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What the Myanmar Junta and Washington State Teachers Union Have In Common May 30, 2008

Posted by federalist in Diplomacy, Education, Government, Unions.

Neither will allow benefits to reach their supposed constituents unless they exercise complete control over the resources.  Both realize that their power is secured only through a stranglehold on the livelihood of their subjects.

Even though many foreign nations and agencies stand ready to bring disaster aid to Myanmar following a devastating cyclone, the military junta that controls the country has refused all aid that is not explicitly channeled through its agents.

Some Asean diplomats say Myanmar’s demand is designed to prevent the country’s citizens from associating increased inflows of aid with help from the U.S. and other Western countries critical of Myanmar’s government.

The Washington Education Assocation, the state teachers union, refused to allow Washington schools to accept a $13.2MM grant from the non-profit National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI).  Turn down free money for teachers and students?  Yes: Part of the NMSI’s grant involves direct merit bonuses to exceptional teachers.  The union demands that it have exclusive control over compensation of teachers.  If higher-performing teachers were rewarded for performance why would they support a union based on seniority and patronage?  More importantly, why do the citizens of Washington allow a union junta to control the public education system?


1. federalist - June 14, 2008

Don’t miss WSJ’s essay contrasting unionized teachers with Teach For America teachers.

2. Jim LovellFord - July 26, 2008

What I don’t want to have happen is for our public schools to become similar in nature to the cutthroat jungle that is the environment that our commercial enterprises have to deal with. I have found teaching in a nonunion environment to be counterproductive to team building or working for the good of the whole. Instead it is everyone out for themselves and the attitude of “I’ve got mine – you go get yours – and good luck with that”. Very similar to what I experienced working for corporations. Free markets is great if you are at the top of the heap….I personally became very disillusioned working my ass off for someone else to get rich.

3. federalist - July 26, 2008

The great thing about a free market is you’re also free to work your ass off for yourself to try to get rich. Or you can choose to not work very hard and see how you get along.

Granted, “The Free Market” can produce some very poor experiments: Bad managers, bad incentives, bad employees, bad results. The great thing about it is that the bad ones are free to fail quite quickly.

The problem with unions in general is that they don’t let the bad things fail. Unionizing a labor force doesn’t transform it into a utopian dream machine. Rather, it creates a special interest that lobbies for legal protection and that, once entrenched, uses its legal privileges to extract rents in one or more of the following ways:

1. Union bosses abuse their positions as gatekeepers to collect extra pay and power.

2. Union employees abuse their monopoly to collect above-market wages (which, by definition, come at the expense of other people who want to do the work but who are excluded from the union jobs).

3. Unions restructure incentives to maximize their power and rents, not to maximize the quality of their work.

4. Unions abuse their monopoly to provide inferior work to what would be provided in the absence of a monopoly.

4. Jim LovellFord - January 17, 2009

Since my last post it appears that the failings of the free market are neither quick nor do the die. Federalist cited that union bosses abuse their position. I don’t disagree that there are those that try to sustain their position of power. That appears to be a human condition no matter where you are in the foodchain. But union abuses come no where close to the abuses of power that corporate heads perform daily. You can argue all you want as to the destructive nature of unions but all one has to do is look at the economic destruction that free market greed has caused and it is easy to see that your arguments are like ashes on burnt ground.

5. federalist - January 17, 2009

Free market greed has caused economic destruction? I believe free market “greed” is what drives all economic production, and that economic destruction is caused by agencies that disrupt the ability of every individual to participate in markets according to his own unfettered interests. The only motives other than self-interest I can imagine that can cause individuals to engage in productive behavior are coercion or idealism, and I don’t believe we have durable examples of either of the latter outperforming the former.

But I’m always open to debate on these assertions. Please browse the rest of the blog first (on this subject I would suggest looking at the tags Finance, Government Regulation, and Unions) and then feel free to respond.

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