I don’t know the inside story, but my guess is that our Secretary of State may have helped orchestrate the Arab League’s, and now the UN’s, call for action. How thrilling to think the world can unite in an effort to thwart tyranny. If only we had taken the time to deal with Iraq in the same way.
In case you missed it, there was a column yesterday after all: banks versus homeowners. (The free-market MBA in me, who worships the sanctity of contracts, was predisposed toward the banks until he saw what they’ve actually gone and done.)
WORKERS VERSUS MASTERS
Republicans in Missouri are currently fighting to lower the minimum wage. Republicans in several other states, most notably Wisconsin and Ohio, are fighting to cripple unions. (They already succeeded in destroying ACORN, an advocate for the poor.)
So thanks to reader Russell Bell for this from Adam Smith (he of the invisible hand):
What are the common wages of labour, depends everywhere upon the contract usually made between those two parties, whose interests are by no means the same. The workmen desire to get as much, the masters to give as little, as possible. The former are disposed to combine in order to raise, the latter in order to lower, the wages of labour.
It is not, however, difficult to foresee which of the two parties must, upon all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other into a compliance with their terms. The masters, being fewer in number, can combine much more easily: and the law, besides, authorises, or at least does not prohibit, their combinations, while it prohibits those of the workmen. We have no acts of parliament against combining to lower the price of work, but many against combining to raise it. In all such disputes, the masters can hold out much longer. A landlord, a farmer, a master manufacturer, or merchant, though they did not employ a single workman, could generally live a year or two upon the stocks, which they have already acquired. Many workmen could not subsist a week, few could subsist a month, and scarce any a year, without employment. In the long run, the workman may be as necessary to his master as his master is to him; but the necessity is not so immediate.
We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform, combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate. To violate this combination is everywhere a most unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his neighbours and equals. We seldom, indeed, hear of this combination, because it is the usual, and, one may say, the natural state of things, which nobody ever hears of. Masters, too, sometimes enter into particular combinations to sink the wages of labour even below this rate. These are always conducted with the utmost silence and secrecy till the moment of execution; and when the workmen yield, as they sometimes do without resistance, though severely felt by them, they are never heard of by other people. Such combinations, however, are frequently resisted by a contrary defensive combination of the workmen, who sometimes, too, without any provocation of this kind, combine, of their own accord, to raise the price of their labour. Their usual pretences are, sometimes the high price of provisions, sometimes the great profit which their masters make by their work. But whether their combinations be offensive or defensive, they are always abundantly heard of. In order to bring the point to a speedy decision, they have always recourse to the loudest clamour, and sometimes to the most shocking violence and outrage. They are desperate, and act with the folly and extravagance of desperate men, who must either starve, or frighten their masters into an immediate compliance with their demands. The masters, upon these occasions, are just as clamorous upon the other side, and never cease to call aloud for the assistance of the civil magistrate, and the rigorous execution of those laws which have been enacted with so much severity against the combination of servants, labourers, and journeymen. The workmen, accordingly, very seldom derive any advantage from the violence of those tumultuous combinations, which, partly from the interposition of the civil magistrate, partly from the superior steadiness of the masters, partly from the necessity which the greater part of the workmen are under of submitting for the sake of present subsistence, generally end in nothing but the punishment or ruin of the ringleaders.
— Wealth of Nations, Chapter VIII (“Of the wages of labour”)
☞ A lot of us think it’s a good thing workers have earned more clout over the intervening years. And thank them for things like, say, weekends that even most of us non-union folks enjoy.
Speaking of which:
Wednesday’s column concluded with four video clips – here (shifting wealth and power from the middle class to the best off) here (suppressing the Democratic vote) here (axing local elected officials by fiat) and here (tap water that catches fire and a Pennsylvania plan to keep it that way).
I hope you find time to watch.
Monday (I hope): the promised Guru update.
Quote of the Day
What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.~Woody Allen
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