Current Events Public Policy

Should Republicans support Unions?

I’m not talking about civil unions (that topic is for another blog)…but instead actual trade unions. Compared to Democrats, Republicans have been relatively pro-business and anti-union for many years.  However, The Atlantic has an article making the case that Republicans should become more pro union.  Perhaps not pro-union in the traditional US union setting but maybe more like German works councils.

Why would Republicans do that?  First, Republicans may for ethical or political reasons decide that some support for lower income individuals is necessary.  If that is the case, then two of the most prominent methods of providing social support or the government.  The problem with unions is that only employed individuals and their families receive union benefits. Unions also often provide financial rewards more based on seniority rather than performance.  In theory, government provision of social support programs (e.g., health insurance, unemployment insurance) could be done fairly for all individuals regardless of employment status.  Government provided benefits, however, have two key problems.  First, politicians may decide to enact programs for political reasons rather than maximizing social welfare.  Second, there is often no hard budget constraint or at the least much less financial discipline.  Firms have an incentive that any benefits provided to unions and their workers is done in a cost effective manner; governments have similar incentives, but the budget constraint is not as strong.  For instance, it is very difficult for governments to roll back benefits in tough times without significant backlash; it is also difficult for businesses to do this as well, but they have a financial reason to make these hard choices.

I am not advocating for or against an increasing role of unions in the workplace, but the proposition that Republicans could actually become the pro-union party would be an interesting turn of events.

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