Saturday, December 15, 2012

The right to work and the right to employ

The Ontario PC's made news this week when they announced that if elected they would pursue a "right to work" legislation similar to that enacted by many US states.  While they are to be applauded for moving slightly in the direction of a free economy, the contradictions inherent in their position mean that it is a weak policy for them that will land them in hot water in many other areas.

  Consider the language that they use to talk about the issue.  Deputy PC leader Christine Elliott said "What we really need to do is develop a very nimble workforce and that's what the right to work legislation is intended to do, so that businesses when they need to adapt to changing conditions in the workplace, they have the flexibility to be able to do that".  Implicit in her statement is the assumption that government is properly responsible for developing anything related to "the workforce", anything related to business and in fact anything economic at all. Consider that the only obstacles that exist to prevent businesses from being as dynamic, productive and flexible as possible are obstacles created by the use of government power against employees and employers alike.  A full realization and declaration of this is far removed from the platform of the PCs, Liberals and certainly the NDP.

The only proper role of government is to protect citizens from actual and threatened physical harm.  Unless you are causing physical harm to others, as soon as government starts to use its power to force you to act against your free will in any area, government inverts its moral position and becomes the worst violator of rights: the entity to which you delegate the right to initiate force is turned against you, leaving you with no protector and at the mercy of any looter.  In your capacity as a producer/employee, government currently initiates all manner of coercion, forcing you to join employment insurance, Canada Pension Plan, workman's compensation, unions, pensions, taxes etc., even if you determine such actions are not in your best interest.  If you are an employer, laws force on you such things as minimum wages, vacation pay, EI, CPP, workmans compensation, workplace safety, building codes, business hours, work week restrictions, zoning, taxes and a host of other restrictions on your right to exercise your own best judgement. With so many reason-negating laws, many businesses never begin or are destroyed before they have a chance at success.

By right derived from your nature as a reasoning human being you have the right to work in support of your life: to decide what occupation you will pursue every day, what hours you are willing to work, what compensation you will accept, what risks you will take and every other aspect of your productive effort. Every employer has the same right with respect to what products to create, how to price them who to sell to, what employees to hire, how to compensate them, when to fire them and every other aspect of the productive process.  The only possible way an employer can succeed in business over time is to be rational, to run a business that attracts you and other employees and that enables workers to meet their goals and provides value to customers.  A mean employer who pays lower wages than you can earn elsewhere or who has high risks at work or does not provide value to enough customers will quickly be run into bankruptcy by better competitors.  

Ontario Labour Minister Linda Jeffrey (Liberal) reveals economic illiteracy in her comment "It just doesn't reflect Canadian values... I believe it would mean lower wages and reduced buying power".  First of all, forcing you to join unions against your will cannot properly be considered a value by anyone, let alone a country with a system of laws based on individual freedom. Violating your human rights can never be a moral or economic value, only a destroyer of value. Second, to claim that increasing your freedom to choose in wage negotiations would lead to lower wages implies that you are too stupid to decide for yourself what organizations to join and instead must be forced to join an employees union that in turn will force higher wages on employers. She implies that the effect of forced unionization is to raise productivity, since it is only by producing more that you, as an employee, can be paid more in the long term.  This would mean that all we need to do to raise wages and buying power is to unionize everyone or declare that they will be paid more (minimum wage laws). How can all people at the same time be paid more than they produce?  Of course it is impossible, since higher wages taken by unionized workers for the same amount of production must come at the expense of those who are not using the force of union law against their employer. Without an increase in production, where else will the wages come from? As has been shown many times over the last century by economists such as Ludwig von Mises, unions force lower income on the non-unionized.  Unions backed by laws are a weapon against all who are union "outsiders".

  Betraying her own economic illiteracy, NDP leader Andrea Horwath said "I don't see how the removal of people's ability to make a decent wage, have decent benefits, be able to retire with dignity, is somehow made more beneficial in a right-to-work state."  She deliberately ignores that fact that wages must be, by the nature of reality, tied to production ability and she cannot simply legislate production into existence with her whims and wishes. She ignores that so-called decent benefits can only be paid if they are first created.  She ignores the fact that what she calls a dignified retirement can only be achieved by a lifetime of production, savings and prudent investment and is not the rational product of government force. The type of intervention she favors requires the sacrifice of those who produce more than average to those who produce less than average or do not produce at all.  In a free economy, who is to stop you from earning every dollar your effort and ability permit, from saving every dollar you choose to and from investing every dollar you want to set aside for future consumption instead of spending now?  The only obstacles in your way are your ability to produce, criminals who would steal your assets and laws that would prevent you from acting according to your judgement. The government is supposed to stop and punish the criminals and not prevent you from acting to meet your life goals.

President Obama reveals once more his perverse version of government when he says "These so-called right-to-work laws, they don't have anything to do with economics, they have everything to do with politics".  In his world, where apparently citizens exist to serve the state and each other instead of to build their own lives, the subjects of politics and economics are apparently unrelated. In reality they are intricately and inextricably linked since politics is the study of how society is organized and economics is the study of society's most vial function: production.  The purpose of production is to allow man to survive and improve his life and any attempt to ignore how production is either enabled or destroyed by the proper or improper use of political power is life-destroying.  This is entirely consistent with Obama's nihilistic approach to philosophy and is unfortunately all too popular among the political elite, as illustrated by Ontario's political leaders quoted above.

What is required for a proper political structure in Ontario (and everywhere else) is a government whose sole and driving purpose is to protect the individual right of citizens to: a) security from external physical harm (life); b) pursue their lives so long as they do not cause or threaten to harm others (liberty); and c) keep the product of their efforts to use and dispose of as they choose (property). A government that protects individual rights will as a consequence enable the greatest wealth production, the most innovation and the highest standard of living in the world. Incomplete examples of this principle abound in the history of the last few hundred years, across the nations of the world and within the provinces of Canada. Wherever and whenever government acts to protect individual rights, human life thrives. When government uses coercion against its innocent citizens the standard of living is lowered to the degree coercion is used.  Examined objectively, this principle is not surprising, yet almost none of our political leaders could identify it. That is one measure of how far we have come from the ideal of a free society and of how much work needs to be done to establish such a society.

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