New New York Times poll drama.

What a fascinating poll from the New York Times which basically says that there is strong support for labor, and even for increasing taxes over cutting collective bargaining rights in states with budget woes.

In one question (Q9 in the linked page) individuals oppose limiting collective bargaining by a 60/40 proportion. That’s pretty interesting. In question 4, 40% of respondents indicated they would rather raise taxes as a policy measure to cut the deficit vs. only 22% supporting decreasing public employee benefits. That’s bordering on shocking to me.

I’m not saying this poll is biased. I am sure the Times and CBS conduct solid polling. I would like to see a reason, however, why it is irrelevant that there is outsized union representation and government employee representation in the polling though.

  • In the poll (#57) 20% of individuals indicated that they were members of a union. In a recent column, revered economist Robert Samuelson indicates that the national figure is 11.9%
  • In (#58) a full quarter of respondents indicate being a government employee. Some back of the envelope calculating from census data, and Google’s public data estimate of the US population puts me at about a 17% estimate of government workers nationally.

A standard rule of thumb is that if the difference between that real parameter and the estimated is more than “2 divided by the square root of N” then there’s some evidence that it is significant. Since there were 984 respondents, anything more than a .063 difference is meaningful. Both .2 and .25 are meaningfully different than .119 and .17. On the other hand, the conservative to liberal ratio (37/19) is actually about in line with what I have seen from Gallup.

I would love to see some analysis from Nate Silver, who is employed by the Times, about this poll and how representative it is. After all, his bosses commissioned it and it’s making huge headlines.

On a final note, I think it’s worth mentioning that taking the public mood to be a normative indicator of whether or not states, as an employer, should or should not set the terms of bargaining with their employees feels a little strange to me.


Of earmarks and unions.

Here’s a question: Is it worth it to a Republican lawmaker to make an exception to the earmark ban if it means funding an organization that actively undermines public sector employee unions?

With both anti-union and anti-deficit rhetoric reaching fever pitch lately, George Will’s most recent column makes for a particularly salient read beyond its principle subject: Teach for America. The political environment that TFA currently exists in shows that the organization is front and center in some of the most contentious battles right now. Here’s a relevant excerpt from the column.

Speaking of leadership, someone in Congress should invest some on TFA’s behalf. Government funding – federal, state, local – is just 30 percent of TFA’s budget. Last year’s federal allocation, $21 million, would be a rounding error in the General Motors bailout. And Kopp says that every federal dollar leverages six non-federal dollars. All that money might, however, be lost because even when Washington does something right, it does it wrong.

It has obtusely defined “earmark” to include “any named program,” so TFA has been declared an earmark and sentenced to death. If Congress cannot understand how nonsensical this is, it should be sent back to school for remedial instruction from some of TFA’s exemplary young people.

Props to Will for shedding light on this unfortunate casualty of earmark-mania. I am willing to bet there are a lot of Republicans who are #facepalm right now.

Why Milton Friedman would be proud of Mitch.

The principles involved in right to work laws are identical with those involved in the FEPC. Both interfere with the freedom of employment contract, in one case by specifying a particular color or religion cannot be made a condition of employment; in the other, that membership in a union cannot be…Given competition among employers and employees, there seems no reason why employers should not be free to offer any terms they want to their employees. ~Milton Friedman

Most “conservatives” fail to realize that Right to Work Laws are philosophically anathema to the kinds of principles they spend  most of their time espousing. I don’t know if any of those who are vilifying Gov. Daniels right now have read Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom or not, but if they did, they should know better than to attack such a principled conservative decision as Daniels’ was this past week. Here’s solid commentary in the Examiner:

Bosses don’t force employees to do anything: they place conditions on those who want the boss’s money. If you want to work for me and get paid by me, you will do A, B, and C. Some of these demands are more reasonable or more compassionate than others, but barring extreme circumstances, the conservative position is that people should be able to place whatever conditions they like on those who want their property.

Right to Work laws bar employers from imposing a different sort of condition: the requirement that all employees join a union. Thus they take away property rights and infringe on the right of contract.

There are plenty of stupid labor laws that restrict employer freedom, but none of these laws force employers to have a closed shop. Preventing employers from agreeing to a closed shop is no free-market solution.

It’s true. There are plenty of reasons for conservatives to loathe the power of labor unions today, but most of those reasons coincide with the basic principle that the government should not interfere with the free association of workers and their interactions with their employers. Often legislation favors the labor side of the labor/capital divide, but it can swing the other way as well.

As for Daniels, he successfully killed a Republican push to pass Right to Work legislation. He understands that his state needs to move forward and that there are real issues to be addressing and actual free-market principles to be defended. Kudos to you, sir. Milton Friedman would approve.

Is The Daily the only newspaper that doesn’t list corrections?

Try as I might — I cannot find corrections for articles listed anywhere in The Daily. This is a huge problem from the perspective of journalistic standards. I don’t know if either it has been forgotten about, or the paper just thinks it can get away with it, but it needs to change. If this is the future of journalism, it needs to be the right kind of trailblazer and bring all of the print elements with it into the electronic realm.

Look at the article, “Classless  in Detroit” for instance. The former governor of Michigan is referred to as “Janet Granholm.” Her name is actually Jennifer. It’s a serious error — one you would get docked huge points for in any news writing course.

It’s bad enough that there is no section reserved for corrections, but it’s even worse when you take into account the fact that there is currently no official archive of The Daily’s articles. Every day a fresh issue comes out and the old articles are swept away from the iPad. Online, The Daily’s website has no real archive or search feature to speak of.

I imagine that the allure of all of this well-designed digital daily content has distracted people from critically evaluating how well The Daily has translated the newspaper model to the tablet. In this one respect, people need to be a little bit more vocal.

Japan’s fated Phillips’ curve?


Seriously, though…

Originally, I thought this was REALLY weird because the Phillips curve is supposed to go the other way. There’s a tradeoff in most economies between unemployment and inflation, but in Japan they seem positively correlated. Then I realized this is actually flipped — so that took some of the fun out of it.

h/t Paul Kedrosky

Clearing away obfuscation on public sector unions.

Here’s an economics, philosophy, and history lesson regarding the current union craziness in Wisconsin.

Will Wilkinson, who I have a weak spot for reading and quoting incessantly, actually stands out pretty uniquely in his recent attempts to delineate public from private sector unions. He’s done exemplary work drawing the lines along economic grounds already — private workers unionize to get a fair amount of the surplus their labor generates, while public workers unionize to…claim taxpayer funds? The lack of rationale erodes the case pretty quickly, and in fact it legitimately amounts to hijacking democracy.

Funny how public unions — the most “in” with government (I mean, it represents its employees!) are one special interest the left embraces while decrying others.

Wilkinson now takes to the Democracy in America blog for the Economist to elucidate the difference between the public and private union from the standpoint of political theory — his area of expertise. What I found especially insightful were his points about how much of the debate, which is centered on whether or not public workers are actually overpaid, misses the forest through the trees:

the real question is whether government workers should be granted special legal powers that (a) are unavailable to other groups whose welfare also turns on transfers from the treasury, or on the size of compulsory transfers from their bank accounts to the treasury, and (b) limit democratic sovereignty over the distribution of the burdens and benefits of the system of public finance.

I can’t think of a more concise way of stating it. From the standpoint of theory, this government rent-seeking is an assault on sovereignty. What is happening with public sector unions around the country, which have been growing in membership while private unions have been shrinking and now account for over half of union membership, damages public finances and hinders governments’ ability to carry out their democratic mandates.

Farther right from Wilkinson, over at Bloomberg, Amity Shlaes is comparing Scott Walker (WI’s governor) to Calvin Coolidge. That’s a HUGE compliment in conservative circles — it is widely known that Coolidge was the *last* truly conservative president (this even comes from Reaganites). I count Shlaes as an excellent economic historian, and she recounts a little-known tale of how Coolidge faced a similar union debacle with the Boston police while governor of Massachusetts. So what did Coolidge do?

The police were fired. Instead of melting into conciliation, Coolidge plowed ahead, in mid-September sending the astonished Gompers a decidedly cold and categorical letter. There was, Coolidge wrote, “no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.” {emphasis mine}

I’ll drink to that.

The conservative appeal of Hillsdale.

Jillian Melchior, a 2009 graduate of Hillsdale college, takes to The Daily to defend the unique appeal of her idyllic institution. Ultimately, she gives a good articulation of 1) Why Hillsdale is representative of the conservative movement and 2) That there is long-standing uncomfortable ideological inconsistency in that movement that has yet to be convincingly smoothed out.

Anyone involved with conservatives is probably aware of this tiny Michigan college with less than 2,000 people. It’s a phenomenon, but it’s one of the ironic intellectual powerhouses of the movement — something that Melchior acknowledges:

Hillsdale’s reach is impressive given its size and location. Enrollment is well under 2,000. The college itself is pastoral, tucked away in a snow-blighted Michigan town. With the library open later than the town’s one real bar, students make their own fun. Philosophy is debated over campfires; the religious crowd spends Friday night swing-dancing; members of one fraternity are notorious for wearing fedoras without a hint of irony.

The rest of the column is Melchior’s attempt to explore the ideological inconsistency between the socially conservative and libertarian elements of the movement by reducing it to the confines of Hillsdale’s modest campus.

On the one hand, you have an institution that refuses to accept federal money, repudiates affirmative action, and espouses principles of liberty and limited government. On the other, you have institutional qualities such as these:

At the same time, Hillsdale promotes a Judeo-Christian worldview, which translates into school policy: Men and women are allowed in each other’s dorm rooms only during certain hours; a document approved by the trustees in 2010 states that sexual intimacy belongs “in marriage and between the sexes,” though welcoming discussion on the matter; the college’s health center refuses to dispense birth control.

Melchior attempts to resolve this in a classic way.

First. Hillsdale is private, and can do whatever it wants. There’s procedural justice in that students who decide to enroll understand what they agree to and freely contract anyway. As Melchior says

They are introduced to social contract theory — a theme throughout the curriculum — when they sign Hillsdale’s honor code. And they can leave at any time. Therefore, the college can rightfully establish policies that would be illiberal if adopted by government.

This is classic consent theory. It’s a little over-simplified because it assumes that there are no barriers to leaving, like the prospect of wasted investment in education or reduced job prospects. But it’s generally sound.

Second. People cannot self-govern if they are not taught a basic sense of morality — specifically Christian morality.

This is where it all crumbles.

Apparently this essential “morality” includes statements that implicitly endorse denying certain groups civil liberties, limiting women’s reproductive rights through reduced access to birth control, curfews that police fraternization with certain peers based on gender, and the endorsement of a specific moral/religious worldview.

Melchior calls these value judgments “deliberate and non-contradictory” to personal liberty. So the two assumptions are 1) people freely consent to these policies and 2) moral Judeo/Christian values are needed for self-government.

I’m not buying it.

The first assumption is the same reason why Rand Paul said he would vote against the Civil Rights Act. It confuses, or rather conflates, philosophical conclusions regarding authority with normative values (for a good articulation of this phenomena among conservatives, see Richard Epstein). So yes, it may be “conservative” to allow people to freely consent to certain policies because it maximizes their liberty to act in their perceived best interest. That doesn’t make the policies themselves favorable to personal liberty.

With respect to assumption 2, Melchior doesn’t even offer a reason why the moral education of Hillsdale engenders the capacity for self-government. This is about the most revealing thing she writes:

Limited government is impossible unless citizens are capable of self-government. And citizens cannot self-govern unless they have some intrinsic notion of morality, which keeps them from encroaching on each other’s rights. Without self-governance reinforced by personal morality, a paternalistic state becomes inevitable.

I’m not going to even get into the numerous ways it can be argued that Hillsdale’s social aims DO in fact “encroach on other’s rights.”Because the real irony is that insofar as Hillsdale has legitimate authority through consent over those who attend there, the policies it promulgates ARE paternalistic — exactly what Melchior explicitly says she fears from a different layer of authority: the federal government. While one may want to consent to be bound by moralistic and paternalistic authority, it is not a philosophy of liberty that these policies stem from, in spite of liberty being the quintessential conservative value inherited from classical liberalism. Thus, it would NOT be “conservative” as Melchior defines it, for individuals to submit to these policies.

Liberty lies both in the process and the content. I have yet to see a solid articulation of how there is ideological harmony between social conservatism and libertarianism, and Melchior’s attempts join a long list of attempts that fall flat.