Is There a Libertarian Case for Organized Labor?

Individualism, trade-unions, and “self-governing combinations”

Who do you imagine said this?

“[Trade-unions] seem natural to the passing phase of social evolution, and may have beneficial functions under existing conditions. . . .”

If you guessed some wily labor leader or social democrat, you are wrong. British laissez-faire advocate Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) wrote those words in his Principles of Sociology (1896). Spencer was the most prominent and respected individualist philosopher of his time. To this day his voluminous scholarly and popular writing remains an important resource for adherents of the freedom philosophy.

Spencer’s statement, then, may surprise some readers. It shouldn’t. Our libertarian forebears put the plight of workers at the top of their concerns. In England feudalism had not entirely disappeared, many people had been pushed off the land through enclosure, and true laissez faire was nowhere in evidence. Neomercantilism, or what Albert Jay Nock called the “Merchant-state,” was the rule. For example, early in the Industrial Revolution worker “combinations” were outlawed in England and people were not free leave their home parishes in search of better employment opportunities, something decried by Adam Smith. When these laws were finally repealed, workers were hampered by other state interventions, such as land engrossment, patents, government-backed banking cartels, and tariffs. To be sure, living standards improved, but to the extent that government stifled free competition, workers were deprived of bargaining power and their full free-market reward.

Spencer is famous for setting out a theory of social evolution, according to which society was moving from the rigidly hierarchical “militant” type to the open, contract-based “industrial” type. Society was still in transition and had a long way to go. (See my “Austrian Exploitation Theory.” )

Suppressed Competition

Spencer begins his discussion of unions by noting that worker guilds (like employers) historically preferred suppression of competition to the uncertainties of market rivalry. He criticizes the hypocrisy of workers who applaud competition that lowers the price of bread, but oppose competition that lowers the price of labor. He also argues that agitation for higher wages, if successful throughout the economy, would do workers no good because prices and hence the cost of living would rise as a consequence. (This analysis requires some assumptions that may not in fact hold.)

But he also notes that “[u]nder their original form as friendly societies—organizations for rendering mutual aid–[unions] were of course extremely beneficial; and in so far as they subserve this purpose down to the present time, they can scarcely be too much lauded.”

Nevertheless Spencer asks: “Must we say that while ultimately failing in their proposed ends [higher wages], trade-unions do nothing else than inflict grave mischiefs in trying to achieve them?”

His response: “This is too sweeping a conclusion. . . . There is an ultimate gain in moral and physical treatment if there is no ultimate gain in wages.” For example:

Judging from their harsh and cruel conduct in the past, it is tolerably certain that employers are now prevented from doing unfair things which they would else do. Conscious that trade-unions are ever ready to act, they are more prompt to raise wages when trade is flourishing than they would otherwise be; and when there come times of depression, they lower wages only when they cannot otherwise carry on their businesses.

Knowing the power which unions can exert, masters are led to treat the individual members of them with more respect than they would otherwise do: the status of the workman is almost necessarily raised. Moreover, having a strong motive for keeping on good terms with the union, a master is more likely than he would else be to study the general convenience of his men, and to carry on his works in ways conducive to their health.

He thinks unions are necessary because: “Everywhere aggression begets resistance and counter-aggression; and in our present transitional state, semi-militant and semi-industrial, trespasses have to be kept in check by the fear of retaliatory trespasses.”

Spencer, however, is not satisfied with this state of affairs. Recall that he says trade-unions belong to “a passing phase of social evolution.” Passing to what?

Worker-Owned Firms

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  • Tulpa the White||

    Labor unions are fine.

    Forcing employers to deal with them unwillingly isn't.

  • Sheldon Richman||

    And Spencer did not endorse government intervention in this area. He would have opposed it, but he apparently also didn't think it was necessary. It was enough for government to abstain from thwarting worker combinations.

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  • yrro||

    Exactly. Free organization of labor is entirely a libertarian idea - why should the state prevent it?

    Keep organized labor from attacking scabs, keep businesses from sending private military after the unions, and otherwise let them sort it out themselves.

    If the unions actually provide a net benefit to the employer, they'll work something out. If they don't, well then their demands were unreasonable and the employer will find someone else to do the work.

    I don't want to work in a union shop, because I valued being paid for my output rather than how many years I've occupied a chair. But people should definitely have the right to choose otherwise. They should shouldn't have the ability to force anyone else into that choice.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    You fundamentally mis understand the role of labor unions as the exist in reality.

    Which is to restrict labor availability, increasing scarcity, to benefit their members.

    There is simply no way that function can be achieved without some degree of compulsion.

    If you're seeing unions as a type of temp worker agency that directly employs and contracts out its members labor, or as a mutual benefit society that supplies benefits to it's members,fine. But those functions are far removed from the reality of labor unions as they have existed and exist now.

  • robc||

    That is only due to the laws.

    Remove the government support of labor unions (and govenment opposition in the form of RTW laws) and unions will be the ideal you laid out.

  • JoshSN||

    Do you know of any place where they actually do it like that?

  • Tulpa the White||

    There is simply no way that function can be achieved without some degree of compulsion.

    Let's not rewrite history. Trade unions and guilds for skilled workers existed long before laws were written in their favor.

    I'd agree that it is hard to see how unskilled workers' unions (and this includes virtually all public sector unions) can survive without compulsion.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Guilds operated with state sanctioned monopolies in medieval and early modern Europe.

    Industrial trade unions in America and Europe attempted private compulsion against employers to enforce and embargo on the employers hiring replacement workers.

    The 19th and 20th century progressive theories supporting labor unions acknowledged that element. The whole justification was that monopolistic labor was needed to balance monopolistic businesses. IE force met with force.

    That they were full of shit about the situation is irrelevant to that being their argument.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Medieval states weren't nearly powerful enough to enforce a monopoly.

  • robc||

    Tell that to brewers who tried to brew wheat beer in Bavaria.

  • Devil's Advocate||

    Reason hates Germans. I tried to post just the word "Reinheitsgebot" and got marked as spam.

  • fried wylie||

    Medieval states weren't nearly powerful enough to enforce a monopoly.

    And the modern state still isn't powerful enough to enforce drug laws, but that sure as hell don't stop them from cracking some skulls trying to.

  • JoshSN||

    Venice had the death penalty for any glass blower who dared leave. They attempted to keep a monopoly this way. It was reasonably successful, as, now, 600 years later, Murano glass is still prized.

    "Long before 1400 the government of Venice was interested in inventions and officials were appointed to examine inventors’ projects. After 1450 the grant of real patents became quite systematic in Venice. The main craft of Venice was glass-making, the secrets of which were jealously guarded; the death penalty awaited Venetian glass-blowers who tried to practise their art abroad. But glass was then so precious that many Venetian artists were tempted to establish works abroad, and knowing the Venetian patent system, the first thing they sought in foreign countries was a monopoly for the new methods they brought with them."

    http://www.compilerpress.ca/Library/Frumkin Origin of Patents JPOS 1945.htm

  • John C. Randolph||

    Which is to restrict labor availability, increasing scarcity, to benefit their members.

    You're right about the first part, but it's not to benefit their members. A labor union is just another rent collector, exploiting workers to buy hookers and blow for mob bosses and politicians.

    -jcr

  • KPres||

    Labor unions are fine in principle. What could possibly be wrong with people organizing together in their own interests? There's no need for a "libertarian case" on their behalf because the case is open and shut. But much like environmentalists, they tend to be covers for subversive socialists in practice. The purpose was/is to stir up resentment toward capitalism in support of central planning, and like most Libertarians not named Sheldon Richman, I can support their rights without being blind to the agenda.

  • KPres||

    Oh, and btw Sheldon, you need to go back in time 50 years or more if you're going to try and pass off Leftism as Libertarian. Nobody believes that this is anything other than totalitarian statism anymore (which it is). Hell, not even the Lefties themselves still try to sell it as such, which is why they've changed their brand from "liberal" to "progressive".

  • JoshSN||

    The Progressive brand dates from the 1910s and big government supporting, war-mongering, racist, Theodore Roosevelt.

    TR broke up the trusts, except, it seems, the trusts of his pal J.P. Morgan.

  • db||

    Last night I attended the Carnegie Mellon University Doctor's Hooding Ceremony (Congratulations to my newly minted Dr. Girlfriend!) The keynote

    speaker was Danial Kahneman, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics.

    Kahneman's speech was pleasingly libertarian, to my surprise. He noted, at first, that he is a psychologist by training, not an economist, and he

    approached his economic research from a behavioral standpoint. His theme was the differences between automatic and rational decision making and how

    they affect public policy. He characterized the types of decision making as automatic, as in knowing the answer to "2 + 2" as soon as the question

    is asked, and the deliberate calculation most people have to undertake to get answers to more complex questions.

    What he said is something that many of us here can agree with: that most people's decisions, especially in the political sphere are driven by the

    automatic system, and seldom do they allow rationality and reason to go to work on their immediate reactions. The talk begged for a TEAM RED/BLUE

    reference but he was more subtle. He mildly scolded the room (including the faculty, doctoral candidates, and audience) for buying into the TEAM

    mentality, where people choose a party based on one or two favorite issues, and then blindly follow the remainder of that chosen party's rhetoric on

    unrelated issues. I hope to find a video of the talk and will post here if anyone is interested when I find it.

  • db||

  • db||

    Wow, Squirrels. Formatting strangeness much?

  • John||

    The problem is that people are emotionally invested in their ideas. And they don't have the confidence to admit they are wrong because their beliefs are a part of their identity and self worth. And that is just with casual observers.

    It is even worse when someone has a real vested interest, as in a job or a career, in something being right. Try and convince a Head Start teacher that Head Start is a waste of time sometime. We have proven time and again that Head Start is a waste of money and has no measurable long term benefits to kids. But to admit that means the Head Start teacher admitting she wasted her time the last X number of years. And people are unwilling to do that. This is one of the reasons why government programs are so hard to kill.

  • db||

    This was central to his thesis: that people allow emotion to drive their political decisions when reason should prevail. His message was strong and succinct. I hope people heard him, especially the faculty and new Ph.D's. The only thing I was disappointed in in the speech (Dr. Girlfriend noted this as well) is at one point he asserted that the top academics are the drivers of society and policy. While many of them would like to believe it, it's not really true. But his admonition that they must exercise true rationality and avoid emotional response in their evaluations was strong.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    The only thing I was disappointed in in the speech (Dr. Girlfriend noted this as well) is at one point he asserted that the top academics are the drivers of society and policy.

    He should get props for knowing his audience, at least.

  • db||

    Well, he is a psychologist. A close examination of his speech would probably yield a number of techniques to get his audience interested in the talk. I perused some of his other talks on YouTube and he certainly has some knowledge of what makes people listen.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    He shows some leg?

  • db||

    A little more on Kahneman's talk: it was libertarian in that he also made a strong appeal for reason and rationality in all spheres of thought, but particularly in politics. His talk was devoid of partisanism, and he stressed that partisanism is the antithesis of what a properly rational society should strive for.

  • robc||

    One small nit with that argument is that you can train rational thought to be made at the automatic level.

    To use the analogy, at age 5, answering 2+2 requires deliberate calculation, but thru repetition it becomes automatic. That doesnt make it an emotional instead of a rational decision.

    This can happen as well in higher order decision making.

    There is research that shows that people often make decisions THEN rationalize the decision. But that doesnt mean they arent using reason to make the decision IF they thought it thru decades earlier and trained themselves. They are reacting then recalling the reasons they made the decision.

  • db||

    Kahneman addresses this in one of his youtube videos (the one from november 2011, maybe otgers). He certainly allows for expert opinions and husgment to be pre-reasoned. He cites as an example expert physicians' diagnoses based on long experience and prior reasoning. It's certainly possible to train the mind to get the right answers quickly. IMO that's part of what both vocational training and higher education do: train people to come up with the right answers quickly based on training in basic principles. Kahneman's talk last night seemed to be more focused on people making political decisions not based on ratiknal thought but on automatic response based on TEAM affiliation. He used the example that for some, the publication of an idea in the New York Times automatically lends it credibility while for others signals automatic skepticism. He could have said the same of Fox News but wasn't trying to belabor that point, ratger to illustrate how readily people will agree on unrelated points with a person who has demonstrated agreement witg them in the past, regardless of whether there is any valid logical lunkage between the two ideas.

  • robc||

    husgment

    Im assuming that is a typo, but I cant figure out for what.

    If it isnt, Ive learned a new word...although I still dont know what it means.

  • robc||

    Oh, judgment. Google figured it out for me. I couldnt from context but without context google guessed the typo.

  • db||

    It's Swedish. Well not really but the only way you can really pronounce it is in a Swede accent.

  • KPres||

    Going one step further, you might claim that ALL emotional behavior is just remembered rational decisions. Put your hand in a fire the first time and the calculated association that "fire = burn" becomes solidified in fear. The problem is that no two situations are identical, so your earlier calculations won't always apply exactly, and that's where you get seemingly "irrational" behavior.

  • robc||

    Im not really arguing with you or Kahneman here. It could be said Im arguing with a strawman, except these people actually exist.

    There argument that people dont make rational decisions is used to justify all sorts of paternalistic government. Drug laws are necessary because people dont make rational decisions about heroin. SS is necessary because people dont make rational decisions about saving money. Etc, etc, etc.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    The examples that you cite requires that the "irrational" person has all of the same desires as the "rational" person and is ineffectively pursuing those desires. As such, it is at heart a collectivist-conformist view of the world.

    Even more fundamentally, the conformist view is an emotional one, as is the individualist view as are desires or preferences.

  • Tulpa the White||

    I'd think the proper libertarian response is not to claim that those things are rational, but rather that we should allow people to make irrational decisions so long as they don't harm others in the process.

  • wareagle||

    not to nitpick, but "allow" for irrational decisions? Seems that in a free society, they are among the potential outcomes.

  • Tulpa the White||

    When I say allow I mean "don't punish".

  • robc||

    I agree, but its also possible that some of those decisions are rational.

    That is an aside from the libertarian point, which you make.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Congrats. Given that it's CMU, I'm assuming your girlfriend is in the STEM disciplines, which makes it very good news.

  • db||

    Thanks. She's got dual BSes in math and comp sci and an MS and now the Ph.D. in Statistics. I'm very proud.

  • Mike M.||

    Trade unions were a great thing initially, and probably much needed at the time they first came about. But that was before they thoroughly corrupted our government, got too greedy, lost their marbles, and started killing the golden goose.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Mike M.

    Trade unions were a great thing initially, and probably much needed at the time they first came about.


    Much needed by whom?

  • Suki||

    Q. Much needed by whom?
    A. Hitler?

    I think that I have already answered the first question adequately. In the present state of affairs I am convinced that we cannot possibly dispense with the trades unions. On the contrary, they are among the most important institutions in the economic life of the nation. Not only are they important in the sphere of social policy but also, and even more so, in the national political sphere. For when the great masses of a nation see their vital needs satisfied through a just trade unionist movement the stamina of the whole nation in its struggle for existence will be enormously reinforced thereby.

    Before everything else, the trades unions are necessary as building stones for the future economic parliament, which will be made up of chambers representing the various professions and occupations.

    – Mein Kampf

  • KPres||

    Of course, Spencer’s prediction could—and should—be tested: by freeing the market and ending all state-based privileges, each one a remnant of the militant type of society. Libertarians should hope that Spencer is proven right, since individualists more than anyone will see the merit in any arrangement which minimizes the chance that one will be subjected to the arbitrary will of another—even in consensual relationships.

    And what if Spencer is wrong? What if the wage-earner model persists in a freed market? Does Sheldon Richman move on to some central planning model? Of course he does. Left-libertarians like Richman are class warriors first, who just happen to think free-association might have positive outcomes for their preferred social caste. But if the outcomes don't fall in their favor, they'll jump ship in a heartbeat.

  • robc||

    "Fuck Utilitarianism" is more succinct.

  • KPres||

    It isn't utilitarianism in this case, it's egalitarianism. Class warriors push class warf even when it doesn't maximize total utility. Equally poor is better for them than stratified but pervasive wealth.

  • robc||

    Egalitarianism wrapped in the language of utilitarianism.

  • KPres||

    I've always held that people fall into three camps:

    Egalitarians - want to maximize equality
    Utilitarians - want to maximize utility
    Libertarians - want to maximize liberty

    Taking the third position allows me some pragmatic wiggle-room without betraying my more idealistic principles, and also remaining categorically distinct from the other two. INOW, I can sacrifice a little liberty here for a lot of liberty elsewhere, and I don't get pigeon-holed into the more rigid rights-based arguments. From following your posts I don't think you'll agree with that approach, though.

  • Tulpa the White||

    The problem is that all three maximization options are poorly defined.

    Left libertarians define liberty as "freedom of action" rather than "freedom from coercion" as classical libertarians do. With that definition in hand, many of their positions actually do represent an attempt to maximize "liberty".

    The problem with that definition is that there are many, many more conflicts between different individuals' freedom of action than there are between different individuals' freedom from coercion.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Tulpa the White,

    The problem is that all three maximization options are poorly defined.


    The maximization of liberty in respect of everybody else's maximized liberty. There IS an equilibrium, T.

    Left libertarians define liberty as "freedom of action" rather than "freedom from coercion"


    Actually, they define it as freedom from worry. Unfortunately for them, sugar daddies become less and less available or willing after a while.

  • robc||

    I dont think rights conflict*, so there is never the need to give up a little here, for a lot more elsewhere, when following a rights-based approach.

    Politically, that might be necessary, but that is because politics arent following the rights based approach.

    *if you can come up with a situation, then I will just claim one of them isnt a right. But then again, this could be a Godel situation all over again.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Airplane goes down over the middle of the Pacific, pilot ejects and lands in a boat. Does the owner of the boat have the right to force the pilot off the boat?

    Somewhat less contrived, do shipwreck survivors have the right to trespass on beachfront property after escaping from the ship?

    Note that the easiest examples involve land ownership, which I don't believe follows from natural law principles.

  • robc||

    Note that the easiest examples involve land ownership, which I don't believe follows from natural law principles.

    Neither do I, so we can skip that one.

    Does the owner of the boat have the right to force the pilot off the boat?

    Yes, but he is a dick for doing it.

  • robc||

    More in the realm of reasonable discussion, I oppose good samaritan laws.

    Its in the same category as scooping the downed pilot out of the ocean, but less extreme.

  • Tulpa the White||

    He doesn't get scooped out of the ocean, he lands directly on the boat. So that it takes a positive act on the part of the owner to remove him (ie, leave him for dead).

  • robc||

    From a moral standpoint, I dont see a difference.

    And same for a legal standpoint.

    Can I evict someone from my boat? Yes. Situation doesnt matter. But you are a murdering* dick if you do it in that situation.

    *morally, not legally

  • Tulpa the White||

    Wait, you don't think land ownership is a right?

  • robc||

    Wait, you don't think land ownership is a right?

    Have you not seen my posts on why the Single Land Tax is the only tax I can morally support?

  • ||

    More like a sociopath. Isn't it funny that the property owners in those little scenarios are always assumed to be sociopathic, even though socipaths are only a small minority of the population and are more likely to be jailbirds than owners of property needed in an emergency?

    Leaving aside that hidden ingredient in the sandwich, the fact is that all of those scenarios involve violating someone else's rights - but that violation only creates a tort, which the owner will likely waive once he's filled in.

    Yes, the owners have a right to evict someone - but they in no way have a duty to do so. That's another hidden ingredient: the assumption that the owner has only _one_ option to assert his rights, which amounts to assuming that the owner has a _duty_ to evict.

  • Randian||

    Does Sheldon Richman move on to some central planning model? Of course he does.

    Wow, what do they call that when you just make stuff up out of whole cloth and attack that? Lying + strawman? That's a whole lot of fallacies packed into one little paragraph.

    But if the outcomes don't fall in their favor, they'll jump ship in a heartbeat.

    Do you have any evidence for this at all? Of course you don't. You look at Sheldon Richman's desired social outcomes and somehow derive that he will have shifting political allegiances if his social outcomes are not met. Of course, you never considered that he might be an ally of liberty first and social outcomes second and therefore be willing to deal with the latter's lack of fulfillment in favor of the former, but that's because you're waging your own little Culture War.

  • sloopyinca||

    From my libertarian perspective:

    Organized Labor is fine.
    The Department of Labor is not.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    As long as people aren't forced to join unions...

  • sloopyinca||

    Absolutely. Which is why I take great offense to the DoL. Their entire purpose is to arbitrate between management and labor (usually with the goal of advancing labor's goals at the expense of management's bottom line). If management and labor cannot come to an agreement, then they both have choices. We don't need government ever involved in such negotiations, workplace dynamics IRT staffing and/or compensation or contract negotiations.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    What you just said, sloop.

  • Tulpa the White||

    What about Induced Labor?

  • sloopyinca||

    I am all for Induced Labor if it gets my baby in the world before January 1, 2013.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Let me guess, because you're going to be staying up all night anyway you figure it might as well be a night that the baby's crying.

  • sloopyinca||

    No, numbnuts. Because if the baby is born on Dec 31, we get the deduction for 2012. If the baby is born the next day, then we don't.

  • The Bearded Hobbit||

    I think that there's a bit of leeway on the Jan 1st thing.

    I'm told that Dad took Mom on a long drive over a rough road on the day before I was born. I squeaked into the world at 1402 EST on Dec 31st.

    ... Hobbit

  • Tulpa the White||

    If Banjos squeezes it out in Kenya, the local officials might give you some leeway on the date for $10 or so. And think of all the scholarships your child would get!

  • Randian||

    Why is everyone abusing the term libertarian today? Just for a reminder, libertarianism is a political theory that talks about an individual's relationship to the State.


    Is There a Libertarian Case for Organized Labor?

    No. There isn't a "libertarian case" (whatever that means) against it either.

    Free organization of labor is entirely a libertarian idea

    No. Libertarianism need not speak to this.

    A little more on Kahneman's talk: it was libertarian

    No, it was not.

    libertarianism does not speak to voluntary organizations, religion, psychology and psychiatry, ethics, art, science, etc. etc.

    This really needs to stop. You can be pro-labor-union if you believe that ethically the offeror/master of the employment/employer owes an ethical duty to his employees and those duties aren't being met. You can be anti-labor-union because you don't believe in the morality of collective action because it necessarily involves immoral action X, Y, and Z. You can not give a shit.

    None of the positions have jack-all to do with libertarianism. If you want to be an Objectivist, give credit where credit is due. If you want to be a communitarian in ethics, with a strong belief in duties owed to each other, credit Christ or Allah or somebody. But it has nothing to do with libertarianism.

  • sloopyinca||

    Man, who took a dump in your Wheaties?

  • Randian||

    What's the problem?

  • Randian||

    Saying that we need to make a "libertarian case" for organized labor is like saying we need to make a libertarian case for strawberry ice cream, or Wal*Mart, or farmer's markets. Not a damn one of these has anything to do with libertarianism.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Except that labor unions are inherently coercive.

    Is libertarianism neutral on organized crime?

  • Tulpa the White||

    Labor unions existed before laws were written in their favor.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Tulpa the White,

    Labor unions existed before laws were written in their favor.


    They were coercive then just as they are coercive now. Their very existence depends on coercion - just like Home Owners Associations.

  • Xenocles||

    They are? A group of people negotiating a single contract with another party is coercive?

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Xenocles,

    They are? A group of people negotiating a single contract with another party is coercive?


    Of course they are - they HAVE to be. Would you like to have a bunch of guys negotiate a salary for you that you cannot then renegotiate by yourself? How do you think the negotiating body gets everybody in agreement - with love?

  • robc||

    Would you like to have a bunch of guys negotiate a salary for you that you cannot then renegotiate by yourself?

    If they can do a better job of it than I can, sure.

    Its also why athletes and actors hire agents.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: robc,

    If they can do a better job of it than I can, sure.


    No, no - ha ha! - no my friend. You miss the point: They don't negotiate for YOU only.

    Its also why athletes and actors hire agents.


    Representatives negotiate for YOU. Unions purport to negotiate for everybody equal, regardless of YOUR needs, YOUR abilities, YOUR productivity.

  • robc||

    Unions purport to negotiate for everybody equal, regardless of YOUR needs, YOUR abilities, YOUR productivity.

    You might want to tell the MLBPA that then, they have been doing it wrong (and refuse to negotiate for minor leaguers -- which they would do if they were acting in the manner you suggest).

  • ||

    Consider that both those groups also operate within the framework of a collective bargaining agreement, so they can't really be looked at as a separate example

  • Swamp Think||

    They don't have to get everyone in agreement, just 50%+1. Unions vote on contacts. You didn't know that?

  • Xenocles||

    Bullshit, OM. The question is not how they've turned out in the past, it's whether in principle a free association based labor union can exist. It can - all that is required is that membership be voluntary, everyone in the unit agrees to the contract, and both sides abide by the contract. You don't even need a closed shop; just stipulate that all those who don't join are on their own when it comes time to negotiate their contracts.

  • robc||

    The question is not how they've turned out in the past, it's whether in principle a free association based labor union can exist.

    Since I mentioned it up above, the MLBPA (Major League Baseball Players Association) is probably the closest to that.

    It isnt a closed shop, but its actually foolish to not join, as the union controls a big chunk of the merchandise money and distributes it to the players. AFAIK, the only non-members are those who arent allowed to join, because they scabbed during the 1995 strike. As that has been 17 years, not sure if any of them are still around.

  • db||

    Okay...

    Kahneman's talk was libertarian in that he celebrated reason and rationality and stated that it was important in political decisions. Do you take issue with this?

  • Randian||

    Yes, I do. What does libertarianism as a political theory have to do with reason and rationality?

    If you wanted to say it was Objectivist, hey, more power to you. My point is that libertarianism is about politics - full stop. It has nothing to do with psychology or ethics or metaphysics or epistemology.

    We need to do better at defining our terms.

  • db||

    I agree that terms have or should have fixed meanings to facilitate discussion. When you get into nitpicking and strange assertions that reason and rationality have nothing to do with libertarianism, it makes my head twist a little. I think you could find broad support for the idea that libertarianism includes a commitment to rational thought because so many libertarian ideas are based on logical analysis of policies and their effects and implications if their underlying assumptions have meaning.

  • Bill||

    db,

    The progressives think they are the party of reason and that they have science on their side. They think that all of their policies and regulations are scientific, that global warming alarmism has science behind it, and that their opponents have their beliefs due to God and are all against science and evolution.

  • db||

    Maybe you ought to provide your definition of libertarianism.

  • Jerryskids||

    My point is that libertarianism is about politics-full stop

    Who the hell died and left you in charge of the dictionary? Libertarianism is not just politics - it is a philosophy of non-aggression and voluntary association.

    Which is why I see nothing wrong with unions in principle, although I would agree that Mr. Richman seems to be making a rather utilitarian case for unions. From a voluntary association POV, why should I not be free to join with others in agreeing not to work for a certain company unless they offer all of us compensation meeting certain criteria? As long as the company is free to reject our offer, there is no coercion.

  • Jerryskids||

    From a pragmatic POV, unions as hiring halls would be mutually beneficial. Instead of seeing unions and management as antagonists - with unions attempting to get as much pay for as little work as possible and management the reverse - unions could offer to provide reliable workers in exchange for higher wages. It would benefit a company to not have to hire workers and have them go through a probationary period in order to determine if the worker were qualified for the job if they could instead rely on the union to guarantee the quality of their product (the worker).

    Suppose you were to open a widget factory and needed 50 people with various skills to drive trucks, load and unload trucks, work on assembly lines, maintain the building and machinery, sell widgets, purchase supplies and raw material, all the many things that need to be done to operate a business. How likely is it that any one person would be qualified to do all of those things? How likely is it that any one person would be qualified to judge the abilities of all the people necessary to do all of those things?

    If you could go to a union hall and tell them, "I need a secretary, 3 truck drivers, a janitor, 8 warehouse workers, 27 assembly line workers, a machinist, a QC inspector, etc.", wouldn't it be worth a premium price to have the union supply the workers and to guarantee their quality?

  • Tulpa the White||

    Libertarianism is not just politics - it is a philosophy of non-aggression and voluntary association.

    The problem is, libertarians don't all agree on things outside the bare question of when coercion is justified. So you're either going to have to have a meaninglessly vague definition for those other areas or shrink the tent considerably.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Tulpa the White,

    The problem is, libertarians don't all agree on things outside the bare question of when coercion is justified.


    Oh, no agreement is required - you see, if you come into my house, I will blow your head off. You don't get to sign an agreement or nuthin'.

    Or you may want to rethink your position and admit that there ARE self-evident truths out there, like for instance if you think you'll get into a discussion regarding justified coercion inside a stranger's house, your head will be blown off first. Elegant simplicity.

  • Tulpa the White||

    That's might makes right, not libertarianism.

    By that standard, if you can't fend off a SWAT team you don't own your house.

    And you can't fend off a SWAT team.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Tulpa,

    That's might makes right, not libertarianism.


    You missed the point, Tulpa. You may disagree with the definition of freedom or property with someone until the cows come home, but the fact is these concepts are derived from self-evident truths, whether you like it or not.

  • robc||

    By that standard, if you can't fend off a SWAT team you don't own your house.

    And you can't fend off a SWAT team.

    Maybe you cant.

    Mises was right there, he basically said that "might makes right" up until we draw a line, and from that point on we will respect property ownership.

    It has to be that way. Might makes right has been the de facto rule on land for all of history. But once you are past that line, government protects land ownership. Which means the SWAT thing is them doing it wrong.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Maybe he's being less precise in his terminology than you'd like, but I read "libertarian case for" as shorthand for "lack of a libertarian case against".

    I do agree with your point in general, that libertarianism is not an all-encompassing philosophy of life, or even an all-encompassing philosophy of politics. The only question it seeks to answer is under what circumstances coercion is justified.

  • ||

    Way OT. HELP!

    In the heady days of the White Indian I switched from Firefox to Chrome + Reasonable. Since, I've noticed the spell checker algorithms in Chrome positively suck ass. For example, in attempting to type "really", I typed "reely" and when I right click on the red squiggly, "really" doesn't even come up as a suggestion.

    Any Chrome users experience the same? Any fixes, add-ons or extensions you'd recommend?

  • sloopyinca||

    The only fixes I can think of are:
    1. Learn to fucking type better. /sarc
    2. Just fix the word yourself instead of right-clicking on the word with the squiggly under it.

  • ||

    Why didn't I think of that?

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    "Who do you imagine said this?"

    Obviously someone counterintuitive...the Pinkerton Agency? The National Right to Work Committee? Andrew Carnegie? The Fascist Party?

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    At the very top of the thread, Tulpa gets it exactly right. Freedom of association means Labor Unions are certainly OK. But it also means that nobody can be forced -- especially by government -- to be in, pay dues to, or to negotiate with, a union. I'm all for people banding together voluntarily to peacefully pursue their collective best interests through strength of numbers. Whenever a union arrangement ISN'T that, however, it is wrong.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: James Anderson Merrit,

    Freedom of association means Labor Unions are certainly OK. But it also means that nobody can be forced - especially by government - to be in, pay dues to, or to negotiate with, a union.


    If you cannot force someone to be in a union, pay union dues or let union leaders negotiate for you, that would mean the end of the reason to be for unions. You clearly have the answer in front of you: Unions HAVE to be coercive in order to exist, otherwise they will be obviated by people's individual self-interest.

  • robc||

    Not necessarily.

    The union in libertopia might provide group health insurance. It might provide retirement plans. It might provide unemployment benefits.

    You get the idea. Prior to the AMA getting it banned, lots of basic health insurance was handled by groups such as masons and etc. No reason to think that unions wouldnt have done the same thing.

    And if the unions provide strong benefits to the business owners, the owners would run closed shops, which very strongly incentivizes being in the union.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: robc,

    The union in libertopia might provide group health insurance. It might provide retirement plans. It might provide unemployment benefits.


    Then we're not talking about trade unions, robc, but mutual assistance associations. Trade unions are inherently protectionist organizations bent on limiting supply - that's their operating definition, that's their raison d'etre.

    Without the coercion, trade unions would have NO leverage to negotiate. If you don't think so, ask yourself what else would they have? SOMEONE will always undercut their price, a reason why a) they NEED to be coercive and b) there are no natural monopolies, only artificial ones created by government, because any attempt to voluntarily create a trust will have that one person who will say "Yeah, sure, whatever you say, Mac!" and promptly undercut everybody else's price. Union bosses know this oh-so-well.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    Old Mexican, whatever unions call themselves, whatever their ultimate mission statement, if they cannot survive without coercion, then they should just go away, and will in due course. But far be it from me (or the government) to tell anyone how they should associate, or with whom. Reading what you wrote, I hear another voice echoing yours in my head: "But drug dealers exist to supply organized crime! Without drug dealers, organized crime would wither! Without organized crime, drug dealers would have no reason for being!" After prohibition ended, bootleggers and speakeasies made way for liquor stores and regular bars. After prohibition ended, the mob went into "legit" enterprises. So will "unions," whatever they call themselves, once deprived of legally-sanctioned coercive abilities.

  • santyant||

    I think its time to hit it on up dude. WOw.

    www.Privacy-Matters.tk

  • Old Mexican||

    Neomercantilism, or what Albert Jay Nock called the “Merchant-state,” was the rule.


    It's STILL the rule, Sheldon. I know you know, but let's be clear about it for the benefit of all.

    Regulations, zoning laws, labor laws, licensing laws, copyright laws - all of them are nothing more than manifestations of the same protectionist schemes that existed since the 1800's.

  • robc||

    existed since the 1800's.

    at least since 1516. Probably earlier. bit I know they existed as of April 23, 1516.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: robc,

    If we want to be technical, trade unions and trade restrictions have existed since the first civilizations. Protectionist regulations and laws were codified first by none other than Hammurabi.

    But the modern neo-mercantilist policies have their origins from the backlash by more conservative and reactionary elements of society in England and other European countries after the surge of new production methods and the increase of capital investment by entrepreneurs. The OLD mercantilism had its origins from the guilds and trade restrictions of the Renaissance.

  • robc||

    Meet the new boss...

    Thats a distinction without a difference.

  • ralphs||

    Thanks for the article. Libertarianism has always viewed unions as key to the market and based on the right of attorney or agency.Libertarianism is not solely or primarily a political approach.

    For info on people using voluntary Libertarian tools on similar and other issues, please see the non-partisan Libertarian International Organization; and article on unions @ http://www.libertarianinternat.....-worldwide

  • ||

    How is the setup advocated here any different than syndicalism?

  • jason||

    This incident happen long time ago, but is there any thing which we can do now about this.

  • luohuluohu||

    I like this article very much,I'd like you can post more article like this.

  • Proprietist||

    Randian,
    The problem with your argument is that Libertarianism is not simply limited to the relationship of man vs. the State. An anarchocapitalist might limit it to that, since they believe there is no state involvement in any regard, thus people would solve their own problems. However, miniarchist libertarianism assumes the State should involve itself where there is a violation or conflict of rights between private actors.

    Thus how private actors can legally relate to each other is still a libertarian question, as our goal is to maximize individual rights and minimize violations by governments, organizations and individuals.

    I argue incorporation is a socialization of risk, thus inherently forcing victims (or taxpayers) to pay for damages instead of corporate owners.

    Likewise, some here are arguing that effective unionization requires coercion de facto. I disagree, but it is a legitimate libertarian debate in the event it does indeed involve coercion by private actors.

  • Randian||

    That's still all "man's relationship to the State".

  • vivian||

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  • TomG||

    There is nothing wrong with labor voluntarily organizing and negotiating. Issues arise when people are forced to become members of unions, to contribute, and to accept their terms. Even such coercive laws may, at times, be justifiable and helpful for creating a free market, but they need to be justified depending on the industry and economic circumstances, and should not automatically become permanent.

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  • ralphs||

  • Max||

    Libertarians on UNIONS--the summary combats extreme 'libertarian' conservatives claiming libertarianism=right to work, anti-unionism, anticollective bargaining, etc. and shows the correct fight is for automatic choice of union agencies...contact your legislator! http://www.libertarianinternat.....-worldwide and that Unions are working with Libs in many areas...

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