My views on Wisconsin, expressed brilliantly by Cosma Shalizi

I haven’t had much to say about the debacle that is Wisconsin, but I wanted to point you to the brilliant comments of Cosma Shalizi. I don’t know Shalizi personally, but I follow his blog, Three Toed Sloth, faithfully because the writing is simply excellent. I’m endlessly fascinated with what he studies.

Here are his comments on Wisconsin. I wish I had written this paragraph:

the single biggest thing which has gone wrong with America during my lifetime has been the economic stagnation for most of the country, accompanied by shifting risk from those who have resources and large organizations to individuals who don’t have much. And that has gone hand in hand with the decline — the repression — of organized labor. Unions are not perfect, but no human institutions are, and to condemn unions, specifically, because they are sometimes hide-bound or self-serving is either folly or deceit. Unions are the only organized force in this country which seriously advocates, which pushes, for the material interests and dignity of ordinary working people. The fight in Wisconsin is about whether there is, finally, a limit to how far the dismantling of American labor can be pushed.

Folly or deceit, indeed.

I’d argue for both folly AND deceit.

The money thing? That’s just smoke and mirrors. The public sector has competed with the private sector for labor largely through offering benefits. I make a much better salary than comparable UC faculty…but they have better benefits than I do. I have to save for my own retirement much more so, etc.

In the end, this shameless power grab will not save the state of Wisconsin much of anything, particularly for professional labor. Civil engineers in the Wisconsin DOT do not have to put up with crap wages and crap benefits. There are consulting jobs out there–with much higher wages and more limited benefits packages. And civil engineers are more valuable to consulting firms once they’ve done their time in state agencies.

I suspect that even though unions do prevent free entry into the lower end of the labor market that the primary beneficiaries of collective bargaining are blue-collar state workers, not white collar bureaucrats as the Republicans claim. White collar workers have more job mobility and more options.

So you gut your benefits and whatever you think you’ll save busting the union, you’ll have to make up for loss of benefits with salary. I suspect there’s revenue parity in that trade for all but the least skilled workers. So this little power play is coming at the expense of snowplow drivers.

Of course, you could try for lousy pay and lousy benefits and see what quality of laborer that gets you. Nothing like a fabulous imbalance in professional capacity between agency professionals and their contractors to make for lots of lost revenue on inept management.

Edited to add: and just like magic, Richard Green points us to an entry from the Economist that makes my point–that, once employed, low-skill workers benefit from unions more than other groups. There is, of course, the remaining issue of those who are worse off because they’d like more hours and can’t get them due to wage constraints introduced by collective bargaining. However, we do have to wonder which group is larger.

Of course, since the politico in question has never made any bones about how little he cares for the security of poor workers, such information is irrelevant in the face of his desire to be on national tv for a presidential run later.