Thomas Sowell

Government is not the only institution that promises something for nothing. The decline of General Motors is just one consequence of the idea that labor unions can get their members something for nothing.

Workers themselves increasingly recognize the reality that there is no free lunch through unionization and are increasingly voting to be non-union. But the word has yet to reach many among the intelligentsia, who still think of labor unions as institutions that benefit the working class.

You can always benefit particular segments of any society at the expense of some other segment but unions do not benefit even the working class as a whole -- just those who are current union members -- at the expense of other workers, current and future.

One reason that General Motors has been losing market share for years -- going from selling about half the cars in the country to selling about one quarter today -- is that its union contracts put them at a disadvantage compared to its Japanese competitors.

Even though Toyota has factories in the United States, the American employees in those factories vote to keep their jobs by staying non-union. Toyota takes business away from unionized Detroit car makers, who are forced to lay off thousands of workers while Toyota is hiring additional workers.

There may not be any big difference in pay scales but unions can create higher production costs in many other ways. Fringe benefits are just one. Work rules are another.

In some industries, employers pay their workers as much as, or more than, unionized workers receive for the same jobs, just in order to be free of red tape restrictions on how they can organize their business or discipline employees who aren't doing their jobs right.

Toyota, for example, takes fewer hours to produce cars with fewer defects than Detroit cars.

While unions are declining in the private sector, they are expanding among government employees. Government agencies are usually monopolies, so competition is no threat to their jobs.

Taxpayers get hit with the high cost of these monopolies. There is no such thing as something for nothing.

Teachers' unions fight desperately and ruthlessly against vouchers, because they must maintain a monopoly of school children under the compulsory attendance laws. Their members stand to lose jobs if forced to compete with private schools.

Monopoly is the key to unionized teachers' job security -- at the expense of children's education as well as the taxpayers' money.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate