Sunday, February 20, 2011
There's an interesting thread over at the Faculty Lounge about the Wisconsin battle over collective bargainging rights for public employees. Professor Calvin Massey opines that collective bargaining by public employee unions should be illegal. Personally, I think that position is illogical and even dangerous, but perhaps that is because I tend to view most things through the lens of property rights.
I hope it is beyond debate that one has a property right in one's labor (confederate flag raisings notwithstanding).
That being true, it seems to me that advocates of private property rights should be adamant that one has the decision right to alienate, or not alienate, one's property on terms of one's own choosing. If, for example, I want to sell my house in concert with my neighbors because together we can obtain a higher price, that's my business. And that's true even if the buyer is the government. Free market advocates would be outraged if the government told me otherwise, no?
So if we substitute "labor" for "house," why on earth should the result be different?
That's why I believe that opposition to collective bargaining is fundamentally inconsistent with respect for private property rights. Protecting private property rights means protecting the right of each person to attempt to strike a bargain for the alienation of her labor. Of course, potential buyers of labor should be free to refuse to purchase until they find a price they are willing to pay; but limiting collective bargaining limits not merely the price a buyer is willing to pay, but also the ability of the seller to bargain for her labor -- her private property. Therefore, limiting collective bargaining means limiting rights in private property.
Yet many of the same people who claim to value private property rights favor eliminating collective bargaining by public employees. That position is inconsistent at best.
If I am wrong, please correct me.
Mark A. Edwards
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