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May 08, 2009

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Matthew 6:5- "Again, when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogue and at the street corners, for everyone to see them. I tell you this, they have their reward already. But when you pray, go into a room by yourself, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is there in the secret place."

As a practicing Christian, I am totally disgusted when politicians parade their piety for political advantage. I am totally convinced that Christopher Hitchens will get into heaven (much to his surprise) before those piety-parading politicians.

Maybe he just didn't want to pimp his faith for votes. Some folks roll that way.

He did, however, demand that DIJON MUSTARD be put on his hamburger. Cheese-eating Euro-appeasnik!

On a more serious note, he asked his burger to be cooked medium well, which is just as freaking wrong as wrong can be.

I am totally convinced that Christopher Hitchens will get into heaven (much to his surprise)

Ha! God as merry prankster. Works for me.

Back in 1980, at some political function they attempted ecumenical prayers with a Catholic, a Protestant and a Jew all participating. The Protestant (a Baptist) caused quite a stir when he said "God Almighty does not hear the prayers of a Jew."

In the uproar that followed, the most sensible comment came from Mike Royko, "I have it on good authority that God never listens to prayers delivered political functions."

I doubt that God pays any more attention to prayers delivered a political functions now than He did back then.

I doubt that God.

It's also worth noting that Presidential attendance at the "official" breakfast he spurned is apparently a recent development - largely but not entirely limited to Dubya - and that at least according to the things I've seen from normally serious people on the internet rather than being organized by some broad coalition of pro-prayer folks from a range of religions and Christian denominations and ideological persuasions it's a very Christian, very conservative affair (I'm unclear as to whether it's supposed to be Evangelical or it includes conservative Catholics).

As an Atheist Jew I'm pretty happy to see Obama skip such a sectarian breakfast. I don't mind him officiating at Easter or Christmas-themed events, or for that matter Eid or Pesach; in fact that last one was rather pleasantly surprising. Those are events already in the calendar, each important to a particular religious subgroup of Americans. But it's weird enough that there is an official date on which the President is supposed to proclaim that "Prayer Is Dandy", and without a connection of that date to a particular faith it would seem downright odd to me for the President to connect such a proclamation to Christianity in particular by means of a near-obligatory attendance at a large public display.

the idea of having a ceremony of this kind would be like observing National Have A Serious Talk With Your Spouse Day

Every day is National Have A Serious Talk with Your Spouse Day, at least in the LJ household.

"Back in 1980, at some political function they attempted ecumenical prayers with a Catholic, a Protestant and a Jew all participating. The Protestant (a Baptist) caused quite a stir when he said "God Almighty does not hear the prayers of a Jew."

It was Bailey Smith, then president of the Southern Baptist Convention, though it wasn't at a function with "a Catholic, a Protestant and a Jew," or any kind of ecumenical gathering. Because, you know, Smith wouldn't have shown up for such a thing, because he believed that God doesn't hear the prayers of a Jew.

The exact quote, by the way, was "I believe God does not hear the prayers of unredeemed Gentiles or Jews."

Go too far down this road and you'll end up holding ceremonies non-stop. This is a bad way for Presidents to spend their time.

Camelot turned Gormenghast, interesting idea.

Anne E's quote from Matthew has it just right. As an agnostic, I still find the teachings of Jesus (which I learned growing up as a Catholic) to be very good advice for living. We'd be much better off if Christianist "leaders" spent less time criticizing other people and more time actually trying to live their lives with the kindness and compassion that Jesus taught.

Moreover, finding symbols everywhere constrains people's actions in undesirable ways

sadly, it's the inevitable result of millions of man-hours devoted to analyzing the actions of one man. cable news needing to fill 24-7 is bad enough, but now you have millions of bloggers trying to find the stories that cable news "missed". invention is the only way to do that.

Well, but everything *is* symbolic when a head of state does it. Its the nature of the position. Countries where the president is the head of state suffer from this delusion, and countries where the job of head of state and leader are separated get it doubled (think of the prime minister and the queen in england).

Of course I prefer that Obama, as a Christian, say that he feels it *is not his place* to pray publicly over the country. That he thinks g-d can keep straight what he wants to do without intercessory begging. And that he follows matthews' advice and prefers to do his praying in private. I think that would have been in keeping with Obama's political sensibility, his christianity, and the fact that the prayer meeting itself is a recent political innovation.

Not going is a symbolic act (for some) just as going is a symbolic act. Thats inevitable. The only thing to quarrel over is what the symbolism is going to mean on a national scale. And I certainly think its worth Obama not quarrelling with his left flank, and publicly distancing himself from the far right.

aimai

We could use considerably less moral posturing, religious or otherwise, in public matters.

I agree that, once you've chosen to meet with somebody like Chavez, you've pretty much got to shake his hand if he extends it, unless you're planning a war or something. It's the decision to meet where the choice occured...

Can't say I have any complaint about Obama avoiding this gig, but as an atheist, that's to be expected of me.

A little more than half of those who voted in November supported Obama, so there were almost as many who did not. Now that he has revealed himself beyond the sugar-coated words that come off the teleprompter some who supported him now understand what kind of mistake they made. Like much of what goes on here in lamenting, mocking, and ridiculing views and behaviors of conservatives, much of the flak that is directed at Obama will not be related to the areas where he will do real damage to our society reducing our freedom of choice in matters related to health care, education, and employment among others. Much of the negative viewpoints will be on trivial matters like today, partly because that is all the media will be interested in delivering. I would much rather see the focus be kept constantly on matters of true significance like taking tax dollars to bail-out a company like Chrysler and then giving that company to corrupt union leaders who had a large role in getting the auto industry to that place to start with. Just like you frequently like to have these long back and forths over trivialities so you will see a constant stream of the same from Obama's detractors because they also have trouble focusing on what is truly important.

And (parts of) the religious right would attack him in any case using the argument that as a 'false' Christian (i.e. not belonging to the very narrow views of the attackers) any public showing of faith only stokes the flames of hell where he will spend eternity (=>better to be godless than to differ on some details while being 'in').
To use that old cliche, Jesus himself would be found 'woefully deficient' at best with those people.
Btw, that reminds me of an allegedly true story that a German parish once rejected the job application of St.Paul for lack of qualification and the applicant's difficult personality (the head of the consistory had smuggled that in because he got annoyed about the pickiness of the parish council)

"Now that he has revealed himself beyond the sugar-coated words that come off the teleprompter [...]"

Sorry, I was unable to process the rest of your comment due to my eyes rolling and glazing over. Would you like to try again?

Yeah, we had about fifty million suffer that same condition last year.

On a more serious note, he asked his burger to be cooked medium well, which is just as freaking wrong as wrong can be.

It's also supposed to be a good idea when you're eating burgers made from commercially ground meat. Grinding meat is a great way of spreading E. coli contamination, and the way it's done in large meat processing plants is almost designed to spread it as far as possible. Obama is just following government guidelines by asking for his burger to be cooked thoroughly.

Some even fainting.

And what if the president had held a ceremony spinning prayer wheels in the wind? What would the Christian Right have to say about that. It would be an expression of public prayer and one might say, much more effective than that to appease the fiery wrath of the Evangelical Christian god.

"I would much rather see the focus be kept constantly on matters of true significance like taking tax dollars to bail-out a company like Chrysler and then giving that company to corrupt union leaders who had a large role in getting the auto industry to that place to start with."

The tax dollars in the deal per se were to pay back secured debt holders in order to avoid bankruptcy and liquidation.

Other tax dollars were loans. The $4B given so far will be forgiven, the loans going forward are expected to be paid back.

So, yeah, tax dollars (and lots of them) are keeping Chrysler from being sold off for parts. Whether that's a good idea or not is a reasonable question.

This administration is taking the approach that taxpayer-funded intervention to prevent catastrophic economic effects is a good idea. In that context, their actions with Chrysler are IMO reasonable.

Not to be reading your mind, but it sounds (to me) like your issue is with the idea of taxpayer-funded intervention in the first place.

The deal with the "corrupt union leaders" is that Chrysler is satisfying a $10B pension obligation with $4.6B in cash and the rest in stock amounting to 55% of the company.

The money doesn't go to the UAW per se, but to an employee benefit trust. It's unlikely that the UAW will have, or want, hands-on operational responsibility for Chrysler.

"Just like you frequently like to have these long back and forths over trivialities"

True enough.

"so you will see a constant stream of the same from Obama's detractors"

No doubt.

"Obama is just following government guidelines by asking for his burger to be cooked thoroughly."

My comment was intended to be kind of a joke. Your point is correct, and Obama can, of course, have his hamburger prepared however he likes.

Russell,

Thanks, as usual, you set forth reasonable points. Here's my mind set. $4 billion in taxpayer funding to be forgiven turns into $4.6 billion in cash and 55% of the surviving entity for the union trust fund where the funding obligation for the company was $10 billion. Nice deal for the trust fund. Much more than they should get in my view, but it is a payback from Obama. Shouldn't it be enough that the taxpayer is shelling out in an effort to save some of their jobs? Why should auto industry employees get any better deal than any other American?

Listening to conservatives complain about government spending is like listening to Charles Manson complaining about all the mentally unbalanced folks on his row.

See the difference between russell and someotherdude. One you can respond to and the other is just a stupid comment.

A stupid comment, you apparently respond to.

Actually, given the scale of the current spending, it's like listening to Charles Manson complaining about Pol Pot. I guess it's proof that, no matter how spendthrift one administration is, the next one can beat them... Right up to the point where China decides it won't lend us any more money.

When you realize that to the religious right, Christianity is a weapon not a religion, it all makes sense.

When republicans or democrats who are elected because they have presented themselves as conservative proceed to behave in a contrary manner by supporting increasing government spending that results in diminishing the freedom of choice of the ordinary American, then I no longer support them because they have abandoned conservative principles. Many here focus on the taxing and spending as if that is important in and of itself, but that is only the means employed to diminish the freedoms of Americans by placing greater power and influence in government. This is the essence of Obama's presidency and it does not merit support from those who value their freedom to decide important matters in their lives.

Maybe he just didn't want to pimp his faith for votes

See, this resonates very strongly with me. There are serious admonitions in the Bible against showing off, to put it simply:

1"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2"So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Prayer
5"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

I don't know whether this is where Obama is coming from, actually, but it's a decent default assumption.

I also don't have a problem with Obama praying for his country. I just don't think he needs to advertise that he is.

Unfortunately, there are far too many folks standing ready to ignore select portions of the Bible when it suits them. I'm probably one of them, from time to time.

For me, GoodOLeBoy, I never heard a peep out of "conservatives" when their folks were spending money like crack addicts, now that their political philosophy used up the family's credit cards....well...it's just obvious that using the card for crack is one thing, but now you guys see the light...its very surreal.

Mark Twain's Letter to the Earth:

Of the 464 specifications contained in your Public Prayers for the week, and not previously noted in this report, we grant 2, and deny the rest. To wit; Granted, (1) "that the clouds may continue to perform their office; (2) and the sun his." It was the divine purpose anyhow; it will gratify you to know that you have not disturbed it. Of the 462 details refused, 61 were uttered in Sunday School. In this connection I must once more remind you that we grant no Sunday School Prayers of Professional Christians of the classification technically known in this office as the John Wanamaker grade. We merely enter them as "words," and they count to his credit according to number uttered within certain limits of time; 3,000 per quarter-minute required, or no score; 4,200 in a possible 5,000 is a quite common Sunday School score, among experts, and counts the same as two hymns and a bouquet furnished by young ladies in the assassin's cell, execution morning. Your remaining 401 details count for wind only. We bunch them and use them for head winds in retarding the ships of improper people, but it takes so many of them to make an impression that we cannot allow anything for their use.

GoodOleBoy: "Now that he has revealed himself beyond the sugar-coated words that come off the teleprompter some who supported him now understand what kind of mistake they made."

Do you understand how stupid this sounds? Suger-coated, teleprompter? What does this have to do with Obama's performance?

And in case you haven't noticed, Obama's approval ratings in the polls today EXCEED the percentage of those who voted for him, so it doesn't appear that many of his supporters have changed their mind!

I voted for Obama knowing that he would do many things I wouldn't agree with. When I don't agree with him I speak out, but don't EVER confuse my criticism of Obama for regret.

I’m a bit of a traditional Presbyterian; public displays of religiosity still make me feel uncomfortable. (This sucks, when your parents are Pentecostals!)

Slartibartfast,

Excellent post. I have received that admonition many times during my church attendance. This prayer issue is one that the right should leave alone because there is no true moral component for them to be critical of. They are, in fact, engaging themselves in matters that, in my view, offer no political benefit and are of questionable religious benefit. Although I consider myself religious, that does not, beyond the obvious ethical base, determine my politics.

someotherdude,

That's a more constructive comment. Your observation on the lack of reaction or objection from conservatives in the previous administration is accurate. Either they lacked true commitment to fiscal discipline (this really means small government, means and ends again) or they turned into Rip van Winkle. So the conservative philosophy is now behind the eight ball. All the momentum is with the big government philosophy. And, it seems, much of our populace does not recognize the zero sum game in play when more power is conferred on government, that is, an equivalent amount of personal freedom is relinquished. So you will see a very determined effort now by true conservatives to get this message out and that is why it behooves the right to stay away from petty issues like public prayer and focus on all the things the government is trying to take over under Obama.

"diminish the freedom"

since about 1980, R presidents have been diminishing the freedoms of Americans by:

spending more than the govt takes in, thereby incurring debt;
failing to provide a meaningful alternative to employer-based healthcare, thereby forcing millions to suffer inadequate healthcare and trapping millions more in jobs they can't leave;
de-regulating the finance markets, thereby allowing the largest theft of middle-class wealth in the history of mankind;
managing the labor, finance, tax and trade laws in a way as to allow virtually all increases in GDP to accrue to the top 1% of income earners;
failing to prevent the discharge of megatons of various pollutants, including but not limited to CO2, to the environment, thereby leaving a pollution debt to future generations to pay off;
etc.

Thanks, GOB, but I'm ready to suffer Obama's proposed deprivations of my liberty. I've had quite enough of the R party's far more serious attacks on my life, liberty and property.

As soon as they have a National Day of Rolling a 12-Sided Die to Decide What To Do With Your Day, I'll drop my unfiled Constitutional challenge.

Re: Hitchens, this was a story in The Cartoon Guide to the History of the Universe, Volume II.

An athiest (in a Buddhist story) denied god constantly. He vowed that 100 times a day, he would say "There is no god." He kept that vow for his entire, long life, morning and night, until the day he died.

To his amazement, he found himself before god, for he always kept god in his thoughts, even though it was with denials.

Ok, so it's better with the cartoons.

I’m with (The Original) Francis; the whole “small-government” philosophy is a hoax.

It’s intellectually frustrating to debate someone who thinks they are the True Anti-State Party, when in fact they are not, and have no intention of ever being that, and pull that shibboleth out whenever its convenient.

"Not going is a symbolic act (for some) just as going is a symbolic act."

Not "going" to what?

"I agree that, once you've chosen to meet with somebody like Chavez, you've pretty much got to shake his hand if he extends it, unless you're planning a war or something. It's the decision to meet where the choice occured..."

Let me get this straight: Obama should have refused to go to the Summit of the Americas, because Hugo Chavez would be there?

So you're saying that Hugo Chavez should have a veto, by showing up, over every international meeting that the President of the United States can attend?

Really?

"...and then giving that company to corrupt union leaders"

Name three -- or one -- and point to some evidence of their "corrupt[tion]," if you would, please.

Presumably you don't believe that simply being elected to head a union is itself corrupt, right? (Or do you?) I'm really curious to know about this corruption by heads of the UAW that somehow the government is unaware of. Tell us more, please. Strike a blow for law and order, and help out prosecutors, GOB.

"...by supporting increasing government spending that results in diminishing the freedom of choice of the ordinary American...."

This is an axiom of faith with you that you've yet to present any specific claims about, or any evidence for.

If you were rational about it, you could point to specifics, and evidence to support your claim.

For instance, tell us specifically how Obama will "will do real damage to our society reducing our freedom of choice in matters related to health care." Point to the bill or executive order, or any specific act Obama has committed that you have in mind to support this claim, if you can.

Surprise me by not coming back with an explanation that you can't. Surprise me with evidence that you're not just engaging in reflexive cant, but actually are making a substantive, supportable, claim.

It would be the difference between making "reasonable points" and simply jerking your knee with vapid generalized cliches. It's the difference between an actual critique, and cant.

I'd also be interested in your expanding on an explanation of how much "freedom of choice in matters related to health care" an unemployed person with no assets has in our country. What "freedom of choice" for such people will government be limiting, precisely?

Um, no, what I said was that, once he'd decided he'd go, he had to shake the guy's hand. I didn't really express any opinion about whether he should have gone.

"As soon as they have a National Day of Rolling a 12-Sided Die to Decide What To Do With Your Day, I'll drop my unfiled Constitutional challenge."

The Dice Man.

Um, no, what I said was that, once he'd decided he'd go, he had to shake the guy's hand. I didn't really express any opinion about whether he should have gone.

No, but you strongly implied one. If there's no problem with Obama shaking Chavez's hand - which you agree he should do once they're at the same meeting - why even raise the issue of whether they should have met? Only if you see that as in some sense problematic.

Particularly with the ominous ellipses ("It's the decision to meet where the choice occured...") at the end.

Just be grateful Gary didn't take you to task for (1) misspelling "occurred"; (2) failing to put a space between the dots in ellipses; and/or (3) not concluding the sentence-ending ellipses with a fourth dot!

But we are a tolerant bunch here.

"Um, no, what I said was that, once he'd decided he'd go, he had to shake the guy's hand."

That's not what you wrote.

You wrote that "I agree that, once you've chosen to meet with somebody like Chavez...."

Obama didn't choose to meet with Chavez. Obama chose to go to a highly important hemispheric summit, which all the heads of government, save for Cuba, of the Western Hemisphere were going to attend. The only way to not go would be to not go. The only way to avoid Chavez would have been to refuse to attend the summit. It wasn't a matter of "choosing to meet Chavez." That didn't happen. There was simply a choice as to whether or not to attend the summit.

"...not concluding the sentence-ending ellipses with a fourth dot!"

If I didn't constantly let that annoying bit of illiteracy pass, I'd be spending half my time on the internet pointing out to people that they can't manage the simple task of using an ellipsis properly.

(Let's not get into the people who think they can use as many dots as they like, which makes as much sense as using a dozen commas in a row.)

"Tolerance" is my middle name.

"Tolerance" and "Danger" are my middle names.

"Tolerance," "Danger," and "Annoyingly Pedantic Asshole" are my middle names.

But I spell my name "Danger."

No anchovies? Wha ...?

Many here focus on the taxing and spending as if that is important in and of itself, but that is only the means employed to diminish the freedoms of Americans by placing greater power and influence in government.

I guess where I part ways with many conservatives is that I just don't see the government diminishing the freedoms of Americans in significant ways. At least, not through the kinds of economic interventions that we're talking about here.

War on drugs, suppression of political dissent, stuff like that, yeah. Economic intervention, less so.

There are lots of minor ways, most of them annoying, that government curtails my freedom, but it's generally in the interest of keeping all of the different competing interests that are in play on any given day from stepping on each other.

So I'm generally OK with putting up with it. There are a lot of us here now, and sometimes we need help getting along.

But I don't see a significant curtailment of liberty in the economic interventions right now.

Can you give me some idea of how something like the Chrysler bailout impinges on your freedom? Either in principle or in concrete terms.

I'm not trying to bait you here, I'm trying to understand where you're coming from.

Again with the "unions cause all the problems" meme from the Right.

GOB, I want you to answer a simple question. Given that the Right Wing literally blames unions for everything that goes wrong in the auto industry, manufacturing, education, public service, etc., would you be willing to support a Constitutional Amendment to ban both Unions as well as the Right to Collective Bargaining? I mean, if you bleat that unions are corrput, thugs, villains, etc, then such words are meaningless unless you actually take action. So, what say you, should unions be made illegal in order to save further businesses like Chrysler from going under?

"No, but you strongly implied one."

No, I didn't. Look, you yourself admit that the decision to go, and the decision to meet Chavez, were one and the same decision. Why does it matter which I mention, if they're identical? In deciding to go, he decided to meet Chavez, and in deciding to do either, the choice of whether or not to shake the guy's hand was made, barring his choice to cause a diplomatic incident.

Look when people are working from radically different presuppositions and attitudes, it's probably best to concentrate on denotations, and let connotations pass unnoticed unless they're the result of extremely weighted words. Because I can, to some extent, control my denoations. The connoations you read into my words are mostly under your control.

In fact, in light of the theme of the post we're commenting on, your insistance on reading connotations into what I say is highly ironic.

Actually not one in the same. By going to the conference there was no decision to meet Chavez. Chavez chose to go meet Obama, not the other way around,. It would have been quite easy for Obama to go and not meet Chavez in a one-on-one way.

Pete,

I'm OK with unions as they operate in right-to-work states and I do not support the check-off approach that is being pushed for to help foster union organizing in places that do not already have unions.

I'm not current on all union matters of potential concern to the electorate, but I thought it wrong and corrupt for union leaders to allocate union funds to support particular political candidates regardless of the preferences of the membership. I don't know what the resolution of this issue was.

Organizations like the NEA suffer from the same condition that got us in trouble with the financial institutions, they are just too big and their influence is too pervasive. It simply destroys any ability to effect any reform without their concurrence. This gets really bad when they are the problem.

GOB, would you point to an instance of union funds being used to support particular candidates? Not voluntary contributions to a union PAC, but actual funds derived from union dues.

If it has been done, that is not only inappropriate but illegal and those people that did so should be prosecuted accordingly. But the we are talking about specific people, not unions in general.

Russell,

I missed your post when I answered Pete. It's kind of the same subject. Part of the reason for the failure of the Michigan based auto industry is the constraint placed on business by rules and laws related to union activities. Most people, I think, recognize that the auto industry in the US has been more successful in areas away from that upper midwest corridor. The range of choices for management and employees in those businesses that are in right-to-work states is greater than in Michigan. That difference looks to me as if it results from a greater government role. I'm no expert, for sure, but it seems that both management and employees have greater freedom to operate in right-to-work states.

"That difference looks to me as if it results from a greater government role. I'm no expert, for sure, but it seems that both management and employees have greater freedom to operate in right-to-work states."

Yes, the freedom of workers to be poorer, and have less say in their work conditions, is much to be valued.

"Greater freedom" for workers.

Actual facts on union organizing.

Note to GOB: this is how one supports an assertion or argument, rather than citing one's imagination.

As soon as they have a National Day of Rolling a 12-Sided Die to Decide What To Do With Your Day, I'll drop my unfiled Constitutional challenge.

This talk of "12-Sided" dice smacks of pre-4th Edition heresy. The mere mention of this violates my constitutional rights, since the United States was obviously founded on 4th Edition rules.

"or me, GoodOLeBoy, I never heard a peep out of "conservatives" when their folks were spending money like crack addicts, now that their political philosophy used up the family's credit cards....well...it's just obvious that using the card for crack is one thing, but now you guys see the light...its very surreal."

Then you and a lot of others weren't listening. McCain got his clock cleaned, in part, because a sizable portion of the people on the right were disgusted with the only party that [used to, sort of] come close to fiscal sanity.

The problem with Obama is that he is outspending Bush. Bush = Bad, Obama = Worse.

One of the advantages of constitutional monarchy is that all of bizarre symbolic expectations can be redirected onto a short, elderly and not particularly smart woman in a fancy hat with no power or influence over events, while politicians get on with actually running the country and people treat them with the contempt they deserve.

"Most people, I think, recognize that the auto industry in the US has been more successful in areas away from that upper midwest corridor."

I'd say there are a number of reasons for that. Higher costs and/or inefficiencies associated with union contracts and/or work rules is pretty far from the whole picture.

Unions are not an optimal solution to labor relations. Unfortunately, in this country they've historically been about the only way for workers to have any voice, at all, in corporate governance or in determining how the wealth they create is distributed.

In a world where labor is purely seen as a fungible commodity to be sold to the highest bidder, folks will do whatever they need to do to get their best deal.

Don't like the symptoms, then you need to address the cause. Get rid of the adversarial relationship and unions won't be necessary.

It's a two way street.

And the reason that some places have laws supporting the right to unionize is because in the not-so-distant past, trying to organize absent those laws could get you shot.

mds,

4th Edition!?!?

You must be one of those who believe that the D&D rules are a living document, as opposed to those of us who know that we must seek to enjoy and understand what the original founders created for us in the AD&D rules (which thankfully replaced those horribly patchwork Chainmail, D&D, & Eldritch Sorcery rules).

"Then you and a lot of others weren't listening. McCain got his clock cleaned, in part, because a sizable portion of the people on the right were disgusted with the only party that [used to, sort of] come close to fiscal sanity."

That "used to, sort of" helps, but on my planet the budget was balanced under Bill Clinton for the first time since a couple of brief tics under Richard Nixon, and then since LBJ and JFK. (See here.)

So this frequently-seen assertion seems to be based on myth and wishful thinking.

Russell,

To say the wealth created by a business is a product of the workers is a real stretch. Nothing happens if the source of capital does not surface. The workers have no skin in the game. To suggest that they should have a voice in corporate governance but take none of the risks seems odd. Of course, in a publicly held company they can buy an interest in the company. To go to work in return for a wage does not create ownership. Why else would all these americans who do not want to work for somebody else go out and start their own business? My wife and I have five children and six siblings and not one of these individuals works for somebody else, yet they are all gainfully employed. So when they see all the statistics about unemployment it doesn't register very much because they have to just keep doing what they do and when something changes or takes off in another direction they have to make adjustments as necessary. When the economy turns down the worker loses a job but the entrepreneur loses a business. But the bottom line is that many of the workers would not have those jobs without the risk-taking entrepreneur.

Yeah, I think the evidence is pretty strong that neither party demonstrates much in the way of fiscal sanity when in control of both elected branches. Republican Congress and Democratic President seems to be a workable combination, all other combinations stink.

But the sample size is really too small to draw much in the way of conclusions, beyond that it helps to ballance the budget if you have a stock market bubble coincide with a bitter fight with a Congress of the opposite party.

"To go to work in return for a wage does not create ownership."

To invest money does not create ownership. What creates ownership are laws, and how one chooses to write them.

"But the sample size is really too small to draw much in the way of conclusions...."

The sample size happens to be identical to "in my lifetime." This seems as useful a metric as any.

Nothing happens if the source of capital does not surface.

Likewise, a great big ol' pile of capital will do absolutely nothing by itself. Without employees, business owners have no product or service to bring to market.

Less and less true every day, Phil, with the advance of automation. Probably will be almost entirely untrue well before the end of this century.

Argument by assertion is not going to convince me of anything, Brett. And until SkyNet becomes self-aware, someone has to build the machines that build the machines, program software, etc.

I mean, I work in marketing. I am not going to be replaced by a machine in any of our lifetimes, I can assure you.

"I am not going to be replaced by a machine in any of our lifetimes, I can assure you."

Ah, but come the singularity....

To suggest that they should have a voice in corporate governance but take none of the risks seems odd.

If you were talking about compensation, I might agree, but you're talking about control. There's no obvious reason that the person who puts in the equity should have total control and the people who put in the sweat have none.

Workers beyond entry-level, minimum-wage jobs certainly take risks. They invest the time, often years of their earning lives, needed to build up the skills, knowledge, and network of relationships needed to do the job well. Little of that is transferable, as we have seen in the auto industry. The worker who puts that in and then gets booted out or stripped of a pension at age 50, has been cheated out of his investment. He also probably loses his home - both the physical asset, and also the friends and neighborhood he loves and knows. It is simply special pleading to pretend the workers have "no skin in the game."

The workers' sweat equity, moreover, is a vital contribution to the company's success. A top business needs more than warm, plug-in bodies on the floor -- and the belief to the contrary is one big reason Toyota kept whupping Chrysler's butt. Think of the cliche of the company thrown into chaos when the office manager or foreman leaves. Toyota built teams; our companies tried to pretend they didn't need any. Frankly, the equity guys were lucky the unions stopped the Smartest Guys In The Room types from tossing out 'overpaid' crew chiefs for short-term gain.

Crafty,

I agree with much of your comment, but in my view the individual employee taking personal responsibility for actions to mitigate the risks you outline is preferable to entrusting one's fate with a group that will work the lowest common denominator and get all employees with staying power the same benefit. It's just more of the one size fits all mentality and I'm not signing on. Many years ago in my youth, I had some very marketable technical skills in the emerging mainframe computer industry and I was working for a small company. As part of my individual negotiations on my employment package I was able to get the remainder (almost 2 years) of my undergrad work paid and all of the costs to complete my masters. This, of course, served me well when that small company went under a few years later. But as Gary points out, if Obama can get enough laws passed, we can stop this kind of outlandish behavior and make sure we can control whatever individuals might try to accomplish on their own initiative and channel resources to whatever the group decides. This is sick.

"As part of my individual negotiations on my employment package"

Most people aren't in a position to engage in such negotations.

That's the whole point of unions: that most people can't engage in individual negotiations.

A solution that doesn't work for most people is no solution.

If you want agreement that unions aren't appropriate for all forms of employment, few would argue otherwise: certainly I wouldn't. But if you want agreement that most people should rely on their individual bargaining power in negotiations with employers, you'd have to demonstrate that this is possible for most people, and since it isn't, you can't.

Thus the need for unions for many -- not all -- categories of employment.

Do you disagree?

If so, do please explain what power an individual employee of, say, 7-11, or Circuit City, or someone working as a janitor, has to negotiate with their employer.

I'm not against organizing. I just don't support government getting in to give one side a greater advantage. Unions have been around for a long time and have been able to organize employees so let them keep doing that.

"Ah, but come the singularity...."

Forget the singularity, come the Amazon.com.

Then you should be happy that the government is stepping in to level the playing field with card check.

"Unions have been around for a long time and have been able to organize employees so let them keep doing that."

As Russell noted, companies were busy killing workers and their families to prevent them unionizing until the government stepped in with laws and enforcement to allow organizing. Absent government protection of the rights of workers to organize unions, unions can't be organized in the face of company opposition, even when the laws against murder are enforced.

I have to wonder if you know anything about the history of unionization to make such an odd statement.

Gary, I don’t really have to tell you this, but based upon earlier comments by GOB he not only doesn’t have a concept of the history of unionization, he doesn’t know anything about how unions are run. He will make a statement woven out of whole cloth and when challenged on it will ignore it totally.

In regards to his latest statement, he apparently doesn’t realize that for years a card check system was in place as well as a secret election. Employees could choose their route. The government, I believe under Reagan, took that choice away, which tilted the playing field heavily into management’s favor. All the new law really wants to do is return to the days when the playing field was more equal.

I'm not against organizing. I just don't support government getting in to give one side a greater advantage.

Um, without a union, the company ALWAYS has the greater advantage over the individual worker. It's inherently one against many.

I don't think you understood his complaint, if you think that's a response. You're fixed on the idea that the company is the "other", and the union is the employee's edge against it. But the union can be the other, too, sometimes bringing in a union just results in TWO big organizations vs the individual employee.

@Anne E

Exactly. My first thought when i heard this on TV. I turned to my Mother in Law and said "Matthew 6:5".

I am not religious, but was raised in what American terms would be described as a liberal Methodist church, so I have the advantage of having an education in Christianity without trauma. This has always been a signal passage of the New Testament when confronted with the hypocrisy of the "in your face" Christianity that has become obligatory in American public life.

Believe what you want, but the freedom of the American experiment is predicated on not forcing it on others, let alone having the state force it. Jefferson would have been appalled. So should we.

To say the wealth created by a business is a product of the workers is a real stretch. Nothing happens if the source of capital does not surface. The workers have no skin in the game. To suggest that they should have a voice in corporate governance but take none of the risks seems odd. Of course, in a publicly held company they can buy an interest in the company.

I disagree with this.

Capital by itself does nothing. Stack up $100 million in tidy piles, walk away, come back a month later and you will not have a car, a software product, or even a ham sandwich.

Labor absent capital, on the other hand, can do quite a lot. I know a number of folks who do well as owners and operators of service businesses -- house painters, home computer repair and maintenance, home cleaners -- that required little or no capital investment to start.

There are a very wide range of industries where capital is essential. Folks that actually put up money to fund the startup or expansion of a business do, in fact, make a huge contribution to the enterprise, and deserve consideration.

Other forms of "capital investment", I'd say not so much. If I go buy 1,000 shares of Microsoft, how much of that money goes to Microsoft? I haven't invested anything in Microsoft, my only relationship to them is that MS is the pony I'm betting on. Hard for me to see how they owe me anything.

But all of our corporate governance is skewed heavily in favor of shareholders. Whether they even know they're shareholders or not.

I do agree that the contribution of entrepreneurs, specifically, is of unique value, but I'd like to point out that the essential contribution they make is not capital. It's insight, imagination, initiative, and drive. These are personal attributes, human resources. In short, the unique thing they contribute is their *labor*.

Anybody with a checkbook can contribute money. Nothing is more fungible than money. In fact, money's fungibility is its reason for existence. Any dollar will do.

It's what *people actually do* that makes an enterprise successful or not.

Crafty Trilobite's reply on the topic of workers and risk is perfect. I agree with it 100%, and have nothing to add to it.

To go to work in return for a wage does not create ownership.

I'd say you're within spitting distance of the heart of the problem.

"But the union can be the other, too, sometimes bringing in a union just results in TWO big organizations vs the individual employee."

Yes, but the latter is highly rare, and the former is almost always the case. As usual, your attempt to suggest that the powerful and the almost powerless are mirror images of each other is completely wrong.

But the union can be the other, too, sometimes bringing in a union just results in TWO big organizations vs the individual employee.

Yes, that can SOMETIMES happen. In a world of almost infinite possibilities, that's inevitable.

But to argue that it SOMETIMES happens means that it WILL happen is not a very good argument. There are all sorts of possibilities to consider, and you must demonstrate that the advantages of bringing in a union (that is, collectivizing the actions of the worker) will be less than the disadvantages of a union in the majority of cases. If you lose something in some areas but gain a lot in other areas with a union, then having a union is not really a bad thing, is it?

Late to the thread, but my thanks to Anne E for kicking it off with the amazingly-obvious-yet-apparently-not-in-some-people's-Bibles quotation.

Hilzoy - great post. Have you read Nagel's 'Concealment and Exposure'? It has a similar theme. (I highlight a couple of apposite quotes here.)

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