Friday night topic: Public-sector unions?

— 4:39 PM on February 25, 2011

As you may know, the Friday night topic is our weekly off-topic discussion about whatever seems interesting. In years past, we used to have politically oriented FNTs with some regularity, but we've cut the frequency of those as our audience—and the polarization in the political sphere—has grown.

Tonight, we're going to try a political FNT once again and see how it goes. Please, if you're going to get worked up over these things too terribly much, consider just staying away from the thread. If you do choose to participate, please be civil to all involved, even if you vehemently disagree with the sentiments expressed. Thanks.

This week's FNT is ripped from the headlines, in the wake of the passage of a bill in Wisconsin forcing concessions out of public workers and reducing their rights to engage in collective bargaining. Like many states, Wisconsin was facing serious budget overruns, and some curtailing of benefits for public workers was evidently in order. However, we're more interested in the larger philosophical issue at stake. Should government workers have free reign to unionize like private workers, when public-sector unions can become such influential political power brokers? Charles Krauthammer summarizes the problem succinctly:

In the private sector, the capitalist knows that when he negotiates with the union, if he gives away the store, he loses his shirt. In the public sector, the politicians who approve any deal have none of their own money at stake. On the contrary, the more favorably they dispose of union demands, the more likely they are to be the beneficiary of union largesse in the next election. It’s the perfect cozy setup.

Is he right? Do public-sector unions wield a corrupting influence on our politics? Should taxpayers seek to limit the unionization of those in public service as a result? Discuss.

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