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In the city of Olean, NY, a law is being debated that would forbid any private individuals from employing the services of friends or neighbors to do any plumbing work, however minor. Any work that is to be done will be required to be completed by unionized plumbers (“licensed master plumber or a journeyman (apprentice) plumber employed by and supervised by a master plumber”).

6 Responses to “This Week’s Sign of the Economic Apocolypse”

  1. Speedmaster says:

    Scary, and sad. As an aside, I think Olean is the home of Ka-Bar knives of USMC fame.

  2. Gordon Barnes says:

    First, I seem to recall a book from 1984, entitled “What Unions Due,” in which it was demonstrated that Unions do not actually decrease productivity. Rather, the net effect of unions is to force employers to share more of their profits with their employees. Now, I’m sure that lots of research has been done on this subject since then, and I would certainly be interested in reading it. However, please don’t post anything by some right-wing think tank, posing as a scientific enterprise. I know better than to trust anything from people like that.

    Second, I submit that when economists cross over into political philosophy, they all tend to make the very same mistakes. One of these mistakes is to assume that greater productivity is automatically good. However, if “good” means “good for everyone,” or even “good for the majority,” then of course this does not follow. Greater productivity will improve the lives of the majority only if the profits of that greater productivity are distributed to the majority. However, as is well known, this often does not happen. So, for example, during the 1980’s, the economy grew, but it has been demonstrated that the bottom couple of quintiles of the economic ladder saw their incomes stagnate. (This comes from the Congressional Budget Office, so again, please don’t respond to this with something from The Heritage people, or some other right-wing think tank.) So if we care about making everyone better off, or even about making the majority better off, then mere growth in productivity does not in any way guarantee this.

    Finally, there is a crippling objection to the idea that more free enterprise is necessary to make more people better off. There are several European economies that tax and spend almost twice as much, per capita, on the general welfare of their citizens, as the United states, yet they have roughly the same GDP, per capita, per hour worked, as the U.S. (This fact is often obscured by those who ignore the fact that Europeans work fewer hours than Americans. If you ignore that, and some other relevant differences, then you can make the numbers look different, but the fact is exactly as I have described it.) So, in sum, they tax and spend twice as much as we do, yet thay have economies that are almost exactly as productive as ours. So they are a living example of the possibility of taxing and spending, while simultaneously maintaining a very productive economy. Moreover, as a result, they provide health care and education to all of their citizens. (Your work on education conveniently ignores the success of publicly financed education all over Europe, where their publicly-financed students score far better on tests in every area than American students.)

    With people who are well-informed and open-minded, you can’t selectively poach facts to support your case, and get away with it. There are simply too many facts (and plausible moral principles) that contradict your view.

  3. wintercow20 says:

    Mr. Barnes,

    If it is a foodfight you wish for, please at least have the decency to do it in the cafeteria. Your rant seems to be addressing something other than this post. In regard to the only part of the post that addresses unions, there is an enormous body of literature on the impact of unions – and it is far more nuanced and complicated than your reply seems to indicate. To directly follow your point, if unions do what they are successful at doing (keeping out competitive workers who are willing to work for a lower wage, among other things), then empirically we should expect to find that the marginal union worker is MORE productive than the marginal non-union worker, all else equal (very hard to satisfy that last part too).

    Celebrating the success of unions because their marginal workers have higher measured productivity is akin to celebrating high ice-cube prices in the aftermath of a hurricane, or better yet, to believing that “society values athletes more than school teachers because teacher salaries are so much lower than that of professional athletes.”

    As far as your second paragraph, it makes no sense – particularly because I reject utilitarian notions out-of-hand, because it is a political philosophy grounded in no ethical foundation. It seems you are attributing thoughts and words to me that I never uttered – typical however. And lest you forget, economics, at its core, has a strong moral philosophical tradition (Smith was even a professor of moral philosophy – and most critics of markets and freedom are sadly unaware of his first work, which he relies heavily on when putting forth his more well known treatise).

    As far as your mention of income inequality, and productivity being “distributed” – no one can possibly know what has happened to income inequality, for a whole host of reasons I suspect you are too enlightened to consider. What does it mean that the bottom quintiles experienced no growth? Are those quintiles stagnant? Are there not immigrants? Changes in family structure? And the people in the bottom quintile in 1980 are the same as those in 1990? And that just scratches the surface – does total compensation matter, or do you just care about wages? And what is this notion of “distributing” productivity? WHO exactly doles it out to each of us? And if I am a farmer and I am now able to grow twice as much corn as I was last year, does that entitle you to take some of that corn from me to give to others that were not able to grow as much this year?

    And where exactly does your last paragraph come from? Are you objecting to the fact that I believe it is both morally and economically reprehensible that the city of Olean will not allow me to fix my neighbor’s leaky faucet? Or is that some stock post that you put up on various websites? I don’t think you’ve read a word of my research on education (much of it deals with the public higher education system), if you did I think you would be surprised by it.

    And what facts are you referring to me poaching? Am I making up the story about Olean? What else could you possibly be referring to? And what does it mean for you to be informed and open-minded? It sounds like you will defend the morally indefensible welfare state until the end of time. Let me ask you, is there ANY evidence whatsover, on any topic of your choosing, that might persuade you to reconsider a strongly held belief?

    If for some reason you posted this in response to my article on Rochester’s education system, it would have been decent of you to mention it – seems a non-sequitur otherwise. And what more evidence do you need from Rochester to suggest to you that its public school system is a total failure? And the rest of your rant is too thick to address in one short comment. Providing health care and education to all … what does this mean? The US provides health care to all citizens, by law no one can be untreated that comes to an emergency room – but that is not what you have in mind. And did you know that prior to the existence of public school systems in England and the US in the early to mid-19th century, literacy was virtually universal – and that was at a time when we were all much poorer, and the gains to being literate and numerate were not nearly as high as they are today.

    And if I were you, I would recheck my “facts” about the US versus the European economies. Sounds awfully concrete and absolute for someone I suspect doesn’t take those positions elsewhere.

    Finally, what plausible moral principle contradicts my views? I find it morally indefensible that my private property can be so heavily plundered to be redistributed to an entrenched educational bureacracy that has abjectly failed. That doesn’t even pass any test on utilitarian grounds, much less the grounds I would choose to measure it. What facts am I poaching to make what case? My case, my argument, is that students, parents and taxpayers should be free to do away with a system of education that is failing them, just as they are free to do so in many other areas in their lives. And if a case can be made that public support is justified for students and parents to purchase schooling, it is much, much harder to make a case that the government ought to be doing the providing of all of that education.

    Anyway, your post was all over the place, and did not address my simple point. If you wish to address something in particular, then by all means let’s have a mature discussion. But I cannot spend time throwing food at people over something that will turn into a religious argument.

  4. Gordon Barnes says:

    Yes, this was prompted by your recent remarks on public education in the D&C, and for the sake of a manageable discussion, I’ll stick to that here. You have not responded to my argument. You contend that the only way to solve our problems in education is to go free market, but the countries whose secondary education beats the hell out of the U.S. are all countries that have government-run, publicly-funded systems of secondary education. In recent testing of secondary-level students, the countries that beat everyone else are countries like Finland, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, and South Korea. None of those countries have large systems of private education. They all have large systems of public education. So obviously it is possible to run a system of public education that works, SINCE THEY DO IT. So we need not go free-market in order to improve education. Now, what is your reply to that argument?

    As for your “private property,” I don’t believe that anyone has a right to any natural resources, since no one created natural resources, and hence no one can claim credit for them, any more than anyone else. (That’s what makes them “natural,” after all.) So the land that you “own” is something that you are not entitled to, since you didn’t create it. I realize that you paid someone money for it, but he didn’t have any right to it either, and for the same reason — he didn’t create it, and so on, going all the way back to the original “owner” of that land. Consequently, your land was, in effect, stolen from the rest of the human race. No one has any more of a right to it than anyone else. So the acquisition of natural resources as “private property” is really just theft from the rest of the human race — it is just a groundless claim to something that no one has a right to, precisely because no one created it. (And here is just one place where your arguments tend to be utilitarian, whether you admit it or not. You have a link on your site to a defense of the acquisition of private property, and what is the main thrust of that argument? The main thrust of that argument is that private property makes free markets function better. That argument is implicitly a utilitarian argument, since it turns not on the possibility of free markets, but on free markets functioning well. So this is just one example of how you allegedly non-utilitarians are constantly making utilitartian arguments.) Finally, since you don’t have a right to the land that you live on, the rest of society is perfectly entitled to charge you “rent” on it, in the form of property taxes. And that’s exactly what we do, and use it to fund public education. Now, what’s wrong with that argument?

  5. wintercow20 says:

    Duck everybody, carrots are flying!

    For the sake of reasonable discussion, I was expecting to see you address the public school issue, and then you pull out a tired canard about nobody having a right to own property. Rather than rehash centuries of debate about the nature of property (Aristotle, Locke, Rousseau, George, … do we really need to mimic them?) I’ll only address three points that thieves seem to overlook.

    First, if nobody has a right to property, then by definition, it is a communal resource. But if property is a communal resource, then what you are saying is that everyone on earth has a one-seven-billionth ownership claim on all of the world’s resources. So, tell me a legitimate way to represent the interests of each of these seven billion people? When everyone has a claim on something, no one does. And what ends up happening is that a small oligarchy makes decisions on behalf of seven billion – and we all would soon starve and be jolted back to the stone age (an objective of yours?).

    Second, I cannot understand how you can defend a notion of communal rights to certain types of property without violating the fundamental right that each of us retains full ownership of ourselves. The two notions are simply not compatible.

    Third, you probably need to do some rethinking of what you mean by the word “natural resources.” Up until the mid 19th century, people were extremely distressed when a black, gooey substance came out of the ground, particularly when it was near their drinking water sources. Was oil a natural resource then? Or was it a natural resource when someone had the bright idea that this once nuissance could become a powerful source of energy? Resources are created.

    Before moving to the education question, you seriously misunderstand the thrust of private property arguments from folks like myself. While it sounds quaint that when I own property, I am stealing it from the rest of humanity, the defense of property has nothing to do with the fact that it makes free markets work better (as if they were such an evil … geez, I think life was better when we were all serfs and could expect to live 30 years if we were lucky), rather, that defense boils down to what I implicity refer to above – that every individual has an inalienable property right in himself, and along with that right, they can never aggress upon the person or property of others. Nothing more.

    In any case, this is neither the time or place to discuss the nature of property/ YOu seem to believe that you have a right to a portion of my own being, and I believe that this is morally reprehensible. There is no amount of philosophizing that will settle it. All I would say is that my belief systems, and my political philosophy impose no harm on you – for that is the very foundation of my beliefs. However, your belief system imposes a great deal of harm on me, whether I consent to it or not. In fact, if I object, I am shot or imprisoned, and that is no exaggeration.

    I thought this was to be an education discussion, and I do not see that you addressed my claims. I should know that questioning the public school system is akin to questioning the existence of God. Be that as it may, you again put words into my mouth about the way to deal with our educational problems. The point of my piece, which the editors took some liberty with (original is somewhere else on this site), is that the city school system is horribly dysfunctional, and that citizens should have a right to eliminate it – how can the educational apologists look taxpayers in the eyes, seriously, and continue to ask for more resources? The point is that the public system as it exists is completely outside the bounds of accountability. Whose heads roll when the enterprise fails? What is the consequence for poor performance, poor teaching, etc. IF that is what is going on? And if the problem with the public school system has nothing to do with teachers and bureaucrats, and everything to do with class, culture, unmotivated students, disengaged parents, then this makes the case that the school system should not be funded in its current form. And what about those students and families, stuck in that system, that wish for better? You seem to want to condemn them to years of misery and fear.

    To point to the performance of students in other countries as evidence that public schooling is a good idea is a complete straw man. That is “evidence” for you? You seem to be awfully enamored with the wonderful successes in education, health care, and standards of living in other countries. Do you consider the US public education system excellent, because although it ranks behind the countries you mention, it probably is better than the system in over 100 other countries? And if EVERY country runs a public school system, soem would have to be ranked at the top of the list, would they not? But that is all beside the point. Of course it is possible to run a good public school system (Brighton, Pittsford?), I never argued that it was not. But at what cost, both collectively and individually? Where is the justice in a system that forces parents to send their children to schools they do not wish them to attend? Where is the justive in a system that would prevent me and several friends from pooling our time and resources to home school several of own children together? It is all borderline slavery. But when 90% of Americans go through the public school system, no one even knows enough to recognize it. One of my goals is to change that mindset. In any event, I don’t wish to continue spending too much time with this – it is awfully unproductive – please send me an e-mail address if you are interested. Otherwise, look forward to my next column in the D&C.

  6. Gordon Barnes says:

    Let’s start with the relevance of public school success in other countries. You admit the main point of that argument, which is that public schools can be run successfully, when you rightly point out that suburban public schools run well. The relevance is clear: if public schools can be run successfully, then the failure of Rochester City Schools may not be due to the fact that they are public, and the solution is not necessarily to go private. You need to supply further argument to show that the problems of Rochester City Schools would be better resolved by going private than by some other means. (There are also points where you add the worst sort of non sequiturs, like your rhetorical question “Some countries have to be on the top of the list, right?” What point could you possibly think that you are making there?)

    On private property, it has been argued by left-libertarians like Hillel Steiner, Michael Otsuka, and Peter Vallentyne that self-ownership does not entail ownership of any parts of the world. You should see Peter Vallentyne’s volume on Left-Libertarianism for these arguments. As for how communal ownership would be put into practice, I already explained that to you. My suggestion is taken from Baruch Brody, a political philosopher at Rice. Brody’s point is that people can be allowed to own natural resources as private property, but only on the condition that they compensate the rest of society (whose liberty they thereby limit) for this ownership. They must compensate society with “rent,” in the form of property taxes. Thus we compensate those who are excluded from natural resources that no one did anything to earn. (And when I say “natural resources,” you know exactly what I mean. You are certainly right that natural resources must be “worked,” but that does not answer the crucial question: “Why should this person get the opportunity to work this resource, to the exclusion of others, who would also like the opportunity to do so?” No one did anything to earn the existence of crude oil, and that’s a fact that you must face, together with the implication that that no one has any more of a right to it than anyone else.)

    I’m going out of town for the weekend, but then I want you to email me. My email address is gbarnes@brockport.edu

    Views like yours actually do lots of harm to lots of people. There are millions of children in poverty in the U. S. today, and people like you say that we, as a society, owe them nothing. That is seriously wrong, and extremely harmful. Now, if we disagree on how best to help them, then that is one thing, and we can discuss that. But if your deep, underlying view is that you owe them nothing, because you have an absolute right to your “property,” then you are just another spoiled brat. Incidentally, did you attend a public secondary school? I assume not. If you did, then of course you have already benefitted immensely from property taxes taken from others. However, I suspect that the answer is “no,” since you have all the marks of a spoiled child.

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