Compelling rationale for why Liberals don't need Unions

Mikey Kaus from Slate has a terrific response to Matthew Yglesias's contention that [Kaus is paraphrasing here], "by attacking the Davis-Bacon Act, I'm guilty of pursuing good policy. Instead, "progressive" Democrats should be pursuing not-so-good policies that nurture powerful pro-Democratic interests."

The two most interesting reasons are:

5) "Historically," as Yglesias notes, unions have selflessly helped Democrats solve a number of national problems (Social Security, medical care for the elderly, civil rights, worker safety, unemployment insurance). Unfortunately, what's left are the national problems where this New Deal pairing didn't work because unions actively stand in the way of solutions. Two of these problems, in particular, are among our biggest: a) Unionized teachers stand in the way of the educational changes that might ameliorate our twin education crises (inner city disaster and suburban mediocrity). And b) unions stand in the way of the best solution to the welfare problem (and hence the NewOrleans-style underclass problem, and hence the persistent-poverty problem), namely public jobs programs. Unions have always disliked public jobs programs because public jobs workers threaten to perform work that municipal unions and construction unions now perform for far more money (thanks, in part, to the Davis-Bacon Act). In my ideal of liberal activism, we make sure everyone who wants a job has a job. Then we worry about making those jobs pay $40 an hour rather than $8 an hour. Unions have always (quite rationally) preferred to increase their members' wages even if that means keeping unemployed workers on the dole. That's why FDR had to break a strike to keep the WPA going. Yglesias argues Democrats won't "be able to advance a sustained anti-poverty agenda" with weakened unions. I'd argue that they won't be able to do that without rolling a few unions.

6) The best way to raise wages at the bottom, we've discovered, is not to increase union power. It's to run a hot economy with a tight labor market like the one we had in the late 90s--when unions continued to decline but low-wage workers and African-Americans made huge strides. (Low inflation helped achieve that prosperous economy and preserved those gains--unlike in the 70s, when still-powerful, oligopolistic unions were the mainspring of a wage-price spiral.) Yglesias says it's "absurd" to fight poverty without unions, but the most effective program to fight working poverty that we've discovered is the Earned Income Tax Credit, which has little to do with unionism and will survive unionism's inevitable withering. So will minimum wage laws.


World travellers

Hello all, I've just added two new links under the Friends section. One is Garrett Bucks' blog, who is currently in Sweden on a Fulbright scholarship. The other is Ian Miller's, who is doing the Peace Corps in Vanuatu. Enjoy their antics with mind-enhacing roots and Swedish pop stars.