Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Awesome: The Daily Show on Unions, Hypocrisy and Competitiveness

Once again the folks at The Daily Show convey in one 5-minute skit what I couldn't do in 30 blogposts:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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I'll again be the stick-in-the-mud and mention that this great skit, while certainly hilarious, also provides several fine examples of things that I've been trying to explain here for a while now:

  • Most obviously, unions are self-interested organizations that, contrary to their statements about "greed" or "fairness" or "sticking up for the common worker," are readily willing to jettison their alleged principles when they don't benefit the union.  We've recently seen this union hypocrisy on the trade front, as the United Steelworkers loudly complained about Chinese "green energy" subsidies while conveniently forgetting to mention the billions than Uncle Sam has sent their way.
  • Perhaps more interestingly, however, is that when push comes to shove, unions are rational employers that respond to market realities rather than vague concepts like "fairness."  This fact is made clear by the frank admissions of the UFCW's (rather unwitting) leader, Mike Gittings, about why they have hired temporary, non-union workers (and have given them part-time hours and no benefits) to protest Wal-Mart (starting at about 3:55): "Our union members are working.... We don't have union members that are able to go down there on a daily basis.... The alternative to the way that we do it would be to not do it...  We're doing the best we can with our limited resources..."  In short, the UFCW, as an employer without magically unlimited resources, is responding to market realities about its labor needs and costs, and if it adopted a "fairer" approach, simply wouldn't be able to hire ANYONE and thus would have to get out of the protesting business altogether.
  • And thus brings us to our last lesson: the result of non-market demands on American employers erodes their global competitiveness and leads to their (a) going out of business in the face of foreign competition; or (b) offshoring of their labor force or hiring of illegal, off-book workers.  Don't believe me that a zany comedy show like TDS is providing this final lesson?  Well, check out correspondent Aasif Mandvi's "solution" to getting the "protesters" he needs at the right (non-government-mandated) price: picking up illegals to do the job.  In fact, Stewart rather coyly introduces the whole skit with an aside about "The American labor movement, sometimes criticized for driving jobs overseas with some outdated demands...."  Pretty clever, eh?  Yet labor unions don't recognize these obvious economic realities and instead choose to blame free trade for offshoring and job losses rather than look in the mirror.  And unfortunately, that's no laughing matter.
Considering that the union's behavior here - treating its own employees far more shabbily than the businesses it routinely demonizes - is hardly an isolated occurrence, these three lessons are broadly applicable.  So hopefully the millions of youngsters who watch The Daily Show instead of the real news absorbed the message.  

I'm not holding my breath, but a guy can dream.

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