One of my biweekly duties here at the Mackinac Center is providing the State Policy Network (SPN) with a comprehensive list of labor-union-related articles from think tanks and other liberty-minded organizations across the country. According to Ed Schultz’s imaginative conclusions, that would make me a vital link in SPN’s alleged attempt to destroy the middle class. The video below from the Ed Show outlines the theory that SPN exists to undermine the middle class, but Ed conflates several points.
Corrections to Ed and Andy’s misconceptions:
1. State think tanks do not exist simply to research labor related issues, nor do they generally expend a lot of effort towards destroying collective bargaining. In fact, only a few think tanks (about 3-5 out of 50) have a separate and distinct labor department. Others have maybe one individual who does labor research, or leave labor related subjects up to other departments whenever applicable.
2. SPN does not exist solely to deal with collective bargaining. Such a definition would be far too specific and narrow. Granted, they do help coordinate state think tanks, but labor is only one policy issue of dozens. Such policies are really dealt with in the state think tank arena, not on SPN’s level.
3. Unions do have a place in state think tank analysis. State think tanks generally frown on government coercion of labor (forced collective bargaining agreements, etc.).
4. These state think tanks are not necessarily conservative. In general, they do promote free markets, but from a sense of furthering individual liberty, not to “conserve” the political order (as conservatives do). Rather than Ronald Reagan, the ideological foundation of state think tanks was laid by people like Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard, and Ludwig von Mises. Although conservatives agree with free market policies, they are less apt to defend or even study the ideological basis for the thank tank movement. According to conservative scholar Russell Kirk, conservatives like me prefer to value prudence in arriving at their policy goals. The free market is a policy point of intersection between conservatives and the libertarian ideological basis, but nothing more.
5. Ed does not account for the distinction between public and private sector unions, a fact that may render the results of Ed’s graph a little differently. From these stats (see “I. U.S. Historical Tables: All Public Sector Unions“), public union membership is increasing, not decreasing. Right-to-Work legislation allows the worker to withhold his dues as he so desires. As such, it decreases the political lobbying power of public sector unions and grants the worker the right to choose whether or not to join a union. Ending collective bargaining simply lets the worker get a word in edgewise, and is not aimed at private sector unions. Is Ed’s graph a graph of all union membership, or just public sector unions? The private sector merits an entirely different set of graphs and analysis (see the Private Sector Table). Further, if public sector union membership were to ever decrease because workers are getting the right to decide for themselves, we might conclude that members will have decided that union dues weren’t worth it. It’s the workers that are making the decisions in right-to-work states, and as such, state think tanks cannot be blamed for the decisions workers make in a free economy.
6. Public sector unions do not represent all of American middle class jobs. What about those middle class Americans working in the private sector? There are many reasons for the decrease in middle class income. It’s a bad economy after all, and trying to find one answer to the problem is like playing blind-man’s-bluff. There are many players in this game, and it’s impossible to tag one issue as the cause for all of the troubles of the middle class.
E. Wesley Reynolds – Mackinac Center Intern