On the ‘Countervailing Power of Unions’

by Ramesh Ponnuru

One of the chief arguments against Governor Walker’s proposal — maybe the chief argument — is that strong public-sector unions are necessary to offset the political power of plutocratic elites and thus achieve sensible, balanced public policies. This is the argument of Paul Krugman, for example. I find it a little odd. The argument can only be persuasive to someone who is already committed to contemporary-liberal economic policies. The vast majority of liberals already are. So is this an argument directed solely at those few liberals who have reservations about the power of these unions, the Richard Cohens of the world? And it’s also odd because the argument is so often made by people who think there is something objectionable in Governor Walker’s support for legislation that will weaken his political opponents and thus strengthen his allies. The countervailing-power argument is precisely that the law should boost the power of one side of the political debate. (Again: Nobody who makes this argument can expect Walker’s supporters to respond, “Well now that you point it out I suppose our conservative agenda is destructive and it would be good to throw up obstacles to it by strengthening our opposition.”)

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