Judaism and Unions

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Unions are in the news lately as the financial crisis leads to political pushback against their economic power. The details are complex and beyond my expertise, and I claim no insight into the matter (see here for opinions on both sides: pro, con). I wish to examine here the place for unions in Judaism.

Avram Lyons, a labor activist, declares in a recent essay that “Halacha — Jewish law — is explicit and unequivocal in its support of the rights of workers to organize and be protected in their work” (link). While that is true, a recent study on the subject shows a more nuanced relationship between Jewish law and unions.

R. Dr. Aaron Levine is the doyen of Jewish economics. He has devoted his career to examining the attitude of Jewish law to economic policy. His latest book is The Oxford Handbook of Judaism and Economics, which contains 33 essays on a variety of complex issues of Judaism and economics, written by leading scholars around the world. The list of contributors is so impressive that an editor complained to me there was no one sufficiently competent remaining to review the book, so she had to ask someone incompetent like me.

R. Dani Rapp, Associate Dean of Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University and a Dayan at the Beth Din of America (who, if I recall correctly, majored in Economics under R. Levine’s tutelage before going to law school), wrote the book’s article on unions (“The Employee Free Choice Act, Unions, and Unionizing in Jewish Law”). The following is based largely on his excellent treatment.

Trade guilds are ancient and are recognized in the Talmud as authoritative representatives of workers (Bava Basra 8b-9a; Bava Kamma 116b; Tosefta, Bava Metzi’a 11:12). When all members of a trade gather together, they have the authority to negotiate as a block, to coerce new tradesmen to join them and to prevent strike-breakers. But even when a minority unite, they can reach mutual and binding agreements (see commentators to Bava Basra 8b-9a, such as Ramban, Ritva, Nimukei Yosef).

A caveat to this rule is important. The Gemara affords overriding authority to an adam chashuv, a leading Torah scholar. He serves as a public advocate, nullifying a union’s decision if it damages the public by, for example, raising prices above market rates. The public can override union decisions that cause financial harm. In times and places where no adam chashuv no exists, the public can appoint their own oversight board to ensure that unions act responsibly (see Responsa Semikhah Le-Chaim, Choshen Mishpat no. 15 – link).

Judaism supports the right of workers to unionize and bargain collectively, including striking when necessary. However, Judaism also recognizes that unions advocate solely for their members and not for the welfare of the general public. Labor relations boards or other oversight commissions must ensure that unions do not damage the general economy in their zeal to protect their members. And if those oversight committees fail, the public may assert its right to rein in unions to protect the broader community.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student has served two terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

89 comments

  1. “Unions are in the news lately as the financial crisis leads to political pushback against their economic power.”

    There has been a constant attack on unions for at least 30 years-the number of strikes by unions is way down. BTW a union that can’t strike wo the right to binding arbitration simply has no power. See the successful attacks on “union power” while the sacrosanct bailouts of those who caused the financial crisis by wagering on derivatives etc in a heads I win-tails the taxpayers bal me out.

  2. Is an adam chashuv generally defined as a leading Torah scholar, or just an important person (like a nobleman, or some such)? The last time I encountered the term adam chashuv was in Kiddushin, and there we took it to mean an important man as distinct from a talmid chacham. Is that wrong, or is the trade guild scenario just different?

  3. IIRC, in “Lonely Man of Faith” Rov Soloveitchik z’tz’l is said to have tried to help kashrut workers organize a union so that they could better resist the demands of their employers to cut corners.

  4. This post misses the point of what’s in the news. No one’s against private sector unions. What’s at issue here is the ridiculous existence of public sector unions. I don’t even think halakha knows of a “public sector” to begin.

  5. I will be doing a detailed analysis of the question of Judaism and organized labor, from the myraid of literature on the subject on the blog of the Association for Progressive Orthodoxy, of which I am the President and Founder.

  6. “Trade guilds are ancient and are recognized in the Talmud as authoritative representatives of workers (Bava Basra 8b-9a; Bava Kamma 116b; Tosefta, Bava Metzi’a 11:12). When all members of a trade gather together, they have the authority to negotiate as a block, to coerce new tradesmen to join them and to prevent strike-breakers. But even when a minority unite, they can reach mutual and binding agreements (see commentators to Bava Basra 8b-9a, such as Ramban, Ritva, Nimukei Yosef).

    A caveat to this rule is important. The Gemara affords overriding authority to an adam chashuv, a leading Torah scholar. He serves as a public advocate, nullifying a union’s decision if it damages the public by, for example, raising prices above market rates. The public can override union decisions that cause financial harm. In times and places where no adam chashuv no exists, the public can appoint their own oversight board to ensure that unions act responsibly (see Responsa Semikhah Le-Chaim, Choshen Mishpat no. 15 – link).”

    Certainly the strongest trade guilds in modern North America are the medical associations_I am waiting for Rabbanim to attack that guild which certainly causes people to die by making medical care unaffordable-nothing new problem at least 1000 years old see eg Rashi in Tov Shebrofim. Oh of course, who gets honored by the -nomosdos-not the workers in their chains.
    Of course, couldn’t even dream of restraints of powerful trade organizations that help make Orthodox living so expensive and out of the reach of average American.

  7. “Charlie Hall on March 13, 2011 at 11:58 pm
    IIRC, in “Lonely Man of Faith” Rov Soloveitchik z’tz’l is said to have tried to help kashrut workers organize a union so that they could better resist the demands of their employers to cut corners”

    I know someone close to 80 who picketed when he was around 10 with the Rav. Describing of course, the Rav and the Ravs brother in law-S Gerber who toook care of thetechnical details of the picketing.

  8. was the gemara discussing an ideal or reflecting the society that was extant and how halacha would relate to it?

    adam chashuv is one of those terms that has fascinated me because it is context dependent (I once asked an adam chashuv why chazal would use one term [e.g. chazakah] to represent a number of concepts. it didn’t seem to bother him) see for example:

    אדם חשוב. תלמיד חכם1, נכבד בעיני העם2, ממונה וראש ישיבה3, או עשיר גדול4 וכיוצא לפי הענין.
    1. מאירי מו”ק יב א.
    2. פהמ”ש להרמב”ם שביעית סופ”ח.
    3. רש”י חולין קלד ב.
    4. פהמ”ש להרמב”ם ערכין רפ”ו.
    (courtesy bi-cd- et)

    KT

  9. “Progressive,” eh? As in Woodrow Wilson?

  10. Shachar Ha'amim

    I have to agree with mycorft here – trade guilds aren’t exactly labor unions – i.e. organized employees uniting for collective bargaining purposes in order to acheive better conditions.
    Trade guilds are for free professions which areestablished in order to prevent encroachment on the profession by non-professionals. to this date the Israel Bar Association uses the term “hasagat g’vul hamiktzoa” with respect to non-lawyers engaging in practices that are granted by law to be practiced only by licensed professionals.
    the trade guilds of the Talmud are in essence a form of dealing with “hasagat g’vul” fpr tradesman. not for employees (s’chirim) dealing with employers.
    WADR to Rabbi Rapp, his treatment is dealing with hasagat g’vul issues – not labor relations

  11. “IIRC, in “Lonely Man of Faith” Rov Soloveitchik z’tz’l is said to have tried to help kashrut workers organize a union so that they could better resist the demands of their employers to cut corners.”

    Halevai that labor unions (private and public) should all have such a pure and holy cause motivating their activities as preventing lifnei iver in kashrus!

  12. Michael Rogovin

    No one is against private sector unions.

    You must be joking. Business owners have waged anti-union campaigns for over a hundred years. this continues today. What is happening is more than just curbing real abuses (and I agree that these exist) in public sector unions. It is about taking away any opportunity for largely lower and middle class workers to obtain decent health care and pensions. Would you rather they get sick and die or be impoverished in old age? If health care is too expensive, fix health care. Defined contribution plans are cheaper for sure, but try and retire on one when wealthy bankers bring down the economy. The biggest abuses of union power are not in the bargaining process (which is a negotiation) but by legislators eager to court union votes.

  13. How does Yaakov Avinu’s loyalty to his contract with Lavan mesh with the idea of labor unions striking—often for perceived injustices much less egregious than what Yaakov had to tolerate? That’s a question which has been nagging me for years.

  14. “Certainly the strongest trade guilds in modern North America are the medical associations”

    Huh???

    Membership in medical associations are strictly voluntary. The largest, the American Medical Association, may have fewer than 20% of practicing physicians in its membership. (It does a bit better at attracting student and resident members.) The AMA and specialty medical associations have been particularly inefffective at advocacy for the interest of physicians.

    To practice medicine in the United States — or almost any other country in the world — you need to be licensed by the government. That has nothing to do with medical associations.

  15. “Halevai that labor unions (private and public) should all have such a pure and holy cause motivating their activities as preventing lifnei iver in kashrus!”

    The employers apparently didn’t think the cause was particularly holy.

    “No one’s against private sector unions.”

    Michael Rogovin addressed this ridiculous statement in his comment.

    ” What’s at issue here is the ridiculous existence of public sector unions.”

    My brother would disagree. He used to work for the IRS as an auditor. When his bosses tried to get him to use illegal tactics against citizens — including demanding taxes that courts had consistently ruled the law did not require to be paid — he refused and his managers tried to fire him. Only his union saved his career, working out a transfer to a new area. Public employee unions protect the public from corrupt mid and high level supervisors who place their subordinates in the position of having to choose between the law and their jobs.

  16. “In times and places where no adam chashuv no exists, the public can appoint their own oversight board to ensure that unions act responsibly”

    We have had that in the US since 1935: The National Labor Relations Board.

  17. I think that a clear line can be drawn between striking for improved working conditions and shutting down public services such as commuter rail service, subways, etc over who will bear the burden and contribute to the pensions and retirement plans that union members enjoy and which are far better than those enjoyed by the overwhelming majority of private sector employees and view the public sector as their own private fiefdom, despite the fact that taxpayers pay for the operation of public services.

  18. FWI, blaming Wall Street for the economic scenario ignores the fact that the Democratic inspired abolition of “redlining” resulted in mortgages being given to people who would never have been given the same and had no real ability to make payments on the same in the first place.

  19. “The employers apparently didn’t think the cause was particularly holy.”

    Agreed. And halevai that distinguishing right from wrong should be so easy in all cases…unfortunately that is not the case, but we can always hope.

    “Michael Rogovin addressed this ridiculous statement in his comment.”

    I assumed he meant “in this case.” Indeed, making this argument about unions in general seems quite silly to me.

    “We have had that in the US since 1935: The National Labor Relations Board.”

    I’m sure people can argue about whether this is an effective “adam chashuv.” I’m not taking a stance on this question. My point is that there can be and are differing opinions on the best way to deal with labor issues. In this case, I suspect one must recognize that sometimes a town may have – for better or worse – more than one adam chashuv.

  20. Mycroft wrote;

    “There has been a constant attack on unions for at least 30 years”

    True-but that has been due to such wonderfully led unions as the Teamsters, the Longshoremen’s Union and other unions whose rapacious demands, combined with excessive environmental and other governmental regulations have led to foreign manufacturers dominations of American markets. The UAW can point to “union made cars”, but how many Americans would choose an inferior union made model to a clearly superior import?

  21. Don’t forget the teachers’ union.

  22. “the Teamsters, the Longshoremen’s Union and other unions whose rapacious demands, combined with excessive environmental and other governmental regulations have led to foreign manufacturers dominations of American markets.”

    Huh???? The Teamsters and Longshoremen’s unions are mostly active in the transportation industry; it is their members who unload the foreign manufactures and take them to our retailers.

  23. Charlie,

    “The AMA and specialty medical associations have been particularly inefffective at advocacy for the interest of physicians.”

    Do you mean that by throwing their support behind ObamaCare they threw their constituents under the bus? 🙂

  24. Michael Rogovin> Would you rather they get sick and die or be impoverished in old age? [Now, that’s a loaded question – it’s like asking someone when did you stop beating your wife? Socialism has impoverished more people than capitalism.]

    Michael Rogovin> Defined contribution plans are cheaper for sure, but try and retire on one when wealthy bankers bring down the economy. [Why should I be forced to pay for someone else’s retirement, when I am already responsible for my own retirement? Why can’t people save for their own retirement? Unless someone is destitute or incapable of working, it’s chutzpadik to demand that others support them financially. Bankers react to incentives put in place by government. Government policies cause boom and bust cycles. Chiefly, easy-money policies (below market interest rates) fueled the housing bubble. Government policies created moral hazards which allowed the investment banks to use extreme leverage, knowing they would keep the rewards, while losses would be subsidized by the hapless taxpayers.]

  25. “Democratic inspired abolition of “redlining” ”

    Redlining had nothing to do with individuals, it was excluding entire *communities* from any possibility of housing finance. Would you prefer to return to the days when the bankers’ list of good credit risks was the same as that of the exclusive WASP country club?

    And remember that the Republicans were every bit as aggressive at promoting higher rates of home ownership in order to promote Bush’s “ownership society”.

  26. teacher’s unions are the union everyone loves to hate because public schools are often so bad. but in teaching, as in many other issues, the fundamental problem of protecting labor from management overreach still exists. Maybe teacher’s unions don’t always act in students’ interests, but neither do principals, so shifting power from the forme to the latter is just that – shifting power, not necessarily an overall improvement.

    in general this gets to the trade guilds vs. unions point (see shachar ha-amaim above) – guilds protect proffessional insiders from outsiders. unions do some ammount of insider/outsider protecting but also protect employees from employers. Is there precedent for the latter in the talmud?

    (disclosure: i was in a teacher’s union for a short time. i was not then a big fan of the union, nor am i now, but i had at least one incompetent manager who would have treated teachers in general, and me in particular, much worse had it not been for the union. leading me to my current position that any disabling of the union needs to go with a general overhaul that can prevent management abuses in some other way.)

  27. Michael Rogovin

    Steve Brizel:
    “blaming Wall Street for the economic scenario ignores the fact that the Democratic inspired abolition of “redlining” resulted in mortgages being given to people who would never have been given the same and had no real ability to make payments”

    Redlining is the practice of preventing anyone in a given neighborhood, often because of race, from getting loans. While it may be that Democrats (and Republicans) created a lifnei iver problem by urging liberalization of standards and through the institutions of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guarantees, there was to my knowledge, no obligation forced on banks to lend money to people whom the banks knew could not pay nor to issue loans without any due diligence. Nor was bundling bad loans into securities that were resold mandated by the Democrats. It is these practices, designed specifically to enrich wealthy investors, as well as brokers and dealers, that brought about the collapse. It was, in short, not the idea that we should lend money in order to encourage economic development and home ownership among the less wealthy areas and people that caused the collapse, but greed by those already in the top 1-5% of wealth that led to the collapse.

    “retirement plans that union members enjoy and which are far better than those enjoyed by the overwhelming majority of private sector employees”

    Perhaps we should fix the latter rather than condemn the former. In any case, if the wages and benefits are so great, why is it that people are not quitting their private sector jobs and rushing to work for the government? How many YU students want to go into business vs the public sector? These arguments are simply about wanting great service and being unwilling to pay for it (= “greed”).

    “excessive environmental and other governmental regulations have led to foreign manufacturers dominations of American markets”

    Products made by foreign manufacturers are subject to the same regulations as American-made products. In fact, environmental regulations (and labor rules) in Europe and in many other places are more stringent than what exist in the US. As for places like China, why anyone would want the US market to emulate the regulations there, that make China (among others) one of the most polluted countries, with exploited labor and slave like conditions in some plants, where child labor laws are routinely violated, with horrible worker safety records — in short bring us back to the conditions that unions and enlightened people fought for and won over the last 150 years, constantly astounds me. But there again, it is the desire for cheap goods over what is good for society (ie, greed) that apparently drives those like Steve who make statements like those quoted above (also willful ignorance of facts).

  28. The duplicity here should be clear. Unions have considerable financial assets. They use these assets to get public officials voted into office then negotiate their contracts with the same officials they put into office. The officials make sweetheart deals at the publics’ expense. The public officials are happy because they get to stay in office or move on to a new position before the economic burden crushes the budget. Unions are happy because they get entitlements that folks in the private sector will never have.
    The criticism of this dishonest system is not directed against honest negotiations. It is directed against the stacked deck that has overburdened the citizens who continue to pay as their hard earned money continues to be taken away in the form of higher and higher taxes.

  29. “Socialism has impoverished more people than capitalism.’

    Both capitalism and socialism, taken to extremes, can lead not only to poverty but mass death! Just look at Ireland in the 1840s for proof of the horrible effects of capitalism without compassion. The Torah, of course, follows neither model.

  30. “It was, in short, not the idea that we should lend money in order to encourage economic development and home ownership among the less wealthy areas and people that caused the collapse”

    It has been shown that the unregulated financial institutions that are not subject to the Community Reinvestment Act made a higher proportion of subprime loans than did the regulated banks.

    It is also worth looking at other countries to see who they came out of the banking crisis. Canada and Israel basically didn’t have a banking crisis at all. But they have a small number of banks and they are very tightly regulated by the government. And you can’t get a thirty year fixed rate low down payment mortgage in either country. Yet homeownership rates in Canada are just as high as in the US, even though you can’t deduct mortgage interest from your income taxes. (Anyone have statistics for Israel?)

  31. “Unions have considerable financial assets. They use these assets to get public officials voted into office then negotiate their contracts with the same officials they put into office. ”

    Private businesses have even greater financial assets, and do the same thing only more aggressively. The lobbying by defense contractors in particular makes that by the unions seem mild — and there is far more money at stake.

  32. “Maybe teacher’s unions don’t always act in students’ interests, but neither do principals, so shifting power from the forme to the latter is just that – shifting power, not necessarily an overall improvement.”

    Being a principal is a very difficult job. And the compensation is not commiserate with the difficulty, the level of experience required, or the commitment required. The absolute most that a public school principal can make in New York City is just over $150K/year. There are some principals of Jewish Day Schools who make twice that, even though the schools are much smaller.

    I have a friend who was an Assistant Principal in NYC. After 15 years they finally convinced her to become a Principal. She hated it — twice as many hours, twice as many headaches, and only about a 10% increase in pay. She explained that the Principals’ union had never done a good job at advocating for its members. She went back to being an AP.

    And as the NYC school system hires more and more people as administrators who have no classroom experience, the difficulty they will have in running schools will likely increase.

  33. “Why should I be forced to pay for someone else’s retirement, when I am already responsible for my own retirement? Why can’t people save for their own retirement?”

    Well the problem with most public employee pensions is that the politicians took the money that was supposed to pay for the pensions, and used it for other spending programs and/or tax cuts. The robbery is in fact on a Madoff scale. The problem isn’t that people weren’t saving, is that the savings that their employer promised them (usually in exchange for reduced salaries and wages) was stolen.

    ” Unless someone is destitute or incapable of working, it’s chutzpadik to demand that others support them financially”

    I see you agree with Rambam regarding kollels, but his opinion was not accepted as halachah.

  34. ““Why should I be forced to pay for someone else’s retirement, when I am already responsible for my own retirement? Why can’t people save for their own retirement?””

    The issue is you are not “paying for someone else’s retirement” in a vaccum. Defined benefit plans are a form of defered compensation – people agree to work for less now knowing they will get more later. Whether it is responsible to allow large contracts in which one side promises to pay money int he future that it can’t guarantee it will have is a good question, but it is not like when the payout comes the payees are asking for anything “extra” – this is part of their overall compensation package.

  35. I’m happy that all of the liberals and conservatives are having a healthy catharsis in venting their spleens about unions, pensions, banks and the like, but what the vast majority of the comments have to do with Gil’s post or Hirhurim’s purpose (“the Hirhurim-Musings blog is intended only for the interchange of ideas for the purpose of Torah study, promoting enlightened public policy and/or the refinement of character”) is beyond me. While I too enjoy debating these issues (sometimes) with a good (though usually wrong :-)) conservative friend, Hirhurim really isn’t the proper forum for this debate. But if it makes you feel good . . . .

  36. “It is also worth looking at other countries to see who they came out of the banking crisis. Canada and Israel basically didn’t have a banking crisis at all.”

    Ahh, the Canada example. This little gem of an argument seems to boil down to: No restrictions on interstate banking, so Canadian banks spread assets/liabilities across Canada (and no worries if housing market tanks); No Glass-Steagall; no mortgage interest deduction from taxes, so there is incentive to pay off mortgages; no walking away from negative equity homes and letting the bank pick up the tab, etc.

    Color me unconvinced. I’ve yet to hear about actual “regulations” that managed to stave off disaster in Canada. I’ve just heard a lot of reasons why Canada is different from…well…other countries.

    And therein lies the rub. Almost every other country with different regulatory systems – and even tightly regulated systems – from the US got hit with a crisis. Meaning, many different countries, with many different regulatory systems got hit – many of whom don’t show signs of unrestrained market cheerleading in any other sector either.

    And what’s even more strange about Charlie’s argument is this: of the factors that people chalk up to Canada’s success, almost are also present in England. In fact, that last one I mentioned is also true in the US! And yet somehow these countries all have banking crises.

    People who have worked in the Canadian banking system can probably give you a more subtle explanation (one that is heavy on culture) that explains this phenomenon. But “Canada is more tightly regulated” is wrong.

  37. “Redlining had nothing to do with individuals, it was excluding entire *communities* from any possibility of housing finance.”

    Right. And in retrospect, it’s not clear that this policy was worse than policies of severely relaxed credit that, while it cannot be laid completely at the feet of CRA, at least can be said to have originated largely with the culture created squarely by CRA – especially as it was pushed substantially in the 90s and 00s. Although you didn’t cite any literature for your “it has been shown” comment, I assure you what I suspect is behind your comment still fits with this point (which is quite logical as well).

    And yes, the economic quality of entire *communities* does in fact matter. When housing markets bust, very poor neighborhoods end up putting by far the biggest burden on banks since they experience the sharpest decline in home values – so much so that refinancing or selling will, quite often, not help. And just at the point where people realize they owe the banks quite a lot of money, bankruptcy is declared.

    Either way, I think it was Gary Becker who pointed out the irony in the fact that the same people who decried redlining were those who, a couple of years later, criticized the banks for irresponsible lending practices.

    Finally, on a related note, it should be obvious that you have a point about Republicans *also* pushing easy access to housing. Fine. So both parties were wrong in their misguided attempt to inject compassion into lending. I’m all for compassion in markets and coming up with political solutions to problems like global warming, poverty, drug use, etc., but this one – whether it was the *sole* culprit (unlikely) or at least an important contributing factor (very likely) – was clearly very bad policy.

  38. Charlie Hall: WADR, I strongly disagree with your claim that “capitalism without compassion” was to blame for mass deaths during the Great Famine in Ireland. I understand that Irish Catholics at the time were largely tenant farmers, who were impoverished in part due to laws put in place to benefit the Anglo-Irish and English landowners. Those laws had nothing to do with capitalism. More capitalism (i.e. industry and trade) would have provided jobs for the poor, enabling them to create enough wealth to pay for imported food.

    I have no problem with volunary donations (not tax money) to support Torah scholarship. The Rambam was quite astute; and he worked for a living :-). Didn’t the Rambam also write that the highest form of charity is to help a poor man become self-sufficient, by helping him to find a job or to start a business?

  39. Michael Rogovin

    Gil’s original post (remember that?) was about how Torah values interplay with today’s reality, in which (for the most part) Republican governors are pushing for unprecedented restrictions on Unions – particularly with regard to what will or will not be subject to negotiation. Gil noted that “The public can override union decisions that cause financial harm. In times and places where no adam chashuv no exists, the public can appoint their own oversight board to ensure that unions act responsibly.”

    The problem I see is the implied suggestion (or perhaps question?) that it was “union decisions that cause[d] financial harm.” and that somehow the governors and legislators are the appropriate “oversight board[s]”. I do not believe that what the Torah had in mind (assuming that unions are the same as trade guilds, which I think is true enough from a halachic perspective) is applicable to the current political debate for the reason that there is nothing to suggest that it was union decisions that caused anyone financial harm (other than perhaps its members). For the most part, assuming that the union demands were unreasonable, the fault lies in those negotiators for the executives who acceded to these demands, and especially the legislators who passed laws giving additional benefits beyond those negotiated and repeatedly passed budgets that failed to properly fund pensions, diverting the money to other purposes year after year. To suggest that the governors and legislators are the properly constituted regulatory authority to reign in the bad unions (some of which may be bad, but for other reasons) using the Torah principle cited above strikes me as bad Torah and bad policy.

    If what the Torah means is that we can put in place policies where unions abuse their power (such as where unions put in place rules that effectively restrict membership to certain groups and exclude others, or a public union whose members work in certain essential services like police, fire protection, teaching or transit attempt to strike), then that is already the case and US law can and does restrict such union activities (remember PATCO?). I fail to understand how a union asking for something as part of a negotiation causes financial harm.

    (with apologies to my friend Joseph Kaplan) As to why Canuck should fund someone else’s retirement – I am sure that is a bad thing, so I assume when you pay your doctor, you deduct that amount that she uses to pay for her retirement (not to mention her flat screen TV, her fancy car, and dinner at Etc Steakhouse). Retirement benefits are part of compensation, just like health benefits, transit benefits, and salary. You are no more funding someone else’s retirement than you are buying their groceries. It is these silly arguments that get in the way of serious discussion and debate about a real fiscal problem facing states (even if this is not the place for such discussions).

  40. Charlie,

    To echo an earlier comment, I admit I’m a bit mystified as to your claim about the Irish famine. Far from laissez-faire, Ireland in this period was actually plagued by British restrictions on Catholic-Irish land ownership, nutty public-works projects (including practically useless roads), and heavy taxation. Plus there were large numbers of government employees, clergymen, and soldiers being supported on the public dime.

  41. “I am sure that is a bad thing, so I assume when you pay your doctor, you deduct that amount that she uses to pay for her retirement”

    Without arguing for or against public pension plans (I’m not convinced there is a clear right or wrong there anyway), this is, on its face, an absurd argument.

    The reason you don’t have a problem with paying your doctor is because your doctor has provided a service directly to you, and in exchange you pay a fee. If you don’t like your doctor, you can take your business elsewhere (and fund a different doctor’s retirement…).

    Publicly funded pension plans suffer from two drawbacks in that 1) you may not be a direct beneficiary of any corresponding services, and 2) it is very difficult to switch your funding to someone else’s pension plan if you don’t like the job the union is doing; in fact, even sticking with the union while simply firing bad and/or ineffective workers is very hard (at best) or nearly impossible (at worst).

    This is not to say that there are no benefits to the union system, or that it is not ultimately the best option. My point is simply that you cannot compare personally purchasing services from a doctor to funding public pensions with taxpayer money.

    And of course my apologies to Joseph Kaplan – but gosh, arguing with (usually wrong and/or extremely credulous) liberals and conservatives is fun! 🙂

  42. Michael Rogovin

    Jerry: obviously disagree. Taxpayers do not fund union pension plans, they compensate government employees. How that compensation is divvied up has fiscal consequences for sure, but taxpayers only fund pensions in the sense that public employees are compensated at all for their services by tax dollars. If one opposes compensating public employees at all, that is fine (but a very different argument). It is singling out one piece of a package as somehow unethical that is problematic.

    Perhaps Gil would consider reframing the issue in a future post: whether the Torah favors publicly funded services vs regulated or unregulated private services. For example, in my town, all garbage collection is by private carters. Despite competition, the lowest price is almost certainly higher than would be paid if the town contracted with a single carter or collected garbage itself. In addition, by doing so, it could create financial incentives to recycle that are difficult or impossible to do now that would save the town and the residents/businesses money. Is there a Torah view on whether a government run or regulated monopoly vs private industry is preferred? Does it matter which is more economically efficient and who decides? What if changing would mean that some people would lose jobs or be forced to take new jobs that pay less (or at least have a different compensation package or work hours than they have now)?

  43. Public sector workers get to retire young (say at age 50 or 55), and receive generous pensions for many decades, paid out of current taxes, not from a pension funds that had been set aside. This allows politicians to reward their union supporters, who in turn contribute and vote for these politicians, while passing the financial burden along to future governments and taxpayers. Public sector workers are free to join unions, but why should the public representatives be forced to negotiate with them? If the public sector worker can do better in the private sector, let them try.

  44. Charlie, I know that socialism is sort of a religion, so I probably won’t convince you, but allow me to share that old gem: “The problem with capitalism is capitalists. The problem with socialism is socialism.”

    I suppose the only thing more obscene than a public sector union is an IRS union, for obvious reasons, by the way.

  45. Michael: “If one opposes compensating public employees at all, that is fine (but a very different argument). It is singling out one piece of a package as somehow unethical that is problematic.”

    This is like those classic boardroom rhetorical tricks that section heads trying to justify a budget use…and that almost always works on young managers.

    Yes, obviously all compensation – when monetized irrespective of other factors – is all equal. (Actually, if I recall correctly, Milton Friedman famously deployed this point in his debates over employer provided medical benefits).

    But we know that in real life not all forms of compensation are equal. Usually this works to the employer’s detriment because while a $2000 raise is easy to appreciate, a rule change regarding pension benefit calculation, which may actually cost more, is not. Thus we often have situations (as I believe we do right now in this country) where union members agitate for “small” rule changes and concessions that are not, in fact, that small – they just *feel* that way.

    When it comes to figuring out how to compensate government workers, therefore, collectively bargaining pension benefits may seem harmless, but it actually puts employers (in this case government administrators who are supposed to be representing taxpayers) at a significant disadvantage. When you say yes or no to a ‘dollars-and-cents’ raise, the effect of that is readily quantifiable by the average worker (and taxpayer); not so a decision on pension rule changes.

    Basically, the point is that there is nothing incongruous about preferring to compensate government employees with higher paychecks, rather than with greater benefits somewhere down the road. And in turn, if taxpayers (hypothetically) would rather just give workers higher paydays than even higher (eventually) pension benefits, then it is appropriate to speak of taxpayers as “funding public employees’ pension funds.”

  46. Michael,

    As to your garbage collection scenario: I’ll raise you one.

    In the town where one of my cousins lives, the neighborhood decided to redo the main road that runs through the neighborhood. The job was supposed to take 6 months, but ended up taking 2 years. And rarely would I be able to visit the family without seeing public workers sitting around doing nothing for hours on end (world’s longest lunch break?). The funny thing is that my cousin works in development, and they do this sort of job all the time. I asked him how long it would have taken him to complete a job of this magnitude – given restrictions like not overly inconveniencing motorists, etc. – and he said probably two weeks, and he would be absolutely shocked if it took longer than a month.

    There are some things that government is good at, and others things at which they are not. Deciding which is which is definitely difficult.

  47. The real problem is that governments hide the costs of entitlements and other expenses. Voters should know exactly what they are paying for, and what their children and grandchildren will be paying for.

  48. …Or, as Charlie says, the government spends those entitlements and other expenses (although I suspect I would draw a different conclusion from that than he does).

  49. Charlie Hall wrote :

    “Huh???? The Teamsters and Longshoremen’s unions are mostly active in the transportation industry; it is their members who unload the foreign manufactures and take them to our retailers”

    My point was that neither of the above mentioned unions was ever known for its ethical probity

  50. Michael Rogovin wrote in part:

    “Redlining is the practice of preventing anyone in a given neighborhood, often because of race, from getting loans. While it may be that Democrats (and Republicans) created a lifnei iver problem by urging liberalization of standards and through the institutions of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guarantees, there was to my knowledge, no obligation forced on banks to lend money to people whom the banks knew could not pay nor to issue loans without any due diligence. Nor was bundling bad loans into securities that were resold mandated by the Democrats. It is these practices, designed specifically to enrich wealthy investors, as well as brokers and dealers, that brought about the collapse. It was, in short, not the idea that we should lend money in order to encourage economic development and home ownership among the less wealthy areas and people that caused the collapse, but greed by those already in the top 1-5% of wealth that led to the collapse

    This hardly contradicts my post-once the standards were relaxed, the entire notion of a loan being a debt that required payment back to the loaner dissapeared.

  51. Michael Rogovin wrote :

    “Perhaps we should fix the latter rather than condemn the former. In any case, if the wages and benefits are so great, why is it that people are not quitting their private sector jobs and rushing to work for the government? How many YU students want to go into business vs the public sector? These arguments are simply about wanting great service and being unwilling to pay for it (= “greed”).”

    How would you suggest that every private sector emplopyer be enticed to provide such benefits short of mandating ala the health care that every employer have a pension plan? Benefits and retirements help when you are R”L sick or retired-they don’t help you with the real life obligations that anyone with a family ios confronted with-tuition, costs for simchas, etc.

  52. Michael Rogovin wrote in part:

    “Products made by foreign manufacturers are subject to the same regulations as American-made products. In fact, environmental regulations (and labor rules) in Europe and in many other places are more stringent than what exist in the US. As for places like China, why anyone would want the US market to emulate the regulations there, that make China (among others) one of the most polluted countries, with exploited labor and slave like conditions in some plants, where child labor laws are routinely violated, with horrible worker safety records — in short bring us back to the conditions that unions and enlightened people fought for and won over the last 150 years, constantly astounds me. But there again, it is the desire for cheap goods over what is good for society (ie, greed) that apparently drives those like Steve who make statements like those quoted above (also willful ignorance of facts”

    First of all, can you state affirmatively that Japanese autos are made under conditions that violate any labor laws? Moreover,most consumers merely act in their own self interest-seeking what has always been less expensive and better, as has been well documented in the case of why Americans prefer foreign autos over the latest products from the Big Three. There was a great article in the NY Times Magazine as to how Toyota markets its products, as opposed to the way that the Big Three attempts to ram its garbage down the throats of US consumers.

  53. “It was, in short, not the idea that we should lend money in order to encourage economic development and home ownership among the less wealthy areas and people that caused the collapse, but greed by those already in the top 1-5% of wealth that led to the collapse. ”
    Agreed

  54. “Benefits and retirements help when you are R”L sick or retired-they don’t help you with the real life obligations that anyone with a family ios confronted with-tuition, costs for simchas, etc”

    “Costs for simchas .”
    Most costs for simchas are far from essential-save for retirement, get health insurance. When my wife and I got married we did NOT have a sit down affair,-and that was not huge- only sheva brochos were Friday night at my parents where we had about 11 men, Saturday afternoon at my in-law where we had less than 15 men,shala shudas in schul and that was it. We are still married.

  55. Mycroft wrote:

    “Most costs for simchas are far from essential-save for retirement, get health insurance”

    How about the criteria which someone once attached the abbreviation of FLOPS, regardless of how the costs of the same are approtioned ? Measuring simcha costs by what one did for one’s own simcha when in fact most simchas have a smorg or some kind, followed by a sit down affair as well most chasanim and kallos having Sheva Brachos each or most nights, is an example of using an exception to disprove the validity of a rule.

  56. Michael Rogovin

    Can’t resist…In reverse order:

    (1) comparing the cost of simchas to retirement and health is obscene. That people CHOOSE to spend excessive amounts on a discretionary expense is nice for the catering/events industry, but hardly an issue for national public policy. You may prefer to have money for a smorg while others do without health care. I don’t see things that way. As was pointed out in a great piece in the Huffington Post today, everyone complains about funding the government until a disaster strikes. Lives were and are being saved by government actions and workers.

    (2) In responding to my counterpoint to Steve’s claim that excessive environmental and labor regulations favored foreign companies, Steve changed the subject. I take that as him conceding that he was wrong in the first place. Also, I never claimed anything about Japan (I referred to China).

    (3) I totally contradicted SB’s post about standards being relaxed. The government wanted more lending to economically disadvantaged. It didn’t mandate lending practices that were wrong (like no income verification) or securitizing bad debts. Those were decisions fueled by greed, the private sector and those who continue today to earn millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses (but let’s attack the unions – they are the cause of our troubles). Even if gov’t made it easier, that does not excuse those responsible.

    (4) Governments are quite capable of understanding the long term impacts of labor negotiations and legislation – they have actuaries and I know some of them. They problem in many states was not caused by the high cost of the plans per se, but by the failure of legislators and governors to fund the plans over many years, creating huge debts that they cannot ever recover from. And by the way, retirement age for most gov’t workers I know is not 55 except in special circumstances and with a reduced pension.

    What seems to escape attention in all the attacks on teachers, fire fighters etc. is what compensation those on the right think the people entrusted with education, saving lives, running essential services should have. Put another way, for you to quit your job and take one of these jobs, what would they have to pay you? If things are so good, why aren’t you swtiching careers right now? Everyone demands top quality service but no one wants to pay for it. The myths about teacher’s hours and benefits, among others, makes me wonder how so many people steeped in the intricacies of Torah can be so obtuse. (Not that liberals are exempt from this — believe me, on many issues they may be as bad)

  57. Charlie Hall on March 14, 2011 at 1:12 pm
    “Unions have considerable financial assets. They use these assets to get public officials voted into office then negotiate their contracts with the same officials they put into office. ”

    “Private businesses have even greater financial assets, and do the same thing only more aggressively. The lobbying by defense contractors in particular makes that by the unions seem mild — and there is far more money at stake”

    But pubilic funds don’t pay for private workers insurance. And public funds don’t pay for private workers pensions. While the private sector does aggressively lobby, unions not only engage in lobbying, they get sweetheart deals from the people they put into office at the taxpayer’s expense. The taxpayer doesn’t stand a chance.
    If the taxpayer didn’t directly pay for this, then perhaps your point would be more convincing.

  58. “Irish Catholics at the time were largely tenant farmers, who were impoverished in part due to laws put in place to benefit the Anglo-Irish and English landowners”

    Precisely. Land Reform is Socialist.

    “More capitalism (i.e. industry and trade) would have provided jobs for the poor, enabling them to create enough wealth to pay for imported food.”

    There was no need to import food: Ireland exported food throughout the famine. The British refused to interfere with the market. A million Irish died as the result of that non-interference.

    “I admit I’m a bit mystified as to your claim about the Irish famine. Far from laissez-faire, Ireland in this period was actually plagued by British restrictions on Catholic-Irish land ownership, nutty public-works projects (including practically useless roads), and heavy taxation.”

    Free marketers successfully opposed Irish famine relief on the grounds that it would encourage the lazy Irish to remain lazy. In fact, PM Robert Peel lost his job in part because he wanted to do something.

  59. “But pubilic funds don’t pay for private workers insurance. And public funds don’t pay for private workers pensions.”

    False. Public funds pay for the insurance and pensions of persons employeed by government contractors and grant recipients.

  60. so no one has more to say on whether the trade unions of today (representing labor vs. management) are actually like the trade guilds of the talmud (representing tradesmen against outsiders)?

  61. Charlie Hall, I think your argument that capitalism is to blame for the Great Famine in Ireland is silly. And, it’s even sillier to suggest that socialism would have prevented the famine and ensured prosperity. Let’s put this to rest, please. How are unions subject to Jewish law? In our countries of exile, local laws and customs determine the rights and privileges (or not) of workers to unionize and negotiate with employers.

  62. “Free marketers successfully opposed Irish famine relief on the grounds that it would encourage the lazy Irish to remain lazy.”

    Other than calling them “free marketers” with great conviction, you haven’t actually demonstrated that they were acting on behalf of the “free market.”

    The policies that led to the catastrophe were highly interventionist, and more importantly the result of prejudiced English strong-arming of the Irish economy. J.B. Say – a “free marketer” himself – accurately identified and protested against the problem at a very early stage.

    Also important, the pre-famine population boom in Ireland that set the stage for the famine disaster was itself a product of ill-advised protectionist tariffs and misbegotten price controls (that really only benefited British landlords in any case) that encouraged the buildup of production that could only be sustained as long as the controls were sustained indefinitely.

    The “free market” response, by people like Whately, was actually rejected out of hand by the British who instead initiated “workhouse” projects, a series of public works programs, coupled, of course, with increased taxation. And any impulse towards public charity, which had been effective in previous famines, was preempted by legislation like the Irish Poor Law.

    As for England’s “refusal to intervene” – this had little to do with an allegiance to the free market, and much more to do with cultural notions of charity and laziness. In fact, rejecting extensive private charity (from America, Turkey, etc.) on cultural grounds can just as easily be seen as a repudiation of the market (people forget that the market isn’t just about ruthless competition, but about allowing individuals to make decisions about how to spend their own money).

    Ireland’s problem was not laissez faire. It was more likely British conquest, protectionism, public works, and other important cultural factors.

  63. “Measuring simcha costs by what one did for one’s own simcha when in fact most simchas have a smorg or some kind, followed by a sit down affair as well most chasanim and kallos having Sheva Brachos each or most nights, is an example of using an exception to disprove the validity of a rule”
    Steve:
    I don’t see simcha costs as an essential-one is perfectly married wo sheva brachos every night or having a sit down affair-I still am. Ensuring that people aren’t dying because of not being able to pay for medical care/or for food orliving in thestreets is a societal moral requirement. Simcha costs are a nice luxury.

  64. mycroft> Ensuring that people aren’t dying because of not being able to pay for medical care/or for food orliving in thestreets is a societal moral requirement. [This is just socialist rhetoric.]

  65. “Canuck on March 15, 2011 at 8:03 pm
    mycroft> Ensuring that people aren’t dying because of not being able to pay for medical care/or for food orliving in thestreets is a societal moral requirement. [This is just socialist rhetoric.]”
    It may or may not be socialist rhetoric -but it certainly responsibility for our fellow citizens is Chazal rhetoric:

    see eg
    “R. Yehoshua’ ben Levi says: the ‘Eglah ‘Arufah only comes on account of inhospitability, as it says: “they shall declare: ‘Our hands did not shed this blood…’ ” – would we have thought that the elders of the court are murderers [that they need to declare their innocence]? Rather, [what they are saying is]: “He did not come to us that we left him without food”

  66. “Canuck on March 15, 2011 at 8:03 pm
    mycroft> Ensuring that people aren’t dying because of not being able to pay for medical care/or for food orliving in thestreets is a societal moral requirement. [This is just socialist rhetoric.]”

    Do you believe society has an obligation to ensure that people don’t starve to death, that the infirm are not placed on an iceberg to die, and that people don’t sleep on the streets?

  67. mycroft> Do you believe society has an obligation to ensure that people don’t starve to death, that the infirm are not placed on an iceberg to die, and that people don’t sleep on the streets?

    Why do you keep asking absurd and loaded questions?

  68. Charlie Hall> Precisely. Land Reform is Socialist. [You’ve got to be joking.]

    > There was no need to import food: Ireland exported food throughout the famine. The British refused to interfere with the market. A million Irish died as the result of that non-interference. [You must be making this stuff up. Do you expect us to believe that Ireland was food sufficient during the Potato Famine?]

    >Free marketers successfully opposed Irish famine relief on the grounds that it would encourage the lazy Irish to remain lazy. In fact, PM Robert Peel lost his job in part because he wanted to do something. [Potato blights caused the Irish potato famine, not the free market. In any case, there was not much of a free market in Ireland at the time. Discriminatory laws against Catholics had a role to play as an indirect cause of the hunger and poverty. Had those discriminatory laws been repealed and had Ireland been industrialized by the 1840s, its people would have been able to earn enough money to pay for food. Capitalism creates wealth; socialism redistributes and destroys wealth. The world needs more capitalists.]

  69. “Canuck on March 16, 2011 at 12:42 am
    mycroft> Do you believe society has an obligation to ensure that people don’t starve to death, that the infirm are not placed on an iceberg to die, and that people don’t sleep on the streets?

    Why do you keep asking absurd and loaded questions?”
    What is absurd about the question? Does the capitalist believe that society has an obligation to its less fortunate members to ensure that they have food to eat, that people are treated for illnesses and receive treatment so that there are less likely to get sick and that they receive shelter.

    You just stated that my comment: ” Ensuring that people aren’t dying because of not being able to pay for medical care/or for food orliving in thestreets is a societal moral requirement.” is ” just socialist rhetoric.]”

  70. “Labor relations boards or other oversight commissions must ensure that unions do not damage the general economy in their zeal to protect their members. And if those oversight committees fail, the public may assert its right to rein in unions to protect the broader community.”
    Since a private enterprises purpose is to maximize income for its owners do you believe that oversight commissions must ensure that private enterprises do not damage the general economy in their zeal to protect their owners. And if those oversight committees fail, the public may assert its right to rein in private enterprises to protect the broader community.

  71. “Canuck on March 16, 2011 at 1:44 am
    Charlie Hall> Precisely. Land Reform is Socialist. [You’ve got to be joking.]

    > There was no need to import food: Ireland exported food throughout the famine. The British refused to interfere with the market. A million Irish died as the result of that non-interference. [You must be making this stuff up. Do you expect us to believe that Ireland was food sufficient during the Potato Famine?]

    >Free marketers successfully opposed Irish famine relief on the grounds that it would encourage the lazy Irish to remain lazy. In fact, PM Robert Peel lost his job in part because he wanted to do something. [Potato blights caused the Irish potato famine, not the free market. In any case, there was not much of a free market in Ireland at the time. Discriminatory laws against Catholics had a role to play as an indirect cause of the hunger and poverty. Had those discriminatory laws been repealed and had Ireland been industrialized by the 1840s, its people would have been able to earn enough money to pay for food. Capitalism creates wealth; socialism redistributes and destroys wealth. The world needs more capitalists.]”
    see
    “Records show Irish lands exported food even during the worst years of the Famine. When Ireland had experienced a famine in 1782–1783, ports were closed to keep Irish-grown food in Ireland to feed the Irish. Local food prices promptly dropped. Merchants lobbied against the export ban, but government in the 1780s overrode their protests. No such export ban happened in the 1840s.[60]

    Cecil Woodham-Smith, an authority on the Irish Famine, wrote in The Great Hunger; Ireland 1845–1849 that no issue has provoked so much anger and embittered relations between England and Ireland as “the indisputable fact that huge quantities of food were exported from Ireland to England throughout the period when the people of Ireland were dying of starvation.” Ireland remained a net exporter of food throughout most of the five-year famine.[fn 4]

    Christine Kinealy, a University of Liverpool fellow and author of two texts on the famine, Irish Famine: This Great Calamity and A Death-Dealing Famine, writes that Irish exports of calves, livestock (except pigs), bacon and ham actually increased during the famine. The food was shipped under guard from the most famine-stricken parts of Ireland. However, the poor had no money to buy food and the government then did not ban exports”

  72. mycroft: Are you suggesting it’s not absurd to suggest that those who have not bought into the Leftist program want to put the elderly onto ice floes to die, in order to save money? Lookup the definition of loaded questions. Society has no obligations; individuals have obligations. Primarily, people are responsible to support themselves and their families. If someone needs assistance, their family should be the first to help. Then, friends, and then neighbors. Outsourcing acts of charity and deeds of kindness to government, results in less charity and fewer deeds of kindness. There is no commandment in the Torah to implement the Leftist agenda. On the contrary, socialism is theft on a massive scale. And, socialism ensures more poverty, less compassion, and a meaner society. Freedom is more in line with Torah values than government coersion.

  73. Michael Rogovin-aside from the US Navy, guess from where private groups have left to help the victims of the earthquake-Israel-and particularly members of Zaka. Can you name any other private sector group from any country that has sent volunteers to provide on the ground assistance, as opposed to writing a check? I saw no news of volunteers from Saudi Arabia,Singapore. Indonesia or Bahrain.

  74. “Society has no obligations”

    The essence of our disagreement-society has an obligation to make sure poor people and are unable to work who have no money to eat are given food so that they don’t starve to death. There are other obligations IMHO of society but I merely want to establish that society has obligations.

  75. mycroft: WADR, your continued repetition of loaded language shows that you are not considering my points at all, and you are a prisoner of your emotional thinking. For the last time: society is not a legal person, it’s an abstraction, so it has no obligations. Individuals in society do have obligations, moral and legal. IMO, saying that society is responsible for welfare makes one feel compassionate, but it allows one to evade personal responsibility. I accept that you are compassionate. Please accept that I am too, despite my distrust of collectivism. Have a wonderful Purim.

  76. “Free marketers ”
    Which Chazal certainly weren’t.

  77. “society is not a legal person, it’s an abstraction, so it has no obligations”
    Klal Israel has obligations as a Klal to every member of the klal.

  78. Michael Rogovin

    Steve: as usual, all you do when you don’t have a response is rather than concede a point, you throw in a non-sequitor. Of course Israel responded and the Arab world did not (though many other countries did as well). So what? It has nothing to do with anything in this thread.

  79. mycroft,

    Your point about Irish exports is spot on – and an absolute demonstration that this had nothing at all to do with a dispute over free markets. This was all about Britain raping the Irish economy.

    The British government’s excessive meddling in the Irish economy precipitated the famine in the first place (as I indicated earlier), and their continued meddling at the behest of British or British-controlled merchants prolonged the famine.

    Of course, in earlier famines – blame for which should also be appropriately apportioned to British meddling in the economy – some meddling eventually worked, as is bound to happen. But that was, of course, after their meddling had caused the problem in the first place.

  80. Michael Rogovin-Do you really think that EMS or the NYFD respond to the scene of an accident as rapidly as Hatzalah?

  81. “Steve Brizel on March 17, 2011 at 2:42 pm
    Michael Rogovin-Do you really think that EMS or the NYFD respond to the scene of an accident as rapidly as Hatzalah?”

    But they are more likely to be more skilled- public employee ambulance service tends to have has a lot higher percentage of paramedics than Hazalah-Hazalah tends to have more EMTs. A parttime volunteer is likely to have less training than a fulltime employee.

  82. Michael Rogovin

    Another non-sequitor. You are clearly incapable of either self-reflection or staying focused on a coherent topic.

  83. Michael Rogovin commented originally:

    “2) In responding to my counterpoint to Steve’s claim that excessive environmental and labor regulations favored foreign companies, Steve changed the subject. I take that as him conceding that he was wrong in the first place. Also, I never claimed anything about Japan (I referred to China).”

    If the same product can be made in China, as opposed to the US, solely because of excessive environmental and labor regulations, something is wrong with our regulatory framework. Insisting that the US adhere to regulations that cost American citizens jobs is IMO a classical example of liberalism run amock.

  84. Michael Rogovin commented:

    “I totally contradicted SB’s post about standards being relaxed. The government wanted more lending to economically disadvantaged. It didn’t mandate lending practices that were wrong (like no income verification) or securitizing bad debts. Those were decisions fueled by greed, the private sector and those who continue today to earn millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses (but let’s attack the unions – they are the cause of our troubles). Even if gov’t made it easier, that does not excuse those responsible.”

    I think that we can disagree on the basis of the real estate collapse. IMO, encouraging lending to someone who can’t pay a mortgage led directly to what happened. How else was such a policy to be implemented without the institution being accused by the usual suspects of engaging in the equivalent of redlining?

  85. Michael Rogovin wrote:

    “) Governments are quite capable of understanding the long term impacts of labor negotiations and legislation – they have actuaries and I know some of them. They problem in many states was not caused by the high cost of the plans per se, but by the failure of legislators and governors to fund the plans over many years, creating huge debts that they cannot ever recover from. And by the way, retirement age for most gov’t workers I know is not 55 except in special circumstances and with a reduced pension.

    What seems to escape attention in all the attacks on teachers, fire fighters etc. is what compensation those on the right think the people entrusted with education, saving lives, running essential services should have. Put another way, for you to quit your job and take one of these jobs, what would they have to pay you? If things are so good, why aren’t you swtiching careers right now? Everyone demands top quality service but no one wants to pay for it. The myths about teacher’s hours and benefits, among others, makes me wonder how so many people steeped in the intricacies of Torah can be so obtuse. (Not that liberals are exempt from this — believe me, on many issues they may be as bad)”

    Noone denies that public employees such as policemen, firemen, teachers and other public employees are entitled to a living wage. However, the notion that a public sector employee either make as much as private sector employees for less hours and a view that their medical and pension plans are to be funded without any questions raised as to their efficacy or even a small contribution irks many people. One cannot dismiss the facts that public education is an absysmal state in the US and that many public employees tend to forget that the taxes paid by the public fund their jobs, and view their jobs as solely responsible to their unions as determining their fitness to be working therein.

  86. Mycroft wrote:

    “But they are more likely to be more skilled- public employee ambulance service tends to have has a lot higher percentage of paramedics than Hazalah-Hazalah tends to have more EMTs. A parttime volunteer is likely to have less training than a fulltime employee”

    Take a look at the response of Hatzalah to 9-11 in comparison to the NYFD in terms of injured responders.

  87. Michael Rogovin wrote:

    “Governments are quite capable of understanding the long term impacts of labor negotiations and legislation”

    I would suggest that governments, especially Democratic governments know who butters their bread, and guarantees lots of votes en masse on Election Day-members of public service employee unions.

  88. Michael Rogovin wrote in part:

    ” But there again, it is the desire for cheap goods over what is good for society”

    I wrote in response:

    “most consumers merely act in their own self interest-seeking what has always been less expensive and better, as has been well documented in the case of why Americans prefer foreign autos over the latest products from the Big Three. There was a great article in the NY Times Magazine as to how Toyota markets its products, as opposed to the way that the Big Three attempts to ram its garbage down the throats of US consumers”

    I would argue that outside such issues as national defense and security and protecting the law abiding citizens of society, the liberal notion of what “is good for society” is a legislatively and regulatory enforced utopian vision of a society that views the less that is manufactured as better for its citizens and imposes a duty of “sacrifice” on the middle class, while the upper class pontifically preaches sacrifice to all but itself, as personified by Al Gore’s hypocritical life style and the stiff NIMBY opposition to wind energy turbines off Cape Codd by its summer residents.

  89. Michael Rogovin wrote in part:

    ” But there again, it is the desire for cheap goods over what is good for society”

    One of the benefits of living in a market driven, if over regulated capitalist economy, is that I have the right to choose, despite all of the regulations and advertising, to buy any product for a less price. Forcing me to do otherwise is not merely paternalistic and socialist, it runs contrary to the notion that free minds know best how to make their choices for themselves.

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