The Failure of Unions and Big Government

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Unions cripple companies. They thwart efficient government. They drive up prices and drive down service levels. They are anti-technology, anti-productivity, and pro-wage growth. They live in a virtual reality where price points, product-market pressures, and capital returns don’t matter. They need to be abolished.

A truism in the global economy is that the country with the highest rate of unionization loses. No sane person is going to invest capital, take risks and innovate if they are handing out money to union members who can’t be fired, disciplined, or force to use profit enhancing technologies. Companies that are nimble, highly productive and innovative will produce enough wealth to pay people properly. There is no need in the modern era for unions. There is no need in the modern era for large unionized government either.

Put it this way. Employment rates, wealth per capita, productivity and innovation are directly and negatively correlated with the size of government and the % of the population which work in unions. Europe? 45-50% of Europe’s GDP is eaten by unionized government. European union rates run at 3 x US levels and are 10-20% higher than Canadian levels. The result? Lower living standards, less people working, dead economies, no productivity, 8 week vacation periods and ever escalating union backed demands for higher wages.

Worse the OECD concludes that practically all [97 percent] of European civilian job creation has been in the government sector in the past few years. As government size increases, including government backed monopolies and oligopolies, unionization grows, and hours worked fall. Unions are adept at demanding the highest dollar for the least amount of time worked. As worker costs escalate firms cut back on technology, plant investments and business process improvements. Eventually these firms might fail.

According to the OECD, “Research has clearly established a remarkable fact: namely that the sizable U.S. advantage in real GDP per capita … is largely due to differences in total hours worked per capita.”

Such commonsensical observations apply to Canada. Union rates in Canada are more than double US rates [32 % vs. 14 %], though lower than in Western Europe which ranges from 34%, to 45 %. Canada has a 30% lower standard of living, less productivity and less income per head than the US. High union rates and over-government are key reasons for this differential. The same can be said of EU-US comparisons.

One reason for Europe’s and Canada’s high union rate is their higher marginal tax rates. When taxes become too onerous people respond by trying to hide money; dropping out of work and going on welfare to access rich welfare schemes; or they unionize and demand that wages rise faster than inflation and taxation increases. US Federal Reserve and EU economic studies confirm this fact. Europeans are not prone to be lazy. But when the system punishes work, then they respond accordingly. Same applies to Canada.

You can see the destructive power of unions at work at the company level. Witness Chrysler a once proud emblem of American manufacturing genius. Now it is a hollowed out firm headed for bankruptcy. In both the US and Canada during the past 30 years literally billions of tax dollars were given to Chrysler in direct and indirect hand-outs. Yet the firm is heading towards oblivion and most likely will have its various assets sold off. It is not hard to see why.

Thanks to high union rates, over half of a Chrysler car’s production cost is labor and health care. The firm is simply uncompetitive. Thanks to its unions, new models, new ideas and new business improvements cannot be made at Chrysler and productivity and profit enhancing concepts cannot be employed. The firm cannot respond to the challenge of East Asian auto manufacturer’s, many of whom have union free plants in the southern US.

The fallout from the demise of Chrysler is quite huge. If no one buys the assets and turns the firm around it might either die, or be sold off in chunks with grave consequences. Now imagine if all of the large North American car firms, thanks to unions, were to go bankrupt.

Whole areas of the world are dependent on the auto industry. Detroit, southern Canada, the US ‘deep south’, Stuttgart, parts of Germany, France and elsewhere have entire economies and societies built around the extended supply and parts chain which feeds into the auto sector. Those with union-free plants will survive. Those with union-worker elite plants will either reform or perish. Close to one million jobs in the Detroit-Toronto corridor are dependent on the auto sector – almost all of them in union shops or feeding union controlled companies. Consider if all 3 big US firms claimed bankruptcy. The economic and social consequences would be vast.

But so would be more government interference and subsidies for failed union shops. The last thing we need is more government support of failed businesses like Chrysler, Ford or GM. For too long have unions in auto firms created an unaccountable working elite. It is time to destroy the unions and let the market set wages, prices and product-customer matches.

The auto industry is indicative of the Marxist fantasy world inhabited by unions. Big governments with their unionized worker elite amplify the failures of Chrysler or GM. Toyota and smaller government nations exemplify the utility of market dynamics. Kill off the unions and increase company and national wealth. The time of unionized Marxism is long over. Chrysler and big government incompetence are the obvious manifestations of that fact.

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