Saturday, December 15, 2012

More about unions vs freedoms

A previous article was a brief critique of an Ottawa Citizen article, written as a letter to the editor.  Here is a more detailed look at the errors of the writer, Janice Kennedy.  I will begin each paragraph with a quote from Kennedy and then critique her essential idea.

"In these anti-labour times, the latest salvo comes from Ontario's Liberal government, attacking both teachers and collective bargaining."  To say we are in anti-labour times suggests there is a major cultural opposition to working people, when what they are against is the force being used against them to enrich those involved in the union enforced violation of individual rights.  They may not be able to state it explicitly, but people sense the injustice of being forced to pay higher than rational wages, rich packages of benefits and vast pension shortfalls to unionized employees of the state while they are struggling to earn a living and pay their excessive taxes. For decades, government have caved in to union lobbying and created laws that entrench the power of unions over individuals - both employees and employers.  The Ontario McGuinty government has given away the bank to civil service unions in order to get and stay elected.  It is only now that Ontario's fiscal ship is scraping along the shoal and gradually shredding the financial future of Ontarians that small concessions are being suggested by the government.  Naturally, the unions scream at the least reversal of the trend that has fed them tens of billions of taxpayer debt dollars over the last decade.

"...well compensated teachers providing good public education are a sound social investment."  This phrase is wrong from start to finish. Teachers are not just well compensated, they are well overcompensated.  I know many teachers who earn $80,000 or more per calendar year, and when you include the benefit costs their total compensation is $100,000 or so.  Sure, they have a university degree, but so do many people whose incomes are confiscated through taxation to pay the teachers, people who work a full year, do not have summers off, do not get two weeks off at Christmas and a week of spring break and whose employers have recognized that defined benefit pension plans can bankrupt them.  Further, what we are getting is not a good public education since our students are much less educated than in many countries in areas like literacy, math, science and history.  Many high school graduates have poor critical thinking skills and have been well prepared only to accept government control of their lives and collectivism as a healthy state of society.  In most cases, teachers have never had a job in the real world and are ill-suited to teach students since the entire educational system is controlled by government from cradle to university graduation.  I believe that if you quizzed most grade twelve students with basic questions about Canada's history, geography, politics, economics and finances they would be incapable of answering most basic questions. Since there is no such thing as a social investment, we seem to be getting an equally poor return on our money.

"The truth is, unions are necessary.  They're essential for societal self-interest, and they play a critical role in our fundamental humanity."  Sure, unions are extremely self-serving - they feather-bed jobs where rational employers would not keep them, forcing positions to be so specialized that more workers than necessary must be used.  How often do we see a road repair crew with one or two people actually working and six more standing to supervise or wait their turn.  One guy holds a flag, one a shovel, one a rake, one a tamper, one a clipboard, one to make sure no does anyone else's work, etc.  I know of government departments where people are paid to produce studies and reports that have no productive value and are then simply filed away as people move on to the next useless study.  If a union existed to advocate for employees and supported an open communication with management and did not actively violate the rights of business management and owners, then that would harm no one, but when a union can strike and prevent a company from hiring other people who are totally willing to work for the offered compensation, use violence that goes unpunished by the government that is charged with protecting citizens and all the while cries that the rights of workers are being violated, unions don't play a critical role, they play a fundamentally harmful role.  Since they rely on a constant violation of the rights of both employers and employees for their very existence, they certainly are not part of my definition of fundamental humanity.  My definition is based on government protection of individual rights, not their arbitrary abrogation.

"That's because unions protect workers. (A good thing, too, because who else would protect them?  Government?  It can't scramble a back-to-work legislation fast enough.  Corporations? They'd lay off Mother Teresa if it meant boosting the profit margin. Workers themselves?  No, sadly because no matter how competent they are, the corporation's bottom line invariably trumps their very existence. In the economic wars, employees are cannon fodder.) Government certainly can protect them - that is protect them if their individual freedom to act in their self-interest are violated. This does not mean they have a right to a job, an income, or anything else that must be provided by someone else - they are free to act but not free to obtain results by any means other than voluntary exchange. This is in fact the sole reason for government to exist - to secure individual rights in society. Since government has already acted in thousands of ways to violate the rights of all citizens, it must continuously place groups of citizens in opposition to each other through the lobby-state, the nanny-state, the big-brother-state and all the other versions of statism in which we are enmeshed.

There is a moral role here for corporations to protect workers too. The individual who own and manage corporations can uphold rights by acting in an honest, forthright and transparent manner in their dealings with employees.  They can respond within reason to safety concerns of employees and try to create work environments that attract and retain productive people.  To do this and remain competitive, they must also constantly adapt the business structure, adapt, move or close facilities, find innovative means of production and innovative employees, hire and fire people in positions that are not as productive as they must be.  A corporation does not fire employees who are highly productive unless they think they need to and if they are wrong then competition will eventually correct their mistakes.

Workers are the best positioned to protect themselves, by not working in a position for which they are unsuited, untrained, unproductive or even unhappy.  In a free society they are free to offer their services to any willing employer, and form a contract with the employer for mutual benefit.  If they are not satisfied, they are free to leave for another employer, subject to their voluntary contractual obligations. If government actually protects rights, then the contract is enforceable by employees and employers alike in case of dispute. That is a proper role of government - objective interpretation of objective law in case of dispute between citizens. So Kennedy is wrong on all counts - she dismisses the ability of government, employers and employees to protect employees and suggest unions as the only rights protector. Such a perverse outcome is only possible in a society where government evades its responsibility, corporations are forced by law into horribly distorted positions and employees have no understanding that rights are rights to actions - not results.

"Romney's belief in corporations and corporatism is a logical corollary to the Randism of his running mate, Paul Ryan.  The "rugged individualism" preached by Rand (the "Ayn," as she apparently used to say, pronounced like "swine") is nothing more than me-first selfishness and, well, piggism." The fact that Romney supports corporations indicates he supports the right of individuals to cooperate through a corporate structure. Corporations are nothing more than vehicles for economic and investment cooperation and therefore have a fundamentally good nature. Corporatism, on the other hand, is what is also known as crony capitalism, which is not capitalism at all but a mixed economy- a mix of freedom and state controls.  In a society where government can and does violate rights on a massive scale, creating levers of power that can be controlled by the few against the many, the many against the few or any group against another group, many corporations will naturally lobby for favors to protect their interests or shackle their competitors.  In a free society, government does not interfere int he economy and so there are no levers of power to grab and no need for lobbying and cronyism is prevented.

One thing that is certain, because he has explicitly said so, is that Paul Ryan is definitely not a follower of Ayn Rand. Rand's philosophy, Objectivism, holds that an objective reality exists whereas Ryan is religious and believes in the existence of an all-powerful and omniscient creator and an after-life in some undefinable dimension beyond the ability of human perception. Objectivism holds that reason is the faculty by which man learns about reality and his mind is his only tool of survival whereas Ryan believes in divine inspiration, the word of an undefined super-being as divine and infallible though all our senses and logic oppose it.  Objectivism holds that man's nature requires a morality that consists of acting in one's rational and long-term self-interest whereas Ryan believes in a morality of other-ism where it is man's duty to sacrifice himself and his life to his neighbors to fulfill the wishes of a deity. Objectivism holds that the proper political system for a rational being is one of individual freedom, also known as capitalism, whereas Ryan believes in a system of government controls of human lives - just a little less than Obama's current destructive path. Ryan's association with Rand's philosophy is a remote one and appears to be his only redeeming quality.  He is better defined by his distance from Objectivism than his similarities.

Kennedy refers to Rand's philosophy as mere me-first selfishness.  Her implication is that the focus of people's lives should be altruism, the sacrifice of one's own life to benefit others.  This philosophy is called altruism and since it is a perpetual cycle of sacrificing the good to anything else, it leads quickly to complete destruction if fully practiced. Consider what would happen if every parent sacrificed the interests of their children for the sake of other children. To the degree they were successful, so would their children perish, and with all parents doing likewise, humanity would perish. Ayn Rand identified that it is moral for individuals to make their own survival and their own thriving the highest priority.  This does not prevent acts of cooperation since cooperation is necessary for man to thrive - it in fact encourages it.  It does not forbid acts of kindness as providing assistance to others is good so long as it is voluntary and non-sacrificial.  Rand identified two types of sacrifice that act as destroyers of life - asking others to sacrifice themselves for you (welfare, criminals, government cronies) and asking for you to be sacrificed for the sake of others (through unearned guilt, the will of deities, collectivism, socialism, etc.).  If your own life does not have intrinsic value and is not the standard of your morality, then you are obliged to sacrifice yourself to anyone who lays claim to your life.  Kennedy sneers at the idea of an independent minded, self-sufficient, rugged individual and dismisses it as "piggism". 

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