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Blundell's argument misses point

Letters to the Editor

Published: Thursday, September 21, 2006

Updated: Sunday, December 14, 2008 01:12

Dear Editor:

I am sorry to learn that my column "Unions Don't Guarantee Fair Employee Wages," in The Maroon's Sept. 8 issue, was "so incoherent" that it didn't even rise to the level of being wrong, in the view of Professor Boyd Blundell who responded in the Sept. 15 issues of The Maroon.

This professor of religious studies charges that I am guilty of a "straw man" argument; but there are indeed "some" who think that without unions, and the labor legislation they have engendered, we would now revert back to the horrors of 19th century industrial factory wages and working conditions. But many people believe this fallacy. Blundell himself is a case in point.

He opines that our relatively high wage levels (including working conditions, safety, etc.), are guaranteed by being codified in law. If so, why do not the governments of economically backward countries such as North Korea, Cuba, Chad, etc., immediately place laws on their books ensuring the same kind of benefits? Is it really so "incoherent" to claim they cannot do so since real wage levels stem not from government edict but rather from how hard and smart employees work, and with the cooperation of how much and of what quality of capital goods, and that this in turn depends upon the level of economic freedom prevailing in a country?

Prof. Blundell maintains that worker "productivity is virtually irrelevant" to the setting of labor's compensation. Rather, it is driven by "bargaining power." But the latter depends almost entirely on the former. He thinks it is possible that there can be "more workers than work." But if so there would be either be no scarcity (and hence no need for any labor in the first place), or, due to government setting artificially high wages, thus creating this very unemployment. Blundell is evidently thinking of the Great Depression; but this was caused by government meddling, not capitalism.

My faculty colleague misunderstands the institutions of capitalism. Yes, they are compatible with unionized orchestrated mass quits, or threats thereof, but certainly not with threatening picketers, beating up scabs or modern labor legislation.

The stratospheric salaries paid to Shaq and Brad Pitt are not at all a result of their union membership. Other equally unionized actors and athletes earn a fraction of their pay. Presumably, it is "a flat earth hypothesis" on my part that these stars are very productive and thus can attract masses of fans, while their lesser known and lesser able colleagues are unable to do so. Computer nerds, bankers, lawyers, stockbrokers and financial advisors earn high salaries without benefit of unions. Yes, they have "bargaining power," but this is due to their productivity.

Professor Blundell concedes that unions are not necessary since numerous industries without them "pay very well." But this was pretty much my entire point in the article he so derisively dismisses. He misreads me as saying that the South is the fastest growing "in wages." I said, "fastest growing," period. This is because for the past few decades industries have been running away from the heavily unionized rust belt Northeast, and bringing their jobs to the South.

Father David Boileau and I shall be debating these issues on Tuesday, Oct. 3, in Miller Hall, room 208 (pizza served) during the window. Boyd and the entire Loyola community are invited to attend.


Walter Block, Ph.D

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