« Re: Terror Attacks | Main | Arguing Health Care »

March 23, 2007

Links

Today's a busy (paid!) writing day for me, so here are some links to tide you over:

• Kevin explains the coming crack-up of the GOP's taxes-and-traditionalism appeal. In fact, the new Pew Poll he draws from is disastrous for conservatism on a wide variety of metrics, ranging from increased trust in government services to increased support for unions to a collapse in voter identification with the GOP.

• Labor historian David Brody explains that employers never were supposed to have a voice in union elections. "That was the intention of Robert L. Wagner, the great New Deal senator who wrote the law," Brody writes. "He understood that the employment relationship was inherently coercive and that the only way to ensure the integrity of labor's rights was to insulate them from employer interference."

• Cancer is bipartisan. Tony Snow is going under the knife to get a hopefully benign growth removed.

• You know how you're always hearing the Chinese own us through our debt? It's not true. Turns out we own us. I hope we're giving us favorable rates.

• Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz explains why more pharmaceutical research should be encouraged through prizes rather than patents. This neatly solves the problem of how you incentivize important medical research without allowing pharmaceutical companies to control and withhold lifesaving drugs from poorer countries.

• And finally, Marty Peretz: Still a racist. On a related note, Marty keeps threatening to really unleash hell on George Soros, and the strong insinuation is his chosen method will be accusing him of collaborating with the Nazis. If Marty does this, I and many others will be very interested in finding out what all the various employees at his magazine think of the charge. After all, if Bob Kuttner began calling people fascists, i think folks would have a right to know whether I agree with the opinions being expressed by my boss.

March 23, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Well, yes; the Social Security trust fund holds much more of the debt than the Chinese do. But, of course, that's just worthless pieces of paper according to Bush.

Posted by: idlemind | Mar 23, 2007 5:23:57 PM

That "we own us" chart is an awfully confused interpretation of that chart.

The chart says that of $8.7t in government debt, about $3.8t is debt the government owes to itself, and of the actual government debt outstanding, 54% is owned by US citizens and 46% is owned by individuals and institutions overseas.

FORTY SIX PERCENT. Rounding to the closest 10, HALF.

And with the current account in deficit by more than 5% of GDP, on average, in the period since 2000, its only a matter of time before a majority of government debt outstanding is owed abroad.

Posted by: BruceMcF | Mar 23, 2007 5:34:17 PM

But, of course, that's just worthless pieces of paper according to Bush.

Not worthless now, but worth less in the future if the funds aren't repaid. Which we're not even close to being on a repayment schedule to accomplish.

Bruce, shouldn't the debt to the government owes itself be counted in with the amount we own of our debt? It represents obligations just as real. When that debt is paid, it has to come out of another part of the budget, which doesn't then magically disappear. It will have to be paid for somehow.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 23, 2007 6:00:15 PM

Brody's rejoinder to the Post is excellent. I was going to write the same thing in substance, but he did a far better job than I could have done.

If you believe that employees have the right to decide whether or not to join unions, you need to take the employer out of the equation altogether. It's that simple. It's not the employer's decison. The employer gets his chance when a union prevails and the parties have to bargain. The employer does not have to reach agreement on a contract with a union. There is no binding arbitration for contracts in American priovate sector labor law.

If the parties can't reach agreement, the union can strike, the employer can lock out.

That is exactly the way the National Labor Relations Act was designed.

Posted by: Klein's tiny left nut | Mar 23, 2007 7:06:47 PM

Sanpete, write yourself an IOU for $5,000. Now sign and date it and put it in your pocket.

It's either a worthless piece of paper, or at the same time a $5,000 asset and $5,000 debt.

The net debt from signing the IOU is still the same in either interpretation ... $0.

Its just like a business. If they have shares that are authorized but not sold, they are not listed in their outstanding equity base. If they buy back corproate debentures but do not retire them, they are not accounted in their outstanding debt obligations, because there is no obligation to make a coupon payments to yourself on your own corporate debentures.

That's what debt "outstanding" means. Debt that is actually out there as an obligation to someone else.

Of course, when I first learned any of this as an undergraduate in the 1980's, 25% of US debt outstanding to overseas owners would have been a scandal. Now a misleading impression that its "only" 25% of our outstanding debt held overseas that is supposedly good news!

Posted by: BruceMcF | Mar 23, 2007 7:15:43 PM

The historical point about Senator Wagner's original intent may be accurate, and the point about the coercive nature of employment may have some validity, but the main sticking point with the proposed remedy is going to remain the lack of a secret ballot. The above points don't require card check instead of a secret ballot. The Post editorial recognizes the problems with the secret ballot as presently carried out and suggests solutions that preserve the secret ballot.

Bruce, we appear to understand the debt to the trusts very differently. As I understand it, it's more like this: take $5,000 from your right pocket, which is reserved for future obligations, put it in your left pocket, and write yourself and IOU for $5,000 and put it in your right pocket. Spend the $5,000. Now, what happens when the future obligations arise and you need the $5,000 in your right pocket? You'll have to repay the IOU. That's $5,000 more that will have to be raised, just as for an ordinary debt. Maybe I'm just not sophisticated enough to see how this shell game has no consequences that will have to be owned up to just as other debts will be. Apparently Al Gore and the Democratic Party in 2000 weren't either.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 23, 2007 8:02:49 PM

You should be more outraged at the sacrifice of small children than Mr. Peretz's post.

In my heart of hearts, I believe that the left looks for racism, screens everything written or spoken for racism as a matter of course. I also believe that their definition of racism has changed over time to include things like this post that wouldn't have been included just 10 years ago.

The buzz should be about the horrible and deliberate sacrifice of children, but that's not what you rail against.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 23, 2007 8:48:21 PM

You should be more outraged at the sacrifice of small children than Mr. Peretz's post.

It isn't a contest, Fred; one need not choose between the two. But the atrocities that go on in Iraq are something that bloggers can't do much about directly; the bombers aren't here to listen. On the other hand, Peretz's linking of the atrocities to Arabs and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict can be more effectively dealt with directly, since he's here to be argued with directly.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 23, 2007 9:13:49 PM

Brody's rejoinder to the Post is indeed excellent so long as one refuses to recognize the Bill of Right's application to free speech. The Supreme Court, as labor historian Brody must know, held in two early cases that the First Amendment survived the Wagner Act (to include the unwritten emanating penumbra parts of the Act that Brody's argument relies on) and Congress later codified this somewhat novel idea.
And if you don't think the employer should be involved in union campaigns, and you manage to get that idea into law and past the Constitutional problems, then on whom can the employees rely to provide differing information and opinions? Remember that the NLRA is focused on the employees right to decide in favor of or refrain from organizing and surely information is an important part of that decision. I doubt that the union organizer, otherwise a saint among men, will provide the counter to his own propaganda. Should the employees be left to rely on other employees to go up against a professional union organizer? Or are these proposals not really about what's best for the employees?

Posted by: scouser | Mar 23, 2007 9:21:27 PM

...shouldn't the debt to the government owes itself be counted in with the amount we own of our debt? It represents obligations just as real. When that debt is paid, it has to come out of another part of the budget, which doesn't then magically disappear. It will have to be paid for somehow.

Sanpete: I think this is a dubious way to look at it. Why? Well, this debt the US government owes itself essentially amounts to money the government will eventually have to fork over to retirees. Starting in another 10-12 years or so, an increasingly large percentage of this cash will have to come from sources of revenue besides the FICA tax. So far, so good -- I'm basically on board with this, because, as far as I'm concerned, we'd be better off if we financed ALL of social security from general revenue (I basically hate the FICA tax). But the point I want to make is: by classifying this intragovernmental tranfer act as part of the national debt, we focus excessive attention on one particular program: Social Security. We all know that Medicare is an even bigger future consumer of tax dollars. Medicaid (because of its role in paying for longterm care) may be an even larger burden. But heck, while we're on the subject, why don't we throw in future defense outlays, too? And how about future farm subsidies? And foreign aid? And money for PBS? And Nasa? And highway building? These other programs, too, are priorities "that will have to be paid for somehow."

In other words, it's rather nonsensical to classify the future revenue needs of only one particular (albeit large) government program as "national debt" while leaving out the majority of future claims on taxpayer money.

Of course, it would be even more nonsensical to estimate the future costs of all the other government programs and tally that as money we "owe" in the future as part of our national debt. And that's exactly my point: it would make more sense to count only debts we incur via borrowing from the public as part of the national debt, and use other methods and measurements when projecting future government spending (like % of GDP, etc.).

By the why, I think when one says that the debt the government owes itself is "just as real" as money owed to non US government lenders, there's a bit of a mischaracterization going on. Although it looks like near-certitude that taxes will have to increase in the future to pay for Social Security (not to mention healthcare), I think it's also likely that at least some of the tab will be met on the spending side (increases in the retirement age, etc). No comparable option presents itself to US policy makers who might wish to reduce future expenditures on interest we'll have to pay to, say, Japanese or Californian buyers of US government debt. Congress may some day enact legislation requiring workers to wait a bit longer for their first Social Security check. It might conceivably even reduce slightly the checks of particularly wealthy retirees. But one thing it's not going to do is enact legislation telling a Japanese or US bank it won't pay back the money it has borrowed. Inflation is the only way Washington can stiff non-US government lenders, and, from what I can see, global capital markets are now far too strong for even the mighty United States Government to defy for very long.

Posted by: Jasper | Mar 24, 2007 1:33:21 AM

I doubt that the union organizer, otherwise a saint among men, will provide the counter to his own propaganda. Should the employees be left to rely on other employees to go up against a professional union organizer? Or are these proposals not really about what's best for the employees?

This strikes me as utterly spurious. The employer already has an overwhelming advantage as far influencing employees. In the absence of a Union, they have total control of the workplace, conditions, payscales, etc. If, with such complete discretion, they have not created an environment wherein their workers are immune to the blandishments of organizers, I see no reason why they should be given a second bite at the apple. Unless you think that workers are incapable of making informed judgements about their employers based on their own experience.

The image you present of noble management as the defender of the poor, ignorant employee against the nefarious propaganda of the "professional" union organizer is as comical as it is paternalistic.

Posted by: WB Reeves | Mar 24, 2007 1:59:19 AM

Jasper, those are good points. If you don't care about the way Social Security is structured, then it can be treated as any other program. But that doesn't lessen the point that our foreseeable new obligations, ones that will require either new taxes or new debt, are related to our overall debt in an important and informative way. That includes the other programs you mention, to the extent they'll require new taxes or debt.

The interest we pay on bonds can be manipulated, as you suggest, in its relative value, by manipulating interest rates and the value of the dollar, but maybe such debt is less flexible than the future obligations to Social Security and the like, as you say. But that doesn't make those latter much less important in terms of size. Only so much can be trimmed from such programs, realistically.

The whole idea of worrying what portion of our debt is owned by foreigners seems rather silly. The portion in relation to GDP, no matter the portion of the debt, is more significant. If we only had $1 of debt, and it was owned by Iran, would anyone have reason to care that The Axis of Evil owned 100% of our debt?

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 24, 2007 3:49:27 AM

If the secret ballot is the only mechanism that guarantees a fair election, I assume we can also do away with the traditional show of hands at townhall meetings and voice votes in most of our elected bodies.

Posted by: Straw Man | Mar 24, 2007 3:55:37 AM

WBR, employers do know important things relevant to union formation that workers don't know, having access to different knowledge about company finances and plans, and just a different point of view overall. They should make their pitch, but the time and means allowed should be limited so as to lessen their ability to coerce.

Straw Man, the secret ballot has obvious advantages in fairness, which is why it's insisted on in most cases. Elected officials vote on bills and such publicly because they represent the public, who must know how they're being represented. You probably knew that. This does have very significant costs in terms of members voting their conscience, and intimidation and coercion are standard, but it's unavoidable. Town hall meetings with public votes are also in fact more open to intimidation and pressure than secret ballots, but people put up with that because it's convenient and traditional, for minor local issues. Wherever possible, secret ballots remain the best way to avoid intimidation and coercion.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 24, 2007 4:19:30 AM

WBR, employers do know important things relevant to union formation that workers don't know, having access to different knowledge about company finances and plans, and just a different point of view overall. They should make their pitch, but the time and means allowed should be limited so as to lessen their ability to coerce.

They have at least 40 hrs a week, 52 weeks of the year to make the anti union case. Why anyone should think that insufficient is beyond me. Fundamentally it comes down to whether or not you believe workers have the right to organize and bargain collectively. If they do, it follows that they must be competent to judge their own interests. Which means that they are perfectly capable of making the requisite inquiries of management on their own. Why anyone would expect management to provide them with answers that that could be relied upon is another question.

Posted by: WB Reeves | Mar 24, 2007 11:27:02 AM

"The buzz should be about the horrible and deliberate sacrifice of children, but that's not what you rail against."

You're right Fred. No part of the anti-war argument deals with the increased violence after the takedown of Saddam. No part of the movement shows any concern for the deaths of Iraqis, children or otherwise.

To quote Paul Simon, "...still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."

Posted by: jmack | Mar 24, 2007 11:50:52 AM

WBR, you seem to be picturing a scenario of permanent warfare between the employer and union organizers, Wal-Mart style, whereas in practice employers usually don't know there will be a certification election until one is announced, and don't address the possibility until it becomes an active issue. Rather than a situation where a permanent campaign is required whether any election is pending or not, it makes more sense and is more efficient for the employer to have a chance to address the issue when it becomes pertinent. But if you'd prefer the permanent campaign, maybe you could explain the advantages of that.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 24, 2007 12:53:17 PM

Sanpete, Maybe what WBR is describing is better described not as warfare, but of a power structure that is inherently slanted in favor of the employer. This does not mean that the employer must wield this power like a truncheon, and those who do not will likely not have to face the organization of its workers. A Kennworth factory in my home town is a good example. I know that the plural of anecdote is not data, but in a town with a unionized paper plant, Kennworth has working conditions, pay, and benefits that are sufficient to keep its workforce happy and union-free. After all, when Wal-Mart or McDonald's get wind of the beginning of union organization, they have demonstrated a willingness to simply close stores, release workers, and reopen elsewhere. Employers hold the power to create a work environment where management and workers cooperate.

Posted by: jmack | Mar 24, 2007 1:08:19 PM

JMack, none of that's at issue. The advantages of the employer are clear. The question is whether the employer should have a chance to directly address employees about unionization before a certification election. If you don't allow that, and employers don't even know when certification might occur, it seems the prudent alternative for many employers is to wage an ongoing preemptive campaign against unionization, just in case. It doesn't have to be like a truncheon, but it's still far from an ideal way to run things. (You can imagine what politics would be like if no one knew when the next President would be chosen, but had to assume that it could be at any moment.)

A truck factory can afford to pay well and give good benefits as a preemptive strategy because the industry as a whole is highly enough unionized to make that competitive. Many industries aren't that way.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 24, 2007 2:14:24 PM

But what do you see as the substance of the information given? History has included many levels of intimidation of organizing that were indeed "informative" in more ways than one. The case the employer is making by its very existence is that the company is worth working for. Its "direct address" is as good as the reality of his workplace. Unions come into play because of need.

"A truck factory can afford to pay well and give good benefits as a preemptive strategy because the industry as a whole is highly enough unionized to make that competitive. Many industries aren't that way."

Indeed. This is often because of the ability of places like Wal-Mart and McDonald's to create workplaces that are substandard enough to merit unionizing, but tremendous pressure is brought to bear on a very vulnerable group of workers. Extensive unionization is what leads to the pressure on non-union companies to pay living wages and create desirable working conditions as well. The need to insure a free right to organize, the employer should be left out of the equation. Union and management do not have to be adversarial; but when the relationship begins with trying to intimidate those who are trying to organize and represent felllow workers,

Posted by: jmack | Mar 24, 2007 2:54:31 PM

Whoops, hit "Post" by mistake. To finish:

Union and management do not have to be adversarial; but when the relationship begins with trying to intimidate those who are trying to organize and represent felllow workers, it is not hard to see why they can become so.

Posted by: jmack | Mar 24, 2007 2:56:35 PM

That being said, I understand your point that employers have a right to directly address their employees. They can do it by providing comparative data about salaries, benefits, and working conditions on an ongoing basis. Companies have the ability to make their case without necessarily working against organizing.

Posted by: jmack | Mar 24, 2007 2:58:57 PM

It isn't a contest, Fred; one need not choose between the two.

Yes, it is a contest. It's always a contest for oxygen and front page space. I have looked around at several of the better known liberal blogs and not one has even mentioned this other than in passing while railing against this or other articles.

I guess the larger question is why you scream and cry and stomp your feet over an article like this, but can't seem to get angry at anything the Arabs in Iraq or anywhere else do. It's like there's an unwritten liberal rule that says "Don't criticize them, they have brown skin".
I'm sorry, but sacrificing children...ARAB children in a bomb attack is far beyond the pale, it takes my breath away. Ezra and those like him should be ashamed for not giving this heinous act some bandwidth.
And the rest of you should be ashamed for not getting angry about it.....brown people or otherwise.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 24, 2007 3:54:18 PM

JMack, the First Amendment doesn't allow the employer's speech to be restricted; what's at issue is whether the employer will know beforehand when there will be a certification election, or whether a card check system will eliminate that.

If the employer opposes unionization, it should give its view of why a union isn't needed or is a bad idea. That can include a variety of arguments about competitiveness, local business conditions, particular conditions of the company, even philosophical ideas about unions. Again, if this isn't allowed at the time of the election, then it will likely be done even more, preemptively.

It's a little strange to me to be hearing arguments that employers shouldn't be allowed to present their side at the appropriate time. That's just as much an interference with the freedom to organize as not being allowed to hear the reasons to organize. Freedom requires having the proper information, and that generally involves at least hearing both sides.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 24, 2007 4:45:50 PM

Fred, did you read beyond the first sentence of what I already said?

In addition to what I already said, I'll add that we kill children very often in Iraq. We don't do it on purpose, but we know in advance that we will do it, and we consider it worth it to kill them anyway. I don't think it's the children you're concerned about. They die as horrible a death whether they're killed by us or a car bomb. The atrocity is horrible, but the results very much a daily occurrence in Iraq. A bunch of front page articles on this won't change it. Just what do you hope to accomplish?

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 24, 2007 5:09:26 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.