Category Archives: Liberty

Free Speech Aside, Why We Must Defend Those Who Draw Muhammad

Callimachi free speech aside

Free speech aside, why would anyone do something as provocative as hosting a ‘Muhammad drawing contest’?”

New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi asked that question on Twitter at 8:08 p.m. on May 3, within hours of gunmen opening fire at a “draw Muhammad” event in Garland, Texas.

It is tempting to answer Callimachi’s question dismissively. Speech needs no why. Freedom of expression is its own raison d’être.

That is in fact what I believe.

I am a freedom fetishist.

But perhaps we have strayed so far from our classically liberal tradition, become so complacent inside the bounds of our own civility, that we must deign again to explain the why of it.

Free speech aside, why depict Jesus Christ floating in urine? Why paint the Virgin Mary splattered by dung and surrounded by hovering vaginas? Why fake an interview wherein Jerry Falwell confesses to losing his virginity with his mother? Why produce the musical The Book of Mormon?

Free speech aside, why does anyone, ever, do or say or think or draw or write anything profane or blasphemous or provocative or controversial or impolite or mean-spirited or harsh or unkind?

Do only certain answers to that question justify the exercise of such freedom? Insulting to Christianity 15-0505

I sit as I write this in a crowded coffee shop. The tables are small and closely spaced. There are men seated at the two tables on either side of me. All three of us have matching disposable cups of overpriced coffee sitting precariously on the edges of our small tables crowded beside our silver laptops.

There is no way for me to turn my laptop to prevent them both from seeing the screen. After reading the Wikipedia entries for the artwork I mentioned above, I peruse galleries of Charlie Hebdo covers looking for examples of images targeting Christian and Judaic ideas.

Ideas. Not people.

CircumcisionI wonder to myself, what do these men sitting so closely beside me think of these images? By now, they have surely glanced over and seen them on my screen. What meaning have they ascribed to them, to my perusing of them here inside the narrow confines of this crowded coffee shop?

I find my mind flowing back through the years to another table in another time. It is more than a decade and a half ago. The table is bigger, square instead of round. In a lunch deli, not a coffee shop, and not at all crowded. I am having lunch with a friend. It is before the days of smartphones. We are reading different sections of a shared newspaper.

An article captures my attention. I summarize it aloud for my friend. A couple struggling with fertility sought help from a fertility clinic. Ultimately the wife was implanted with embryos that were successfully fertilized using her eggs and donor sperm. A baby was born.

Only there had been a mix-up with the donor sperm used by the clinic. The baby does not have the right look to her parents’ way of thinking.

Her skin is too dark. Her hair is too kinky.

The parents are suing. The article closes with a quote in which they insist they are not racist.

“Right. We aren’t racist,” I mimic, sarcastically. “We just don’t want this baby. For entirely nonracist reasons.”

My friend snickers. We both get it. We are young and smug and sure of ourselves, signaling our mutual membership in the best of all possible tribes. We start riffing off each other, back and forth, mimicking all the things we imagine people blissfully unaware of their own contrivances say in such circumstances.

We’re not racist. We just don’t think the races should mix.

We’re not racist. This is about the children.

We’re not racist. We have black friends.

A man at a corner table looks up from behind his own newspaper and frowns at us.

Jerk. I immediately assign him to one of those other, less desirable tribes. One whose members remain fatuously assured of their enlightened values right up until the moment they are handed that baby. The swaddled bundle of Other that forces them to confront the things they had until that point been able to deny existed inside their own minds.

Or—

Wait.

Wait!

Does he think we are the—?

Did he misunderstand? We were only…

What? I struggled to think of the right words to describe what we were doing.

Making fun.

Mocking.

Satirizing.

I am fifteen years away from knowing what Charlie Hebdo is.

Poe’s Law is not yet a thing.

All of sudden I see how the view might look from his table. I am no longer sure which of us belongs in which tribe. Which of us is blinded by our own contrivances.

It is not always obvious.

It is not always possible to find a single objective truth in satire, in mockery, in fiction, in art. It is not always easy to define the line between the thing mocked and the mockery itself. Between racism and the illustration of racism. Between targeting ideas and targeting people. To avoid the place where laughter collides with conscience. To know if we are punching up or down.

To avoid the inherent limitations of the views from our own tables.

But it is in those moments when self-doubt obliterates contrivance that paradigms shift. It is in the moments when we finally sense the chinks in our own armor of righteousness that we fully appreciate the limitations of our perspectives. It is where we straddle those lines that cannot be drawn that real debate occurs and social change is worked.

There is inherent value in the speech that drives us to the place where the curtain is pulled back.

And that is why.

As Caleb Crain, author of Necessary Errors, writes on his Steam Thing blog:

It’s possible, of course, to see the antiracist message of one of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons as no more than a cover for an underhanded relishing of the racist imagery deployed in it. Parody usually does participate to some extent in the energy of what it parodies; that is one of the risks it runs. Humor is not pure. It speaks to us through our flaws, as well as speaking to us about them—envies and hates, as well as greeds and lusts—and it can’t exist without the license to work with dark materials.

Last year at the University of Iowa, a visiting professor created a sculpture of a Ku Klux Klansman papered with articles about racial tension and violence over the last 100 years. Some people complained that it was racist, and the sculpture was removed. Its creator, Serhat Tanyolacar, intended the sculpture to confront the comfortable assumption that our racial frictions are all safely in the past.

Can one of these interpretations be pronounced objectively correct to the exclusion of the other? They are like conjoined twins—one good, one evil—and you cannot kill one without killing the other.

And that is why.

If the message cannot always be nailed down, neither can the direction of the punch, though that was a criteria for meritorious satire recently advocated by cartoonist Gary Trudeau. An LGBT couple denied photography, floral or catering services will undoubtedly perceive the balance of power differently than the Christian business owner bankrupted for expressing religious values that amount in others’ eyes to politically incorrect discrimination.

Which side controls the narrative about campus “rape culture?”

Does Paul Nungesser have more or less power than Emma Sulkowicz?

Are the targets of Charlie Hebdo’s satirical barbs victims, as Trudeau suggests, or are they oppressors, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others might argue?

[T]o portray an institution that mocks any religion’s sacred cows as villainously “punching down” ignores that religious institutions are very much part of the power structure and have been throughout history.

When you’re challenging the gods, and those who claim to speak for the gods, you are always punching up.

Can we say with certainty that Charlie Hebdo’s (alleged) punching down in France does not help people like Raif Badawi punch up in Saudi Arabia?

Like shifting sands, our perceptions of the balance of power change from setting to setting, issue to issue, moment to moment, always influenced by the view from our table. If we refrain from swinging except in the clear cut cases, satire is sidelined precisely at those moments when we stand on the brink, when social upheavals make the scores too close to call.

And that is why.

But it is not all.

Circumscribing speech based on the sensibilities of out-groups marginalizes and infantilizes the members of those groups. It treats them as children who must be shielded from the harsh confrontations that members of other, more superior groups might be expected to handle. As David Frum noted in responding to Trudeau:

It’s almost as if he thinks of underdogs as literal dogs. If a dog bites a person who touches its dinner, we don’t blame the dog. The dog can’t help itself. The person should have known better.

In this manner, Trudeau and his cohorts would return fierce debate to the exclusive province of those—white, male and Judeo-Christian—who by dint of their power and privilege can be expected to handle such heady and taxing matters responsibly.

Out-groups are not comprised of children. Nor are they homogenous. Among their many victims, extremists who call themselves Muslims kill moderates who also call themselves Muslims. Is Charlie Hebdo punching down against the latter—or punching up on their behalf?

People of good faith can reach different answers.

And that is why.

Finally, and here is the crux of it, we cannot make the world safe for the people who would punch up unless we find it our hearts to defend those who will use the same freedom to punch down.

I used to differentiate between government censorship and private consequences for unpopular speech. It was the wrong distinction. The meaningful difference is between non-forceful responses to speech—firing, boycotting, bankrupting, and shunning, all of which are fair game—versus forceful responses, which never, ever are.

It is not functionally different whether the thugs suppressing expression are the official ones we call “government” or a renegade band of religious zealots. If we give in to the latter on the theory that they are somehow exempted from the resistance we would put up against the former, the zealots simply become a shadow government of censors.

We are no less unfree.

Bosch Fawstin's  winning entry in the Garland, Texas "Draw Muhammad" contest.

Bosch Fawstin’s winning entry in the Garland, Texas “Draw Muhammad” contest.

If we want freedom to exist for the Raif Badawis of the world, we must defend its exercise by the Pam Gellars.

The peaceful way to do that, to render violence counterproductive to its own ends, is by mirroring the speech that would be suppressed. Even when it is offensive. Even when it is blasphemous. Even when it is rude, childish, stupid, unpopular, pointless or unnecessarily provocative.

Even when we don’t agree. Especially then.

And that is why.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Misunderstanding Law, Government, and Society

GovernmentIsForceMost people… At least most people in modern western democracies… Seem to have a fundamental and unconscious assumption about the nature of law and government, that goes something like this:

 

 

 

Law and government, are or should be, the expression of the will of the majority, for the purpose of making collective decisions, taking collective actions, fixing problems and righting wrongs.

If I gave that definition to most people as what government “should” be, or even what it is, I’d guess they would agree.

But that’s not what law and government are at all. In fact, that notion of the nature of law and government, is not only wrong, it is extremely harmful.

What are law and government?

Government, is the instrument of collective delegation of the legitimate initiation and use of force against others.

Law, is the body of rules by which that force is administered and applied.

The only legitimate purpose for which, is to secure and protect the rights of individuals governed by them.

So, what’s the other thing, and why is this a problem?

The other definition, is more properly that of society (as distinct from culture).

Government is NOT Society, and Society, is NOT Government

This conflation of government, and society, is a very serious social and political problem because those who hold it… and I firmly believe it’s a large majority… believe that law and government, should be used for “doing what’s good, and stopping what’s bad”.

They naturally wish to see government do what they think is right, or best, and stop that which they think is wrong, harmful, or wasteful… And not just in areas where force should be applied.

They conflate “legal” with “good” and “illegal” with “bad”, and try to make laws against things which they think are bad, or mandating things which they think are good.

They often even conflate “legal” or “attempting to make legal” with “approving and supporting”, and “dissapproving and opposing” with “illegal” or “attempting to make illegal”.

This is incredibly harmful

We have allowed… even encouraged people… to deeply hold the fundamental notion, that they get to vote on other peoples opinions, choices, and behavior; and if their “side” wins the vote, that it is legitimate to make those things legal or illegal.

It also means that these people automatically and reflexively try to solve personal, moral, social, or societal problems, with government and law, when it is entirely inappropriate, even harmful, to attempt to do so. Most of those problems cannot be solved by the use of force;, or at best can only be solved inefficiently, ineffectively, and while violating the rights of others.

In encouraging this misapprehension, we have in fact made the personal, the political, and the political, the personal.

How do we stop the harm?

We must correct this critical error in peoples fundamental apprehension of law and government.

People need to understand, at the most fundamental level, that government is force, and that law is how that force is directed and administered. No more, no less.

If we don’t correct this misapprehension, then we will continue to simply seesaw back and forth between majoritarian tyrannies, as social changes dictate.

Rights will continue to be violated and abrogated as the opinions of society fluctuate.

The favored, will continue to be privileged over the disfavored at the expense of the disfavored’s rights, until the pendulum swings again and the roles are reversed.

Yes, I realize, that is largely how it has always been… But never has law and government had such a depth and breath, had so great a reach into our personal lives, as it does today, and this unfortunately shows no sign of receding.

The absurdity of this reach… and overreach… is finally becoming apparent to many people, on all ideological “sides”; be it the “war on drugs”, the “war on terror”, privacy and surveillance, or gay marriage and wedding cakes.

So, we have to take action, now

Use this growing awareness of the overreach, to help people understand.

We have to show people these aren’t just outlying excesses. That they result from the way we think of, look at, and attempt to use, government.

We have to get people to understand, that if they can say “there ought to be a law”, and then get a law made banning something that they don’t like; then their worst enemy, can get a law made banning something they love.

We have to return to the notion that fundamental rights matter, and that the only legitimate purpose of law, and government, is to protect those fundamental rights.

Everything else?

That’s up to individuals, and to society as a whole, NOT GOVERNMENT.

Voluntary collective action. If it’s really what people want, then they’ll work for it, without the threat of force. If it’s not really what they want, then we shouldn’t be forcing people to do it.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Yes, There Really Are Two Americas. Look At How Different The South Is

sss4

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the War Between the States. The Northern states, fighting to preserve the Union and (later) to end slavery, defeated the Southern states in a war that resulted in over 600,000 dead.

The war all but ended the concept of state soverignty as the question of secession was decided on the battlefield. The war also gave birth to concept of American nationalism as Americans began to consider themselves as American before being a citizen of their state.

However, America is probably now divided more than it has been in decades. The nation seems to be hopelessly gridlocked politically. Meanwhile, the culture wars are in full swing with social justice warriors going to war against traditionalists and libertarians. There really are two Americas.

What explains the division? I argue that culture and region probably provide the best clues to the division of America.

The Economist had an excellent article earlier this month describing how the South is still culturally different from the rest of the country. Why is that the case?

 

The dividing line is actually religion.

Religion is a better explanation of southern exceptionalism. The civil war divided most of America’s Protestant sects, says Mark Noll of the University of Notre Dame. Both the Presbyterian and Methodist churches split into northern branches, which opposed slavery, and southern branches, which did not. Even after slavery ended, theological divisions persisted. In the north, which saw mass immigration from all over the world in the decades after the war, Protestant churches had to find some accommodation with Jews, Catholics and, eventually, non-believers.

 

 

In the South the share of those born outside America (which was low to begin with) actually fell after the civil war. New migrants moved west or north but rarely south. Because of this, southern churches could hold more traditional views without challenge. Those tented revival meetings that were such a feature of southern Protestantism were not intended to win converts so much as to purify and strengthen beliefs that were already there.

 

 

The Southern Baptist movement, which is strongly associated with the “values voters” who favour the Republicans, has its origins in support for slavery. Southern Baptists have long since updated their views on race, as the many black Southern Baptist pastors attest, but the movement’s social conservatism endures. And southerners are unusually observant: Utah is the only non-southern state where church attendance is as high as in Dixie.

 

 

Southerners are also known for being fiercely individualistic. As the rest of America becomes more secular, it should be no surprise that the region still strongly believes in the Protestant work ethic and tends to be more supportive of limited government. They’re also willing to forgo a large portion of the safety net because religious charities will largely step up and fill the role.

Another interesting thing about Southern culture is how it tends to leave its mark on surrounding cultures. There are reasons why in particular heavily Catholic south Louisiana, pre-dominately Catholic Hispanics in Texas, and the Catholic Cuban-American community in Miami are more conservative than Catholics in New England and the Midwest. Those Southern values of individualism, hard work, personal responsibility and family values have rubbed off on those communities.

Here’s an interesting map from The Economist article.

Courtesy: The Economist

Courtesy: The Economist

A lot of the orange on the map corresponds to the red state/ blue state maps on presidential elections. The more secular states tend to vote Democratic while the more religious states vote Republican. The views on abortion and gay marriage also tend to align with religious viewpoints.

As you can see, America is deeply divided between a more religious and ironically more individualistic South and Midwest and the more secular coasts. Could the differences between these two Americas lead to secession and civil war? Who knows.

Now, I don’t believe you have to be religious to be moral and that all religious people are moral. But I do believe that a free society only survives when it’s populated by a moral people. The purpose of this post is not to pass judgement on anyone’s religious beliefs.

Let me close with something. We have quite a few non-religious and atheist contributors here who believe in free markets and secular values. I value them all and I’m proud to call them friends. I also know they’re the exception, rather than the rule among secularists. Most atheists generally lean to the left and conservative and libertarian atheists tend to be the exception than the norm.

Here’s an exit question: do you think many secularists replace religion with a belief in the state and social justice and that’s why they’re hostile to limited government? Let us know in the comments.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Are “Safe Spaces” the New “Coloreds Only?”

Entrance 15-0325

Earlier this month, two white students at Ryerson University in Canada were dismissed from a meeting of the Racialized Students’ Collective, a university group funded through the Ryerson Students’ Union. The university’s student newspaper, The Ryersonian, reported the RSU coordinator confirmed the students were excluded for being white. Last week Aeman Ansari, a fourth year journalism student at the school posted a blog entry on HuffPo Canada defending the decision.

Ansari ably and convincingly defends her belief that safe spaces are important. Ansari’s defense falls short for failing to explain why taxpayers, the university, and other students should fund them as exclusionary campus events.

Specifically, Ansari opines that:

[T]he point to note is not that two white students were asked to leave the event, but rather that this was a safe space …

…This group and these sort of events allow people of colour to lay bare their experiences and to collectively combat this societal ailment. These spaces are rare places in the world not controlled by individuals who have power, who have privilege.

…The presence of any kind of privilege puts unnecessary pressure on the people of colour to defend any anger or frustrations they have, to fear the outcome of sharing their stories. The attendees are trying to move forward by supporting each other and they should not have to defend themselves, they should not fear the consequences of raising their voices.

Let us get out of the way that I dislike people who cannot deal with opposition, who will only defend their opinions to friendly crowds, or who must banish dissent to feel validated.Drinking Fountain

I prefer feisty tanglers to special snowflakes.

It is neither here nor there. Special snowflakes are entitled to their preferences too, and everyone deserves an occasional session in the echo chamber. I agree with Ansari that safe spaces are important.

Where I disagree with Ansari is her implicit insistence that other students and Canadian taxpayers pay for them as exclusionary campus events. She never gets around to explaining or defending this aspect of her position.

The fact is “safe spaces” already exist.

They are called “private property.” Private homes, leased apartments, backyards, and private event venues can all be used to host exclusionary events. In addition, private conversations take place every day in bars, restaurants, coffee shops, conference rooms, sidewalks and parks.

That there are insufficient opportunities for people to have private conversations seems false on its face. If certain students want to get together to talk about their experiences only with a carefully selected crowd, there is no shortage of opportunities or “spaces” to do just that.

Waiting room 15-0325The issue is why they want to use student and taxpayer funds to do it on campus. Ansari never explains that.

Private, exclusionary discussions and events should be conducted privately. Forcing other people to pay for and host them is a new form of bullying—a new incarnation of an old segregation.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

No-one Should Be Forced to Join a Union Against Their Will…

seiu-protest-reuters-e1415042946858

From Reuters:

Wisconsin Senate approves right-to-work bill, sends to state Assembly

BY BRENDAN O’BRIEN

(Reuters) –

The Wisconsin Senate narrowly approved a “right-to-work” bill on Wednesday that would bar private-sector employees who work under union-negotiated contracts from being required to join their unions or pay them dues.

 

 

The bill, which would make Wisconsin the 25th U.S. state with a right-to-work law on the books, cleared the Republican-led Senate on a 17-15 vote following hours of debate marked by periodic angry shouts from opponents in the Senate gallery.

 

 

Supporters of organized labor chanted “Shame!” as the legislation was passed and sent for further consideration to the state Assembly, where Republicans also hold a majority.

 

 

One Republican senator, Jerry Petrowski, broke with his party and joined all 14 Democrats in the chamber in voting against the measure.

 

 

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a possible Republican presidential hopeful, is expected to sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

Walker drew accolades from conservatives across the nation in 2011 when he ushered through legislation curtailing the powers of most public-sector unions in Wisconsin amid large protests at the state capitol in Madison.

 

 

Supporters of the right-to-work measure contend it could attract more businesses to the Midwestern state.

“I think this is something that is going to have a direct impact on the manufacturing sector in Wisconsin,” Senate Republican leader Scott Fitzgerald said after the vote.

 

 

Opponents cast the bill as an assault on organized labor and blue-collar workers that would limit union revenues.

“They are evaporating the middle class, and no one in this room seems to care,” Senator Dave Hansen, a Democrat, said during the floor debate.

So ignore the rather clearly biased language in the piece and video linked above, if you bother clicking through and reading it… If you’ve seen one piece about the subject, you’ve pretty much seen them all, and this one is no different.

Wisconsin is debating “Right to Work” legislation in house committee right now, after passing in the senate. A right to work measure (which may or may not be substantially identical to the one passed by the senate) is likely to pass the house as well, and governor (and likely Republican presidential candidate) Scott Walker is likely to sign it.

As per usual, leftists are up in arms about anything that might favor individuals over organized labor…”Anti-worker, anti-poor, anti-little guy, anti-union, destroying the middle class, 1% evil” etc… etc…

Bull

Can someone tell me how making it illegal to force someone who doesn’t want to join a union, to join a union… is anti-union?

That’s all “right to work” means… You can’t be forced to join a union if you don’t want to, and employers can’t be forced by the government to recognize or deal with a particular union if they don’t want to.

The “right to work”, is simply the right to freely associate and form contracts as we choose, which is supposed to be a right guaranteed us in this country (of course, so often it is not… but that’s another issue entirely).

Wait… What? Unions can force people to join who don’t want to?

Yes, they can, and they do.

Most people don’t know this, but in 26 states, unions are given special powers and privileges by the government, which you as in individual, or a private company or other organization would not have.

One of these, is that you can be forced to join a union against your will, if you want to get a job in a particular industry, or at a particular employer, or to keep your job at an employer after a union comes in.

Worse, in some states, you can opt out of the union, but even if you do, the union can still take dues straight out of your paycheck against your will, as if you were a member. They can also negotiate for you against your will, and set the terms and conditions under which you work, against your will.

Of course, since you aren’t a member, even though they’re taking your money and controlling your job, you don’t get to vote in the union, control its decisions in any way, or get any of the benefits of membership. The union gets your money, and all the benefit as if you were a member, without actually having to be accountable to you at all. And there’s nothing you can do or say about it.

Oh and the union can then do things like use that money to get politicians you oppose elected, get legislation you oppose passed, and change the terms and conditions of your employment against your will, without your approval or consent.

In those same 26 states (as well as federally in some cases), employers can be forced to recognize and negotiate with a union, even if they don’t want to. In fact, even if the union doesn’t actually represent their employees in some cases, or only 50.01% of their employees decide that a particular union will represent them.

“Right to Work”, is about ending some of those, frankly insane, conditions that unions operate under.

… Or at least that’s what it’s supposed to be about… It doesn’t always end up that way, because politics is what it is, so you have to be careful and pay attention to the details…

In “right to work” states, unions are still free to form, recruit members, and to collectively bargain in those members interests with employers. Workers are still free to join unions. Employers are still free to negotiate terms and contracts with the union, and if the employers don’t want to negotiate, unions are still free to use the power of their membership to make the employer negotiate through strikes, work stoppages and slow downs, and other organized labor actions.

The only difference, is that the union just can’t FORCE anyone to join the union, or force employers to negotiate with the union, or get the government to do it for them.

Why is this a bad thing?

It isn’t. Straight up, it isn’t.

It’s not bad for employees, it’s not bad for employers, it’s not actually bad for the unions if the unions are doing what they’re supposed to be doing, It’s not bad for consumers who consume the goods and services these employers provide.

In fact, in reducing union overreach to whatever extent it may (probably not too much, but one can hope), and in reducing the overall cost of doing business in the state of Wisconsin, it’s likely to benefit consumers with lower prices, and potentially with more business and more jobs in the state

This doesn’t always work out… It has generally done so in relatively business friendly states like Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama (I said relatively… relative to Illinois, New York, Wisconsin etc..). In those states, which are right to work, non union manufacturing has generally done well, in some cases even boomed. Not only that, but wages have substantially increased in those areas, not crashed as predicted by unions.

Right to work has not had as positive an impact in say, Indiana, or Michigan (yes, Michigan has been right to work since 2012… and yes, organized labor is still having a collective fit over that fact), which are comparatively less business friendly, higher tax, higher regulatory burden, and higher cost of living. In fact, mostly, companies have used the change in status to help them get rid of legacy contracts which were burdening their bottom lines, and then move to other states.

That however isn’t really the fault of right to work… it’s the decades of anti-business regulation and being forced to accept bad union contracts (and to be fair, decades of bad management as well).

Overall, right to work in and of itself is not a negative for anyone… well… except two groups.

The only parties it’s bad for, are union officials, and the politicians they’re in bed with). The officials depend on the politicians to pass legislation that favors the union officials, in exchange the politicians depend on the officials for large donations, and the use of their organization for street level politics (campaign volunteers, donor lists, call lists, phone rooms, rally fillers, doorbell ringers etc…). Without the forced membership and dues, the union officials don’t have as much money to donate to those politicians in exchange for favors, nor as many warm bodies to throw at their campaigns.

Also, if people can leave the union at will, it means that those officials have to watch their steps, and actually be accountable to union members…. Unfortunately something which has proven to rarely be the case today.

Leaving aside the corruption angle, and even the economics of it…

Does “right to work” reduce unions power? Potentially yes, if people don’t want to join, or want to quit the union.

However, I don’t see that as a bad thing. Why would that be a bad thing?

If people don’t want to be members of the union, why should the union get more power? Or any power at all?

Shouldn’t a union get it’s power from the strength of it’s membership, who support it, and in turn are supported by it? Shouldn’t a union attract and retain members because they are effective at doing so?

If they can’t do that… why should the union exist at all?

If they CAN do that, then why do they need the government to force people to join, and force companies to negotiate with them exclusively?

If the unions actually do what they’re supposed to do, and what they say they do… Why is this even an issue?

Right… thought so… 

Here’s the thing though… Even if it were a provable economic net negative, that actually did harm jobs and wages, and even if all of the horrible terrible no good very bad things unions and democrats claim of right to work were true…

…I would still be in favor of right to work.

Why?

It’s a question of individual rights

I generally favor right to work, because I’m in favor of fundamental individual rights, including, but definitely not limited to: freedom of conscience, freedom of association, freedom of self determination, the right to private property, the right to the fruits of ones labors, and the freedom to make contract as one sees fit.

I generally support right to work legislation, presuming that’s what it really is (as with all legislation, what it claims to be, is often nothing to do with what it is, so pay attention to the details), because no-one should be forced to join any organization against their will (even if it’s absolutely for their own good), and no organization should have the right to control others in the way unions do, without those persons consent (even if doing so is to those persons benefit). It really is that simple.

For that matter, in general, I oppose involuntary collectivism, and preventing involuntary collectivism is what “right to work” is supposed to be about.

I’m all for voluntary collectivism… absolutely 100%. If you agree and consent to be a part of a group, and to take action as part of that group, or be represented by that group, great. More power to you, and to them.

In fact, I’m all for unions. I think collective bargaining is a wonderful and powerful tool, and I wish more people across more industries and market segments would take advantage of it.

An aside… I’m not just blowing theoretical smoke here. I’ve got a personal stake in this, both as a matter of principal, and as a practical matter in my own profession.

The level of worker exploitation, and in general negative, harmful, and just plain stupid labor practices in information technology, my chosen profession, is absolutely despicable.

Employers routinely extract far more labor from employees than they are paying for, or than that is reasonable for employees quality of life or professional development; while at the same time deliberately suppressing those employees wages, and denying them opportunities for improvement or advancement.

… and we allow them to do this. We accept it, because we don’t believe we have the power to change it, or we feel too insecure to do so.

The only way these conditions are going to change, is if they obviously  and clearly no longer work to increase profits or improve stock prices.

Actually, it’s been repeatedly and conclusively proven they not only don’t help, but they substantially harm organizations, including their bottom lines… but execs still love them because the stock market loves them (That’s another issue entirely)

That being the case, the only way needed change is going to happen, is if enough of us in the profession stop accepting these conditions, and do something about them.

A company can’t be pumping its stock prices, if it doesn’t have anyone keeping it’s computers and networks operational…. or at least not for more than a few weeks. 

 

 

Stop working for companies that use these practices. Insist on being paid for our time. or in receiving compensatory time off. Report companies for labor law violations, and make sure the laws are properly and evenly applied, through the use of the media and political pressure (I think most labor laws are horrible and stupid and shouldn’t exist, but so long as they do, the greater tyranny is that they are applied capriciously and unevenly based on political whim, and lobbying).

Most importantly, as managers, leaders, and thought leaders in the industry, don’t allow and accept these practices in your own organization. When they pop up… and they will.. gather together, and pound them into the dust before they can take over.

One of the more effective ways we could do all of that, is with collective bargaining, and collective and consistent messaging to the media, and politicians (though sadly, I don’t think it’s likely to happen any time soon). Not necessarily a union, but some type of voluntary collective organization to increase our negotiation power and leverage, and help to prevent things like companies requiring hundreds of hours of uncompensated overtime.

If enough of  us act… whether collectively or as individuals, we can force changes. Without enough of us acting in concert, we can’t… And if we can’t, we’re left depending on the government to “fix” things… and you know how I feel about that. 

It’s when you take that choice away by force, that I have issues. Forced unionization is never OK… and that includes “democratic” forced unionization.

Just because you got a few dozen of your friends together and you all voted to give you the “right” to control everyone else, doesn’t actually give you the right to control everyone else. Even if there’s 50 million of you, and 1 of everyone else. Otherwise, there are no individual rights, only privileges and entitlements dispensed by the will of the majority. That’s no less tyranny than a dictatorship of one man… and in some ways is a greater one.

“Oh, but democracy is great. It’s the will of the majority, so you just have to go along”

Right… because giving more control over your life to everyone else is always a great idea, especially when jobs and money are at stake.

Giving your coworkers a vote on how much you can make, how much you can get paid per hour and how much of a raise you can get when, how many hours you can work, what tasks you can do, how you can do them, whether or not you can be promoted and when…

…Actually, often a veto, not just a vote…

And people like this idea why?

No thanks. Not up for that.

I have no problem with unions, in fact I think they’re great in theory, and I’d like to see a lot more of them, a lot more active, doing what they are supposed to be doing…

So long As:

1. Participation (including fees or dues) is voluntary
2. They are not given special privileges or powers over individuals or employers by the government
3. Individuals and employers are free to negotiate and form contracts outside the union
4. The union cannot set the wages, benefits, conditions and terms of employment, and working conditions; for individuals or employers, without their consent.

If they’ve got consent for collective representation of all the workers, and the employer agrees to the conditions and terms… GREAT. That’s what collective bargaining is for.

Otherwise, what gives you or anyone else, the right to determine those things for me, my employer, or anyone else?

Just because you and your friends voted on it?

I don’t think so, no.

 

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

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