The Corner

Those Lovely Unions

Nick Confessore over at Tapped takes exception to our recent discussion of unions and interest groups around here. He summarizes the conversation so far thus:

The folks over at The Corner, chiefly Jonah Goldberg and one of his correspondents, are arguing — in response to an offhand comment in Peter Beinart’s latest column — that liberal interest groups, and particularly the labor movement, don’t do much good for anyone except their own constituents, and thus are no more selfish than corporate special interests. I’m not going to engage the whole thing, but I think Goldberg and his correspondent go quite awry when discussing labor

He then goes on to detail all of the wonderful things labor does and has done for the non-union world. Now, before I get into all that, let me say I don’t think all leftwing or liberal interest groups are selfish or don’t do much good for others. Or at least I don’t believe that, as an article of faith, that this is necessarily the case. Some unions were even very good in the Cold War (one of the accomplishments Nick oddly leaves out).

But, as for Confessore’s direct point on how much good the labor movement has done — fighting for health care, the minimum wage, even civil rights (a very mixed record if you ask me) — I say: point taken. I tend not to assume bad motives in everyone I disagree with, so I’m sure many folks in the labor movement want to do good for everyone, not just their members.

However, the notion that the labor movement favors hikes in the minimum wage solely or even largely out of altruism — which seems to be Confessore’s point — strikes me as pretty tendentious. I’ve always worked on the assumption that one of the main reasons that the labor movement favors such things is that, to quote JFK and Ronald Reagan, a rising tide lifts all boats. If the lowest paid people become better paid, this puts inflationary pressure — political and/or economic — on all wages. I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if many labor contracts actually included formulas which peg union jobs at certain multiples of the minimum wage.

And lastly, as Nick concedes, some of this argument is difficult because while labor may or may not have had the good of others when it pushed certain policies, most conservatives would argue that the policies themselves weren’t good for people. But, as he says, that’s a whole different argument.

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