e’re told by teachers, politicians, and the media that unions are the best thing ever to happen to people who work. Without them, we’d all be working 80 hour weeks, for pennies per hour, and dying by 30 from how dangerous the conditions are.
And yet, for some reason, most people not only don’t belong to unions, are not even thinking about forming unions, but wouldn’t even want their industry unionized, if they had the chance. In fact, unions are dying out. The odds are that if you don’t more or less inherit a union career because you’re locked into a Company Town situation, you will never join one.
In the 1940s, 35% of American workers belonged to trade unions. Today in the private sector, membership is less than 7%. It is even lower in states that protect your right to have a specific job without joining a union.
Because, in reality, a union takes more freedom away from a worker, than from anyone else.
Pay is Important
It’s not fun, negotiating with an employer for your compensation. Well, not unless you’re really in demand. Then it can be joyful agony, trying to decide which offer is best, and what to require you be paid…but, the rest of the time, it’s unpleasant.
But the joy and pain are both because of how completely important your pay for your work really is. Your entire lifestyle depends on that set of decisions.
Not just how much you’ll be paid, but in what form. Do you want more cash, or would you prefer more days off? Are you better off putting up with a company insurance plan, that is cheaper but less responsive and lacking in choices, or more money and save up for your own checkups? Do you want paid lunch and breaks, or more money and come home sooner?
The problem with a union is that it strips away any control you have over that life-changing question.
You don’t even get to choose when, or how, to negotiate. Union management takes all power away from you, and you have to cross your fingers, praying whatever they think is best happens to be something you can tolerate.
Even under the best circumstances, they’ll be negotiating for the lowest common denominator. What the average worker is worth, and the union will gain from getting. The problem is that in the real world, almost nobody’s average. A good compromise, famously, is one where everyone goes away equally unhappy. With a union, you don’t just have to compromise with an employer, but also with all of the other workers.
You Become a Cog
With a union, you must settle for:
What the average worker is worth…
Diluted by what benefits the union management and corporate management negotiate.
You also lose the power to be paid for your effort, quality, ideas, and unique traits.
For example, you may be willing to work extra-hard to make more money, or have more job security. You may not even need to work hard; there may be some special part of your occupation you’re particularly good at.
But most unions avoid the idea of being paid for how well you do the job, replacing it with being paid for how many years you’ve worked. What could be a worse system of payment than this?
Of course it’s bad for the customers, because quality falls by the way-side…and therefore is bad for the company, as its profit depends on that quality. But it’s also bad for you, the worker, whose efforts become meaningless…just hang on to the job for as long as you can, that’s the only way you can make more money.
Likewise, no amount of effort can protect you from being laid off during the slow or hard times, with a typical union contract. You could be the very best at your job, but if you’ve only been there a few years, you’re out the door.
The Worst Kind of Middleman
It’s bad enough that unions harm companies, consumers, and society by causing unemployment, playing insider favoritism, price increases, inefficiency, low quality, reducing non-union worker pay, and other means, plus all the above disadvantages to union members, but what do you gain, in return for this?
- The right to be forced to pay union dues, whether you find them worthwhile or not.
- The privilege to have part of that hefty fee spent to bribe government officials with policies you probably don’t actually like, and be punished if you object.
- The fortune of having some of the rest divvied up among the secretive, corrupt union management and their cronies and masters, for no apparent reason whatsoever.
- Oh, and the joy of having yet another Tyranny of the Majority government ruling over you, in the form of that union’s quasi-elected crony management.
It’s no surprise that unions actually reduce real household income.
Not a Number, but a Free Man
The reason most of us eschew labor unions like they’re a porcupine who recently attacked a skunk’s posterior, is that we really are better off as free people, than as vassals of a collective, whose real function seems to be the profit of its “leaders”.
In other words, I’d rather protect my right to earn pay based on what I’m worth, not my seniority, and not be given useless token “compensation” that sucks part of it away, like hourly coffee breaks and a dubious promise of unreasonably high, distant retirement pay, I probably won’t see, once the union bankrupts my employer.
Unionism seldom, if ever, uses such power as it has to insure better work; almost always it devotes a large part of that power to safeguarding bad work.
– H. L. Mencken
– Henry George
he Founding Fathers despised democracy. They called the idea of 51% voting to impose its will the “violence of majority faction“. Poor Thomas Jefferson spent a great deal of effort and political capital proving he wasn’t a closet democrat. When writing Democracy in America, French philosopher Alexis DeToqueville coined the phrase Tyranny of the Majority referring to an idea from Plato’s Republic.
Majority rule imposes the will of a mere half of the population, plus one vote, upon minorities in each issue.
You need only to look at how this impacted blacks in the US to understand how evil majority rule over the minority is.
The Founders sought to solve this problem, by banning democracy in America, setting up a Republic where the majority could never legally vote to violate the natural rights of the minority. The only powers allowed to the Federal government were those listed in the Constitution, with the 9th and 10th articles of the Bill of Rights banning it from doing anything else, even if the majority voted for it.
Majority as Consensus
Of course the Federal government has been corrupted enough to overstep its legitimate authority, but that’s another article.
The modern apologists for majority rule, who unfortunately have managed to get the word “democracy” spun into a positive thing in public schools, defend their tyranny over minorities by saying “hey, at least we can be sure that there isn’t a larger group who opposes a vote, than the group who supports it”.
Advocates of liberty, though, object that you still should not violate the will of ANY people, in a free society. They say that you have no more authority to violate the rights of another because you are a large group, than if you are one man trying to impose your will on your neighbor. At least not legitimately.
Of course, the obvious retort is “hey, the only way to solve the problem of having minorities on issues is to have a unanimous vote…and that’s impossible! If we depended on unanimity, then nothing would ever get accomplished at all!”
A free market is based, purely, on unanimity.
This is because the fundamental principle of liberty is private property:
Each person is a government of one, over his rightful possessions, starting with his own body.
But if someone wanted a vote on what everyone in the country is going to have for supper tonight, the odds are that he would not be able to get everyone to agree on the same thing. So if this were a power of the government, up to half of the population, minus one vote, would have their right to choose what to eat violated.
Of course that’s if there are only two options…which is a sort of farce of an election in the first place. With a real selection of all things people might reasonably desire for supper, probably more than 99% of people will be forced to eat something they would not have chosen.
And, let’s face it, with how goofy people are, you’re almost always going to end up being forced to eat something you don’t even like, much less want for tonight.
On the other hand, if each man governs his own life, as in a free market, then you may choose not only exactly what to eat, but even when to eat it.
Every time you are hungry, there is a vote, and you are unanimous. Sure, it’s limited to what you can afford, but what better way to determine what a meal is worth than that? Imagine if the majority were always voting themselves caviar and steak, bankrupting society.
With majority rule, you only get rare input at all, and only one option is selected, with most people being losers in the process.
But with the free market, you vote every instant, of every day, and are able to reverse yourself at will.
Of course, this also applies to groups, not just individuals, because their membership is purely voluntary, unlike an authoritarian government:
Sure, your chess club or paintball team may have majority votes, but your participation in them is purely consensual. Each moment of your life, you are free to leave, and if you stay you are voting unanimously for your own membership.
If you leave an organization in a free society, they are not going to blockade your house until you’re forced to fire on them, and then claim you started a hostilities, invade, and conquer you.
If the majority of your local town council votes to condemn your perfectly sound family home, just to put up a strip mall that will bring them more tax money and campaign contributions, it does this in violation of the unanimity of private property rights, and you can’t simply withdraw your membership.
Don’t worry; in two years you’ll be allowed to cast a single vote against at least one of those politicians who stole your home…if you still live in town, and at a legal residence, not in a cardboard box.
You might even try to get 51% of all voters in your city to set aside all other issues and vote for the single challenger to each of those bad politicians.
Of course, if your private property rights were protected as they should be, you wouldn’t be in this predicament. Maybe you should just push for laws protecting those rights in general, so such things couldn’t happen in the first place.
While majority rule imposes tyranny over minorities, capitalism, through private property rights, protects even the smallest minority, that of the individual, with unanimity.
The political principle that underlies the market mechanism is unanimity. In an ideal free market resting on private property, no individual can coerce any other, all cooperation is voluntary, all parties to such cooperation benefit or they need not participate.
— Milton Friedman, The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits, The New York Times Magazine
Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority
Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.
When the unaccountable, secretive arm of the banking industry known as the Federal Reserve started lending itself (the banking industry) billions of newly invented dollars, late last year, responsible people all over America were horrified.
Some of the soundest economic minds even started predicting “hyperinflation”.
Well, it’s been three quarters, now…soon it’ll be a year.
“Where,” other people are saying, “oh where is that oh-so-scary hyperinflation?”
The answer comes in several parts:
What is Hyperinflation? Hyperinflation is a specific thing. It’s not the three percent inflation we normally “enjoy”, any more than it’s a flavor of cream pie. We must define what it is, in order to know if it happens.
What Causes Hyperinflation? Having defined it, we need to know if the things that cause it are happening. The Fed has printed new money for nearly 100 years, never with hyperinflation. Is what happened recently sufficient to change that?
How Long Would it Take? Is it too late? It’s been nine months; are we safe?
Well, Let’s See
What is hyperinflation?
Well, “inflation” is when you increase the amount of money, or the supply of it compared to the demand for goods in society…but when non-economists say “inflation”, they usually mean “prices go up”.
And so “hyperinflation” is just “prices going up really, really fast”. The amount necessary to count is generally said to be “100% per year for three years”, for long-term hyperinflation, or else “50% per month” for short-term hyperinflation.
The most inflation we’ve ever suffered, in the 1970s, was less than 14% per year. Normally, it’s between 2% and 3%.
Right now, prices are going DOWN most months, not up. There isn’t even price stability now, much less price inflation.
But why would prices be going up OR down, in an unhealthy way?
Almost exactly 100 years ago, in 1907, the US suffered yet another in a long series of destructive depressions and panics, generally caused by money shortages creating runs on banks, price failures, stock market crashes, et cetera.
But this one was stopped dead in its tracks by a group of wealthy entrepreneurs who made very short-term loans to various financial groups, allowing banks to pay off depositors, et cetera. The result was the downturn cut short, never becoming a full-blown depression.
A brilliant lesson was about to be learned, but unfortunately government prevented that. Instead of a newish industry of short-term finance lenders/insurers springing up, the Federal Government announced it was going to act in that role, from now on. It created the Federal Reserve, which would use its coercive power to print imaginary new money to lend to financial institutions in times of crisis.
(Sadly, it did the opposite; it lent out newly minted money in good times, but tended to cut it off whenever there was a financial panic, which was the only time it was supposed to lend in the first place…this is part of what triggered the start of the Great Depression in 1929)
Well, the Fed is a whole other discussion, of course, so we’re going to skip ahead, now
So instead of lending out money during a crisis, the Federal Reserve increases the amount of money a few percent per year, lending it out in good times. This is part of why we have (usually moderate) inflation…the amount of money increases faster than the demand for goods, so there’s more money to spend than stuff to buy, and prices increase.
But from 2004 through 2008, the Fed did something it hadn’t done since 1938 when we went off the Gold Standard: It started DECREASING money supply:
Notice that the most important line, the red M1, goes below zero (to shrinking money), and stays negative longer than it had been at any but one time in fifty years. And currency (actual paper money) falls lower than ANY time in that span.
This is because M3, which includes money in foreign banks, was going up so quickly: Money was fleeing the US because of our wars, and the 700% inflated oil prices, and our billions in new foreign aid. We would buy oil that should have cost a few hundred billion, but instead cost us trillions, and send the money for that oil to Saudi Arabia, and other foreign countries.
Over the course of four years, this added up to a shortfall of between two and three trillion dollars in the domestic US economy. That money was all overseas.
Here comes deflation
This didn’t even leave enough money to pay for our normal goods, much less allow the economy to grow…plus, of course, the cost of making things was shooting up from the high oil prices, as all things require energy, while there was LESS money to cover that universal new expense.
The result? Deflation, and therefore a money shortage, that led to the economic depression starting in 2008. There was not enough money to run the economy, so prices began FALLING, the US suffering what appeared to be a “loss” of about three trillion dollars. This was simply the change in prices to represent the trillions missing because of M1 shrinking for four years.
The Federal Reserve’s response? It actually CUT its offered money supply in 2008, by refusing to lend to banks suffering financial trauma…once again failing to act in its sole official role of “lender of last resort” as in 1907.
But it couldn’t keep that up, because deflation destroys a market economy.
So, once this cutting off of emergency money caused the banks to start failing, the Fed belatedly loosened its purse strings: It lend out over two trillion dollars to financial institutions, in just a few months.
Is It Enough to be Hyper?
Now if the Fed did this all the time, lending out a trillion dollars each month when the economy was just fine, we might really have hyperinflation.
But, instead, the Fed did this ONE TIME, starting from a money deficit of three trillion dollars.
So, in fact, what it did was produce enough new money to, hopefully, make up for the money shortage.
Being down trillions of dollars, then adding two trillion, could not make prices double every year. Or even once.
Even if there had been no shortage, two trillion is not enough to increase prices by 50% every month, nor 100% every year, because it is a fraction of the many trillions of dollars in our economy, and only happened one time. Hyperinflation requires more money to be printed even as prices are going through the roof, so that people come to expect it and overprice things ahead of time.
But, even if it had been enough to cause hyperinflation, there’s one last big factor:
We can’t guarantee that there will be NO backlash from this infusion of money, until about 18 months have passed. Historically, changes in money supply take between 6 and 18 months to hit prices in an economy. It has to gradually spread throughout the system, being spent, invested, and saved over and again, until its full impact is felt and absorbed.
So we have until mid 2010 to see whether there are SOME effects from the unhealthy throwing of two trillion unearned dollars at our socialized banking institutions.
What About Government Spending?
For better or worse, it is actually impossible for government spending to “stimulate” an economy, at all. And since the current “stimulus packages” are financed by bonds and deficit, not the printing of money, they are actually DE-Flationary. Read the above link, to understand exactly why these things are so.
Sorry, Not Even Close
But, ultimately, whatever backlash there is, it cannot be hyperinflation. With an economy of, depending on how you count, eight to twelve trillion dollars, you can’t make prices jump even 50%, even for ONE month (and it must keep happening, to be hyper), by printing two trillion new dollars. Not even if there were not already deflation to counter.
They are pointing to two signs we are having bad deflation…first, the falling price of commodities like oil, and the disappearance of money in this economic failure causing demand to plunge. One of those is actually good, the other is very bad.
When prices go down naturally, because of an increase in efficiency or improvement in technology, it is good for everyone.
- Improved efficiency makes the manufacture of computers cheaper, while more advanced computers make the old versions cost less.
- Food used to take up most of humanity’s effort, therefore most of a family’s cost of living, but has declined to third or fourth place as technology and efficiency allowed us to grow more with less.
The decline in oil prices, returning to only double their normal level, will cause a good kind of global price decline, because most prices are effected by the cost of the energy required to create and deliver products and services.
But, again, those specific cost reductions are not deflation.
What Are Real Deflation and Inflation?
In real economic terms, inflation and deflation happen when the ratio of money to economic wealth changes. If the amount of money becomes greater, in comparison to the economy, then you get inflation. Because the most common result of this is for prices to increase, we confuse the terms and call general price increases “inflation”, but actually it’s the change in ratio that is inflation.
The eleven trillion-plus dollars of capital that have purportedly vanished in the past few months represent a huge decline in money supply, causing actual deflation. This failure was caused by the inability of central authority to manage money any better in the US than it could provide shoes and food in the Soviet Union.
Prices Can Increase Without Inflation, Too
Prices can actually increase for other reasons, and that’s not really inflation. For example, when oil increased 600% in price, it drove up the cost of production, without regard for the number of dollars in the economy. This general price increase was NOT inflation.
And when prices decrease for other reasons, it’s not deflation.
Inflation is Harmful
We all know that when the ratio of money to wealth increases, causing inflation, it is bad for the economy, and especially for the poor and middle classes. This is because it usually drives up prices, and the poorer you are, the more of your wealth and well-being is in cash.
Poorer people depend on cash they have in a bank, or other savings. They are paid by employers who give them only a set rate, plus raises for special reasons like increased skill.
Wealthier people tend to have more of their wealth in assets like, stocks and real estate, that will simply increase in price, sheltering them from some of the effect if inflation. They get cost of living increases in salary every year, on top of any other raises.
Deflation is Harmful, too
But the opposite kind of damage occurs if you have deflation, and is compounded by a new problem.
First, deflation artificially drives down prices. To a person with no real assets or investments, this sounds good, because “stuff costs less”.
But it comes at a horrible price.
For example, the decline in prices includes wages. Deflation is universal, with a shortage of money everywhere, so that your income will decline, along with the price you pay for things. What good is cheaper stuff, if you also have less money?
So people with fewer assets and no investments will more or less end up breaking even. But they still lose out in the end, because they become blocked from gaining assets, trapping them in relative poverty.
How Deflation Traps the Poor and Middle Class
Imagine you’re buying a house. Not on a sub-prime loan, but one where your income is perfectly fit for the home you’re getting.
It’s probably a thirty year loan. So you’re going to be stuck paying on the original price of your house, for thirty years, at the original size of house payment.
Now remember that your income (in dollars) is getting smaller every year. That’s deflation.
And the price of your house, too. Each year, its is worth fewer dollars, yet your original debt is the same. And so are your payments.
Within just a few years, you are making far less money, but are stuck with the same size house payment you always had.
While you still have to pay the same percentage of of your paycheck income for food, electricity, and so on, your house payment takes up a higher percentage of that money every year.
Soon, your income has shrunken to the point where you cannot make your house payment at all. Not even if you paid your whole check to the bank every week.
And worse, you can’t simply sell his house to get out of it. The price of your house has also declined every year. Selling it now that the payment is too high won’t even pay off your remaining house debt.
Of course people would quickly learn this, and that they simply cannot buy houses, unless they are so incredibly wealthy that they can save up enough to pay cash.
But even those wealthy people who can pay cash for a house now face the situation where buying a house is a horrible investment, because the house’s value will decline, in dollars.
It would actually be better to leave the money in a vault, and rent monthly, even for a billionaire, because the money’s value increases, while the house’s price declines. One thousand dollars will be worth more next year, if you simply stick it in your mattress, than one thousand dollars worth of house will be worth in that same year.
In fact, owning land becomes a losing proposition. With even the wealthy better-off renting, who’s going to actually be the landlord?
Deflation Attacks Economic Freedom
In fact, ALL property ownership becomes punished!
With deflation, anything you buy does not just depreciate with use and age, but declines in value every year with prices, compared to if you’d simply kept the money.
Today, you could buy that console game, or car, or collectible, and then sell it on eBay a few years from now and recoup part of the cost. But with deflation, the price you recoup is even farther from if you’d kept the cash in the first place.
Deflation Destroys Capitalism
In fact (and this is where the entire economy implodes from deflation), simply holding on to your money is rewarded versus ANY investment, in a deflationary economy. If you put your money in a big ol’ vault, removing it from the economy entirely, it grows in value every year. But if, instead, you buy stocks, or invest in commodities, then your money is gone, replaced with an asset that becomes worth less every year, in dollar terms.
The growth of every business, in fact, would be undone by the rate of deflation. Now from the company’s standpoint, that is fine, because its expenses decline every year by the same amount.
But from an investor’s standpoint, a company growing at 2% per year during 3% deflation would mean you lose 1% over just stuffing your money in a safe. And yet you also risk, when investing money.
Why bother investing even in a company you think might grow at 5%, when you could have a 100% safe 3% investment in a vault under your mattress? So, really, the company facing deflation is NOT fine, because it discovers that it’s far harder to get investors. In fact, the entrepreneur who would have started that company is 3% punished each year for the effort, making him that much less likely to even bother.
With investors discouraged because of deflation, it becomes harder to create wealth. Capitalism, in fact, becomes almost impossible:
- An entrepreneur can’t get investors for his new project.
- There’s less reason to buy stocks, so companies can’t raise capital.
- You can’t get a loan to start a business, because your company’s income would decline every year, yet the loan payment would stay as large as ever.
With deflation, the very engines of capitalism all die out.
Speculation Defines Capitalism
It is the uncertain investment on the wild new idea that makes capitalism superior to central planning. Anyone can decide to invest in a “sure thing”: if that were good enough, socialism would work, because a government bureaucrat could declare money for the obvious solution. It’s diverse people choosing to risk money on many different wild ideas that lets the best solutions rise to the top.
But that very kind of capital investment, in a deflationary economy, is punished, because you get such a good deal by not investing in anything at all, but holding your money in a vault.
All of this, by the way, is aside from the additional destruction caused by the lack of downward price elasticity on many commodities and time-based investments. That’s much more arcane, but a key source of economic depression, that I’ll get into some other time.
For now, it’s enough to realize that prices being FORCED downward by deflation includes your pay, and the value of any investments you make, so that private property ownership, borrowing, and investing, in fact all capitalism, is crippled under deflation.