Monday, June 04, 2012

Kumbaya was not on offer

Alan Borsuk wonders if the Governor Walker might have avoided a recall had he talked about his reforms before trying to implement. Could there, he wonders, have been a "kumbaya"" moment?

Not very likely.

The Governor has himself suggested that he might have done a better job of rolling out his initiative on collective bargaining. But there is no way that the Governor and public employee unions would have agreed on a reform package.

That is because changing the nature of collective bargaining was essential to the Governor's vision. As I have written before, a union is a form of cartel. It is designed to shift the supply curve of a labor in a way that results in higher wages and benefits - and more restrictive work rules - than  would result in a free market in which employees bargained individually.

In the private sector, the result is some combination of higher wages,reduced employment and lower profits. As markets have become more competitive, the advantages to workers of unionization has diminshed and private sector unions are in steep decline.

But, in the publice sector, there are no profits to be lowered so unionization can only increase the cost and reduce the efficiency of government.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that government is not subject to the discipline of the market place and public employee unions become a vested and powerful interest that can place pressure on it in a way that, say, the UAW cannot influence Ford.

Now, if you believe that the government, left to its own devices, would abuse its workers, this may be a price you are willing to pay. Given that almost everyone else manages to work without the protection of a union free of abuse, this seems implausible. But my point is that Walker's objective went far beyond saving some money on pensions and health insurance. He wanted to do for government what the President talk about doing for health care. He wanted to bend the cost curve.

But there is more. Unionization requires an employer to treat its employees as a collective. It tends to preclude or minimize the consideration of individual merits in favor of lock step compensation and emphasis of seniority. In an effort to protect employees from unfair work decisions, unions often protect poor workers at the expense of good ones.

To change this was not an attack on "workers" and "public employees." To the extent, it undoubtedly  saved many jobs and paves the way to treat workers - particularly teachers - like professionals rather than assembly line workers.

But there is no way that it was going to happen without a fight. The Governor has been accused of having a political motivation. Public employee unions tend to support Democrats. (Labor organizations representing over 70% of police and fire employees supported Barrett as did all other public employee unions.) But the accusation cuts both ways. If it is politically advantageous for the Governor to reduce the power pf public employee unions, it was equally advantageous for Democrats to enhance it.

Kumbaya was not in the cards.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin


Tom said...

"If it is politically advantageous for the Governor to reduce the power pf public employee unions, it was equally advantageous for Democrats to enhance it."

I always like to emphasize this. We're not going from a system that's neutral to one that favors Republicans, we're taking a system that already gives Democrats a huge advantage and neutralizing it.

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