Employment for All: A Response

Wednesday, September 7, AD 2011

Last week, Alex of Christian Economics wrote a piece arguing, on the basis of both catholic social teaching and modern monetary theory, for the government to act as an employer of last resort. In this post, I’d like to respond to several aspects of his argument. This kind of exchange is always challenging as on the one hand I want to give the fullest possible justice to Alex’s argument, but on the other in an internet debate it seems impossible to respond to every point without both sides getting totally bogged down in novel-length posts. As such, this post will be comprised of several titled sections dealing with different aspects of Alex’s post which I thought most interesting to present counter-arguments to.

The Purpose of Unemployment: Why Looking For Work Is Work
Just a couple months into my first full time job, I was laid off. It was 2000 and the tech bubble was in the middle of bursting, and I was a college senior trying to work full time while finishing off my last few classes. The web hosting company that I was working for had built itself on an unsustainable business model so one day my whole office showed up to work and found out that every single one of us was laid off. Even though I was young enough and my expenses were low enough that I could weather joblessness fairly easily (despite not qualifying for unemployment since I hadn’t been working the job long enough) if was definitely one of the uncomfortable experiences of my working life. Looking at the job listings was infuriating — it seemed like there were dozens of jobs that I could do (and, of course many, many more which required experience or qualifications I didn’t have) but they remained steadfastly silent as I sent out applications and resumes. It only took me a few weeks to find a part-time job at similar wages, and only a month longer to find a full time job that actually paid slightly more than the job I’d been laid off from, but it seemed like a very long time.

I bring up the personal angle because it seems to me that job searching serves very different purposes for the individual job hunter and for society as a whole.

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68 Responses to Employment for All: A Response

  • I would limit the program to those out of work for more than some period of time, say a year. Also, it shouldn’t be guaranteed in the sense that you can’t lose it. Only guaranteed in the sense that it’s there if you’re willing.

    As for complacency, without the work many of them just wouldn’t work. They would play X-Box in their underwear at their parent’s house all day. It would actually discourage unemployment complacency. At any rate, you can still require that they continue looking for employment. These sorts of programs always have a requirement that you submit proof that you applied to some minimum number of jobs every week.

  • Possibly the current form of unemployment is illustrative of the damage done by changing the rules after the ball’s in motion– they do keep on offering more free money each time they get near the end.
    (I haven’t had a paying job in several years, but they managed to track me down, correctly tie me to my military pay, and inform me how many weeks I’d “get” … if the big bad politicians over there didn’t “take” it from me by not extending the benefits. The same state gov’t that can’t figure out I’ve moved and should not be sent three ballots in one year managed this.)

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  • Hi Darwin,
    I am, as you know, quite an amateur in all this, though I find it important and interesting. My problem is that I am, in a sense, sympathetic to both arguments. My question to you is, if the current system is as good as you say, what should we actually be doing to help the economy? It strikes me as strange that most conservative arguments say we need to just keep doing what we’re doing, when what we’re doing has made a terrible mess.
    Thanks.

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  • Brett,

    Good and fair question.

    I think, first, let me clarity: It’s not so much that I think the current “system” is great, it’s that I think it has the virtue of mostly staying out of the way and allowing a solution to emerge. By paying unemployment benefits (if necessary for a fairly long time during a deep jobless recession like this one) that keep people out of extreme poverty while being significantly less than the worker used to make, we give people the time and incentive to find new work.

    This leaves a lot up to individual workers and entrepreneurs: Workers may look for a job just like their old one, or a similar one in a different industry, or they may start on a whole new career, go back to school, etc. Entrepreneurs are looking for new ways to run businesses, new products and services to provide. Millions of people all over the country trying to solve their problems, some succeeding and some failing.

    So it’s not so much that, as a conservative, I would say we shouldn’t do anything. Rather, I’d say we should be doing millions of different things, not having a single big thing that we do to solve the problem.

    As for why we should keep doing what we’re doing when what we’re doing has made a terrible mess: I think it’s important to bracket what made the terrible mess. Among other things, there was a bad set of incentives that caused banks to make a lot of money (and create a number of jobs) focused around lending more and more money to buy and refinance houses. Builders and real estate agents and home renovators also boomed. When the bottom fell out of that situation — a lot of people in those industries lost their jobs. And since those people weren’t spending as much anymore (and everyone was in too much debt) fewer people were buying all sorts of goods and services and so the economy as a whole took a beating. Companies slowed down in hiring and people found themselves out of work long term.

    As for continuing what we were doing before: I’d be very much against pushing housing and financing as ways to get the economy growing again. There was a lot of malinvestment there and it need to work itself out.

    However, I’d tend to think that simply having a solid set of unemployment benefits and letting people work out where the best place for them to work is were not, in themselves, “the problem” which got us into this mess. These strike me as fairly value neutral mechanisms for allowing us (and the economy is, after all, just “us”, it’s not some big whirring machine full of gears that need tuning) to figure out what to do next.

    In this sense, I don’t think that continuing on is going to perpetuate the current terrible mess. Indeed, I’d see it as the only way of really getting out. Now, I’d say it’s likely that there will be other terrible messes in the future. But that seems to me to simply amount to saying: There will be people in the future, and people are imperfect.

  • I have a somewhat different response, Brett. As a conservative I do think markets generally work better than planned economies, including labor markets. I do not believe markets work perfectly, since that would require both perfect information and perfect rational behavior — neither of which is possible. For that reason market economies will always have business cycles. Alhough proper monetary and fiscal policies can soften those cycles somewhat, I don’t think such policies can eliminate them altogether. The question that emerges is what government polices are appropriate to address the hardships associated with recession induced unemployment. I do think government can have a remedial role via transfer payments, but the prudential questions are what kinds work best and how much is enough or too much. The most fundamental point to remember is that perfection is not attainable, either by government policies or by functioning markets, and that one cannot assume that well-intended policies aimed at problems, however real and severe, cannot make such problems worse — even much worse. Doing nothing or doing less is often the optimal choice, even if politically unpopular and psychologically difficult.

  • Agreed, Mike. (And yours is shorter, so probably better.)

    Or, Brett, if you’re prefer it more rhythmically:

  • Does ” bad incentives” mean that the financial industry should have been more regulated? In Canada, we were more regulated and we have come through this much better than you guys. (Not that it matters in the long term. If you go down, our tiny lifeboat will get caught in the whirlpool.)

  • And how do conservatives interpret JPII’s “strong juridical framework”?
    (I’m not being sarcastic. I’m genuinely curious.)

  • You were blessed with a Conservative government in Canada Brett throughout the economic crisis while we have been cursed with Obama. Some of us will do our best to remedy this discrepancy in 2012.

  • “And how do conservatives interpret JPII’s “strong juridical framework”?”

    This conservative lawyer believes that John Paul II, a great pope, would have been less fond of a “strong juridical framework”, whatever the heck that really means, if he had possessed practical experience as a small business man, an attorney or a politician. Whenever clerics write about economics I always recall that very few of them have ever had to wonder how they were going to make a mortgage payment or meet a payroll, or ponder how businesses in the private sector get along without donations from people in the pews rolling in. Popes are great about telling us how to get to Heaven, relatively poor as economists or businessmen, as a history of Vatican finances graphically reveal.

  • Seeing as I had to look up “juridical,” I’d say that we greatly support it– it appears to be about following the actual laws.

    Most of the conservatives I know are greatly displeased with Obama for precisely this lack– laws are used as sticks, and exemption from them as carrots.

    A secondary meaning offered is that it promotes justice. That meaning, also, would be in line with a major conservative complaint in the financial recovery area– that of regulations and laws being made to harm fair competition, to favor the interests of one business over another in the same field.

  • Does ” bad incentives” mean that the financial industry should have been more regulated?

    I’m of the mind that this is the wrong question about all sorts of government regulation. The meaningful question to me is not should something be more regulated or even less regulated, but should it be better regulated. The answer is usually yes. Better regulated will usually mean little but effective regulation. Even with that there are likely to be many arguments about the what, how, and how much of it, but it’s erroneous to assume that to fix the shortcomings of poor, misguided, or malicious regulation is to add more of the same.

  • And how do conservatives interpret JPII’s “strong juridical framework”?

    A body of corporate law, bankruptcy law, general commercial law, labor law, tax law, tort law, banking law, insurance law, securities law, real estate law, and environmental & resource & land-use regulations that is transparent, stable, and respectful of unmanipulated price systems. An optimal balance between risk pooling and moral hazard. A means for the most expeditious acknowledgement of bad debts and liquidation of insolvent enterprises.

  • “And how do conservatives interpret JPII’s ‘strong juridical framework’?”

    I guess it depends on what such a framework looks like. Just as there is progressive taxation in America as well as an extensive social safety net, there are strong laws regulating business. The question becomes how progressive taxation, safety nets and strong laws should be. That is up for prudential discussion. But I don’t think one can say there is no strong juridical framework in America.

  • Brett,

    Does ” bad incentives” mean that the financial industry should have been more regulated? In Canada, we were more regulated and we have come through this much better than you guys.

    “Bad incentives” is a broadly applicable term.

    When considering the question of whether a market should be “more regulated” I think it’s often (as RL points out) more important to look at how it’s regulated than whether it’s regulated. After all, the idea that there are “unregulated” markets involved in any of this is more a rhetorical ploy than a reality.

    For instance, after the real estate bubble inspired financial crisis, many in favor of “more regulation” claimed that if there had been regulations about created tradeable derivative financial products made of “packaged” mortgages, this would have prevented the problem. Those of a more libertarian bent pointed out that one of the reasons that these derivatives became popular in the first place was that other regulations had been created requiring certain types of funds to invest in AAA rated securities — thus creating an artificially high demand for securities which ratings agencies were willing to class as AAA.

    Texas suffered much less from the bubble and ensuing recession than most other US states with much more regulation. Part of this was due to the fact that Texas did not have the zoning regulations which tended to drive up housing values in other states. Part of it, however, was also due to Texas mortgage laws not being as loose on second mortgages and refinancing as other states (high regulation California having nonetheless allowed all sorts of crazy mortgages and suffering pretty badly from the crash.)

    And how do conservatives interpret JPII’s “strong juridical framework”?

    Just to provide context for other readers, this refers to the following quote:

    But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed with a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative. (Centesimus Annus, n. 42)

    As a comparative laissez faire guy when it comes to economics, I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, but I’m sure my interpretation is different from that of a strongly progressive Catholic.

    I think that markets and prices are an important way to make decisions about what people should do and produce because it’s a way of determining what people actually want (how they spend their money) rather than going by what they say they want, much less what some planner thinks they should want. To me, much of the difficulty of “regulation” when it comes to planning how an economy should work is that those planning it, even when well intentioned, often don’t fully appreciate all the effects of what they’re setting up. (Not to mention that regulatory agencies are often “captured” by moneyed interests who have the most to gain in a market, and so more regulation often involves giving the fox more latitude in his running of the hen house.)

    At the same time, I seems to me that it is absolutely essential to understand that markets as we know and use them in the Anglosphere do not spring into being out of nowhere without effort and a good deal more law and tradition than we necessarily assume. Without stable and fair rules, we get a sort of might-makes-right economic thuggery in which those who have the most economic leverage get to play by different rules than those with less.

    A good example of the way we don’t even think of these rules was told by an economist who’d been trying to organize an academic conference in Russia. A month before the conference, when everyone had already bought tickets and such, the owner of the hotel where it was scheduled to be held called up the organizer and said that he was canceling their reservations.

    “Why?” the economist demanded.

    “Someone else offered more money.”

    “But you can’t do that!”

    “What are you going to do about it?”

    Given the courts in Russia, it’s an open question whether the organizer would have managed to bring a successful suit against the owner regardless, but even if he had it wouldn’t have solved the problem in time. What he ended up having to do was forking over a good deal more money in order to get his reservation back.

    This is an example of the kind of business thuggery that tend not to expect (at least in ordinary consumer interactions) in the US or the rest of the Anglosphere — but it is surprisingly common in parts of Eastern Europe where “free market” institutions were thrown up quickly with little precedent and tradition, and the business habits of the old black markets that flourished during the communist period have carried over. This kind of behavior — truly unrestrained fighting for economic advantage, without a juridical framework that requires fair play — actually makes market outcomes less efficient and makes it harder for people to do business.

  • Thanks all,
    I’m certainly willing to grant that “better” regulated is preferable to simply “more.”
    Can someone tell me, then, how Canada was better regulated in order to make it through this in better shape? And would you be willing to import such better regulation?

    Sorry Don, I’m not buying the Conservative government bit. Not unless you can show me that the better regulation we had in Canada was their policy (and not simply a hangover from previous governments) and that it was the same kind of policy that conservative Americans are clamoring for. (“Conservative” often means something quite different when you cross the 49th. Heck, we have actual socialized medicine (not just restrictions on insurance companies) and even with a Conservative majority, there is no hint that we want to get rid of it.)

  • And I’m sorry Don, but the bit about how the Pope is not to be trusted on matters where he does not have practical experience is an argument I’ve seen before in places like the National Catholic Reporter. Only they weren’t talking about money.

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  • “And I’m sorry Don, but the bit about how the Pope is not to be trusted on matters where he does not have practical experience is an argument I’ve seen before in places like the National Catholic Reporter. Only they weren’t talking about money.”

    Because the National Catholic Reporter and other heterodox Catholics have little problem with contraception, abortion and homosexual conduct, sins universally condemned by the Church since the time of the Crucifixion, in no way negates my observation that when popes are talking about economics that we must judge them as we would anyone else making an economic argument. The popes as a whole have no special expertise in this area, as many of them have dramatically illustrated by the feckless manner in which they have overseen Vatican finances, and infallibility does not extend to papal pronouncements outside of the areas of faith and morals. That brief does not include a pope attempting to draft a blue print for how economies should function. Pius IX of blessed memory is a perfect example of a pope who was great when he stuck to faith and moral issues, and a complete failure throughout his ventures into secular arenas. His Syllabus of Errors should be a standing reminder to all popes of the limitations of their office.

  • “Sorry Don, I’m not buying the Conservative government bit.”

    Of course not Brett, because your political sympathies lie with the Left, at least on economic issues, and my response is an inconvenient one that you do not wish to attempt to rebut.

    The Harper government has followed classic conservative themes of reducing taxes and government regulation. Read all about it:

    http://www.bullfax.com/?q=node-canadian-elections-further-proof-our-northern-neighbors

  • “Heck, we have actual socialized medicine”

    Oh please Brett. I tend to keep a fairly close eye on developments north of the border and government care in Canada is in crisis, hence the explosive growth of private clinics:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3091914/

    When Canadian elites need quick and the best health care they often come to the US:

    http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/world/2010/February/Newfoundland-Premier-Defends-Surgery-Choice/

    A slogan for socialized medicine in Canada: “Good enough for the proles!”

  • I’m certainly willing to grant that “better” regulated is preferable to simply “more.”
    Can someone tell me, then, how Canada was better regulated in order to make it through this in better shape? And would you be willing to import such better regulation?

    You could probably get a lot of people to tell you, and they’d tell you different things. There’s very little agreement on what in detail caused things to go wrong in the US — I don’t see why there’d be more agreement on what caused things to go comparatively right in Canada. (And as I pointed out, if there’s the “more regulation” argument for Canada there’s the “less regulation” argument for Texas.)

    Also, at broad strokes, keep in mind:

    a) Even in the US the housing bubble on the ground was restricted to areas on the country with dense population where limited amounts of housing were bid up rapidly. Areas where people could simply build more houses were much less effected.

    b) Part of the reason the securities aspect of the bubble hit the US so hard is that the US is where the whole world comes to trade securities. Wealthy Canadians probably took a solid hit from the US bubble, but they did so via funds and securities being traded in New York. This is why for a little while everyone was blaming the US for their financial problems — that is, until real estate markets collapsed in a number of European countries. And, of course, if we have a second round of global economic problems it will doubtless be because of the collapse of the Euro due to social safety net overspending in a shared currency zone. (Would you be eager to sign up for a significant reduction in social safety net spending as a result of such a collapse?)

  • Economics isn’t within faith and morals?!? Tell Amos.

  • Condemn the rich all you want for ignoring the poor Brett and I will agree with you. However, Amos, a dresser of vines, did not seek to draft an economic plan to guide Israel, nor did our Lord in his parable of Lazarus and Dives. Our popes would do well to follow their example.

  • As for not attempting to rebut, that is a stretch. My stated belief is that it need not be rebutted unless it can be demonstrated that there is more to it than the name “conservative.” You need to show that it was actually their policies that were in place vis-a-vis regulation and that such policies are what conservatives like yourself have been after in the US. That seems a pretty fair request, but you declined. (The link you posted, while interesting, had nothing to do with my question about regulations on the financial sector.)

    I certainly can’t rebut the name of the party in power. Let’s not play games with words.

  • As for the proles, I’m much happier to be proles here than there. So was my brother when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Don’t pretend that the service Danny Williams got is available to any American at the asking.

    Sure elites travel for healthcare. But that doesn’t prove anything except that your system has a bigger gap between service for rich and poor than ours does. Congratulations.

  • Amos and Jesus said nothing about artificial contraception either. Should the Popes follow that example?

  • Actually Medicare and Medicaid, as well as old fashioned indigent care by Catholic and other non-profit hospitals, would take care of almost all if not all patients. This I know from working at a Catholic hospital at this time. Nobody is turned away and all get the same care.

    “But that doesn’t prove anything except that your system has a bigger gap between service for rich and poor than ours does. Congratulations.”

    I’m not sure all gaps in services between rich and poor are rejected by Catholic Social Teaching.

  • Also, who said anything about infallibility? Must something be infallible before Catholics owe the Pope allegiance?

  • I suspect one does not need to take everything that is not infallible and reject it. Thus deferring to the Pope, particularly in matters of Faith and morals, that have not been infallibly defined.

    Though I think the Popes have defined that the application of CST is subject to legitimate variety of opinion and that Catholics of good faith may disagree. Also, that it is the laity, and not the clergy, that have the charism of applying the teaching of the Church to the secular order.

  • As for the proles, I’m much happier to be proles here than there. So was my brother when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Don’t pretend that the service Danny Williams got is available to any American at the asking.

    FWIW, I’ve had a number of relatives go through long intensive medical issues here in the dreaded US — including my dad in his seven year fight with non-Hodgekins Lymphoma — and the only one who can be described as having suffered any adverse outcome as a result of the US system was a great uncle who was put off too long on diagnosis for his cancer to be treated well — a problem which various “socialized” systems are pretty well known for as well. Nor is that because we’re “rich” by any stretch. My mom and dad were both the first in their families to ever go to college, and my dad was a teacher while my mom stayed home. The whole extended family is solidly lower middle class.

  • I am struck by the fact that when the Pope says something, or issues an encyclical, we have a tendency to look at it through the lens of our opinion. No one questioned Pope John Paul II’s critiques of the Communist economic system…but we suggest that he is ill informed when he challenges the excesses of Captalism. Or when he suggests that Invading Iraq may not have been justified. We see the Pope’s statements about economics through our lens of human greed, and write it off as “ome old religious dude who knows nothing about economics who should keep his nose out of things he doesn’t understand” when in fact he (they) have clearly been teaching and speaking to the morality of econimic systems…and we as Catholics are called to apply our Catholic moral beliefs to all aspects of our lives…not just to those areas where it is “convenient”.

  • “Also, who said anything about infallibility? Must something be infallible before Catholics owe the Pope allegiance?”

    I don’t think Catholics owe any allegiance to the Pope when he is acting outside of the realm of faith and morals. Respect always, but not allegiance. When popes go into areas beyond this their arguments must be judged based upon their strength and not upon the office they hold. When a pope condemns greed he has the strength of his office behind him. If he were to then say that therefore no one should earn more than a million a year and government should confiscate the rest, he is venturing a personal opinion that is entitled to no greater weight because he is pope. Considering how frequently popes have contradicted each other in areas outside of faith and morals, I can only assume that is the attitude they take to such positions of their predecessors.

  • “Amos and Jesus said nothing about artificial contraception either. Should the Popes follow that example?”

    Apples and rock salt Brett. The Church has condemned with one voice contraception throughout her history. In regard to economics, popes have been all over the ball park, as one would expect in an area where they have no charism of infallibility and no particular expertise.

  • Darwin, the recent analysis I have seen as to why Texas suffered less to the housing collapse had to do witht he fact the people are not allowed to borrow 100% of their homes value, they are limited to 80%. I would call that either more or better regulation, not less. Plus Texas bank are heavily regulated, they were not allowed to branch when I lived there. This lead to the growth of the savings and loan industry which was regulated by the federal government. When the regulations on the S&L industry were relaxed by the federal government in the 1980’s, the result was the savings and loan crisis of 1989 which was entirely in Texas except for 1 S&L in Ohio and 1 in California.

  • “Don’t pretend that the service Danny Williams got is available to any American at the asking.”

    Actually it is. The finest medical treatment available in the Midwest for cancer is at the Mayo Clinc in Rochester, Minnesota. People in Central Illinois go there routinely, several of my personal acquaintance. Few of them could be considered rich, some without insurance and several receiving treatment in excess of their insurance policy limits.

  • “I am struck by the fact that when the Pope says something, or issues an encyclical, we have a tendency to look at it through the lens of our opinion. ”

    And so we should when a pope ventures beyond faith and morals in an encyclical to purely prudential matters. A fascinating exercise is to compare statements of popes on these types of matters: Pius XII on the death penalty for example and John Paul II on the death penalty; or Pius IX on religious freedom and Pope John XXIII on the same subject. Where popes differ, I do not think that a pope can expect uncritical obedience from the laity.

  • Paul,

    Darwin, the recent analysis I have seen as to why Texas suffered less to the housing collapse had to do witht he fact the people are not allowed to borrow 100% of their homes value, they are limited to 80%. I would call that either more or better regulation, not less.

    Well, clearly the conclusions will depend a lot on who you have do you analysis, but just to be clear on some facts: I bought a house in Texas in 2004 for which I put down 3%. In 2008 I refinanced that house, and even then I only owned 15% of it. (I sold the house in 2011 when I had to relocate for my job, still owning less than 20% of it.) So I believe it’s safe to say that Texas mortgage law does not require that one own 20% of one’s house. I routinely saw real estate signs around the Austin area advertising “Buy with no money down!”

    So while Texas usury laws may play a minor part in its being spared, I would tend to place much more stock in the fact that through most of Texas zoning was not used to try to restrict the amount of development and intentionally drive up housing prices. In the few areas where this was done (like some parts of old Austin near the river) there was in fact a pretty hard crash in home prices, but since this was restricted to some very small and expensive areas, it wasn’t nearly as bad as what happened in places like California, Florida and the Northeast.

    Plus Texas bank are heavily regulated, they were not allowed to branch when I lived there.

    Perhaps, but since I did all my banking while I was there with Chase and Wells Fargo — two non-Texas banks which are not kept from operating there, and indeed which had more convenient branches than any local bank — I would tend to draw from my experience that state regulations on local banks didn’t do much to slow down people’s ability to act the same way in Texas as they would have elsewhere in the country.

  • You keep saying “outside faith and morals”
    Are you suggesting that their comments about economies and political systems are not comments about morality and justice?

  • “Are you suggesting that their comments about economies and political systems are not comments about morality and justice?”

    Depends upon the comment. For example, Pope Benedict apparently has a great deal of faith in the role to be played in the world by an institution like the UN, if not the UN. I think that opinion is clearly his own and not directly related to either faith or morals. I would say the same about John Paul II’s anti-death penalty stance, especially since his stance was at odds with traditional Church teaching in that area.

    Where the popes decry the conditions of the poor and call upon all of us to help the poor, they are clearly telling a basic Catholic truth. If a pope were to go beyond and mandate a particular social program or organization of a polity in order to carry out the helping of the poor through government action, I believe that goes well beyond their office.

    A very good book, along the lines of Sic et Non, is waiting to be written comparing and contrasting the political and economic stances of popes across the history of the Church. Some interesting debates are being waged on various such questions no doubt in Heaven. I would love to be a fly on the wall for example in a debate between Julius II and John Paul II on war and peace.

  • Darwin,
    I was in error the 80% rule was on home equity rules (http://www.occc.state.tx.us/pages/brochures/home_equity_lending.html#eighty) My reference to the branching of banks was when I lived there in the early 1980’s and I am sure the bank consolidations and the S&L mess resulted in changes in regulations. The point that Texas’ success is not based on less regulation but rather on more is still valid though.

  • By faith I authorize the pope (plus Church teaching for 2,000 years) to tell me I need to give alms to the poor out of my money.

    The pope does not have authority to tell me to vote to tax money from a hard-working person and give it to someone else.

    Morality and fairness? How do you define fairness and morality based on 40,000,000 diverse facts, circumstances, and conditions?

    But, no sweat! Philosophers and theologians know everything about everything and those of us who dare disagree are evil.

  • Actually, Catholic teaching back to at least to the First Vatican Council and the document Dei Filius, states that the internal and sincere assent due to teachings presented even in a non-infallible way by the supreme teacher and ruler of the Church is definitely and seriously obligatory.What this means is that teachings by the Pope may not fall under the category of infallibility, but we are still follow them until such time as the Church modifies them.

  • A comenter above wondered why Canada did not have a housing bubble burst induced economic debacle. It seems to have had nothing to with excesses of capitalism. But, everythiing to do with usual hells that result when do-godders try to creat heaven on Earth.

    Outlined from Mark J. Perry, professor of economics, School of Management, Flint campus of the University of Michigan:

    1. Full Recourse Mortgages in Canada. The buyer pledges the house and everything else he owns as collateral.

    2. Shorter-Term Fixed Rates loans in Canada – generally 5 years and renegotiate

    3. Mortgage Insurance (for lower down payment/initial owner investment loans) Is More Common in Canada than in the United States

    4. No Tax Deductibility of Mortgage Interest in Canada

    5. Higher Prepayment Penalties in Canada discourage refinancing and home euity loans – HEL’s

    6. Public Policy Differences for Low-Income Housing. Canada provides public funding for low-income rental, and thus avoided the mistake of using misguided policies to turn good, low-income renters into bad homeowners. Canadian government has not used public policies like the Community Reinvestment Act in the United States, which encouraged homeownership for lower-income and less creditworthy borrowers, financed frequently with subprime mortgages.

    7. A Few Other Differences that Contribute to Bank Safety in Canada. There is a much lower rate of loan originations by mortgage brokers in Canada (only 35 percent) than in the U.S. (70 percent), far less mortgage securitization in Canada than here, and a much smaller subprime mortgage market. Banks in Canada keep and service 68 percent of the mortgages on their own balance sheets that they originate and underwrite, which encourages prudent lending since banks are putting much of their own capital at risk.

    8. Canada – a healthy “pro-lender” environment absent political motivations for greater homeownership, compared to the often politically motivated “pro-borrower” and “pro-homeowner” policies of the United States. While Canada’s banking system has promoted responsible borrowing and prudent lending and underwriting practices with little politically motivated interference, the U.S. banking system seems to have encouraged excessive lending to risky borrowers because of the political obsession with homeownership.

    It wasn’t me! That was Professor Perry’s analysis.

  • “2. The forms, by which a General Council is identified as representing the Church herself, are too clear to need drawing out; but what is to be that moral cathedrâ, or teaching chair, in which the Pope sits, when he is to be recognized as in the exercise of his infallible teaching? the new definition answers this question. He speaks ex cathedrâ, or infallibly, when he speaks, first, as the Universal Teacher; secondly, in the name and with the authority of the Apostles; thirdly, on a point of faith or morals; fourthly, with the purpose of binding every member of the Church to accept and believe his decision.

    3. These conditions of course contract the range of his infallibility most materially. Hence Billuart speaking of the Pope says, “Neither in conversation, nor in discussion, nor in interpreting Scripture or the Fathers, nor in consulting, nor in giving his reasons for the point which he has defined, nor in answering letters, nor in private deliberations, supposing he is setting forth his own opinion, is the Pope infallible,” t. ii. p. 110 [Note 3]. And for this simple reason, because on these various occasions of speaking his mind, he is not in the chair of the universal doctor.

    4. Nor is this all; the greater part of Billuart’s negatives {326} refer to the Pope’s utterances when he is out of the Cathedra Petri, but even, when he is in it, his words do not necessarily proceed from his infallibility. He has no wider prerogative than a Council, and of a Council Perrone says, “Councils are not infallible in the reasons by which they are led, or on which they rely, in making their definition, nor in matters which relate to persons, nor to physical matters which have no necessary connexion with dogma.” Præl. Theol. t. 2, p. 492. Thus, if a Council has condemned a work of Origen or Theodoret, it did not in so condemning go beyond the work itself; it did not touch the persons of either. Since this holds of a Council, it also holds in the case of the Pope; therefore, supposing a Pope has quoted the so called works of the Areopagite as if really genuine, there is no call on us to believe him; nor again, if he condemned Galileo’s Copernicanism, unless the earth’s immobility has a “necessary connexion with some dogmatic truth,” which the present bearing of the Holy See towards that philosophy virtually denies.”

    Cardinal Newman, “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk”

  • The DEATH PENALTY isn’t a matter of faith and morals?!?!?
    Is this whole thing a hoax?

  • But Don, my question wasn’t about a concrete application of principle. There is no question here of Pope’s mandating social programs.

    John Paul II articulated a principle to which Catholics owe religious submission of mind and will, namely, that for captialism to receive a positive evaluation from the Catholic perspective, economic freedom must be constrained within a strong juridical framework. There is certainly room for a conservative, even minimalist, interpretation of this principle, as Darwin demonstrates, but there is no room for pretending that it is not a principle but rather something akin to mandating a specific social program. Neither is there any room for pretending it is not a matter of morals. Neither is there any room for suggesting that a such a principle articulated in a papal encyclical has no more demand on you as a Catholic than a blog post by yours truly.

    The more you write, the more you look exactly like the progressives you so openly despise.

  • Was the Church correct in its traditional teaching Brett prior to the papacy of John Paul II or was it incorrect? The Church clearly stated that the State could execute malefactors. It could hardly say anything else due to numerous scriptural passages in the Bible. John Paul II decided to do his very best to put the authority of the Church behind efforts to abolish the death penalty, without doing a complete 180 from traditional teaching, but coming very, very close. Now, if we contend that the death penalty is a matter of faith and morals we then have popes contradicting each other. Fortunately we have then Cardinal Ratzinger’s own words on the subject:

    ” 3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

    http://www.priestsforlife.org/magisterium/bishops/04-07ratzingerommunion.htm

  • “John Paul II articulated a principle to which Catholics owe religious submission of mind and will, namely, that for capitalism to receive a positive evaluation from the Catholic perspective, economic freedom must be constrained within a strong juridical framework.”

    His opinion Brett. I might even agree with it in part. However there is nothing in the Faith that requires Catholics to grant assent to a papal proposition where the Pope is not writing ex cathedra on a question of faith and morals, particularly where a Pope is venturing an opinion on a matter that is obviously open to factual debate. Newman warned about the tendency of some in his time to seek to make infallible every note written by a pope, and he had good reason to so warn, because popes over time contradict each other in matters of prudence. That is not my opinion but a simple statement of historical fact. We see this quite clearly in the death penalty and other areas. Unless infallibility is strictly limited, as I think was ultimately the case at Vatican I, Catholics are simply called upon to walk in lock step behind the pope of their time, and to be prepared to change their opinions instantly if the next pope is of a contrary view, instead of viewing the teachings of the Faith as a whole stretching from Christ to the present pope. No pope is greater than the Tradition that guides the Church and pretending otherwise is not wise for Catholics.

  • “Don’t pretend that the service Danny Williams got is available to any American at the asking.”

    While the U.S. healthcare system is far from perfect, I don’t think the poor or uninsured are quite as shut out or excluded from such care as many people think. For one thing, many hospitals and doctors will work out affordable payment plans with people who are uninsured, or whose insurance coverage is deficient. I personally took advantage of such a service a few years ago when I was in a situation of not having adequate insurance. Second, there are many hospitals and clinics and other outreaches that target the poor and uninsured, and others such as the famed St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital that treat everyone regardless of ability to pay.

    Another observation and personal experience: I had outpatient gallbladder surgery a few days ago (doing just fine, thanks be to God, a skilled surgeon and a decent insurance policy). The time span from my initial diagnosis of gallstones to my operation was less than a month. During this time I came across a couple of internet forums and comment threads populated by gallbladder patients, many of whom were from the UK and Canada which have nationalized health care. They routinely have to wait many months for such surgeries and when I commented on how my case was going they were really surprised that I got in for surgery as quickly as I did. Some of them are just miserable, having attacks daily and barely able to eat or drink but stuck on lengthy waiting lists for their operations.

    I guess what we have in the U.S. is a system where many people get very good health care (those with good insurance or sufficient private wealth to self-pay), many others get moderately good health care (if their insurance is so-so, or if they can take advantage of a low-income program or other arrangement), and still others get little or no health care (if they are poor or simply do not know where they can obtain care). Whereas in countries with nationalized health systems, EVERYONE gets moderately good or adequate care; routine checkups and emergency care are fairly well covered but elective or non-emergency procedures like mine, not so much.

  • Many of the poor are covered by medicare. The gap is usually seen in the upper poor and lower middle class who do not qualify for such programs and do not have insurance. Most hospitals have charitable care available to such people based on income. In my own county we have a volunteer organization of doctors, dentists and nurses who provide free care to this part of the population on weekends. I am on the board of my local community chest and we help provide funding for this worthy endeavor each year.

    The growth of private sector doctors and clinics in Canada demonstrates that there is a market for private health care in a country where taxes pay for “free” government health care. I would hope that even the most ardent fan of govenment care would be against laws attempting to shut down such clinics and doctors, as they obviously meeting a need not met under the current health care program in Canada.

  • The leading cause of bankruptcy is medical costs due to illness and injury. Even with Medicaid and charity, the poor go under treated due to a large number of reasons, but mainly due to the unavailability of people who will accept Medicaid or due charity work. Many hospitals will treat anyone who comes to them, but usually people go to the hospital when it is too late for effective treatment of an illness. Medicaid has a waiting period before a patient is accepted of 6 months; in the case of someone who is forced onto disability due to an illness like MS they lose their insurance and then have to wait 6 months for Medicaid to kick in. During this time their disease progresses and it cannot be treated in a way to undo the damage done. When my daughter broke her finger we were told she could not see an orthopedic doctor for a week. The next day I called the doctor’s office to complain and on finding out we were not on Medicaid but had insurance we were scheduled that day to see the orthopedic doctor who said the one day delay would result in life long problems.

    I could continue with examples, but the point is we like to believe Medicaid and charity give the poor adequate healthcare; the truth is they do not. Systems have been tested in other countries and at some places in the US that increase quality, reduce cost and provide more general healthcare, we refuse to implement any of them here. Instead we insist on either sticking with a system that is costly and offers poor quality (a high number of errors), or going to systems that have never been tried successfully (some of the plans put forward by leading Republicans).

  • “The leading cause of bankruptcy is medical costs due to illness and injury.”

    That is a false statement Paul, although often repeated on the internet. Bankruptcy makes up a large portion of my practice. Of the over a thousand bankruptcies I have performed, about three percent were caused by medical debt. Most bankruptcies have some medical debt, usually a minor hospital bill, but they are not the precipitating factor for bankruptcy, which is usually caused by large credit card debt or people being way over their heads on a house or vehicles. Divorce is often a precipitating factor for bankruptcy as people barely able to handle debt together, give up on trying to handle it separately.

    Here is a good look at the worthless study that led to this claim:

    http://healthblog.ncpa.org/medical-bankruptcy-myths/

  • Full employment for all: is this a hoax?

    “Feds fine plumbers $5,000 for fancy shower heads.”

    Eternally, it’s raise taxes for evil, filthy rich! It’s the solution to unemployment, the national debt, the deficit, halitosis, . . . ?

    Obama-worshiping imbeciles are so cute.

  • “Many of the poor are covered by Medicare”

    This is an easy mistake to make, but I presume you mean Medicaid. Also, some states have additional forms of medical assistance that cover populations not eligible for Medicaid and therefore do not receive federal matching funds (the State pays the whole tab for these programs). Not all medical assistance is Medicaid, though most of the public uses “Medicaid” as a catch-all term for all forms of publicly funded medical assistance to non-elderly persons without private insurance.

    I have to agree that Medicaid, although certainly better than no insurance at all, does severely limit one’s choice of doctors since so few are willing to take it (and I don’t blame them, particularly in Illinois where payments are made in an extremely laggard manner). My daughter was on Medicaid for 2 years and I was really, really glad when I was able to get her off of it.

    The slowness of Medicaid payments in Illinois and other states is so infamous that there are times when I wonder, only slightly in jest, if the best way to stop abortion would be to pass a “reverse” Hyde Amendment that would require ALL abortions to be paid for by Medicaid… then we could watch abortuaries go out of business just like mom and pop pharmacies and nursing homes are now!

  • Early morning blogging strikes again Elaine! Yes I did mean Medicaid. If Gov care ever does come to the US with full implementation, I suspect it will resemble Medicaid with all its flaws.

  • Paul,

    I was in error the 80% rule was on home equity rules (http://www.occc.state.tx.us/pages/brochures/home_equity_lending.html#eighty) My reference to the branching of banks was when I lived there in the early 1980?s and I am sure the bank consolidations and the S&L mess resulted in changes in regulations. The point that Texas’ success is not based on less regulation but rather on more is still valid though.

    The claim in your last sentence only holds if you can make a strong case that there is a great deal of bank-specific regulation in Texas which is to be clearly credited for the lack of a real estate bubble there. You can’t just assert it as axiomatic. Thus far, all the examples you’ve brought out have turned out to be false.

    Now, as I’ve said, Texas is somewhat more restrictive on second mortgages than most of the country, and I think this probably deserves a bit of credit. But it seems to me that a lot of the credit goes to Texas’s comparatively permissive zoning laws, which allowed expansion to take place rather than bidding up of existing housing stock. Plus, the overall pro-business environment of Texas (with half the net new jobs creates in the country since the recession hit being created in Texas) meant that it was able to grow its way out of the (comparatively mild) housing slump in a way in which other areas weren’t.

    Here, though, you seem to be taking it as axiomatic that only “more regulation” can prevent bubbles (whereas in fact badly made regulation — which happens a lot — is just as capable of creating bubbles) and thus concluding that even if unable to identify what exactly prevented a housing bubble in Texas that it must have been stiffer regulations than the famously laissez faire states like California, New York and Washington.

  • It’s not the quantity of regulation (more vs. less) that counts as much as the QUALITY of regulation. Neither the liberal approach of regulating everything to the nth degree, nor the conservative/libertarian approach that automatically equates regulation with unnecessary job-killing burdens, is correct.

    Good regulations are those which allow for a degree of discretion by the agency but also contain clear standards or criteria for the agency to apply in making decisions. You don’t want a situation in which an agency head or deputy can turn down someone’s request merely because they feel like it. A good regulation also MUST include some kind of due process by which an adverse decision can be appealed or a case made for an exception. A well-crafted regulation can serve to protect private business and citizens from unnecessary government encroachment, and need not be a burden.

  • There are lengthy discussions of the reasons behind the “Texas miricle” on several other sites I have seen. Most conclude it is more related to $100 dollar a barrel oil than the business friendly environment. Of course I don’t spend much time on the Heritage Foundation or Cato Institute sites, so that may sway my data.

    I believe my response was related to comparing the less regulation in Texas tothe more regulation in Canada. I think the real answer may lie in the better regulation mentioned by several commentors above. In both the case in Texas and the case in Canada it seems people and banks refrained from (or were not allowed to) enter into the risky loans and business practices that others enterred. To believe regulations did not prevent this, you would have to believe the bankers and people in Texas and Canada were either smarter as a whole, or not as greedy as a whole. I do not believe either, so I’m sticking with better regulated.

  • Anyhow, AZ, CA, FL, IL, MI, and NV are the worst housing bubble areas. Outside those states and Puerto Rico, the devastation is less pronounced.

    Bankers in Canada did not have the authority to sell to FNMA and FHLMC nontraditional home loans advanced to dishonest (stated they would live in the houses, etc.) speculators low-to-moderate income borrowers. So, they did not make such loans.

    Federal real estate lending standards for state nonmember banks are set forth in FDIC Rules and Regulations Part 365. The down payment requirement is one of a number of underwriting factors. In many cases, regulation required appraisals were overstated and did not stabilize the bubble price rises. Collateral value is often lacking when repayment capacity is no longer effective.

  • In both the case in Texas and the case in Canada it seems people and banks refrained from (or were not allowed to) enter into the risky loans and business practices that others enterred. To believe regulations did not prevent this, you would have to believe the bankers and people in Texas and Canada were either smarter as a whole, or not as greedy as a whole. I do not believe either, so I’m sticking with better regulated.

    Well, the flip side of your quandary is that in order to avoid assuming that people in Texas and Canada are smarter and less greedy than those in other areas of the US — you end up having to assume that regulators in Texas and Canada are smarter and/or less corruptible than those in other parts of the US.

    I’m wanting to assume neither. I’m assuming that because there was a lot of room for development in Texas and local regulators chose not to keep down suburban sprawl, that greed was directed into building lots of new houses rather than bidding up the price of the existing houses.

    There are lengthy discussions of the reasons behind the “Texas miricle” on several other sites I have seen. Most conclude it is more related to $100 dollar a barrel oil than the business friendly environment. Of course I don’t spend much time on the Heritage Foundation or Cato Institute sites, so that may sway my data.

    I haven’t been to Cato or Heritage sites either — most of my secular reading is on The Atlantic or the Wall Street Journal — but I think the fair assessment would tend to be that while oil has helped the Texas economy, that’s not nearly all of it. This post at Political Math Blog does a pretty good summary:

    http://www.politicalmathblog.com/?p=1590

    Now, for the record, I don’t think Perry deserves huge amounts of credit for the shape of Texas’ economy, other than for not messing it up. I am highly skeptical of the ability of politicians to do anything to “create jobs” other than not make things worse.

  • Paul duBois,

    You did not have a real estate bubble in the Great Plains generally. You did not have one in Upstate New York (though real estate prices were severely inflated in sections of Downstate). To what aspects of banking supervision in North Dakota and New York do you attribute these discrepancies?

  • At the moment, a similar price bubble in US farm land seems in motion. FDIC analysts (Quarterly Banking Reviews) and former Chairman Bair have commented several times since 2008.

    The regulatory response: caution lending banks to consider lower loan-to-value ratios, i.e., larger down payments, when underwriting such loans.

    In theory, the investor/buyer of a commercial real estate or the speculator in residential real estate will determine the bid price based on the expected, stabilized net operating income from the property divided by a capitalization rate or the anticipated sale price. Loan underwriters need to do a similar calculation based on conservative, realistic assumptions and estimates.

    In the early 2000’s, I reviewed appraisals with market value based on extremely low cap rates (as low as 4% in 2005, 9% to 10% would be the norm) and assumptions that every house in a neighborhood would sell (comparable sales price is the main residential RE appraisal factor) would sell for over $1 million.

    For example, if a farmer expects to net (after expenses) $100 from an acre of farm land’s crop produce, he may capitalize that NOI at 10% and bid $1,000. Alternatively, if he capped the NOI at 4%, he may bid $2,500. I don’t know agriculture, but $2,750 an acre seems too high for farm land.

  • It seems to me that there is broad agreement that good quality regulation is desirable. I suggest that if we (bloggers, the MSM, and the general public) put more time and energy into discussing what amounts to good regulation and less into sloganeering about regulation (in general) vs. deregulation (in general), politics would get more done while dividing the populace less.

  • Possibly.

    I’m certainly in favor of trying to get regulation right, but I think there remains a lot of room to argue about “less” versus “more” in that often our ability to know what kind of regulation is actually going to be needed in the future is limited. Many things are commonsensical, but often human systems seem like biological ones: the trait which proves to be adaptive for a species in a sudden and unusual situation is often one which previously existed for some other reason and just happens to make it “fittest” in some later, unforseen, situation.

Union Impressions: Rules vs. Work

Thursday, March 17, AD 2011

All of the discussion in the Catholic blogosphere, and the wider public square, about unions (and public employee unions in particular) has given me cause to think a bit about my attitude towards organized labor. There are a lot of rational political, economic and moral reasons I can give for why I don’t like labor unions as they exist in the US, but as is so often the case with deeply held opinions, my most basic reaction to unions has a lot to do with my personal experiences relation to work and to unions. As such, it seemed like a good way to address the issue is through the lens of the experiences which have helped shape my opinion of unionization.

1. Most of my exposure to unions was through my father, who held a staff position at a community college for twenty-five years, retiring just a month before losing a multi-year battle with cancer. (In a state college, the major divide is between staff — which includes basically everyone who is neither an instructor nor a manager — and faculty, who are the actual instructors. Since he only had a bachelor’s degree, Dad’s position was classified as staff, and staff positions were represented by a state school employees union which is a member of the AFL-CIO.) The college was not unionized when Dad got his job, but it became a union shop half-way through his time there, via an election which he always wondered about the validity of. (Union members and non-union members were given different colored ballots, so it certainly would have been easy to cheat if someone had wanted to.) Not only were the union’s politics diametrically opposed to my father’s (he always used their “state issues” political mailing to decide how not to vote) but the union supported people for the college board of directors who hired a college president who eventually drove the college into the financial ditch, resulting in constant fear and occasional layoffs. His more daily frustration, however, was the effect of the union’s vigorous protection of people who did not do their jobs well.

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40 Responses to Union Impressions: Rules vs. Work

  • What you said seems to be true from my experience as well: unions put an emphasis on rules (though I’d add ‘benefits’ too) and not on getting work done and done right. In my opinion, somewhere along the time-line of unions, they lost their purpose.
    But if it weren’t for unions, my father wouldn’t have had a job to support me and my 5 siblings: he worked as a negotiator between a union (for the FAA workers) and the government–a good one at that, apparently: no workers strikes in his almost 30 years with the FAA.

    I’m still undecided on the whole issue, but I do believe one thing for sure: that is that unions should not be allowed to donate to campaigns when using federal or local monies (ie only allowed to donate what union members volunteer to give).

  • Several years ago I spoke against the IBEW at an open meeting. I was pleased not to have been beaten up or my car torched, but the threats were real. The IBEW and their stooges, including the local newspaper, accused me of belonging to a union myself, which I don’t How ironic later to be accused by fellow Catholics of being a union member also because I am a (gasp) public-school teacher (happily, in a non-union state). Unions are objectively evil, but let us all be sure that we don’t believe everything we hear on the radio and read on the ‘net, and in so doing accuse people falsely.

  • I for one object to the notion that Unions are objectively evil. Some things that some Unions do might be objectively evil, but often the situation very much depends upon which side you view the issue.

    Lets take a closer look at the rules. My Dad was a union member for years, and many of those rules had very good reasons behind them. For example, in the warehouses he worked at, jobs were assigned by seniority. This served two purposes, it prevented the supervisors from assigning people based on favoritism (not ability to do the job, but rather based on friendship or other factors unrelated to work itself), it also gave guys who had worked very hard for a company for 20-30 years a chance to do easier jobs when their bodies were no longer able to do the hardest jobs, but they were not yet ready for retirement. Other rules, like mandatory breaks were instituted because companies use to make workers work non-stop for hours, sometimes without so much as a bathroom break.

    Now lets look at the way Unions fight for fired workers. This may come as a shock to you, but sometimes companies, or at least managers fire people for unjust reasons. I know I have been fired unjustly at least twice in my career. The first time was so a manager could hire a friend to fill my position (though he lied about the reason he fired me to his superiors) and the second time was because I disagreed with my manager about a technical issue (I am an engineer, she wasn’t and I told her her method of solving a technical issue was wrong). In both cases, had I been a Union employee, I am confident I would not have lost my job. My Dad had been a shop steward, and I know how they approached workers who were fired. A company had to document particular failings if it was going to fire a worker (failure to do their job, chronic lateness, etc.). It prevented many arbitrary firings that had less to do with job performance and more to do with bad tempers.

    Unions are an essential method in a capitalist society of balancing the scale between employers and employees. People may complain about unions these days, but how many of them would want to work in the conditions that Americans worked in in the 19th century, or that third world workers work in to this very day? Either hour days, five day weeks, breaks, child labor laws were all passed at least in part because of strong union support. If the have over reached in the present, that signals a need for reform, not elimination.

  • Your experiences with unions are entirely yours. Let me counter with some experiences in Texas – a right-to-work state – as an unemployment insurance judge. I used to do many hearings with Wal – Mart, which hires people part-time, schedules them for 60-hour-weeks for three weeks out of the month and then no time for the fourth week, so the employees don’t get paid overtime and don’t qualify for full-time benefits, but also so that the employees can’t claim for unemployment for that off-week. HEB does the same thing. Under Texas law, that’s perfectly legal. Wal-mart pays huge amounts of money to lawyers and lobbyists to keep its workplaces free of unions and organizers, to preserve its right to pay coolie wages and impose ridiculous work rules.

  • “If the have over reached in the present, that signals a need for reform, not elimination.”

    That’s difficult when the unions and their supporters treat EVERY effort at reform as tantamount to elimination. (See, e.g., Wisconsin and Ohio.)

  • “Your experiences with unions are entirely yours.”

    Yeah, no one else has ever had the same types of experiences with regard to unions.

  • A friend of mine at a Big Ten Campus had to fight for five years to fire a union subordinate who had an unexplained 50% absentee rate. Union reps seemed to think it was their sole responsibility to drag the matter out as long as possible, and had no concern that their member was being paid money to perform a job she obviously had no interest in performing.

  • If you believe that unions are “objectively evil” and need to be abolished because of the numerous abuses of union power we see today, then perhaps you should call for marriage and childbearing to be outlawed as well because of the numerous cases of domestic violence, child abuse, adultery, etc. we see today. Or perhaps police should be abolished because of police brutality. Or maybe the priesthood should be abolished because of… you get the picture. Abuse, no matter how widespread, does not negate proper use.

    Still, it is obvious that unions are in urgent need of radical reform, and that most unions in the U.S. do NOT fit the mold envisioned in Catholic social teaching. The most radical and needed reform IMO would be making union membership voluntary. Also it is not out of line to question whether unions really need to exist in the public sector where taxpayers fund the pay and benefits they receive.

    I do not have any personal experience of belonging to a union, and neither did anyone in my family with the exception of my grandfather who was a steel mill worker through the Depression, World War II and into the 50s. His union had to fight pretty hard for every benefit they got, and they inevitably went on strike every 3 years when their contract expired. My grandfather hated being on strike, especially when the strikes dragged on long enough that it began to hurt his family financially. Their last strike, just before he retired, lasted more than 6 months.

    My grandfather, who died when I was in my late teens, never had anything good to say about unions when the topic came up. However, in his last and longest strike one of the concessions the union got from the company was a much improved pension plan. That pension enabled my grandparents to live reasonably well for the remaining 25 years of their lives. Since they themselves lived simply, they even were able to set aside money to help me and my brother pay for our college education. So he did at least get some kind of compensation in the end for all the strikes he had to endure.

    As with anything else run by fallen human beings, unions have their advantages and disadvantages.

  • Mack Hall,

    One could say that many unions at this time support objectively evil things — but I don’t think it’s at all possible to say that unions “are” objectively evil. Indeed, it’s hard for me to see how any organization could be objectively evil in and of itself. Organizations just are — and I certainly have no objection to an organization consisting of workers forming to give workers a voice. I do tend thing that the union regulations we have here in the US probably create some bad incentives for both employers and employees. But I don’t think that unions per se are evil or even are by their natures bad or unhelpful, I just think that in our current economy and polity their incentives drive them to look out for bad workers over good ones.

    Not to join the (justifiable) pile on, I just figure as the author of the post I need to be clear on this.

    Maryland Bill,

    I can see that seniority rules would sometimes have benefits, but at the same time, when rigidly enforced, they can have some serious downsides. For instance, one of the stories that the GOP was pointing to in Wisconsin was how a young teacher voted “Teacher of the Year” for outstanding work was laid off the next year because there were budget cuts in the school district and the union insisted that the teachers with the least experience go first. Now, one could argue that that teacher will do much better finding a new job than someone with twenty three years of tenure who’s just punching the clock, but it hardly seems just or desireable for the work of the school that people be laid off completely irrespective of merit.

    On the flip side, I do know of instances where (especially because a union shop often results in a company effectively outsourcing their HR work to the union) unions have done good work on behalf of people fired unjustly. For instance, I recall a friend of my in-laws who was a UPS drive who was fired because in deep snow he failed to see a curb while backing out of a drive way and drove over it with his truck, accidentally crushing an ornamental nick-nack the homeowner had out by the mailbox. The homeowner complained and UPS, having a “zero tolerance” policy terminated him without questions despite his having worked there more than a decade with no prior complaints. The union got him re-instated, and I would consider that a good thing.

    However, on balance, it seems to me that unions bring more of a bad attitude to the workplace than a good one.

    Karen,

    Well, everyone’s experiences are theirs, that’s a bit of a tautology, isn’t it.

    I certainly don’t think that employers never behave badly. I know people who have been unjustly fired (in Texas, no less, where I lived and worked for seven years), though in my experience it was always in companies too small to be unionized anyway.

    At the same time, I’d submit that if your full time job is dealing with situations where people are disputing whether they’ve been justly fired, that’s going to give you a highly biased set of experiences since you’ll invariably deal with a lot of bad situations. It’s like the issue with police starting to stereotype because they deal with so many people of a certain look and background who really are criminals.

    Trust me, though, there are equally bad sets of experiences which people dealing with unions can point to. There was, for instance, an admin who was terminated for never doing any work. The administration tried to fire him, but the union had him re-instated claiming there wasn’t sufficient proof. The department was so frustrated that they spent six months gathering a dossier of proof that the guy wasn’t doing his job. At that point the union reps insisted this proved that the department had a personal vendetta against him and had him reinstated again.

    Nor is this entirely the union’s fault, because according to current labor law the union is supposed to do this. Indeed, if they fail to pull every trick to protect a bad employee, the employee can sue them for failure to represent.

    Thus, naturally, in a situation where the management is not actively stupid and malevolent (which at least in my experience seems to be most places most of the time — bosses are much like workers, most of them are just trying to do their jobs well even if they aren’t particularly good at it) unions end up benefiting bad workers much more than good ones. After all, the employers want the good ones, and thus “protecting” them isn’t a huge help. The bad ones, on the other hand, need protection.

  • to preserve its right to pay coolie wages and impose ridiculous work rules.

    Stop it. Wal-Mart’s employees are not imported from India with contracts of indenture. The wages they pay are market wages.

    _____

    Re Maryland Bill’s story v. Darwin’s & c.:

    One should note that while both are describing service enterprises, two different eras are concerned, one is a private and one is a public employer, and one is an essentially masculine milieux where the brawn of the employees is salient and one is a more generic milieux. One might suggest that Wagner Act unionism was a response to defaults in industrial relations characteristic of one type of setting and not manifest in other settings, and that the extension of practices adapted to constructions sites, factories, and warehouses to clerical offices (public and private) was an error.

  • I know people who have been unjustly fired (in Texas, no less, where I lived and worked for seven years), though in my experience it was always in companies too small to be unionized anyway.

    I suppose I could be one of those people Darwin speaks of, though I don’t know if he recalls the conditions in which I lost my job in Texas. Suffice it to say, applying a normal distribution (a.k.a the bell curve) to a particular group’s performance reviews isn’t necessarily the best way of assessing your team’s talent and subsequently making job cuts based upon that data, especially when your sample size is a mere 8 people. I was that guy and was let go despite the protests of my remaining team. I suppose the logic was to either trim the fat or cull the herd (I don’t begrudge my former employer that right, it helps them in their goal of profitability.) It seems HR departments would benefit from a staff member being a mathematician or statistician to let this people know bell curves tend to be a more accurate model when your sample size is larger rather than smaller.

    Interestingly, this incident ended up starting a chain reaction which ended in me uprooting my family to a non-right-to-work state, with a new (and better!) job. Even more interestingly, the place is a union shop with unionized engineering staff too (which is where I am). We are private sector. My status with this engineering union is that of a Beck objector (basically, I pay an agency fee, which I also object to, rather than full dues and have no voting rights).

    While I have thrived in this environment, I believe it’s more due to the people around me (management & team members) rather than the legalities regarding unions. With that in mind, you could probably guess that I’d much prefer that my current home was a right-to-work state. More often than not, the management that I have encountered (at many different levels) are good people trying to get the job done. I’ve encountered a couple of pricks, similar to what I experienced in my previous gig. Yet when contract negotiations come up, the rhetoric (at least from the unions) tends towards class warfare and is needlessly adversarial in nature. It becomes us (good, little guys) versus them (bad fat cats), when in fact it should be that we are all on the same team. I consider it a privilege to work in this field, as do a great many other people around here.

    My biggest complaint about the negotiations around here, is that the benefits packages are heads and shoulders above what other companies offer. And the union leadership and others don’t seem to realize just how good we have things. I fear they try to bite the hand that feeds them way too often. It’s ungrateful, really. One of my friends at church also works for the same employer, but in a fairly high position in HR. We’ve spoken about things of this nature, and he’s mentioned the ruthless nature of these negotiations. In fact, he’s been responsible for some aspects of these compensation packages in the past, only to have the union spit on what he considered a just and generous compensation package. (By just, I mean that he tries to practically apply CST.)

    I’ve also heard other stories similar to those related in this post.

  • “to preserve its right to pay coolie wages and impose ridiculous work rules.”

    Stop it. Wal-Mart’s employees are not imported from India with contracts of indenture. The wages they pay are market wages.

    Heh. I’ve never quite understood why WalMart is the “evil empire” to people in ways that Target and other similar stores aren’t. I don’t personally enjoy shopping at WalMart (and so stopped once I could afford to) but it’s reputation for being evil is outsized for sure. Indeed, in an amusingly “bootleggers and baptists” situation, WalMart has lobbied to raise the minimum wage. (Not because they’re all full of rainbows and butterflies, but because they can afford the hit better than their competitors and so forcing all low wage employers to increase wages a bit would help them more than hurt them.)

    One might suggest that Wagner Act unionism was a response to defaults in industrial relations characteristic of one type of setting and not manifest in other settings, and that the extension of practices adapted to constructions sites, factories, and warehouses to clerical offices (public and private) was an error.

    I would agree with that. I think unions are best suited to addressing situations where there is a lot of fairly undifferentiated labor that employers can easily take advantage of because of plentiful supply. With more skilled labor, it becomes much more of a racket.

  • The college was not unionized when Dad got his job, but it became a union shop half-way through his time there, via an election which he always wondered about the validity of. (Union members and non-union members were given different colored ballots, so it certainly would have been easy to cheat if someone had wanted to.)

    I hate to suggest your departed father may not have had his story right, but this makes no sense. If it was an election to create a union, then at the time of the election, no one was a union member. What I suspect your Dad misunderstood is that, by law, separate elections must be held for “professionals” and “non-professionals” unless the pros vote to be in the same unit as the non-pros. I imagine this is what was happening and I think you might want to consider his objectivity on other matters he related to you.

    Nevertheless, bosses to not share the grace given to the Blessed Mother of being without sin. Nor do workers. Having a system of due process and representation serves the common good. We can all find a few stories of the worst abuses (be they verifiable or not). But I am willing to bet that if I blindly grabbed the case load of any one of my stewards, a review of the cases might not convince my conservative friends here that the union is right every time, but I think they would be very embarrassed to defend management on most of the cases and to defend the proposition that in this workplace, justice would be served by the workers not having a negotiated grievence process.

  • I imagine this is what was happening and I think you might want to consider his objectivity on other matters he related to you.

    Yeah, I’m way not buying the poisoning the well approach, Kurt. I’m willing to qualify the point about the election (though I heard it from two different staffers as well as my dad, it was many years after the fact) but that was exactly what it was, a parenthetical. I don’t consider it remotely central to what I was relating.

    Issues such as the union defense of the department secretary I know personally from multiple sources — in part because once I was a teenager I got under-the-table work from various instructors doing her work for her on a cash basis since she didn’t do much herself. As I say, a sweet lady. But unfortunately, she just didn’t do the job.

    Having a system of due process and representation serves the common good.

    I agree, and I strongly encourage a company to have an HR department. That is no reason for the kind of idiotic lengths that unions are willing to go to in order to protect people who don’t do their jobs. For instance, it’s pretty telling when even the NY Times has done a whole series on the idiocies inflicted on their school system by the teachers unions.

    But I am willing to bet that if I blindly grabbed the case load of any one of my stewards, a review of the cases might not convince my conservative friends here that the union is right every time, but I think they would be very embarrassed to defend management on most of the cases and to defend the proposition that in this workplace, justice would be served by the workers not having a negotiated grievence process.

    Perhaps, but workplaces that you’re called into are, of necessity, workplaces that have already been turned into adversarial environments by the fact that they are unionized. And as I pointed out to Karen above — your files are, of their nature, going to be full of grievances. They’re not going to be full of how much more inefficient and hostile to getting work done your union has made the workplace for us workers who just want to get work done.

    I don’t expect you to agree with my impressions — speaking of lacking objectivity, it’s quite obvious that you have a political, professional and financial interest in not doing so. But I would advise that rather than going around suggesting that people who disagree with you on whether unions actually serve the common good as they exist and operate in the US are under the illusion that management is immaculately conceived (which is a pretty offensive notion for you to impute to others) it might well be that most of us have been put off by precisely the kind of experiences I and others have related here.

  • There is plenty of undifferentiated labor in clerical offices and (if anything) a lower aggregate skill level than you would find on a shopfloor. My suggestion was that there was a different set of social dynamics at work. One possibility is that clerical work does not lend itself as readily to production metrics. Another is that the back-and-forth between a female workforce and management tends to have a different resultant than that between a male workforce and management. A third might be that there is a greater sense of psychological distance between management and production workers than there is between management and clerical workers.

  • Here’s what due process for union workers means: LA having to spend $3.5 million to try to fire 7 horrible teachers. http://www.laweekly.com/content/printVersion/854792/

    Surely there’s a better way than this?

  • More union due process:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/13/nyregion/13homes.html?_r=3&sq=at%20state-run&st=cse&scp=1&pagewanted=all

    The state initiated termination proceedings in 129 of the cases reviewed but succeeded in just 30 of them, in large part because the workers’ union, the Civil Service Employees Association, aggressively resisted firings in almost every case. A few employees resigned, even though the state sought only suspensions.

    In the remainder of the cases, employees accused of abuse — whether beating the disabled, using racial slurs or neglecting their care — either were suspended, were fined or had their vacation time reduced.

  • Full disclosure: I am currently a public school teacher in Louisiana. For 5-1/2 years (2001-2006) I was a UniServ Director for the Louisiana Association of Educators. Louisiana is a right-to-work state. I am not currently a member of the union … er, professional association.

    With that in mind, I’d like to offer some perspective “from the inside”, so to speak.

    As a UniServ Director, it was my job to defend the legal rights and privileges of our members; lobby for more rights/privileges/increased compensation; inform/provide professional development opportunities; and – above all – recruit more members.

    I joined the union as a new teacher because I saw it as a way to provide myself some legal protection and because I believed – and still do believe – that workers have the right to organize for their benefit.

    I got the job quite by accident, as I was not active *at all* in the union. During my time, I saw a fair share of abuses on both sides – the teachers and the “management” (principals/superintendents/school boards).

    I ultimately quit because – through the grace of God – I found myself escorting NEA President Reg Weaver around South Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. It was just the two of us. I asked him some hard questions about the funding of immoral groups by using dues money, not PAC money. He confirmed by suspicion, and I knew that I could no longer pretend that the NEA was a morally legitimate organization.

    By the grace of God, I was re-hired by my old school district, at my old high school, just 1/2-mile from home. I will not pay dues to NEA again.

    Nevertheless, I think that I was able to do some good work. I did certainly protect employees who were being railroaded because of personal reasons.

    Did I help to make it difficult to fire a bad employee? Maybe. But, if a principal did his work, then the employee was reprimanded, suspended, or terminated. However, such action was based on demonstrable evidence; not some “subjective” feeling.

    Tenure – at least in Louisiana – does not prohibit bad teachers from being fired. All tenure does is give due process to the employee, allowing him to explain his side of the story to the body that makes the decisions – the school board. Otherwise, the school board only hears from the administration, which obviously wants the firing.

    I wish that the muckety-mucks who run the National Education Association would simply stick to education issues. But, they won’t. So, they lose members.

  • Issues such as the union defense of the department secretary I know personally from multiple sources

    Okay, let’ take that one. I’ve had more than my share of discussions with union and non-union workers who wanted my advice on how they could sue (non-union) or grieve (union) “because my boss was unfair to me.” Which, of course, my response is “okay, he was unfair. Did he violate any law (non-union)/article of the contract (union). I have no idea of the provisions of the contract this secretary was operating under, but I can’t imagine on what basis a grievence would have been filed under. Can you give me some guidence on this?

    Perhaps, but workplaces that you’re called into are, of necessity, workplaces that have already been turned into adversarial environments

    Your claim is that prior to the labor movement, America’s factories, mines and mills were models of non-adversarial environments, polluted by the advent of unions?

    I strongly encourage a company to have an HR department

    And when your advice to have an HR department that has a system of due process that serves the common good is not followed?

  • I’ve had more than my share of discussions with union and non-union workers who wanted my advice on how they could sue (non-union) or grieve (union) “because my boss was unfair to me.” Which, of course, my response is “okay, he was unfair. Did he violate any law (non-union)/article of the contract (union). I have no idea of the provisions of the contract this secretary was operating under, but I can’t imagine on what basis a grievence would have been filed under. Can you give me some guidence on this?

    From your equivalence of “grieving” with suing, I’m wondering if I am, perhaps, inadvertently using some sort of technical union terminology without meaning to. There wasn’t an attempt to seek damages or anything. What did happen, in more detail, was as follows:

    The secretary (let’s call her Kathy) had a full time secretarial job which was split between the cost centers of two departments, so she worked for Earth Science in the mornings and Psychology in the afternoons. During the course of the ’90s, as the college became increasingly computerized, the departments started asking Kathy to do things on the computers rather than via her trusty typewriter. Kathy was in her early 50s (making her the same age as most of the instructors in Earth Science, perhaps five years older than my dad) and found computers deeply mystifying. She went to various training classes provided by the college, but could never seem to retain anything even about very basic things like putting together fliers in Word or keeping an address list in Excel. Whenever one of these kind of tasks came up, she would ask for help (typically from my dad, since after the department got moved into smaller quarters they shared and office, later often from me, since when I was hanging around between classes I had more time on my hands than Dad did) and it would take a very, very long time, unless you simply did it for her.

    Thus, things she was asked to do on computer (and increasingly, you couldn’t do the things wanted with a typewriter instead) they wouldn’t get done on time, and other tasks would pile up and get delayed as well. Things got worse and worse in both departments, with other people having to pick up the slack even though it was outside their jobs descriptions, and eventually Psychology (being a larger and more anal department) eventually threatened to discipline her and have her terminated if she couldn’t get it together and get her work done.

    Kathy went to the union, saying that it wasn’t a matter of her not doing work that but the departments were asking for more and more work, and that they were trying to force her to do more work than was possible during her hours, and then disciplining her — thus creating a hostile environment. (Arguably, this was true from her point of view, since it took her four hours to type up on a computer what she could type on a typewriter in an hour — she just couldn’t learn how to format documents on a computer, how to name files so she could find them again, etc.)

    The union investigated and took the position that they were indeed violating her contract by trying to force her to do more work than was possible during her hours. The departments needed to back off and stop attempting to get extra hours out of her (or disciplining her for not doing unrealistic amounts of work) or else the union would have to take action.

    So the departments couldn’t discipline or fire her for not doing the work that was needed — given that state run colleges are very, very heavy on due process for getting rid of anyone.

    They could have declared that her work wasn’t needed, and laid her off, but then they wouldn’t have been able to hire a replacement. (If it looked clear that they’d claimed she was excess, got rid of her, and then immediately hired a replacement, that would clearly have been actionable.) They could also have attempted in pass her off to another department, but clearly this was hard to do since other departments didn’t want someone who couldn’t do the work. The union’s advice was to hire an additional secretary, since there was clearly so much work to do, but state budgets being what they are, that was never an option. So the solution for the following decade until she retired was to have her do the work she like (walking to the mail room twice a day, xeroxing, etc.) and put scheduling, fliers, mailing lists and such in the hands of someone who could do the work — usually dad, since he was the only other classified (staff rather than faculty) employee in the department, cared about whether or not things worked well, and shared an office with the secretary.

    And as I said earlier: It goes without saying that the union would have been very happy to support Dad in insisting that he didn’t have to do the work either.

    But that’s where the union mentality bugs me. I find it virtually impossible to think in terms of, “Look, it doesn’t matter whether things get done or get done right — I’ll do my hours and that’s it.” What seems to me important about work is that it be done — regardless of how long it takes. (Which can mean working late for no extra pay, or that if you get done early you should be able to walk without taking a hit on your paycheck.)

    It’s the sort of attitude it seems to me should be brought to any job — but watching how things played out at the college convinced me it was not how things worked there in a unionized environment. Which is one of the reasons I was determined to head into a non-unionized industry.

    Your claim is that prior to the labor movement, America’s factories, mines and mills were models of non-adversarial environments, polluted by the advent of unions?

    Clearly not. The spur to create unions was that in many cases employees were being treated badly by owners or managers.

    However, unions, like any other organization, become self justifying in their need for existence. And in any work environment, half the workers are going to be below average. So there’s always going to be a natural constituency for an organization which promises to protect workers as a whole and to “fight for” higher wages and benefits.

    And when your advice to have an HR department that has a system of due process that serves the common good is not followed?

    Leave and work for another company. I think companies that mistreat their workers deserve to go bankrupt. (Or else they’ll catch on suddenly that they can’t retain good talent and they’ll mend their ways. Either way, better for everyone.)

  • Leave and work for another company.

    Bingo. The mobility of the workforce is much greater than was the case eighty years ago.

  • Well, and FWIW, it seems to me that one of the things that a fraternal organization of workers could potentially be good at in the modern economy would be making labor mobility easier by providing a non-employer source of benefits.

    Blue-skying here: Say it was required that companies offer an either/or option on benefits like health insurance and 401k matching: either you can get the benefit through the company, or the company can make a transfer payment to a worker’s association you belong to where you participate in a transferable health care plan and retirement savings account.

    It would also be interesting if membership in a worker’s association actually denoted better than average accountability and performance — say if such a group provided certifications or ratings that were actually useful to employers in finding the best candidates to fill jobs.

    On the other hand, it seems like the difficulty is that given a democratic structure to a worker’s association, it would naturally tend towards non-performance-based approaches to rank and pay. It’s easier to get a majority to support seniority based pay or piling up useless certifications than it is to get a majority to support a meritocracy.

  • Which can mean working late for no extra pay, or that if you get done early you should be able to walk without taking a hit on your paycheck.

    In some cases, the nature of the work dictates the degree of flexibility in hours worked. There’s no “leaving early” for police officers. But for the increasing number of desk jobs out there, it makes sense not to treat employees like children and make them sit at their desks, twiddling their thumbs until they’ve put in their eight hours (even if they’ve finished their work and more).

    In the unionized environment where I work, employees invite micromanagement and being treated like children. That’s the flipside of getting those benefits and smoke breaks — someone’s going to be riding you to make sure you put in every minute and dot every i. I can’t say I blame management entirely — there are probably quite a few employees who would take advantage of having more autonomy. Sadly, there’s a huge divide in employee mindsets. There are many people out there who don’t have an orientation towards “getting the job done.” It’s just a paycheck, and as long as they follow the rules and show up, all is good.

    Which brings up another point…

    The mobility of the workforce is much greater than was the case eighty years ago.

    Mobility works well for a lot of white collar, private sector employees. It’s their replacement for job security. However, I’m convinced that there is a very large stratum of workers out there who can’t be, won’t be, or just aren’t very mobile. Occasionally, it’s because the nature of the work they do is so highly specific to their field, there are very poor prospects of translating it into something else. (In the defense industry, for example, there are many occupations that have no close equivalents in other sectors.) There are other reasons for a lack of mobility, not all of which are related to employee intransigence. What to do about this is a thorny issue. The standard economist’s answer is “retraining,” but that’s a bit of a hand wave to me.

    I, too, have the mindset of “getting the job done,” but I’m also aware of the Catholic teaching that the economy serves the person, not the other way around. Unions will continue to play a role for that reason. At the same time, if workers don’t want to be treated like children, they need to reject union ways that invite the comparison.

  • Blue-skying here: Say it was required that companies offer an either/or option on benefits like health insurance and 401k matching: either you can get the benefit through the company, or the company can make a transfer payment to a worker’s association you belong to where you participate in a transferable health care plan and retirement savings account.

    It would also be interesting if membership in a worker’s association actually denoted better than average accountability and performance — say if such a group provided certifications or ratings that were actually useful to employers in finding the best candidates to fill jobs.

    You have described what is currently commonplace in the unionized building trades.

    The union investigated and took the position that they were indeed violating her contract by trying to force her to do more work than was possible during her hours. …So the departments couldn’t discipline

    I’ve never seen a union contract that said a union finding prevents discipline. A Step 1 Grievance allows a worker (or the steward) to put in writing their objection to proposed discipline and receive in writing back from the supervisor the basis for the discipline. Step 2, if appealled, would allow the steward to make the case to the supervisor’s superior. 98% of cases end there. I will conceed that the union is certainly a force in favor of a poor performing worker under a manager who is incapable of articulating or describing what a worker’s preformance problem is. (I,e, a manager who can’t manage). From what you have said, it seems that management could have objectively shown that she is not performing her duties.

  • You have described what is currently commonplace in the unionized building trades.

    Good for them. Though I must say, I think the giant inflatable rats in front of companies that hire non union builders are a bit much. Quality being equal, people do tend to go for the lower bidder. (And when quality is higher at the lower bidder, all the more.)

    http://www.inc.com/magazine/20050301/nbrodsky.html

    Well, and hiring non-union workers to walk the picket lines is also mildly amusing:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704288204575362763101099660.html?mod=googlenews_wsj#printMode

    I will conceed that the union is certainly a force in favor of a poor performing worker under a manager who is incapable of articulating or describing what a worker’s preformance problem is. (I,e, a manager who can’t manage). From what you have said, it seems that management could have objectively shown that she is not performing her duties.

    Honestly, I don’t know where this fell on that question. On the one hand, I know the college had administrative procedures which made it virtually impossible to terminate someone or seriously discipline them without the union’s agreement via an internal arbitration panel with both managers and classified employees on it. On the other, we’re talking about academics here. The department heads were professors in their 60s who taught half time and managed half time, so they may well have been following the path of least resistance: if the union objects, why get into a fight about it.

  • Though I must say, I think the giant inflatable rats in front of companies that hire non union builders are a bit much.

    Really? I LOVE the rat!!!

    Honestly, I don’t know where this fell on that question.

    It seems to me to be a pretty important point. Evaluating a professor seems to me to be a rather subjective discernment and one which I imagine the profession would want their academic peers to be part of the process, not just university administrators. But a secretary? I’m impressed that she was given the opportunity for training. Management did the right thing there and yes, I would recommend filing a grievance if a worker was fired because she was given new duties without the opportunity for training.

    But she took the training and still failed to be able to perform her duties? I don’t see how you get that to arbitration. There is no dispute of fact. Her duties require “X” and she failed to achieve “X” as a simple typing test would show. How do you arbitrate over a typing test?

    If I was her steward, I think I might suggest to management a performance improvement plan where she has three months to bring herself up to objective standards that management defines at the beginning of the 3 month period (such standards being a management prerogative that a union has no right to negotiate over). After that she is either out or in. But that would be my offer to management. They could object.

    if the union objects, why get into a fight about it.

    Well, when I have been called to serve on juries, I’ve never taken the view that since defense counsel objects, why convict? But that’s me.

    In my lifetime, I can think of hundreds and hundreds of workers who would have been unjustly disciplined, had their pay docked, denied a promotion, fired, or been subjected to sexual harassment (a much bigger workplace problem than most white collar conservatives acknowledge) except for the union. And of interest to a Catholic audience, on too many occasion (one would be too many), were able to prevent women from being pressured into abortions by their bosses.

    And I can think of poor performers that, given a chance, were able to improve and become model employees rather than just being fired on the spot. (And I have never known a management official, no matter how anti-union, who to their great credit has not been willing to say to the Chief Steward “Listen, you know what’s happening on the shop floor. If you got one or two guys that are going through a divorce, just started AA, or something like that, you tell me who they are and I’ll give them a break. “)

    On the other hand, yes, there are times management punts. I’ve won cases I didn’t think we had a chance in heck. Part is that management is fine with the idea that one day folks come into work and Kathy is not there and her desk is cleaned out and everyone knows not to ask any questions about their dead of night disappearance. But management is loath to actually give Kathy notice she is in trouble because she might tell another worker that her boss is being mean to her. Well, tough luck. There is a reason management makes the big money and one of those reasons is that they have to manage and make tough decisions.

  • Well, all I can say is, these kind of horror stories simply don’t fit with what I’ve seen in the (primarily public college and school) union workplaces I’ve had most contact with. Getting someone fired at the college where my dad worked was so hard that the only case of an actual “for cause” firing I ever heard of was in the case of a janitor was was arrested for selling cameras and computers he had stolen from the college — and even then he was only fired after being on paid administrative leave for several months while the case was argued.

    How much of that was the result of actual union strength, and how much was the result of the complicated administrative rules which had been put in place (generally with the support of the unions) I don’t know, but competence was definitely not considered a reason for dismissal or even discipline.

  • Well, all I can say is, these kind of horror stories simply don’t fit with what I’ve seen in the (primarily public college and school) union workplaces

    I do note that almost all conservative complaints about unions are not from factories, mines or mills but practically exclusively about academic institutions. Just an observation.

    But your experience doesn’t match mine in a wide variety of employers in different industries. I’m willing to entertain that among academic professionals there is a long tradition (pre-dating unions) of protections regarding academic integrity and that could spill over into administrative jobs. Still, I don’t see how a union wins a grievance when there is objective, quantifiable data supporting management as you suggest with Kathy.

  • Ian Larkin had founded one of the dockworker locals in Liverpool. For three decades he led one of the most militant unions in any port. The workers loved him for his ability to speak up for them and their rights in their backbreaking work. When he died, the union shut down the port for the day of his funeral and the outpouring of emotion from the longshoremen was deep and sincere.

    His son, Jimmy, was elected the second president of the union. While he won the election easily, due to the great affect for his father, many of the other leaders were worried that Jimmy was not up to the job.

    The negotiation of the new contract was a great test for Jimmy Larkin. He stood outdoors on the dock to explain to the workers the new contract, as almost a thousand of them listened attentively. Jimmy announced “Lads, I have good news. Management has agreed to an increase of three pence an hour.” Upon hearing of such a paltry raise, less than Ian Larkin had ever negotiated , there was audible dissention. Jimmy continued “But as you know, times are tough and the company has asked that we give back one paid holiday.” Boos and hisses arose up from the longshoremen assembled before him. “And boys, management asked for give backs on the pension, but we got them to agree to no change.” The longshoremen became unsettled and starting calling out that Jimmy was a bum. He looked at the men before him and shouted out to them “But boys, what do you want?”

    And there, on the docks of Liverpool, was an incredible sight. These brawny workers, spontaneously and with one voice shouted in unison “WE WANT A SOCIALIST REVOLUTION!” Jimmy looked at them, stunned. After a pause, he remarked, “Oh, no lads. I’m sure management would never agree to that.”

  • Not sure how that anecdote was supposed to reassure anyone about unionism. Personally, I’m very much down on socialist revolutions — none of them have turned out well.

  • “And there, on the docks of Liverpool, was an incredible sight. These brawny workers, spontaneously and with one voice shouted in unison “WE WANT A SOCIALIST REVOLUTION!” Jimmy looked at them, stunned. After a pause, he remarked, “Oh, no lads. I’m sure management would never agree to that.”

    I do appreciate the humor of that anecdote Kurt! 🙂

  • Darwin,

    Its a joke, man! Don gets it and you’re much less a stick in the mud than he is!.. 🙂

  • Actually Kurt, among my fellow attorneys I am considered wild and zany, but that is among attorneys.

  • Sorry, I guess I have the tidal kind of humor — it comes and goes. 😉

    For what it’s worth (and I realize there’s nothing more dour than deconstructing a joke) I got the basic joke structure, it’s more that what I found off about the joke is that it seemed like the humor came from the interaction between the dock workers who want all out class war and the union leader who is simply a professional focused on getting the best he can out of each negotiating opportunity. To which my thought would be: See these union members really are crazy reds!

  • Wild and zany among attorneys. Gee…..

    Anyway, to DC. Yes, sometimes workers are crazy Reds. That is why you conservatives funnelled us American unions so much CIA money during the Cold War. Remember?

    Umm, just so I’m clear……you’re not asking for it back, are you? 🙂

  • Ah well, Kurt, maybe that CIA funding was simply to counteract the influence the CPUSA had with the unions during the 1930’s, no?

    My father ( who began as a simple, noble teenaged laborer in a steel factory, but later became evil incarnate when he graduated to management and thus became The Man) told me in that in the ’30’s the CPUSA ( who we now know was being bankrolled by Stalin) funded union rallies. He attended a few when he was about 15 or 16 years old. He told me the Commies gave the workers darn good sandwiches, which is what he, a male teen with the ravenous appetite of male teens, was mainly concerned about (bear in mind that this was about the same time the great famine was occurring in the USSR, which my dad had no way of knowing about. Not when you had the NYT’s Walter Duranty writing love letters to Stalin and all lesser American media following suit.)

    So, you know, if the CIA messed with the unions in the 1950’s I can sorta understand the rationale there.

  • And, just a reminder, Kurt, those wild and crazy Reds murdered 100 million in the century just past. Read the “Black Book of Communism,” for God’s sake, and tell me there is any humanity or sense in your sick, anti-human, anti-Christ ideology.

    I’ve grown tired of it. I’m tired of the charade that ‘yes, they’re on the left, but they mean well.” No, they don’t. If they do mean well, they are as ignorant and stupid as dirt and they are being led by the nose by those who do not mean well but lust to have power over their fellow humans.

  • Umm, just so I’m clear……you’re not asking for it back, are you?

    Naw. Mission accomplished.

  • Donna,

    Yes, and we of the anti-Communist left did more to contain and end Communism than you and your “useful idiot” (as the Commies called them) relatives ever did. I take it what you meant to say to me was “thank you, Kurt for your effective efforts in bringing down this great evil.”

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12 Responses to John Mackey on Capitalism and Running a Business

  • I think the problem here is in the word “value” which is inherently subjective. Notice that MacKay never uses it. The noble purpose he aspires to is much more objective: healthy food, socially responsible trade, biodiversity, etc.

    I am sure walmart sells many good that people “value” but do they aspire to a noble purpose in the selling of those goods? They might say so because they are offering rock bottom prices which do help the family budget. But is there a trade-off?

  • Other than the fact that they have become China-Mart, Wal-Mart is a very helpful company. They are very, very beneficial to the poor. They hire people with low skills and also sell necessary goods at prices the poor can afford. Is that their mission? I don’t know. Does it really matter? In the temporal sense, no – they provide the benefit anyway, wether for virtue or greed.

    The problem with modern American quasi-corpratist capitalism is that it is not truly free-market capitalism, which is the only naturally occuring economic system. Management is usually made up of bean-counters who have no closeness to the business’ purpose just the bottom-line and shareholders are more often investment companies that have the same bottom-line orientation. If individuals own shares they are often treating the market of stocks as a gambler’s paradise rather than a place where one can easily transfer titles of ownership in a business they care about.

    Along with the easy money and manipulation of the Fed with its control of the banks and the money supply we do not have a free economic system that truly rewards entrepreneurs with a vision. We need to get back to that. Will the market always reward people with vision? No and it shouldn’t.

    The market, free from government intervention, is ultimately responsible to the end consumer. Consumer’s appetites dictate who succeeds and who fails. If people are thrifty, financially literate and moral the market will reward business that meets those standards. Unfortunately, those examples are dwindling in the modern controlled American and global economy.

    I never really liked Mackey’s stores becuase they are full of crunchy, granola eating people and tend to epitomize the neo-hippie trends; however, in light of his philosophy I think I may frequent the stores more, although they are quite expensive.

    Odd how the same people shop at Whole Foods and Starbucks, yet one company is pro-free market and truly responsible, the other is anti-capitalist, hypocritical and full of self-absorbed and condesending green (watermellon) ‘charity’.

  • AK,

    “The problem with modern American quasi-corpratist capitalism is that it is not truly free-market capitalism, which is the only naturally occuring economic system.”

    Markets evolved over time. The first societies were in fact communal. I’m not saying that this means we must be communal, but that different stages of technological development give rise to different economic systems. For most of human history the vast majority of the people did not participate in markets at all. They produced what they needed to live. For most of civilized history participation in markets was secondary to production for immediate consumption. Only in the last 400 years or so has production specifically for exchange become the predominant economic system.

    “If people are thrifty, financially literate and moral the market will reward business that meets those standards.”

    The problem with this is that it is almost as utopian as socialism. Any system can work if people are moral; the problem is that many people choose not to be, and ruin any system that they participate in.

    The Church has always recognized the right and duty of the state and the people to regulate the economy to serve the common good. The state is not perfectible, and markets are not perfectible, because man as such is not perfectible; as the teaching of the Church makes clear, however, ALL of these institutions are required to serve the common good.

    That means that leftists are wrong to categorically dismiss the market and rail against it as inherently immoral; and it also means that rightists are wrong when they categorically reject a meaningful role for the state and the public sector in meeting people’s needs. History has indeed shown that both are necessary, and that one without the other has the potential to lead to great injustice and civil disorder.

  • JH,

    “Markets evolved over time. The first societies were in fact communal. I’m not saying that this means we must be communal, but that different stages of technological development give rise to different economic systems.”

    Joe, I agree with your assessment, we were originally communal because we were in survival mode. I was referring to civilization. Men living in civilized society and not in communal tribes. In stating that free-market capitalism is the only NATURAL economic system I am making a statement of what freely acting men will do: engage in mutually beneficial voluntary exchange. The only technology needed for that is money, a medium of exchange. Even if production is nothing more than growing crops or raising cattle and even if the medium of exchange is trading crops for cattle. That is the essence of free market capitalism. Without interference of any sort, that is what rational humans will do.

    “For most of human history the vast majority of the people did not participate in markets at all. They produced what they needed to live. For most of civilized history participation in markets was secondary to production for immediate consumption. Only in the last 400 years or so has production specifically for exchange become the predominant economic system.”

    People did exchange in markets. The market has been the center of the city and the principle reason for travel for all of human history. In the last several hundred years we have simply applied better transportation, advanced productive capacity and more fluid money. The basic exchanges are still the same. Crops for cattle or gold for ploughs or dollars for computers – it is all basically the same.

    “The problem with this is that it is almost as utopian as socialism. Any system can work if people are moral; the problem is that many people choose not to be, and ruin any system that they participate in.”

    Not really, by moral I was referring to the aggregate and not necessarily the individual actors. If the principles, traditions and customs of a society are basically moral then the institutions will be basically moral despite the large quantity of sinners and the smaller quantity of deliberate sinners. In any event, a free market liberates human creativity and innovation and allows methods and means for checking and punishing the immoral actors. All government methods for checking bad behavior developed in a free market first, meaning the creativity of some individual devised the method which is used by government. Governments are inherently administrative and not creative.

    “The Church has always recognized the right and duty of the state and the people to regulate the economy to serve the common good. The state is not perfectible, and markets are not perfectible, because man as such is not perfectible; as the teaching of the Church makes clear, however, ALL of these institutions are required to serve the common good.”

    I hope I did not give the impression that I am against this sentiment. When individuals actors who assign certain duties to government and leave most to the natural market the most social benefit is realized. None are perfectible, only utopians believe that, yet we are to seek something MORE PERFECT. We are to journey as individuals and in the aggregate toward perfection knowing it is like the horizon. We can see it, we can move toward it, but we will never reach it.

    “That means that leftists are wrong to categorically dismiss the market and rail against it as inherently immoral; and it also means that rightists are wrong when they categorically reject a meaningful role for the state and the public sector in meeting people’s needs.

    Those are difficult words. What is a leftist? What is a rightist? As I understand it we have assigned the LEFT to those who advocate for absolutism and the RIGHT to those who advocate anarchy. If that is correct, then you are correct, neither option works with fallen man. I don’t subscribe to either idea, no rational person can. As with everything save for Love of Christ, balance is what is required.

    “History has indeed shown that both are necessary, and that one without the other has the potential to lead to great injustice and civil disorder.”

    I don’t think we are disputing if both are necessary, I think we are disputing the point of balance. In fact it isn’t a duality, it is inherently trinitarian.

    We need to devise an order that assigns proper roles and the balanced amount of power to three spheres:

    Church
    State
    Free Man (the market)

    Church first because the moral order belongs to the moral authority. For us that would be The Church, for others, well, they’re confused. Nevertheless, there are some basic commonalities that are true no matter what ‘denomination’ one may belong too, even pagans, atheists and followers of false religions. The historic commonality is Christian morality. Heretical Christians, non-Christians and Catholic Christians all benefit from Christian morality as taught by Mother Church. This country was founded on these principles, despite the fact that the Protestants refused to attribute the teachings to the Catholic Church.

    I think it was Patrick Henry who stated, “It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

    State is second in the sense that men in the aggregate have given consent and certain duties from their own sovereignty to government. Limited duties, with a specific and narrow scope. Primarily to protect LIFE, LIBERTY, PROPERTY and FREEDOM OF WORSHIP. If government is limited to the protection of the aforementioned, not the regulation, not the promotion, not the management but simply PROTECTING, then that government is legitimate, licit and as moral as humanly possible. Prosecuting murder, especially of the pre-born and waging just war are designed to protect life. Liberty and property are protected by ensuring that the market is not coerced by anyone. Freedom of religion is obvious.

    If government is limited to those activities and respects subsidiarity (federalism) then men are free to act within the confines of good, informed conscience. Those who do not, face punishment by both the market and the government.

    All three orders are necessary, integrated and need to be balanced and coordinated appropriately. That will never happen, but it is not for us to make it happen. Our duty is to seek the more perfect integration, coordination and balance of Church, State and Free Man. The efficacy is the work of God.

  • AK,

    I agree with a lot of what you say, but I reject the strict limitations you think ought to be imposed on government.

    When I talk about not rejecting the state or markets, I am talking about the economy as well as everything else. Let me be more clear: the Church has not only supported, but insisted on, state intervention in the market when it becomes apparent that the latter cannot meet the needs of people, provide them with that which is their right as human beings with with dignity, to preserve social order, etc.

    In a modern technologically advanced society, what we cannot have is unaccountable, concentrated economic power, whether it is an outcome of markets or government decrees.

  • Joe,

    I think we agree on most things and I know we agree in the macro-cosmic sense. I think we are finding babelized disagreement in the micro-comsic sense.

    The reason for strict limitiations on the government is NOT becuase government is BAD. Authority is a good. Governmnet must be restricted because it is SANCTIONED FORCE. That is a devasting power. Used morally it is a benefit; however, if that power is used immorally, even for ‘good’ intentions, it is calamity. Governments, all kinds, are run by sinful, fallen humans. Without restraint the monopoly of power will typically attract the greedy, ambitious and worse. That means the sanctioned force of government can be in the hands of humans cooperating, willfully or negligently, with Satan. Checking government is not an indictment on government, it is an indictment on man.

    Furthermore, the Church is NOT infallible in economic matters. I respect and agree with Church teaching on the moral intent of man’s economic activity. The problem is that what the Church has insisted needs regulation is NOT the market of freely acting humans it is the very intervention of humans acting with force of government. We have to keep in mind that our sins are ever present wheter we are a businessman or a government regulator, neither is infallible and neither is exepmpt from corruption. The difference is the businessman has to operate with numerous other actors some as corrupt as he and others far less so. The government regulator has COERCIVE POWER and there is no check on his corruption becuase the government is a monopoly.

    The only market of government exists internationally and one can argue that in the last hundred years or so, we have established a global government monopoly apparatus so government monopoly has no competition. That is the problem.

    All that power concentrated in a few hands WILL invariably lead to that power being in the hands of corrput and evil men. Even a good king cannot be sure that his offspring will have a good rule. Usually for monarchs and inheritors of wealth, by the third generation it is all squandered.

    Limiting and checking the power of government is what keeps evil men in check and allows the vurtuous to benefit the most in need.

    Markets cannot create conentrated power. Only FORCE can do that. Governments role is to keep force OUT of the market so that the power is always with the lowest commong denomentator: The end user, the consumer.

  • I believe we could have a clearer discussion of the problems were we to give up believing that the U.S. of A. is basically a moral country. I have, for example, just finished reading George Archibald’s JOURNALISM IS WAR. He recounts his various investigations into the vile shenanigans in the cesspool of Washington in the past two decades.

    It is distressing to realize that all our suspicions of politicians and union leaders and CEOs and the Catholic clergy are not without foundation. We are forever hoping that somehow our politicians will not infected by the poisonous miasma that is Washington [sad that George’s glorious name should stand for base corruption].

    Two classic examples were the town hall meetings in which one Representative said that he would listen only to people from his district and was told that the participants were people from his district.
    In another the Representative proclaimed that it was his town hall meeting and he would set the rules.

    The sadness arises from the fact that these people have been blinded by the Washington miasma. They come from relatively simple backgrounds. They have not discovered the vaccine against the halls of power.

  • Gabriel,

    “I believe we could have a clearer discussion of the problems were we to give up believing that the U.S. of A. is basically a moral country.”

    Words are tricky things. They are inadequate for communicating, but the best we have available.

    The US of A IS a moral country in the sense that the principles she was founded upon are moral. She is also moral in the sense that within the context of her history, with all her blemishes and horrors, she is the most consistently moral country.

    The bulk of her people seek virtue, imperfectly, and in comparison to the peoples of Christendom, with less efficacy. Perhaps we are struggling for virtue in a world with Satan on the loose.

    Our culture is certainly NOT moral and we do have to take responsibility for that but loss of our culture does not make all of us immoral. Was anyone moral in Sodom and Gomorrah? Moral people, or at least people seeking to be moral, may be immersed in a culture that is immoral. Jesus dined with sinners and publicans. Perhaps we are here to reclaim the USA for her King.

    Our political class is overwhelmingly immoral. Thieves, usurers, liars, perverts openly displaying their homosexual proclivities, adulterers, megalomaniacs, etc. are in more abundance than moral men. This is the reason government is supposed to be BOUND with the chains of the Constitution.

    Our biggest problem is our institutional desire to evict God from public intercourse and governance. We CANNOT remain moral if we demand that he leave us alone. Without Him we are certainly immoral. The work of the enemy seems to be succeeding becuase we keep diminishing God’s role in our public lives, but this need not be so. The first amendment secures our given right to worship the God of Christ freely. We need to make a courageous, respectful and civil PROTEST against the removal of God from our public lives and our governments.

    For the LORD did not give us a Spirit of timidity.

    We need to stop being timid, cowed by political correctness and deference for the sensibilities of men. We need to walk boldly into the fire proclaiming our King. Otherwise we are just spectators to the demise of a once great nation. Silence is consent.

    Pray the Rosary with your brothers and sisters on the corner of your street, in front of the city hall, in the centers of commerce. Proclaim the King and see how many moral people will join you. Then tell us if this is still a moral country. I think she is. I beleive she is. I hope she is. The USA is consecrated to our Blessed Mother. Respect your mother and ask her for the graces to set this moral country back on the path to Heaven and away from the abyss.

    I’ll join you.

  • American Knight:
    What you write seems to me to be wish-filled thinking. Our culture, thus our country, is not moral. It has no defenses against immoral positions. For example, it may well be that a majority of Americans do not hold with abortion “except except except…”.
    Abortion is not illegal in this country.
    It appears that many [most?] couplings are not done with the marriage lines. [What society has ever survived without a clear understanding of marriage and the family?].
    What of the next stage the education of children? The school system is hostage to unions which protect mediocrity in its members and in students.
    Consider the history of the country. It took a while to slaughter enough Indians that they became no longer a problem, except that they are forced to live in reservations where education is abominable and drunkenness rife.
    Need I dwell on slavery which continued to the 1960s?
    The War on Poverty seems to have impoverished many more. Roe v. Wade was quite clearly an effort to decrease unwanted populations.
    And so on and so on and so on.

    The much praised liberty has become a liberty to do whatever you could get away with. And to avoid as much responsibility as possible – personal and public. And to call in the lawyers to protect yourself, teste the ACORN business.

    We are not on this earth to build America as the City on the Hill.

  • Gabriel,

    What you may perceive as wish-filled thinking is Hope.

    I know our culture is immoral, but as I stated in my previous post that doesn’t make the country immoral. In principle the United States of America is founded on Christian morality by sinners.

    To assume that it is an immoral country is to concede the fight. We live in an immoral country we have institutionalized evil so we are all going to Hell. I reject that.

    We live in a moral country and most of us do it immorally and we have insitutionalized evil so those of us with eyes to see and ears to hear MUST be good Christian witnesses, fight for the re-establishment of our moral principles and re-consecrate our country and our selves to the Blessed Virgin and through her immaculate hands and heart to her Son, our Lord.

    I think we are here precisely to build America as the City on a Hill and our own state, town, home and body too!

    The efficacy of that work is not for us to decide, but it is our duty to do the work with that end in mind.

    “Thy Kingdom come” That means into our hearts, but it also means into our familiies, our towns, our country and the world.

  • American Knight writes Friday, October 9, 2009 A.D.
    “I think we are here precisely to build America as the City on a Hill and our own state, town, home and body too!
    “The efficacy of that work is not for us to decide, but it is our duty to do the work with that end in mind.

    “Thy Kingdom come” That means into our hearts, but it also means into our families, our towns, our country and the world”.

    My attempt is to point out that being American is no guarantee of goodness. We have relaxed too much into the comfort of the wealth of natural resources and take it as a right.

    The Founders were political creatures [and mostly ignorantly anti-Catholic]. They had fallen for the “Enlightened” nonsense of automatic progress, a word interpreted as improvement. Yet they were not shocked by being slavers.

    You must put together for me a list of accomplishments of the U.S.A. to balance the various horrors committed in the name of Liberty and Manifest Destiny.

  • Gabriel,

    I totally agree: Being American is no guarantee of goodness. Neither is being ‘Catholic’. Far too often we Catholics are tempted (God knows I fall for it often) to lean toward conceit when it comes to our faith. I am not condemning you, I am just using a handy exapmple. You stated, “The Founders were political creatures [and mostly ignorantly anti-Catholic]. They had fallen for the “Enlightened” nonsense of automatic progress, a word interpreted as improvement. Yet they were not shocked by being slavers.”

    Your statement is correct; however, Catholics have also owned slaves and advocated for slavery. Many Catholics were involved in racist and biggotted practices as recent as the last century. So we cannot cast stones at our poor misguided Protestant brethren simply because our Church, is The one established by Christ and only we have Apostolic succession. This is true for the Church, it is not necessarily true for each Catholic.

    I suspect this is the same for Protestants, in fact it may be more excuseable for them becuase they do NOT have infallible teaching, just the pale shadows left over from when their heretical founders were Catholic.

    Since the Church is perfect and we know that Catholics are not can you draw the conclusion that the Church is imperfect or that Catholics are perfect? Of course not, The Church is the Church and we are sinners. The same analogy can be applied to our country, although less ‘perfectly’. America is good and moral, Americans may or may not be. Until all of our mores, institutions, conventions, customs, etc. are corrupted (sadly that may not be far off) then we have something good to hold on to and revert to, while correcting the mistakes of the past, which include slavery and something much worse – abortion.

    The accomplishments of the USA that balance horrors do not exist. America is not a church and she has no spiritual soul, just a spirit of principle. Theie is no balance. The slaughter of Christians at Nagasaki with atomic weapons is unexcuseable we need to transcend it, not excuse it. Nevertheless, America has done more good for the world than harm, in her time but that doesn’t mean a balance has been achieved. Keep in mind she’s a country not a person. Most of our errors are propogated by evil forces and evil men working with them. We have a struggle ahead and the outcome will determine the fate of billions. In any event, this is not the thread to truly debate this issue.

    Suffice it to say that Mackey highlights his ‘conversion’ from nice sounding anti-capitalist platitudes to the honesty of the fact that free-markets allow the morally inclined to thrive and provide for their customers, their employees and themselves for the benefit of all. In fact a free-market even allows one to glorify God in their free market activity if they so choose. Thank God for that becuase without these wealthy Catholics who thrive in the free market, we’d have even less parishes than we do. I heard that one good man underwrote the public prayer of the Holy Rosary in Kansas City for almost 200,000 of the faithful. It required a $200,000+ check – thank God for free-markets!

Subsidiarity at Work

Monday, September 7, AD 2009

dilbert subsidiarity

Everyone here at the American Catholic hoped that you all have had a happy Labor Day weekend.

The principle of Subsidiarity states that government should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently.

Pope Leo XIII developed the principle in his AD 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum.  The principle was further developed by Pope Pius XI in his AD 1931 encyclial Quadragesimo Anno.

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To learn more about Subsidiarity click here.

To read Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum click here.

To read Pope Pius XI‘s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno click here.

For more Dilbert funnies click here.

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6 Responses to Subsidiarity at Work

  • I think the author of the first link oversimplifies the application of the principle — which is prudential in the first place — and makes something appear to be “obvious”.

    I’m actually very skeptical of the whole project of the Acton institute.

    If someone were a Catholic and told me they were a committed “liberal feminist Democrat” — I would inquire about their definitions of “liberal” and “feminist” before proceeding to make a judgment. If they were using authentically Catholic definitions for these relative terms, I’d have nothing else to say.

    If someone were a Catholic and told me they were an ardent laissez-faire free market capitalist, I’d ask as well what do those terms imply because while the philosophy is not in and of itself evil and it is certainly far from perfect — I would be interested as to how the Catholic reconciled their faith entirely with a philosophy largely born of the Enlightenment if there is no difference between the Catholic free market capitalist and other free market capitalists — it’d seem the philosophy transformed the Catholic not the other way around.

    While I think the Acton Institute does make extraordinary points at times, I find other things quite dubious. This is one of those points.

    I will go further into it, if time permits it later.

  • Eric,

    Thank you for the input.

    I don’t know much about subsidiarity so these postings are part of my path towards a deeper understanding of the principle.

  • I hope to learn more as well and look forward to your next post, Eric.

    The Welfare State is not one I want to live in, but I also would not want to have been an African American in Alabama waiting for my local community to let me in the front of the city bus.

    My own experience has been mixed, where sometimes the fed. government has gotten in the way of people taking on the socially responsible and moral challenges of the day, but more often the fed. govt. has had to come in when local authorities and communities for that matter have failed. And it is every so often a wonderful thing to feel a national sense of community when the federal government does something that we as a people want it to do: preserve Gettysburg and Yellowstone, develop the Apollo Program, help hurricane victims and give veterans health care benefits that are not dependent upon just local resources because they didn’t fight for their town, they fought for their country.

    Fr. Bosnich’s article makes some good points, but it also makes some surprising overstatements in my opinion:

    “The Bishops have not learned the key lessons of the 1980s: the success of free market economics and the failure of collectivism. The top-down, centralized planning of the Soviet system could not succeed because it contradicted the subsidiarity principle.”

    Yes, the Soviet system did not succeed, it was dehumanizing and it was cruel, but not because it was “collective” it failed because it was authoritarian and draconian and oppressed freedom of speech, thought, travel and of course the democratizing influence of market forces and personal wealth creation. But it is hard to claim that things like national reforms of health care are equivalent to the Soviet Union.

    Fr. Bosnich also wrote, “Consolidation is the weapon of tyranny, but the friend of liberty is particularism.” True, but the consolidation of money into 5 big banks and the consolidation of information into 5 big media companies and the consolidation of health care into a couple of insurance companies for each state and the consolidation of … well you get it. These all breed economic tyranny and yet these are the direct result of the laissez faire economic policies that I assume he would encourage. This begins to smack of Ayn Rand’s objectivism in which helping others or voting to help others leads directly to living for others and this destroys society.

    In another paragraph Fr. Bosnich say “Baum defines subsidiarity as “de-centralization” and socialization as “centralization”. In other words, in this view, Catholicism teaches the principle of de-centralization and the principle of centralization simultaneously!” I haven’t read Baum or anyone else that he quotes, except for de Tocqueville, so I don’t know. But it also seems apparent to me that Catholicism does teach individualism and collectivism simultaneously. I don’t see that as bad, I see it as realistic, natural and moral. The monastic tradition is the very embodiment of wrapping the two together in the most purposeful way possible. The Catholic Church is a rather singular example of a centralized hierarchy and I have to say with some sadness that the federalist and staunchly individualist tendencies of the Founding Fathers came more from the ancient Saxon, Iroquois and Protestant tradition (and Deism) than from Catholic tradition.

    It was during the Progressive Era in American history that began the last resurgence of the type of voluntary associations that de Tocqueville and the author would have praised. The Progressive Era was a time of strengthening communities, hundreds of clubs and the strengthening of labor unions and women’s suffrage. These traditions, some might say collectivistic tendencies, formed a particularly strong sense of rights and responsibilities.

    I think Fr. Bosnich gets caught up in the idea of statism and ignores even bigger issues – the we do not live in the 19th century anymore; that globalization is redefining what “local” and “national” really mean; that kids growing up today are thinking of themselves not as Idahoans or Atlantans, but as Americans or even world citizens; that we are not merely economic beings who only need protection from government price controls for aspirin; that humans are also ecologically tied to every other life form on Earth and that this bond has a spiritual nature as well.

    The principle of subsidiarity has at its heart the age-old conflicts of the individual vs. the group and rights vs. responsibility. Each is a balancing act and societies (especially American society) tend to teeter toter between each extreme rather than stay long at an equilibrium. As someone who most closely admires Jefferson and being from a relatively rural state, I certainly believe in that self reliance is a virtue and the least government being the best government. However I also believe that globalization and urbanization (not liberalism) have overwhelmingly placed most people in a position of compromised dependency – lots of people in big cities working service jobs and changing homes several times in their lives. We can pretend that smaller, simpler organizations will be able to take care of most of our needs, and in someways the internet and new urbanism is trying to do just that, but when large corporations drive the economy and when environmental degradation starts to cross borders and affect oceans, not just nearby valleys, then it is necessary for larger levels of governments to take a more active role and sometimes that role will be morally necessary, in my opinion.

  • Oh I forgot to add to Fr. Bosnich’s view on the lesson of the 1980’s … Another lesson of the 1980’s is that top-down economics (trickle down, deregulated industries) also encourage unrestrained mergers, economic bubbles and the decoupling of Wall Street capital from Main street workers which lead to an economy that eventually collapsed in 2008. Maybe each local Elks Club in the country could have a bake sale and replace everyone’s 401k.

  • MacGregor,

    Have you received the email I sent you?

  • From your first post, you make some very good points, Macgregor, although I think you may be erring slightly in your 6th paragraph by conflating two separate issues in the Soviet Union, politics and economics.

    In no way do I disagree with your analysis of the draconian, authoritarian aspects of Soviet political rule, but that is not what Fr. Bosnich was referring to, if I’m reading him correctly, in describing purely the economic aspects of collectivism, i.e., the top-down government control of every aspect of the economy. In and of itself such a system can never work because it is the antithesis of subsidiarity and there is no way for the bureaucrats running central planning to respond quickly to changes in supply and demand at the local levels, so they end up simply imposing a “one size fits all” solution on a vast economy, leading to massive inefficiency, shortages, etc.

    It happens to be true that in many real-life governments the two systems often go hand in hand, political authoritarian regimes and collectivist, state-controlled economies (e.g., Cuba, Venezuela under Chavez, North Korea, etc.), but I think it’s important to be clear that collectivist economies, even in the absence of political authoritarianism, cannot function efficiently.

    Sorry for the minor quibble, but I think it’s (political vs. economic government control) a vital distinction to make in relation to the Catholic notion of subsidiarity, or at least my very limited understanding of the concept! 😉

The Dignity of the Working Man

Monday, September 7, AD 2009

It is perhaps not a bad time to devote a few thoughts to the dignity of work. Work is not always seen in a wholly positive light. Many of us don’t like going to work, and the rigors of labor are reflect in Adam’s curse, when after the fall he is told that he shall eat only by the sweat of his brow, struggling to win sustenance from an unfriendly soil.

Yet we also recognize that that is an essential dignity to labor. Through labor we meet the essential needs of life, and labor is frequently a service: Husbands and wives labor for each others’ sake, parents labor to support children, we share the fruits of our labor with our churches, with the less fortunate, with our friends and family. We rightly take great pleasure and pride in serving others this way. As a father, even the most tiresome or repetitive task can be a source of satisfaction to me when I know that by this means I am providing for the needs and pleasures of my wife and children.

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4 Responses to The Dignity of the Working Man

  • The odd thing is that some of the leftist Catholics around here will be completely impervious to anything you just said. It’s not that they’ll disagree with it, it’s that they won’t even comprehend that anyone could sincerely care about anything other than maximizing the amount of money transferred from one pocket to another. In their stunted view of the world (and of the Church), the only thing that matters is how much money people have.

  • Excellent article!!!

    I am a left-leaning Catholic and I agree very much with your words and sentiments.

    I particularly like how you (who ever the author is) describe the dignity of work. As a teacher I have found that almost to a person, all students from every background and socio-economic level enjoy the feeling of doing work, just like all people like enjoy and even have the need to learn useful things. They get trained and taught to see learning as worse than playing and the they get habituated to the idea that work is something to be avoided, but once they are in a situation where they are contributing and improving themselves, they have unbounded energy. Just as an example, practicing for football is not really that much more of an enjoyable exercise than weeding a garden. Yet our culture (liberal and conservative) cheer for the one on Friday nights while pretty much ignoring the other. This and the natural tendency to equate success with million dollar contracts for football for a very small group compared to the minor economic incentive for the millions who labor in fields, creates a message that kids understand.

    I believe you insightfully described the tension between the “common good” and “social welfare” between the relationships of a “closed community” and an open and diverse, larger society. These tensions are huge and the answers are not simple unless you, like the Amish consistently and consciously remove yourself in some ways from one or the other. Yet even Amish communities are advertising their products on the internet.

    I agree that federal government programs almost always oversimplify issues and local problems. The local and personal responsibility should always be the first step in dealing with any issue, including labor laws and regulations if needed. Yet corporations over the last several decades, have successfully gotten the legal standing to remove themselves from local responsibilities. I would rather unions and labor laws be few and weak; I’d rather welfare and regulations be unnecessary, but in a time when honest physical work and small businesses are being disadvantaged compared to large corporations, there does need to be some balance maintained.

    Your last paragraph is excellent and I think reflects my views and the views of most liberal and conservative leaning Catholics!

    Addendum: Globally industrialization and urbanization have created some of the most powerful pressures on families and societies. Both create greater physical dependencies upon populations for everything from food and water to social contacts. I think these changes have been far too rapid for most societies to adapt sensibly and are a major cause for why some conservatives feel the need to embrace cutthroat economic, objectivist views and some liberals to embrace socialist, “nanny state” views. Both are over-reaction to overwhelming changes and the I expect the best thing that we can do is to be realistic, respectful and compassionate in our debates.

    Addendum: Maybe some on the far liberal side are myopically focused on the idea that money by nature bad or that wealth needs to be constantly redistributed from the rich to the poor, but actually that is a pretty rare belief. To be progressive or left-leaning does not mean to be a socialist or a fascist as Glen Beck likes to claim. That is a form of propaganda, like the idea that dems are always “weak on national defense” and “tax and spend.” It is an example of delegitimizing an opponent by oversimplifying their position. (For example most of the legislators in the House of Reps who are ex-military, are democrats.)

    Last Addendum: I personally have worked as a member of a union and most of the time I haven’t even noticed them. I think they need to change dramatically. As Steve Jobs of Apple once said, I’d support teacher unions if they could tell me how to fire bad teachers.

  • I’m not sure if I get some sort of consensus award for writing something that both SB and MacGregor like, or if that just means I wrote something incredibly general, but thanks, guys.

    MacGregor,

    For some reason the template only shows the author’s name in the footer on the home page, not when you click through to that article itself. Dunno how that looks in RSS if that’s what you’re using. But this one is mine. You can also see things by author if you click on the “Authors” links in the sidebar. We span a pretty wide spectrum politically, though I think everyone has a lot of respect for each others’ commitments to the Church.

  • I serve on the board of a social enterprise (a more appropriate term for what we do than a “charity”) that serves people with disabilities. Our goal is to have work for them to do. I have to admit that before I began serving on this board, I wrote off the term “the dignity of work” as just blather. But being around people with disabilities, who are excited to be able to go to work, made clear to me what the term really means. Not being able to work, not being allowed to work is the great indignity.

    Virtually everyone can serve others, in some way, through what most of us call “work.” I am concerned about institutional barriers to that service and, frankly, have to question the morality of them. I’m thinking of minimum wage laws (if I can do something but not very much, minimum wage laws say that it’s better that I don’t have a job), work permits (why should I be prevented from working here because I was born in another country?) and the like.

    I remember seeing a video about the Irish American experience. They had an interview with the son of an immigrant who had worked in the hard rock mines of Montana. He said that “One day, I asked my dad, ‘Why do you do it? Why do you go down in that hole every day?’ My dad looked and me and said ‘Makin’ a better life for the likes of you.’ I never asked him about it again.”

Saint Isidore the Laborer

Monday, September 7, AD 2009

Saint Isidore the Laborer

On this day on which we celebrate the workers of America, it is good to recall a simple day laborer who became one of Spain’s most beloved saints.  Also known as Saint Isidore the farmer,  he was born around 1170 and lived his entire life in the vicinity of Madrid, in service as a farm laborer to the family of Juan de Vargas.  Some of his fellow workers complained to Vargas that Saint Isidore was late for work due to his habit of attending Mass each day.  Checking up on his worker, he found Saint Isidore praying while an angel was doing the plowing!  Eventually Vargas made Saint Isidore bailiff of his entire estate.  Tales of miracles surround Saint Isidore.  One relates how he brought the daughter of his employer back to life.  Another tells how he found water during a time of drought.  He was noted for his charity to the poor and to animals.

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2 Responses to Saint Isidore the Laborer

Prayer to Saint Joseph the Workman

Sunday, September 6, AD 2009

Saint Joseph and Jesus

O Glorious St. Joseph, model of all those who are devoted to labor, obtain for me the grace to work conscientiously, putting the call of duty above my natural inclinations, to work with gratitude and joy, in a spirit of penance for the remission of my sins, considering it an honor to employ and develop by means of labor the gifts received from God, to work with order, peace, moderation and patience, without ever shrinking from weariness and difficulties, to work above all with purity of intention and detachment from self, having always death before my eyes and the account that I must render of time lost, of talents wasted, of good omitted, of vain complacency in success, so fatal to the work of God. All for Jesus, all through Mary, all after thine example, O Patriarch, St. Joseph. Such shall be my watch-word in life and in death.
Amen

Pope Saint Pius X

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Overwork in the Age of Multi-tasking

Wednesday, June 3, AD 2009

The weekend’s WSJ had an interesting article about work hours — the hours that people think they work, and the hours they actually do.

Over the past two decades of rapid technological deployment and globalization, it has become an article of faith among the professional set that we work sweatshop hours. Sociologist Juliet Schor started the rumor with her 1992 book, “The Overworked American,” which featured horror stories of people checking their watches to know what day it was.

Then God created the BlackBerry and things got worse. In late 2005, Fortune’s Jody Miller claimed that “the 60-hour weeks once thought to be the path to glory are now practically considered part-time.” In late 2006, the Harvard Business Review followed up with an article on “the dangerous allure of the 70-hour workweek,” calling jobs that required such labor the new standard for professionals. The authors featured one “Sudhir,” a financial analyst who claimed to work 90-hour weeks during summertime, his “light” season. He’s got nothing on a young man I met at a party recently who told me he was working 190 hours a week to launch his new company.

It was a curious declaration; I would certainly invest in a start-up that had invented a way to augment the 168 hours that a week actually contains.

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3 Responses to Overwork in the Age of Multi-tasking

  • My guess is that in addition to the factors mentioned in this article, part of the discrepancy is due to the fact that each additional hour of work is probably more taxing than the previous hour. If you are running ten miles, the tenth mile is likely to be significantly harder (and perhaps feel longer) than the first. The same goes, I suspect, for hours worked in a day or week.

  • Once, when I was working as a paralegal, I had to get something out of the office of a young attorney who put in excessively long hours even by DC law firm standards. His office door was partly open and I tapped on it before sticking my head inside. He looked the very picture of lawyerly diligence, hunched over his desk, head resting on his hand. He appeared to be so focused on whatever he was reading that I hestitated to say anything – and then I heard a loud snore,…,hope he didn’t include the naps in his billable hours;-)

    I think that if it were possible to gauge the number of hours Americans actually spend working vs. the time spent at work, you’d see quite a discrepancy. How many goofy or inspirational emails and video clips do you get forwarded to you in the course of a day at work? Personal emails, personal calls, chit-chat with co-workers, etc. Some of that is what makes the day bearable, of course – we are not robots. But we all know people who, er, spend a wee bit more time on personal stuff and entertainment than they should(like a former boss of mine who was excellent at farming her work out and spent the better part of Friday morning doing the WSJ crossword puzzle.)

    Of course, I’m an exception, nose to the grindstone every second of the day;-).

  • This reminds me of the time when virus attacks were more frequent. Then the newspapers carried banner headlines on the billions and billions lost due to lost “productivity”, thankfully these billions of dollars were apparently made up for without much fuss in the succeeding days. I knew a Frenchman who insisted that one should not work extra hours. He claimed that work should be done in the alloted time. Anything further showed a lack of competence. incomete

3 Responses to Dehumanizing Work and Obstructionary Unions

  • It might happen, provided one or all of them still exists in two years. As with so many of these snowball effects, the underlying philosophy behind them was It Seemed Like A Good Idea At the Time. Not knowing that GM would ultimately have three times as many pensioners as active employees. And as for today’s criticism of the Porkapalooza Bill- the union movement forked over $400 million to the Obama campaign. It expected results favorable to it in return. It is never an easy thing for an invdividual, an organization, a movement, to be asked the challenge to reinvent self. But events of the past few months- personally and in the wider society- have wacked ol’ Ger in the head that it will be mandatory. For all of us. Woulda happened with or without Porkapalooza. The Church is immune as She was founded by Christ. And she is still dealing with the vast reorganization known as Vatican II. So happens to the best of us. Just control the nature of the change, not the inevitability of it.

  • Taylorism is alive and well–and still causing problems.

    However, manufacturing enterprises which have adopted “Lean” techniques are able to avoid Taylorism, because “Lean” is Toyota-system based. It’s actually a work-reduction system–or better put, an efficacy, rather than efficiency, based work environment.

    Where Taylor reigns, workmen’s compensation claims are significant expenses…

  • The claim of “5000 pages of work rules” stinks to high heaven; kindred to the big lie of UAW wages of $72 per hour. Production supervisors don’t carry around 5000 page manual; they are simply required to understand the seniority system and treat human beings fairly and with decency. Say what you want about unions, but as a union worker I never had to work in fear or brown nose. I came into the shop with my dignity and at end of the day I walked out with my dignity.