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One of the central questions of the current Republican presidential campaign is when potential candidates will talk about important issues of political economy. That talk has thus far been in short supply because of the intellectual oxygen that is sucked out of the room every time Donald Trump walks into it. The recent remarks by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in union-dominated Las Vegas, however, have begun to change that. They represent his effort to breathe some life into his faltering campaign by harking back to his successful effort to take on public unions in Wisconsin.
High-stakes gambles like this usually lose. Indeed, to everyone’s surprise, Walker seems to have become a long-shot at this point. Nonetheless, even if his latest proposals don’t revive his candidacy, other Republicans should take up this cause. The union movement is powerful and united, but it is also vulnerable to political attack. The forces that led to the adoption of right-to-work laws in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan are good evidence that many voters, including union members, realize that powerful unions are as bad for working people as they are for employers in the long run
Walker is not a theoretical type, so his speech does not offer the intellectual justifications for curbing the union power that has pervaded American life since the passage of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. The major problem with unions is that they are monopolies. Employment markets need to be competitive, with ease of entry and exit by both firms and individuals. If you keep tabs on employer efforts to monopolize through the antitrust laws and otherwise leave the process free to function, the interplay of market forces will give both workers and employers the opportunity to work together to maximize their joint welfare by figuring ways to expand the pie and then divide the proceeds.