.)

"Any special benefit that

"Any special benefit that any particular union garners for one set of little guys comes at the detriment not just from businesses, but also from other little guys."

Say what? In a market unions can't do anything "at the expense" of others since the only people who will do business with them are those that profit from doing business with them.

You might as well say your salary comes at the detriment of not just your employers, but from others they could pay instead of you. Nonsense. Your employer benefits from paying your salary and it harms no one else.

"To be fair, though,

"To be fair, though, Jonathan et al. are operating from the presumption that unions are availing themselves of legal coercion in order to enforce their bargaining position, in ways that unorganized workers aren’t able to."

Then it would be nice to give an example of how the union did this in the case McArdle is talking about. I've yet to hear of anything the union did wrong in the transit strike.

She writes as if New Yorkers were entitled to have these people work, but that's not the case. The transit workers harm no one by withholding their own efforts. The "victims" have been harmed by their own miscalculation, they counted on their state to provide them with transportation and it didn't come through.

This has gone from brief

This has gone from brief observation to ridiculous over-analysis far too quickly, and, over-analysis notwithstanding, the bone of contention remains nothing more than what is meant by "class," a question too pointless to justify another word. Accordingly, I withdraw.

That was an unfortunately

That was an unfortunately pissy response on my part. I apologize.

I'm still not interested in the topic, so I'm going back to getting bombed on eggnog.

Rad Geek “I think that the

Rad Geek
“I think that the balance of political power in the late strike, given that it was against a government employer that had the power to throw union organizers in jail for continuing to strike, and publicly contemplated doing so, is clearly not in favor of the union”

Fantasyland exercises in class analysis aside, the trajectory taken by the union movement is interesting.
I think that unionism is clearly a distortion of ideal free market processes, and hence over time if normal economic forces are allowed to function, unions will wither away. (This in not to say that unions did not have their time and place) This is because union dominated industries can’t compete forever with non union companies. Only if propped up by political power can unions survive. This is why the heavily unionized airlines and auto makers are failing. Their only hope is government bailouts and protectionist legislation to keep them from extinction.
On the other hand the public service sector is the only area where unionism thrives. This is because the public sector has no competition and thus is guaranteed to be inefficient. It is the creature of politics, and public relations. Kennedy is right, the voters have only themselves to blame. You can’t blame the unionists for trying the same tricks that have always worked before. With 30 persons applying for each vacant transit job and bus drivers bringing in a base salary of $63000.00, it does seem that the public would eventually get pissed off. This time it looks like they did.

Scott, well, the shorter

Scott, well, the shorter version of what I said is: I don't think the dispute is merely definitional. The kind of complications that Wilde's pointing to are indications that there are more socioeconomic class distinctions than vulgar Marxism suggests, not that socioeconomic class isn't a good tool for understanding the transit strike.

Kennedy: Then it would be nice to give an example of how the union did this in the case McArdle is talking about. I've yet to hear of anything the union did wrong in the transit strike.

Sure. As usual, a lot of libertarians tend to think that the word "union" is enough to summon statist demons. The attempted analysis is just lazy argumentation; I just think that it's also the case that, even if it were a solid argument, it wouldn't establish that class analysis isn't useful for understanding social life.

Dave: This is because union dominated industries can't compete forever with non union companies. Only if propped up by political power can unions survive.

There were a good six and a half decades between the foundation of the Knights of Labor, and the establishment of government patronage of unions under the Wagner Act. I conclude that unions can survive quite wel without being propped up by political power, and that there's nothing intrinsic to unions that's antagonistic to market survival.

What you say above suggests that you think something about the market has changed such that unions might have been beneficial back in the day but aren't anymore. But then you'd have to identify what it is you think has changed in the interim. What do you think made unions as such potentially beneficial then, but categorically inefficient now? (One thing clearly has changed: the organizational structure and tactics of unions. But that's certainly something that it's possible to change without giving up on labor unionism as such.)

Dave: Kennedy is right, the voters have only themselves to blame. You can’t blame the unionists for trying the same tricks that have always worked before.

I don't think Kennedy's point had anything in particular to do with voting.

I’ve yet to hear of

I’ve yet to hear of anything the union did wrong in the transit strike.

Isn't violating the terms of existing agreements (no collective strike) wrong?

Great post!

Great post!

Masten: Isn't violating the

Masten: Isn't violating the terms of existing agreements (no collective strike) wrong?

The MTA's employees didn't "agree" to the Taylor Law. It was imposed on them by an interventionist state government with the power but not the authority to ban peaceful coordinated strikes.

That is my understanding.

That is my understanding. But even if there were an agreement not to strike nobody would be entitled to specific performance.

JTK, Say what? In a market

JTK,

Say what? In a market unions can’t do anything “at the expense” of others since the only people who will do business with them are those that profit from doing business with them.

You might as well say your salary comes at the detriment of not just your employers, but from others they could pay instead of you.

What would be inaccurate about this? Isn't this the reason why we like competition, creative destruction, etc?

That is my understanding. But even if there were an agreement not to strike nobody would be entitled to specific performance.

Even if most courts don't compel specific performance, there is usually a penalty for not meeting the terms of the contract. I.e., there is an acknowledgment of wrongdoing.

Rad, (Or, to put it another

Rad,

(Or, to put it another way: if you aren’t offering a class analysis of the transit strike, what level of analysis are you offering? Individual?)

Yes. Individuals, in general, act for their own self-interest. When the yield from investment in government exceeds the yield from investment in civil society/market, they invest in government. They could act by voting, but the returns on voting are slim-to-none for any single individual, and thus voting is a mere exercise in self-expression. However, there is another outlet. The dynamics of the political marketplace are such that the highest return on investment in government occurs when self-interested individuals act together to get laws passed that favor them at the expense of everyone else (tariffs, quotas, licensing, etc). The costs are diffused over 280 million while the benefits are reaped by a small minority.

I don't consider this a "class" analysis. The group created is a product of individual interests. Different competing groups are often of the same socioeconomic status, background, income level, and professions, often bidding on the same govt special privilege. The distinctions between different groups are small. Memberships between different competing groups can change easily as it becomes more rewarding for individuals to seek new allies. New groups can be created by members of already existing groups. I don't find it accurate to analyze the marketplace (free or political) as fundamentally class-driven. Economic action occurs at the level of the individual, not the group, not the class.

Me: (Or, to put it another

Me: (Or, to put it another way: if you aren't offering a class analysis of the transit strike, what level of analysis are you offering? Individual?)

Wilde: Yes. Individuals, in general, act for their own self-interest.

Which individuals did you have in mind? The only person discussed in this post who is picked out as an individual, as far as I can tell, is Megan McArdle. The analysis you offer seems to pick everyone else out on the basis of the interests presumedly shared by the members of five groups of people, differentiated from one another by socioeconomic factors: the MTA management, the TWU Local 100, poor commuters who use MTA busses and trains, well-off commuters who use MTA busses and trains, and folks who would be willing to accept scab work from the MTA management if it were offered. That seems like echt-class analysis. If it doesn't seem that way to you, I wonder what you think class analysis does look like.

Schuele suggested that the debate here has at least as much to do with miscommunication as with substantive disagreement. So, let's number off claims for convenience:

[1] The group created is a product of individual interests. [2] Different competing groups are often of the same socioeconomic status, background, income level, and professions, often bidding on the same govt special privilege. [3] The distinctions between different groups are small. [4] Memberships between different competing groups can change easily as it becomes more rewarding for individuals to seek new allies. [5] New groups can be created by members of already existing groups. ... [6] Economic action occurs at the level of the individual, not the group, not the class.

Which of claims (1)-(6) do you think make for a disagreement between you and someone who thinks class analysis is a fruitful way to understand the transit strike (and significant patches of socio-economic life elsewhere)? Further, if there's more than one claim here that you take to cut against class analysis if true, do those separate claims cut it against it independently of each other, or only in conjunction with one another?

Jonathan, The dynamics of

Jonathan,

The dynamics of the political marketplace are such that the highest return on investment in government occurs when self-interested individuals act together to get laws passed that favor them at the expense of everyone else (tariffs, quotas, licensing, etc). The costs are diffused over 280 million while the benefits are reaped by a small minority.

Now can you explain how the strike cited my McArdle in your piece is an example of this?

"There are lots of little

"There are lots of little guys, and lots of groups of little guys, and different unions represent different little guys, and most little guys don’t have any union to represent them."
not because unions don't want to, but because there is a massive effort on the part of large businesses (like walmart) to prevent unionization at all costs. These efforts can range from the subversive (Walmart') to stalinesque (Coca-Cola's work in Colombia.)

"Some little guys are bigger than other little guys. Any special benefit that any particular union garners for one set of little guys comes at the detriment not just from businesses, but also from other little guys."
this is the point where an example would help (though a study would be better.) This sentence couldn't be just referring to scabs (because "any special benefit" does not affect scabs.) Anyway, onto them...

Usually the other little guys, should they get uppity and try to compete with the big little guys, are labeled “scabs” and threatened with violence while the big fat cat little guys reap special privilege"
this is quite fanciful, scabs were often members of a lower class who were so desperate they couldn't afford to engage in solidarity activites. They were brought in specifically to break strikes, and weren't kept on after the strike was broken (generally) implying that they weren't actually competing. Not to mention that this sentence fails completely to account for the "fat cat big guys", who are vastly more important in a discussion like this

Forgte all that histroical stuff though, more importantly this is a problem of business size. Mainstream economic models of supply and demand (among others) generally assume that business cannot affect the cost of inputs. This is a case in which businesses often thrived by doing just that- lower class people from another region would be moved in, increasing the local supply of labor and reducing the value of it, making the point of the strike somewhat moot. An employer in a small region (like a Missoula, MT or a Flint, MI) usually wouldn't have the option of hiring scabs from the local labor pool, and would have to pay labor its fair market price. They can subvert this only by varying the cost of their inputs, and heavily distoring the working of supply and demand rendering all the typically economic assumptions about productivity and a fair market wage inapplicable (not that they weren't anyway...) and turing it into a pure power struggle.

"Individuals, in general, act for their own self-interest"
As JTK pointed out (though not directly), you can no more criticze a worker acting in his own self-interest by joining a union than you can criticize a worker accepting a wage ("at the expense" of everyone else who could have worked there.) Unions can be seen as representing a worker's enlightened self-interest in the same way that the national cattleman's beef association (and the countless other industry specific organizations) are good for the beef business. It allows them to pool their resources and coordinate their actions, and so forth. Whether or not you agree with this analysis of whether unions work is beside the point; it'd be like providing a critique of the efficacy of the "beef: it's what's for dinner" advertising campaign; acceptable, but without teeth.

So I agree, the owners of small businesses should be up in arms on the side of the transit strikers. If they were only paid a fair wage, these small business owners would see the usual barage of holiday customers.

They "operate on a

They "operate on a shoestring"? How can retail establishments in NYC have machine guns??

Unions In Context Jonathan

Unions In Context
Jonathan Wilde, writing in Catallarchy, puts unions in context:
There are lots of little guys, and lots of groups of little guys, and different unions represent different little guys, and most little guys don’t have any union to represent them. Som...

Freedom Of Contract: A Novel

Freedom Of Contract: A Novel Libertarian Interpretation
Libertarians enthusiastically defended oil companies that raised their prices in the wake of Katrina, but they've had little appetite for defending the NY transit workers who decided to raise their prices.

It was amusing to see someone who calls he...

Matt, "As JTK pointed out

Matt,

"As JTK pointed out (though not directly), you can no more criticze a worker acting in his own self-interest by joining a union than you can criticize a worker accepting a wage ("at the expense” of everyone else who could have worked there.)"

I'm wondering why oil comapanies get a vigorous defense here when charged with price gouging, but strikers don't.

For one, oil companies were

For one, oil companies were charging market prices. Charging lower prices would have led to a shortage. There wouldn't have been any shortage if the union hadn't gotten pay raises.

Second, as one of my fellow Catallarchists pointed out, oil companies really aren't all that profitable over the long run, whereas there's no question that the MTA workers have pretty cushy jobs compared to workers with comparable education and skill levels in the private sector.

I have no problem with private-sector unions, as long as they operate only by collusion, rather than by violence, physical intimidation, and legal privilege. I doubt they'd be very effective under those constraints, but I have no objection to them trying.

It's harder to make judgments about specific union actions in the public sector because the incentives are all messed up. For example, a politician might concede to a union's demands for political or ideological reasons when the right financial decision would be to replace them. And since government is protected from competition and can't go bankrupt, the ultimate check on the power of unions (i.e., driving the employer out of business) doesn't exist.

In order to protect the interests of taxpayers, I would prefer that all public-sector employees be forbidden, as a condition of employment, from unionizing. Government should pay as whatever it needs to to get the job done right, and no more. Providing sinecures is not a valid goal for an organization which appropriates its funding by force.

For one, oil companies were

For one, oil companies were charging market prices. Charging lower prices would have led to a shortage. There wouldn’t have been any shortage if the union hadn’t gotten pay raises.

Seems like there was an acute shortage last week. What prevented NY from replacing them at "market prices" when they were on strike?

I would prefer that all public-sector employees be forbidden, as a condition of employment, from unionizing.

And what's your remedy if they do? Are you entitled to compel specific perfomance?

Fire the lot of them if you like, but you needn't worry about strikes if you can do that.

JTK, You know as well as I

JTK,

You know as well as I do that what prevented NYC from replacing the strikers was the law- city, state, and federal, which covers and governs all actions related to striking. That, and a strong political/social animus in NYC against strikebreaking and scabs.

Because "striking" has been enshrined and protected in law as a legitimate and individual category of labor action, when the people walk off of their jobs en masse they're oddly enough still considered to be employed and you, generally speaking, can't fire them. Because of that it is difficult to obtain new replacements for whatever unknown period of time the "current workers" are going to refuse to do their jobs.

The problem here is that the strikers weren't simply raising their prices, as you contend. They were contracted to do a job and refused to do it because they wanted a different, more favorable contract in place before the old one ran out. I agree that specific performance should not be compelled, but in any individual case where a worker walks off the job and then angrily walks outside of the workplace and calls the bosses evil, that worker is usually immediately sacked (or put on some sort of serious probation) and if sacked, security is called to quickly escort them away from the premises; and if that doesn't work the police come and arrest him.

Why, pray tell, should the response be different when a large group of workers does the same thing? How does a strict individualist square treating the group as different from the individual, gaining rights and privileges that an individual doesn't have?

Stefan, Point taken and set

Stefan,

Point taken and set aside, the nub is unchanged- this wasn't a "price increase" such as an oil company or gas station charging more, because there is in no sense a situation where the MTA is paying ala carte and making a point transaction with the union or the individual strikers. Furthermore, they expected to keep their jobs (compelling specific performance from the MTA in the form of continued employment) while simultaneously not doing them and demanding more money. This is completely disanalogous to a gas station that says "if you want a gallon of gas, you pay $3, otherwise go along your merry way."

If the transit workers union were in fact a company that was in the business of supplying labor services to the MTA, you might be getting more analogous, but there is an insistence on 19th century/feudal labor relations, where workers are viewed as similar to, and act as serfs/peasants who must form a mob to assemble outside the manor with pitchforks and torches, and threaten the lord to give them more grain.

They were contracted to do a

They were contracted to do a job and refused to do it because they wanted a different, more favorable contract in place before the old one ran out.

Actually as JTK has pointed out at no-treason their contract expired the night before the strike occurred. That said, I have no sympathy for either group since states are criminal and this particular one has made it a crime to compete with the unions.

John: And what’s your

John:
And what’s your remedy if they do? Are you entitled to compel specific perfomance?

You could sue for damages, I guess. But it seems to me that it should be much easier to break a union when it's in the formative stages than it is to break it when 90% of your workforce is threatening to strike. In the former case, you can just fire the instigators to make an example of them (a tactic which should also be legal for private employers but isn't), but in the latter case firing and replacing 90% of your employees can be very difficult.

Brian:
Because “striking” has been enshrined and protected in law as a legitimate and individual category of labor action, when the people walk off of their jobs en masse they’re oddly enough still considered to be employed and you, generally speaking, can’t fire them.

Is that true? As I understand it, if the union is striking for economic reasons, the employer is allowed to hire replacement workers and keep them on full-time when the strikers return to work. Only in the case of a strike over "unfair labor practices" are employers required to rehire strikers who have been replaced. However, it's always illegal to fire strikers without first replacing them, and I believe (not sure) that employers are required to give preferential treatment to replaced strikers in future hiring.

Brandon- I'm not versed in

Brandon-

I'm not versed in the intricacies of labor law, but regardless the fact that there is even a distinction between "striking for economic reasons" and "unfair labor practices" speaks to the deep, deep corruption in the law here.

If the workers want to band together and collude to change the supply side of the labor market, they are free to do so. Employers should be equally free to *immediately* and without sanction fire employees for striking and try to find new ones. The fact you mentioned, that you can't fire a striker until you've replaced them, is a ludicrous burden to put on the employer when faced with a bunch of individuals committing fireable offenses simultaneously.

The problem in all of this is the idea that there is some sort of meaningful distinction between the terms "worker" and "management" and that there is some sort of significant difference at work here defining two "classes" (Jonathan's original point). Just as every consumer is a producer (and vice versa) every worker is a boss and every boss is a worker. Realizing that they are owners of important capital inputs (human labor), they should act accordingly and contract accordingly (and form labor service firms accordingly) rather than trying to use politics and every other force other than consensual relations to get their way.

Brian, You know as well as I

Brian,

You know as well as I do that what prevented NYC from replacing the strikers was the law- city, state, and federal, which covers and governs all actions related to striking. That, and a strong political/social animus in NYC against strikebreaking and scabs.

You're saying the strikers couldn't be replaced because the state tied it's own hands and forgot how to untie them.

Here's the issue Catallarchs: Is it okay to outlaw strikes or not?

Here’s the issue

Here’s the issue Catallarchs: Is it okay to outlaw strikes or not?

Depends.

Scott, Can you identify the

Scott,

Can you identify the libertarian position on the question?

"I would prefer that all

"I would prefer that all public-sector employees be forbidden, as a condition of employment, from unionizing."

Suppose you set that as a condition of employment and I take a job with you on those terms, as do 1000 others.

One Monday morning I call in and say "900 of us decided over the weekend that those terms are no longer acceptable. We are willing to come in and work if you drop the condition."

Now what?

"Why, pray tell, should the

"Why, pray tell, should the response be different when a large group of workers does the same thing? How does a strict individualist square treating the group as different from the individual, gaining rights and privileges that an individual doesn’t have?"

They should have no more rights. It's fine to fire them all and kick them off your property. The problem here is that there's a law that says they can't stay home.

Now what? Then you have a

Now what?

Then you have a tough decision to make. Either you give in to avoid a disruption, or you start replacing strikers and then collect what damages you can from them afterwards. A credible threat to do the latter might cause some would-be strikers to change their minds.

Anti-union clauses help to prevent this sort of situation---if they didn't, unions wouldn't be so vehemently opposed to them---but they're not foolproof, especially if workers unionize secretly. One way to help enforce this might be to reward workers for reporting union activity and then firing the instigators to make an example.

The problem here is that there’s a law that says they can’t stay home.

I think maybe you're making a bit too much of this. I haven't heard any credible threats to imprison strikers---aren't they just having their pay docked? If so, then the law, as it's being enforced, is functionally identical to the sort of contract I suggested above.

That said, I'm not sure that I see anything particularly illiberal about elevating it from a civil issue to a criminal issue. Suppose that all the employees of a particular government agency (or private company) sign a contract promising faithfully to perform the duties of their jobs every day, health permitting. Then they break that contract and go on strike. The disruption this causes leads to tremendous economic damages---more than the strikers could ever possibly repay.

If someone deliberately causes damages so great that he can never make his victims whole again, shouldn't that be considered criminal behavior, and punished as such?

Any libertarians left on

Any libertarians left on this blog? I remember bloggers here saying they thought economic/consequentialist arguments would persuade more people of libertarianism than moral arguments, but those arguments here have wandered to the point where they're no longer recognizably libertarian.

I don't care about libertatian purity, you guys are welcome to the word.

But why on earth do you want it?

Can you identify the

Can you identify the libertarian position on the question?

Sure. Outlawing strikes is not permissible.

But why on earth do you want it?

Mainly because it communicates quickly certain things about who we are: opposition to a large state, socially and economically liberal views, etc. The term is not---most terms aren't---a perfect fit, but it suffices.

Isn't "utilitarian" a whole

Isn't "utilitarian" a whole lot more accurate? You're for large states and illiberal policies when they produce an efficient result, aren't you? Liberty is incidental to your views.

My understanding is that

My understanding is that "consequentialist" is a synonym for the new utilitarians (with all new and improved doctrine!).

Isn’t “utilitarian” a

Isn’t “utilitarian” a whole lot more accurate?

Slightly more accurate, perhaps, but not specific enough. There are many utilitarians who aren't libertarians. Libertarianism is a set of policy prescriptions, while utilitarianism is a method for arriving at policy prescriptions.

policy prescriptions What

policy prescriptions

What the heck is a "policy prescription"? Did you guys go to medical school?

Brandon, But what's

Brandon,

But what's libertarian about the prescriptions here? What's libertarian about approving criminal penalites for strikes? What's libertarian about outlawing suicide?

I don't think anyone here

I don't think anyone here has proposed outlawing suicide. I did offer that it might be justified on efficiency grounds; that's a far cry from advocating it being outlawed. And who supported criminal penalties for strikes?

Regardless, this is silly enough to be stupid. You can with us, I'm sure, as with most libertarians, go through all one's policy preferences and pick out those departures from the libertarian party line (or whatever baseline it is you're using). But generalizing from those exceptions is fallacious. We all, so far as I can tell, fall well within mainstream libertarianism, our departures notwithstanding.

I don’t think anyone here

I don’t think anyone here has proposed outlawing suicide.

To be fair, I did say that I wouldn't necessarily be opposed to allowing friends and family members to involuntarily commit, for a strictly limited amount of time, someone who posed a credible threat of suicide. The potential for abuse might stop me from actually endorsing such a measure, though.

And who supported criminal penalties for strikes?

I did, under certain circumstances. And I'd apply the same reasoning to any willful breach of contract resulting in damages for which the victim could not be fully compensated.

I don’t think anyone here

I don’t think anyone here has proposed outlawing suicide. I did offer that it might be justified on efficiency grounds; that’s a far cry from advocating it being outlawed.

If there's a difference then it escapes me. You guys believe (I recall) that law should promote "efficiency". You then say that "Law X may be efficient". It follows that your statement can be alternately read "Law X may be a good law". Since you don't say anything else, or give any reason to think otherwise, the natural way to read what you wrote is as an endorsement of laws against suicide. I apologize if that's incorrect, but it does seem to be a plausible interpretation. (Just for the record, here is what Scott originally said:

it occurred to me that laws against suicide may be economically efficient, in that an individual’s suicide often imposes massive negative externalities on friends and family.)

Scott, I'm generalizing not

Scott,

I'm generalizing not from exceptions but from the standards you employ, which have nothing to do with libertarianism and routinely produce unlibertarian results.

Stefan, This is taking us

Stefan,

This is taking us afield, but nonetheless, surely thinking efficiency is a good thing does not necessitate it being the only good thing.

John,

You know, David Friedman uses efficiency analysis often. Indeed, in the Machinery he states the economic analysis of law is one way of answering the problems with libertarianism that natural rights arguments leave open. Milton Friedman is similarly engrossed with economic analysis. If such a standard is un-libertarian, as you seem to imply, then those two are not properly classed as libertarians.

And yet, from what I can tell, they are two of the more prominent libertarians alive. If they are libertarian, then fine, so am I, since I approve and have adopted their standards.

If they're not, equally fine, you can call me whatever you'd call them. I imagine many of my fellow Catallarchs feel similarly.