The Message the Republicans Don’t Get

Share

I happened to hear Rush Limbaugh on Friday. He sarcastically chastised the pundits and “really smart people” who argue that the Republican party must be more inclusive. We should reach out to women, he said, by being pro-abortion. We should reach out to gays, he said, by supporting same-sex marriages. We should reach out to Hispanics, he said, by favoring amnesty for illegals. We should reach out to the young, he said, by supporting the legalization of drugs.

What Rush, and Republicans in general, don’t understand, is the concept of individual rights. If they did, they would drop this whole notion of trying to appeal to certain groups and appeal to individuals.

The Declaration of Independence, which Rush is fond of citing, states that all men (read humans) possess certain inalienable rights, among these being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We, like Rush, have heard these words since childhood. But what do they mean?

The right to life means that you own your life. I own my life. Each individual owns his life. The right to liberty means the freedom to act as you judge best, for your life. The right to the pursuit of happiness means the freedom to pursue the values that you want.

These rights, like all rights, pertain to freedom of action—the freedom to act according to one’s own judgment.

This means that individuals—including women—have a right to do with their body as they choose. This means that individuals—including gays—have a right to marry the person of their choosing. This means that individuals—including Hispanics—have a right to live where they choose. This means that individuals—including the young—have a right to ingest the substances of their choosing.

Supporting individual rights does not mean being pro-abortion or pro-drugs. It means supporting the right of individuals to live as they choose.

If the Republicans hope to become relevant again, that is a lesson that they must learn. And that is the message that they must deliver.

Protect Individual Rights, not the “Right to Work”

Share

In February, Indiana became the twenty-third state, and the first in the “Rust Belt,” to enact a “right to work” law. The Indiana law states:

A person may not require an individual to:

(1) become or remain a member of a labor organization;
(2) pay dues, fees, assessments, or other charges of any kind…
as a condition of employment or continuation of employment.

While conservatives hail “right to work” laws as a victory for workers, such laws are an attack on the rights of employers. While conservatives hail “right to work” laws as a means to curtail the power and influence of labor unions, those laws are founded on the very same premises as the laws that have given unions so much power and influence.

For example, the Clayton Act in 1914 exempted labor unions from anti-trust laws, which would have otherwise made unions illegal. In 1932, the Norris-LaGuardia Act gave unions further protections, such as prohibiting “yellow-dog contracts.” (A “yellow-dog contract” is an employment contract in which a worker promises not to join a Labor Union or promises to resign from a union if he or she is already a member.) The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 made it illegal for employers “to refuse to bargain collectively with the representatives of his employees.” These laws, and others like them, grant increasing power to union leaders, compel employers to negotiate with those leaders, and effectively prevent employees from contracting their labor as they judge best. “Right to work” laws are intended to counter the laws giving such power to unions.

Where the pro-union legislation forces the employer to negotiate with union leaders, regardless of his own judgment, “right to work” laws prohibit the employer from making union membership a condition of employment, regardless of his own judgment. In both instances, the law prohibits the employer from acting on his own independent judgment.

Morally, a business owner has a right to set whatever terms of employment he desires, including union membership, and employees have an equal right to accept or reject those terms. These are choices that should be left to each individual. Each individual has a right to act on his own judgment, so long as he respects the mutual rights of others.

Unions per se are not the problem. The problem is unions backed with the coercive power of government. Current labor legislation forces businesses to “negotiate” with the unions or be prosecuted for violating labor laws. This is akin to “negotiations” between a banker and a robber—one side can issue ultimatums punctuated with “or else.” And “or else” means the threat of force. America’s labor laws effectively prohibit business owners with unionized labor from operating as they judge best. Right to work laws are based on the same premise.

The power granted to unions by government intervention in the employer/employee relationship cannot be solved by more government intervention in the employer/employee relationship. The solution is to repeal all laws that interfere in the voluntary and consensual relationships between employers and employees.

If employees choose to bargain collectively, that is their right as individuals. Simultaneously, the employer has a right to refuse to bargain with a union or any other group of employees. Employees have a right to act on their own judgment. So do employers. Neither party can morally use government coercion to make the other act differently than he thinks is best. Government has no prerogative in the relationship between employer and employee, other than enforcing the contracts that are freely entered.

So what would happen if unions were stripped of the power granted to them by government? Wouldn’t employers take advantage of their workers? While this is a myth believed by many, history demonstrates otherwise.

In 1914, Henry Ford voluntarily raised the wages of his employees to the rate of five dollars per day—nearly doubling the prevailing wage. At the same time, he cut the work day from nine hours to eight hours. In 1914, there was no union nor were there laws governing the relationship between Ford and his employees. Ford was not motivated by altruism, but by what he called “enlightened self-interest.” What was the result? Years later, he explained what occurred after he raised wages and reduced the work day:

In 1914, when the first plan went into effect, we had 14,000 employees and it had been necessary to hire at the rate of about 53,000 a year in order to keep a constant force of 14,000. In 1915 we had to hire only 6,508 men and the majority of these new men were taken on because of the growth of the business.

Ford recognized that by paying employees a wage that was considerably higher than his competitors, he was able to attract better workers and dramatically reduce turnover. He created a win-win, as do all rational employers.

Similarly, George Westinghouse also provided superior working conditions for his employees:

Working conditions at the Westinghouse Air Brake Company (WA&B) were more than proficient and the company had many new developments in effect for its employees. In 1869 it was one of the first companies to institute a 9-hour work day and a 55-hour work week. [A ten-hour work day and six-day work week was common in most industries as late as 1900.] WA&B also got the reputation for being the first industry in America to adopt half holidays on Saturday afternoons. A series of welfare options were also instituted to better the working and living conditions of its employees.

As with Henry Ford, Westinghouse recognized that better conditions for his employees resulted in greater productivity, and therefore, improved profits.

Industrialists are not the only businessmen to recognize the benefits of “enlightened self-interest.” In 1842, a French house painter—Edme Jean LeClaire—instituted a profit-sharing program for his employees. Recognized as the “father” of modern profit sharing, LeClaire “was determined to challenge the assumption that profit sharing would not increase efficiency and productivity enough to justify the payments made. He was proved right. His business prospered.”

Will every business owner recognize these truths? Will every business owner pay his employees above-market wages and offer greater benefits than competitors? Obviously not. But when employees are free to contract their labor, they can seek better jobs. A rational business owner will seek the best and brightest employees he can find. Such employees are the means by which he will achieve greater profits. When the market is free of government intervention, a less rational business owner will suffer economically.

Both leftists and conservatives would have us believe that government must protect the rights of workers. But there is no such thing as “worker’s rights.” There are only individual rights, and they apply to all individuals, employers and employees alike.

The Protection Racket of Occupational Licensing

Share

Across the nation, millions of entrepreneurial Americans seek to create jobs, pursue their passion, or simply make a few extra dollars by starting their own business. But often, they are forced to abandon their dreams, not because they lack talent or capital, but because they do not have the government’s permission.

New Jersey resident Ernie Arias is one example. His business installs home entertainment equipment and he decided to add security systems to his list of services. However, the state of New Jersey requires more than three years of classes and experience before it will grant an occupational license to locksmiths and security installers. Arias abandoned the idea, saying, “There’s no way I could put in all that time and spend probably $2,000 on classes. You can build a house in New Jersey quicker and easier than it takes to get the license you need to put locks on the house.”

Benta Diaw, a native of Senegal, learned the art of African hairbraiding from her grandmother. After building a successful business in Seattle, the state of Washington demanded that she take 1,600 hours of courses on such services as pedicures and nose-hair trimming, but none on hairbraiding, in order to receive a state license.

Mercedes Clemens dreamed of opening a service offering horse massages (a therapy used to increase range of motion and to promote healing from injury). But Clemens—who is a licensed human-massage therapist and certified in equine massage—lives in Maryland. And Maryland law mandates four years of veterinary school for anyone who wishes to massage horses, despite the fact that veterinary schools do not teach how to massage horses.

These individuals, and many more like them, saw a need in the market and decided to meet it. However, their respective states prohibited them from doing so. They did not want to peddle child pornography, or sell counterfeit goods, or engage in some other rights-violating activity, but rather, they wanted to offer legitimate services to willing customers.

This may seem like some kind of Orwellian nightmare, but it is a situation faced by millions of Americans. Across the nation, more than eight hundred different occupations require some form of government licensing. Consider some of the professions that require a license: manure applicators in Iowa, upholsterers in Utah, and rainmakers in Arizona. If you want to put new fabric on a chair in Salt Lake City or spread cow dung in Des Moines, you have to take approved courses and pay the state the appropriate fees, or you will be a criminal. So, how did these bizarre laws come about?

Occupational licensing laws are enacted with the stated intention of protecting consumers from incompetent practitioners. But study after study has found that licensing boards do little to discipline incompetents. For example, Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organization, reports:

Of 10,672 physicians listed in the NPDB [National Practitioner Data Bank] for having clinical privileges revoked or restricted by hospitals, just 45 percent of them also had one or more licensing actions taken against them by state medical boards. That means 55 percent of them – 5,887 doctors – escaped any licensing action by the state.

In these cases, the hospitals found it necessary to protect patients from incompetent or negligent doctors, but the licensing board did not. If operating on the wrong knee won’t necessarily cause action by the licensing board, what will? Young states that the most common reason for discipline against licensed professionals is activity that violates rules intended to limit competition, such as advertising restrictions. Being a bad doctor is not necessarily a cause for disciplinary action by the medical board; being a good marketer is.

If licensing is not protecting consumers, why do many professions require a license? Jack McHugh, of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, writes: “The dirty little secret about state licensure is that the people who lobby for it are usually the stronger competitors of those who would be licensed. Their goal is not to protect the public, but instead to raise barriers to new competitors who might cut prices and lower profits.” By erecting barriers to new practitioners, licensing limits competition and increases the wages of those who have managed to jump through the government’s hoops.

In the process, occupational licensing increases the prices that consumers must pay. Licensing tends to create a high quality, high price service that may not fit the needs of all consumers. Because of licensing, highly skilled practitioners are often required to perform routine services that could be performed effectively, safely, and at a lower cost by less skilled individuals. For example, a light fixture can be replaced by a competent handyman, but licensing may require that the task be performed by a licensed electrician. The results of the restrictions imposed by licensing are fewer choices for consumers and higher prices. Many choose to do without the service, or do it themselves, and often with deadly results. Professor S. David Young writes:

The incidence of rabies is higher, for example, where there are strict limits on veterinary practice, and as Sidney Carroll and Robert Gaston documented, rates of electrocution are higher in states with the most restrictive licensing laws for electricians. Apparently, consumers often do their own electrical work in highly restrictive states rather than pay artificially high rates for professionals, with predictably tragic results.

Through higher prices and limited choices, consumers—the alleged beneficiaries of licensing—are also victims of this injustice.

In a free market, individuals can offer the products and services of their choosing, and consumers can accept or reject that offer. Each is free to act on his own judgment in the pursuit of his own values and happiness. The only proper purpose of government is the protection of this right.

Long ago, James Madison recognized the injustice of prohibiting individuals from working as they choose: “That is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where arbitrary restrictions, exemptions, and monopolies deny to part of its citizens that free use of their faculties, and free choice of their occupations…”

Isn’t this a description of occupational licensing? Licensing creates “arbitrary restrictions, exemptions, and monopolies” within a profession; it denies individuals the freedom to earn a living as they choose. Occupational licensing should be abolished.

Does this mean that consumers would be at the mercy of unscrupulous hacks? Hardly. First, nobody has a right to engage in fraud, that is, intentionally misrepresent his skills, training, or qualifications. Second, in a free market, individuals must take responsibility for their hiring decisions, rather than relying on the false security of licensing. Even with the “protection” afforded by licensing, consumers frequently turn to third parties for information regarding products and service providers. Examples of highly popular third parties include: Good Housekeeping, Consumers Reports, the Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List, and trade associations.

Another alternative to licensing is certification programs, which are offered by trade associations, product manufacturers, and other third parties. These differ from licensing in that they are voluntary. Practitioners are free to obtain certification and the benefits that come with it, such as verification of competency and potentially higher wages, or forgo certification and lessen the chances of obtaining higher wages. Consumers are also free to choose certified professionals and pay higher prices, or employ uncertified, lower priced practitioners. Both producers and consumers are free to act on their judgment—to contract as they choose—according to their needs and values.

If some street thug demanded protection money so that you could operate your shop, you would recognize his demands for what they are—extortion. The principle does not change merely because those making the demands wear a tie and have the backing of government.