Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My Big Shot Father-in-Law

For some reason it's easy for me to forget this, but my father-in-law, Baldemar Velasquez, is kind of a big shot. Take last week for instance. He's getting the keys to the city of Toledo. My wife and I didn't even go to the banquet. It's sometimes just too much. It's one thing after another with this guy. He's either receiving a MacArthur Fellowship or he's receiving an honorary doctorate. Here he is testifying before a House sub committee. Here's an article from him at the Huffington Post.

He's always in the news as well. I can't even keep up with all the stories. For instance here's a fun little thing for him. The Toledo Blade had various Toledoans singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" that was on the news. If it were me I'd think I was famous but it's standard for Baldemar. With regards to his work he's often getting a lot of press. Like a year and a half ago when he went and worked the tobacco fields in North Carolina. I link to just the one story, but there were many.

What he does is he is a farm labor organizer. He attempts to acquire better working conditions and pay for those workers that many of us forget about. These are the migrant workers. He knows a lot about them because he was one. After school as a kid he'd watch his friends run off to play while he and his brothers and sisters would head to the fields and pick row after row in the sweltering heat. It's really a life I can't identify with in all honesty, especially as I consider the life I'm providing for my own kids. But the fact is many people still do live that life today. Well, I guess that's obvious.

Now, I've long been liberterian leaning, which means I find myself sort of objecting to unions. But I'm starting to drift away from that. Not because I love unions and the frequent abuses that go along with them, but because I'm realizing that Adam Smith was right (see paragraph that begins "In the progress of the division of labor". Division of labor taken to it's extreme may improve GDP, but it will also destroy those that are on the lower rungs.

Just as an example, consider the following scenario. Suppose a certain action increases the total GDP by 1%. But that action means that the bottom 90% of wage earners see their real earnings decline. Suppose they experience greater proportional declines the poorer they are. And suppose the top 10% see their real wages increase dramatically. And suddenly vastly more members of the population now finds themselves on the brink of starvation while someone sitting on $50 million now finds themselves sitting on $100 million? Is the greater efficiency worth it? I think this is actually what is happening, sometimes on smaller scales, in various parts of the world. Perhaps unions introduce an inefficiency, but I'm coming to think that they are important in correcting some of the absurd imbalances.

If you think the same way and are looking for a good union to support, consider FLOC. Believe me, I understand that sometimes unions suffer from abuse. Sometimes people are overpayed, the president is getting kick backs, etc. Not in the case. Baldemar Velasquez may be a big shot, but he is also a man of extremely modest means. Likewise his staff definitely is not getting rich doing the work they do. Despite this they are finding themselves in the red and really need help doing their important work.

For me it's an easy decision. I think it is important to give charitably. I used to give a lot to church. Now that I don't do that I can give money to organizations that in my mind do more. And like church this one is tax deductible. So if you're like me and you know it's important to be charitable FLOC may work for you. Or if you still like to give to church but are looking for a way to diversify your giving instead of giving a big wad of cash for these flipping church building funds, here's an option.

Checks can be made to the Campaign for Migrant Worker Justice or CMWJ. Send to the following address:

1221 Broadway
Toledo, OH 43609


Jon said...

One comment before HP comes in here and starts calling me names. As per "Darf Farrera" why would I think that supporting unions conflicts with being liberterian? A liberterian says there's nothing wrong with people banding together and trying to negotiate an improved wage. The problem comes in when a union runs to the government and attempts to get itself favorable treatment through the law. Government unions, like teachers unions, would also conflict with liberterian ideals. So FLOC, being a private union, would be more like what a liberterian would like.

Anonymous said...

Jon - not arguing for (or against libertarianism but I have a question.

You stated "The problem comes in when a union runs to the government and attempts to get itself favorable treatment through the law."

Considering that corporations are guilty of this do you think there is a viable alternative?


Jon said...

Probably not. Corporate meddling with the government is so pervasive that to some extent you have no choice but to play that game simply to counter act the effects of corporate lobbying. I'm not sure the unions have much choice. If they did nothing but stick with principle and avoid the government meddling they'd probably not be able to have any impact.

HispanicPundit said...

I'm all for an equal playing field, but unions in practice are far from unions in theory. Their a middle and upper class organization (and, I might add, white), certainly not a poor mans (or minority) organization.

Farm labor unions are as close as I get to supporting unions. I come from family that were farm laborers...some of my uncles are still landscapers to this day. So I am sympathetic to their cause. Farm labor is certainly arduous. But even then I have hesitations.

For one, unions drastically increase the cost of employing farm labor. More so than the cost of providing basic necessities like water, bathroom stalls, and more realistic working conditions. Second, unions are fundamentally opposed to immigration - legal or not. Cheap, unorganized labor, is the anti-thesis to unions. So there really is a trade off between immigration and unions - you cant have both. This is why, for example, Cesar Chavez, the model of farm labor unions, was really no different than modern day minutemen.

So in one sense, even ignoring the vast corruption and rent seeking of unions, and judging them based on their mission alone, its not as win-win as it seems. For every farm worker the union helps here, they hurt a farm work who wants to come here, or who recently immigrated here. Sure, a few farm worker is harmed here and there doing farm labor, but the conditions that many of these immigrants that are fleeing their homeland is even worse.

In other words, I see farm labor unions analogous to those who want to make airline transportation safer by regulations that at the same time make it more costly (thereby reducing the frequency of use) to fly - while ignoring the fact that air transportation, as it is, is vastly safer than driving...which is exactly the likeliest substitute for those who are driven away from flying. Is it a net gain for society? Its hard to tell...but if you factor in UFW corruption, see here, it becomes all the more likely not to be.

In the end, I find myself agreeing to Milton Friedman's comment on unions:

“If unions raise wage rates in a particular occupation or industry, they necessarily make the amount of employment available in that occupation or industry less than it otherwise would be — just as any higher price cuts down the amount purchased. The effect is an increased number of persons seeking other jobs, which forces down wages in other occupations. Since unions have generally been strongest among groups that would have been high-paid anyway, their effect has been to make high-paid workers higher paid at the expense of lower-paid workers. Unions have therefore not only harmed the public at large and workers as a whole by distorting the use of labor; they have also made the incomes of the working class more unequal by reducing the opportunities available to the most disadvantaged workers”. — Milton Friedman in “Capitalism And Freedom

Btw, not surprised at all about your drifting views. It's just a matter of time.

HispanicPundit said...

An important difference between union rent-seeking and corporate rent seeking is that unions cannot exist without rent-seeking, whereas corporations can.

IOW, rent-seeking is part and parcel of unions. See more on this and unions in general here.

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