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No one likes to be wrong. Admitting that your perception of reality was less than accurate requires a certain degree of moral fortitude. As such, it can be easier for a person of reasonable intelligence to rage against facts and evidence and avoid cognitive dissonance at any cost. Enter Matthew Yglesias.
As an executive editor of Vox, it is Matt’s job to make young liberals feel good about themselves by writing articles that reassure them of their moral superiority in all matters. That can be a challenge when the holy institutions of the left, such as unions, are refusing to play by the rules. The City of Los Angeles recently raised the minimum wage within their city limits to $15 an hour. With the holy grail of a living wage accomplished, there should be nothing but joy and celebration in the land of Care-a-lot. Alas, it isn’t so.
Labor leaders, who were among the strongest supporters of the citywide minimum wage increase approved last week by the Los Angeles City Council, are advocating last-minute changes to the law that could create an exemption for companies with unionized workforces.
Reactions to this development, as you would expect, varied by political affiliation. Right-wingers endured several minutes of uncontrollable laughter before composing themselves. Progressives expressed shocked outrage on social media, and searched vainly for answers. Aren’t unions the good guys? Aren’t minimum wage increases a good thing? How could the square peg of the actual behavior of unions be made to fit into the round hold of their presumed virtue?
Fear not my liberal friends, for Matt Yglesias specializes in forcing square facts into round perceptions of reality. Within a few hours, our hero posted an article that deserves a vaunted place in the rationalization hall of fame. It is a work of art, worthy of a detailed deconstruction.
The push for the exemption will very possibly collapse amid public backlash, and it could undermine the larger Fight for $15 movement, which is heavily backed, funded, and organized by labor unions.
But even though it sounds somewhat absurd to American ears, if you look at something like a world map of minimum wages you can see the logic of it.
Like Shakespeare, every word Yglesias uses is chosen with great care. None can be removed without damaging the larger masterpiece. Union demands for a special exemptions may seem unreasonable, but that is only because our feeble American brains cannot fully comprehend the awesomeness of organized labor. If only we were more like Europe, we would see the logic of it.
Specifically if you glance up at Northern Europe, you’ll see that some of the most famously economically progressive countries in the world have no statutory minimum wage. That’s not because they practice neoliberal-style infinitely flexible labor markets. It’s because they have extremely strong cultures of collective bargaining.
The idea is that this kind of collaborative wage setting achieves the flexibility goals of a low minimum wage and the fairness goals of a high one.
Unions don’t need to obey minimum wage laws, because the process of collective bargaining insures that everyone is compensated fairly. You may be worried that the fact unions in Los Angeles are unable to negotiate wages at least as high as what the left has deemed the minimum acceptable amount will cause Yglesias to doubt the effectiveness of collective bargaining to achieve the same goals as regulations. Let me assure you that he is unfazed.
The dissonance in the American case is that while we have long had labor unions, they are very much a niche force in the private sector economy. They’re not nearly strong enough to replace labor market regulation, which is precisely why unions are often political advocates for regulation to complement their bargaining work.
You read that correctly. This is an argument in favor of regulatory capture. Is this a great piece of liberal writing, or the greatest piece of liberal writing?
…there is some opportunism present. But the basic notion is that a work agreement reached through a collective bargaining process should be judged presumptively fair and non-exploitative in a way that isn’t true for individual bargaining alone.
You may think you did a fine job negotiating your compensation with your employer, but that relationship is guilty of exploitation until proven innocent. No one person could weigh their skills, opportunities, and life style in order to judge for themselves what is fair. You are allowed a government overlord, or a union overlord. Choose.
While extolling the virtues of European cultures of collective bargaining, Yglesias forgets to mention how much higher American median wages and standards of living are when compared to Europe. In the opinion of this humble commentator, such fundamentally important points would have only detracted from the beauty of his great work.
In a mere 400 words, Yglesias has turned a moment of cognitive dissonance into gentle reassurance for the progressive mind. I marvel at his ability to dodge intellectual consistency. I can only hope to one day be capable of such mental gymnastics.