Monday, March 23, 2015

Libertarians don't hate government workers - but conservatives do

This is what a union looks like (iii) by George Kelly is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
An article in the Reno Gazette-Journal covered how the Reno City Council has decided to "take a position of active neutrality" on collective bargaining changes being proposed during this year's legislative session:
Republican lawmakers, fresh off taking the majority in the Nevada Legislature for the first time in decades, are pursuing sweeping changes to the state's collective bargaining law, which sets the ground rules for how local governments wrangle with their public employee unions over salaries and benefits. 
If successful, the changes would shift power to local government managers. They also could take public employee unions out at their financial knees. 
The old council also had an aggressive legislative agenda geared toward convincing state lawmakers to give city management "greater authority" in labor negotiations and more control over the city's pocketbook. 
But in one of its first political moves this year, the new council gutted the collective bargaining agenda that city lobbyists had planned to take to Carson City this year, replacing it with a deceivingly simple one-line position statement: 
"The City of Reno will take a position of active neutrality" on collective bargaining changes to "maintain and place value on the relations the city has with its employees."
Most of the proposals floating in the Legislature are ones that I can happily get behind - getting rid of seniority-based promotions and personnel retention, expand options for laying off public employees (Nevada law currently only allows local governments to lay off public employees due to lack of work or lack of money - anything else immediately triggers mandatory bargaining with the representing public sector union), eliminating mandatory raises, increasing transparency during contract negotiations (though I think this idea might backfire - more on that in a bit), letting cities pocket a larger cushion when negotiating (though I think this idea might also backfire), and prohibiting local governments from collecting union dues are all measures that bring public sector employment in line with their private counterparts. Then, in the Legislative Council's Digest of AB182, I read this:
Section 1 of this bill also bars a local government employer from providing paid leave or paying any compensation or monetary benefits to an employee for time spent by the employee in performing duties or providing services to an employee organization. 

Several years back, I worked for what was, more or less, a family-run company in a small town. Most of my coworkers were from this town - they lived close to each other, their children went to the same schools, they socialized together after work, and so on. I, however, commuted in from out of town - it was about an hour drive each way, give or take, depending on weather and traffic. This wasn't a huge deal for me - I grew up in suburban Los Angeles, so I was pretty much raised on the idea that driving long distances to get to work wasn't beyond the pale, and the job paid considerably more than the job that preceded it and had better benefits to boot.

One night, at the tail end of my work day, I overheard my boss complaining about how she found out from a friend that one of my coworkers had used her vacation time to go to a Mary Kay conference so she could start making a little extra money on the side. This upset my boss greatly - how dare this employee betray the company this way? I was confused by this reaction, so I confronted my boss about it - why was it my boss' business what my coworker did on her own time, as long as she wasn't directly competing against my boss? My boss replied that it showed disloyalty - if my coworker still had profitable labor to provide after her shift was complete, she should have approached my boss about performing additional work that could have further profited the company. After a bit more back and forth, this led me to say something that, in retrospect, was weapons-grade immature and pathologically stupid, especially in early 2009:
"I am so glad I don't live in this town. As far as you know, I could be going home every night, moonlighting on the side, banging prostitutes, and snorting lines of blow, and you would never find out about it."
That I wasn't immediately fired after that outburst can be safely attributed to the following:
  1. My boss and I had worked together long enough at that point where she knew I was mostly joking to make a point.
  2. My job is the sort of job that's somewhat challenging to hire for in a hurry. Not impossible, mind you, but challenging enough where it's usually not worth the effort.
  3. I'm really good at my job.
Though it was, beyond any reasonable shadow of doubt, the most blindingly stupid tone available to communicate the simple message that I value my privacy and the privacy of those around me and require those around me to do the same, I still stand by the point I made that night - I am not owned by my employer and do not respond well to employers that think that, just because they cut me a check every two weeks or so, that gives them the right to dictate what I do on my own time. In return for this consideration, I generally make it a point to avoid doing things on my own time that would raise any employer's ire - for example, I have work tomorrow, so I'm sober and will be going to bed soon so that I get enough sleep to be productive at work in the morning. I also don't talk ill about my employer, especially in public - if I have a problem with my employer, I'm going to bring it up with them, not with someone who has no control over the situation; plus, it's rude to talk ill about your customers, which, in effect, is what my employer is to my labor. I also don't compete against my employer, though I'll note that I spent quite a few years as an IT consultant providing services for companies that actively competed against each other without any issue whatsoever; in fact, I'd argue that I was able to provide for these competing companies better by working for all of them and thus achieving a better understanding of their industry as a whole than I would have if I was "faithful" to any particular one of them. They generally must have agreed since the consulting company I worked for was known as an "expert" in IT services in our area for legal and dental businesses, which is what drew competing legal and dental firms to do business with us. However, irrational as I personally think it might be, I do understand that more than a few employers are particular, to put it mildly, about employees moonlighting for competitors on the side, so I concede to today's social and employment norms and let that particular issue go.

In short, I won't make it your business to know my business, so stay out of my business, please and thank you. What I do with the compensation I receive in return for my labor is my business and nobody else's.


Libertarians are absolutely fanatical against collectivism. As Ayn Rand (yes, yes, not really a Libertarian per her own self-categorization, but if someone out there finds me a libertarian that disagrees with her on this, let me know and I'll pick someone else) put it:
"Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors. 
Racism claims that the content of a man’s mind (not his cognitive apparatus, but its content) is inherited; that a man’s convictions, values and character are determined before he is born, by physical factors beyond his control. This is the caveman’s version of the doctrine of innate ideas—or of inherited knowledge—which has been thoroughly refuted by philosophy and science. Racism is a doctrine of, by and for brutes. It is a barnyard or stock-farm version of collectivism, appropriate to a mentality that differentiates between various breeds of animals, but not between animals and men. 
Like every form of determinism, racism invalidates the specific attribute which distinguishes man from all other living species: his rational faculty. Racism negates two aspects of man’s life: reason and choice, or mind and morality, replacing them with chemical predestination."
This fanaticism against collective identity, in fact, even extends to government workers. Don't believe me? Try the following searches - I just did expecting to find a plethora of "all government workers are parasites of the people" posts: worker
c4ss:government worker
- As an aside, the closest C4SS gets to painting government workers as evil collaborators is this article, which says the following:
Now, some will argue that public workers are not part of the productive class, and are parasites just like congress. But is that really fair? Sure, some or all of them may be foolish for believing that their job is funded through anything but theft. Some may also know that they are parasites, and don’t care. At the same time, we anarchists should be careful about judging other people from our lofty position as non-public workers and realize that for many people, no matter how duped they have been, regard their job at a public museum or a park as just that – their job. For them this “shutdown” is an example of how much the State does not care about them, and here lies our opportunity for discourse on the political class’s war on the productive class. worker worker
- This TNR article, which suggests shutting down most of the federal government forever, looks mildly threatening:
Undoubtedly many of the government employees who would be impacted are good people and the human factor can’t be overlooked in all this.
Oh. Well, never mind. Want to know who really thinks government workers are evil?

I'm not going to lie, I was more than a little surprised. At this point of this post, I was expecting to rant about how libertarians need to do a better job thinking of government workers as people, how we paint with such a broad brush, how we resort to extremist rhetoric that government workers are kapos, collaborators of the men with guns that call themselves "the state", and... I couldn't find it. I couldn't find any of it. I tried. I really, really tried. Maybe I should try harder. But, at some point, when you're scouring the Internet, trying desperately to find a shred of evidence that proves you're right and you're not finding it, it's probably pretty safe to say that it doesn't exist

Are you surprised? I am - and I'm a libertarian. So, if libertarians - stalwart enemies of the state and all that - aren't, in fact, painting government workers as vicious parasites, who is?
So, if the top results are any indication, the people really treating government workers collectively and assuming that, merely by guilt of association, they're evil parasites that should be treated with utter disdain, are none other than arch-conservatives.

I should have known.


Circling back around to AB182, I'm no longer surprised that it's being sponsored by the establishment conservative wing of the GOP instead of the group that John Ralston likes to derisively call "the GOP Ass. Caucus/Citizen Outhouse wing of the Republican Party" (e.g. Michele Fiore and her allies in the Assembly). Though Fiore and her friends certainly have their flaws (oh dear whatever deity I believe in right now, she most certainly does have her flaws), they do tend to lean libertarian-ish, and libertarians generally don't like telling people how to spend their time or their money. Sure, you're never going to hear a libertarian come out in favor of public sector unionization, but you're also never going to hear a libertarian claim that public sector employees should be legally forbidden from associating with unions - that would strike at the very core of freedom of association. Similarly, you're never going to hear a libertarian come out and say that public sector employees should be legally forbidden from spending their money on union dues if they wish - it's their money, after all, once we give it to them - and you're also not going to hear libertarians claim that public sector employees shouldn't be free to do what they wish with any other forms of compensation they receive, including paid time off. It's their vacation time, just as our paid time off is ours - libertarians don't believe in forcing others to do what we wouldn't be willing to voluntarily do ourselves.

In fact, libertarians don't believe in forcing other people to do anything at all. Not even government workers.

If we as a society could tell public sector employees how they're allowed to spend their paid time off - a key part of any hourly employee's compensation package - what would stop us from paying them exclusively in Buy Local certificates that are only good at local, tax paying businesses? What would stop us from demanding they only live in local houses or rent from local landlords? Once we decide that public sector employees are no longer people but are, in fact, servants, that we can dispense or dispose of as we wish, what stops us from subjecting them to any indignity we may wish to imagine? For libertarians, the answer is obvious - the fact that public sector employees are people, just as capable of free will and independent thought as the rest of us, is enough to make such ideas morally reprehensible to us. Conservatives, however, labor under no such moral compunction - and as long as that's true, and as long as conservatives keep getting elected, libertarians are going to have a tough time explaining to public sector employees why they shouldn't unionize.

Perhaps - just perhaps - we libertarians should spend less time hanging out with conservatives and more time hanging out with public sector employees. 

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