Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On unions

I don't think there's much to be said on behalf of unions, at least under current economic conditions. The redistribution of wealth that they bring about is not only fragile, for the reason just suggested, but also capricious, as it is an accident whether conditions in a particular industry are favorable or unfavorable to unionization. By driving up employers' costs, unions cause prices to increase, which harms consumers, who are not on average any better off than unionized workers are. Unions push hard for minimum wage laws and for tariffs, both being devices for reducing competition from workers, here or abroad, willing to work for lower wages. Current union hostility to immigrant workers is of a piece with the unions' former hostility to blacks and women--which is to say, to workers willing to work for a wage below the union wage. And by raising labor costs, unions accelerate the substitution of capital for labor, further depressing the demand for labor and hence average wages. Union workers, in effect, exploit nonunion workers, as well as reducing the overall efficiency of the economy. The United Auto Workers has done its part to place the Detroit auto industry on the road to ruin.--Richard Posner

Any substantial shift of federal and state governments toward pro-union regulations would harm the American economy and the position of the typical employee. As Posner indicates, unions want greater monopoly power so that they can raise the wages and other benefits of union members above their competitive levels. Unfortunately, the effects of this are to reduce earnings for non-union workers, shift production outside the US, or toward states with less pro-union laws, and shift production in unionized plants away from labor and toward capital. None of these changes are beneficial to the efficiency and performance of the American economy, especially in a global environment.--Gary Becker

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