Public Unions ARE the Political "Establishment"

The successes of anti-establishment presidential candidates are a powerful reminder that mainstream politicians are not managing America’s political economy or cultural evolution in a way that satisfies most of the electorate. That’s no surprise – it’s a tough job these days, with few historical precedents to offer guidance.

Earlier this week an essay published in the Asia Times, “A Millennial conundrum: Communism and youth,” offered a concise set of reasons why so many millennials are supporting democratic socialist candidate Bernie Sanders. The author, Chan Akya, didn’t chastise these youth for their selfish naivete, caused by receiving too many participation trophies during their sheltered childhoods. Instead he gave the following reasons:

(1)  Sharing economy: Technology has propelled sharing into new markets, from cars and vacation homes after opening up personal space on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For people with itinerant lifestyles driven by mobility in jobs, such a sharing economy may end up shaking the very foundations of property rights – everyone is essentially a tenant at prevailing market rates for everything, and everyone is a target for advertisers based on their data profiles. The sense of one’s privacy and private property diminishes as a result of these technologies.

(2)  Inflated asset values: Incipient asset bubbles across most markets have driven affordability to absurd heights on the back of concerted and global central bank easing. It used to be something of an expectation that one earned and saved money while in their twenties, and got married and bought a house in their thirties. Youth who do not have such expectations are likely to see themselves as tenants for life, driving the sharing economy whilst despising the property owning classes.

(3)  Lack of jobs: it appears that there are now only two types of jobs. The first kind is entrepreneurial, Silicon Valley type jobs with low wages and high equity payoffs in the event that one’s company gets ‘funded’. Then there is the second type of job which offers low wages and no equity upside at all – this would be otherwise referred to as ‘flipping burgers’. All the other jobs, be it in services such as banking or government or manufacturing such as in assembly and production, have simply evaporated from Western societies.

(4)  Student loans: The core issue is that a social ‘contract’ of sorts has been broken – you go to college and end up with a nice job whereas now you go to college and are addled with debt but no job with which to pay it off.

(5)  No prosecution: The lack of prosecutions for bad behaviour at banks, mortgage advisors and investment funds has only helped to create broader appeal for anti-establishment candidates.

Clearly some of these reasons for dissent are legitimate. And herein lies an educational opportunity. Because neither of the anti-establishment candidates have secured a political endorsement from any major public sector union. Nearly all of those unions back Hillary Clinton. And while Sanders, and even Trump, have had some support from private sector unions, it is arguable that if those private unions made endorsements that reflected the sentiments of their members, Sanders and Trump would get them all.

This political season of disaffection presents an opportunity to explain differences between public and private unions that go beyond the obvious ones – that public unions elect their own bosses, that public unions don’t rely on the profitability of a company to get funding, that public unions operate the machinery of government and can use it to intimidate their opponents. The less obvious but more profound difference between public and private unions is that public union power is enhanced when more people are destitute, divided, and dependent on government, and when more activities are criminalized. Private unions have no such perverse incentives.

There’s more.

If you review Chan Akya’s five reasons for America’s disaffected, anti-establishment youth, the worst and most credible have the fingerprints of public union interests all over them. The most glaring example of this are the inflated asset values which have made home ownership almost impossible, especially in California. Using low interest rates to create an “asset economy” is unsustainable. But in the meantime it shores up public employee pension funds, increases property tax revenues to local governments, and of course, wealthy individuals watch their well-hedged portfolios yield excellent returns, while the average American has no chance to earn a decent risk free return on their savings. Who else benefits? Unionized public university faculty, whose pay and benefits skyrocketed on the backs of student loans. As for job creation – once prices for land, utilities and regulatory compliance became too expensive, business who could took their work offshore. But public unions prospered.

If you step back and examine everything the average private sector American worker has to pay for – along with their overpriced homes and exorbitant college tuition – it’s pretty easy to see why politicians like Sanders and Trump are popular. The American taxpayer doesn’t just pay for a bloated, overpaid, inefficient and totally self-interested unionized pubic sector. They pay for global military security, medical and pharmaceutical research and development, and bleeding edge environmental mitigation and clean energy technologies. As a percentage of GDP, no other nation imposes nearly such a burden onto their citizens in these three areas. On top of that, Americans are now being asked to turn their nation into a “multicultural” petri dish, so that internally as well as externally, this country will midwife the emergence of a global civilization. Much of this is inspiring. But it’s a lot to ask.

Millennials in particular, and Americans in general, need to understand that unionized government is the enabling heart and soul of the “establishment” that has let them down, and that an honest search for solutions to the challenges of this age will only begin when government workers get the same deal as the citizens they serve.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.


The Future of Unions in the Post-Scalia Era, February 16, 2016

In Search of a Legitimate Labor Movement, January 19, 2016

The Alliance Between Wall Street and Public Unions, December 1, 2015

When Will Unions Fight to Lower the Cost of Living?, October 27, 2015

Moral Values That Underlie Opposition to Government Unions, October 13, 2015

The Abundance Choice, December 23, 2014

An Economic Win-Win For California – Lower the Cost of Living, December 3, 2014

How Government Unions Are Destroying America, September 22, 2015

The Challenge Libertarians Face to Win American Hearts, October 14, 2014

Reinventing America’s Unions for the 21st Century, September 2, 2014

California’s Green Bantustans, May 21, 2014

A “Left-Right Alliance” Against Public Sector Unions?. May 20, 2014

The Unholy Trinity of Public Sector Unions, Environmentalists, and Wall Street, May 6, 2014

Construction Unions Should Fight for Infrastructure that Helps the Economy, April 1, 2014

Forming a Bipartisan Consensus for Public Sector Union Reform, January 28, 2014

A Policy Agenda for Union Reformers Stuck Inside Unions, November 5, 2013

Why the Democratic Party Cannot Embrace Public Sector Union Reform, October 15, 2013

Exponential Technological Advances and the Role of Unions, July 23, 2013

The Prosperity Agenda, April 2, 2013

Calling for Public Sector Union Reform is Not Anti-Union, January 29, 2013

America’s Atlas Generation – The Forgotten 33%, January 9, 2012


31 replies
  1. Avatar
    john m. moore says:

    I keep reflecting on the 1992 election. We had 5.8% growth the last quarter of 1991, we had full employment and the quality of life was good compared to the present. Wall street and Clinton pushed for an international economy where production would take place where labor was the cheapest, and it did. Production of most tangible goods fled the U.S., leaving workers with zero leverage. Meanwhile government unions took over state and local govt, depriving young people from a reasonable education, producing baristas, clerks and multi-job households that cannot afford a modest home and thereby have become leasehold slaves.

    California has become a political sewer. Lawyers were the key to the govt. union takeover and the retention of power. They give up-side down legal opinions for a price that dazzle a pitiful press.
    As a lawyer, I was taught to never allow a client to enter an arrangement where its liability was unlimited and out of the clients control. Make certain that a system, whether by statute or contract, has limits and a back door if liability hits certain limits. For example: Employer contributions shall not exceed 10% of salary. Deficits shall not exceed 1% of the next annual budget,etc. etc.. Basic!

    Unfortunately the complete legal system in Ca. is beholden to govt. unionsand bitten by the dream of multi-million pensions. There is not a single reform idea under consideration that will restore government to its citizens. The internationalization of manufacturing has enslaved families and they have no way to fight.

    It is amazing that no presidential candidate recognizes govt. unions and internationalization of production as a genuine issue. Sanders talks about the barbaric rich (the beneficiaries of internationalization) but like all of the candidates does not refer to the barbaric government unions.

  2. Avatar
    Rex the Wonder Dog! says:

    Of course you do seesaw, if I had your GED education, gov job and massive pension I would be doing BACK FLIPS with the “unions”….

  3. Avatar
    SeeSaw says:

    You are a joke–the “insulter” in the house. I had a couple years college on my resume and have no massive pension. For your education, all of those with “massive” pensions are not from unions–they are from management!

  4. Avatar
    Tough Love says:

    SeeSaw, A Public Sector pension doesn’t have to be “massive” to be unnecessary, unjust, unfair (to taxpayers) and unaffordable.

    At EVERY INCOME level, there is zero justification for compensating (in pay, pensions, and benefits) Public Sector workers more than what similar jobs (with similarly qualified employees) would pay in the Private Sector.

    And for Public Sector workers with the lowest incomes, if unable to meet basic needs, the State’s Social Service system is the place to go to address those needs ….. just as it is for Private Sector workers.

    Public Sector workers are NOT “special” and deserving of a better deal ………… on the taxpayers’ dime.

  5. Avatar
    Tough Love says:


    An UNBIASED reader my have a different take-away ….. that I’m rightfully calling for “FAIR and EQUAL”.

  6. Avatar
    S Moderation Anonymous says:

    Where you gonna find “UNBIASED” Love?

    You’re not it, if that’s what you’re thinking.

  7. Avatar
    SeeSaw says:

    You have no idea what you are talking about! I don’t get one-half of my spouse’s SS benefit, like private sector spouse’s! I get zero SS!

  8. Avatar
    Tough Love says:

    SeeSaw, Read Rex’s comment again (perhaps 2 or 3 times) …. concentrate this time, and try responding again.

  9. Avatar
    SeeSaw says:

    Apples and oranges, TL. I doubt that either of you are clairvoyant. Again, my pension is not massive; and it is not relevant to the size of anybody’s SS amount. The important thing for me is that all benefits I have were earned by honest work according to the rules. My being in the public-sector is the only reason for my looking at these forums. Anything I post is based on my own situation and my own facts. You have no facts–all you have is opinions.

  10. Avatar
    Tough Love says:

    SeeSaw, I don’t doubt that your “worked according to the rules” and going further, that you (individually) had nothing to with choosing/granting the formulas for your pension and the generosity of your benefits.

    However please don’t call them “earned”, as it implies that your promised pension & benefits were necessary, (to attract and retain a qualified workforce), justified, fair (to Taxpayers who pay for 80%-90% of the total costs), or affordable. They never were and aren’t today, simply having been BOUGHT By the Public Sector unions from self-interested taxpayer-betraying Elected Officials with Public Sector Union campaign contributions and election support.

  11. Avatar
    Smooth Moderation Douglas says:

    Another day, another Tough Love opinion.
    More bias.
    More stereotypes.
    More inane blather.
    In the first place, the taxpayers don’t pay 80 or 90%. They pay 100%. All the money comes from taxpayers. (Including from SeeSaw, who is as much a taxpayer as you are.)
    Second place, you don’t now squat about her job requirements or compensation and are in no position to judge. All you have are your own preconceived ideas about public workers in general.
    You seem to share with Ed Ring and your ilk that only private sector employment is somehow valid because the compensation is “set in the free market” and produce goods and services (which are then “confiscated” by the government and used to pay the “non-producers”)
    I almost pity you. You will always be unhappy. Almost, because you’ve done it to yourself.
    In the real world, prices are, indeed, set by the market. If you need a new full size pickup truck, you have a limited selection of quality and price, set by the market. Guess what? If you are a city or county, you have the same selection, and you pay the market price. Same thing happens with personnel. If the city needs an office manager or heavy equipment mechanic, there is a limited supply and, again, the cost is set by the market. Yes, public employment is somewhat different, but not drastically so.
    When a position is open, there may be dozens, even hundreds, of applicants. (Guess what? The same thing happens with private sector job openings.) The city then might have competitive written tests and interviews to select their choice. (Just like in the private sector.)
    You win!!! You’re in!!! Set for life!!! A sinecure!!!
    Oh, until you’ve gained some experience and can get a better paying private sector job. If it were so advantageous, you’d think no one would ever leave, yet only about twenty percent of public workers are ” full career”. About half don’t even stay long enough to vest in their pensions (usually five to ten years). Average tenure for private sector jobs is about four years. Average for public sector is about eight years. (No fast food or sales clerk jobs in the public sector.) Why are all these people leaving these jobs if the compensation is unnecessary, unjustified, and unfair?
    And your cynicism of Elected Officials is duly noted. Are they all “self-interested” and “taxpayer-betraying”, “BOUGHT By the Public Sector unions”, or do you have a list somewhere of Tough Love approved politicians? Like maybe the ones who are supported by business interests.
    “The broadest classification of political donors separates them into business, labor, or ideological interests. Whatever slice you look at, business interests dominate, with an overall advantage over organized labor of about 15-to-1.” Center for Responsive Politics
    I don’t know SeeSaw either, or what her job was or how well she did it. But I have known dozens of public sector workers who indeed earned their pay. Earned their pensions. Earned their benefits. And there are several professional economic studies that verify that.

  12. Avatar
    Tough Love says:

    And another day and another response from SMD …. not the rocket scientist he purports to be , but a retired CA Public Sector …. light bulb changer.

    Rarely but more of his “smoothing” ….. i.e., nothing to see here folks (Taxpayers), move along now, we’re not ripping off you off too much.

  13. Avatar
    Tough Love says:

    Quoting SMD ….

    “Average for public sector is about eight years. (No fast food or sales clerk jobs in the public sector.) Why are all these people leaving these jobs if the compensation is unnecessary, unjustified, and unfair?”

    And the truth (while the quote below applies to Federal workers, I’m sure it’s not much different for State & Local Public Sector workers)……..

    “There is another important benefit of federal employment: extremely high job security. Federal workers are supported by strong civil service protections, and about one-third of them are represented by unions. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data show that the rate of “layoffs and discharges” in the federal workforce is just one-quarter of the rate in the private sector.

    Federal workers are almost never fired. An investigation by Government Executive noted, “There is near-universal recognition that agencies have a problem getting rid of subpar employees.” Just 0.5 percent of federal civilian workers a year get fired for any reason, including poor performance and misconduct. That rate is just one-sixth of the private-sector firing rate. For the senior executive service in the government, the firing rate is just 0.1 percent. By contrast, about two percent of corporate CEOs are fired each year, which is a rate 20 times higher than in the senior executive service.

    All in all, the federal government is a very well-compensated place to work. A final piece of evidence can be found by looking at quit rates, or the rates that workers voluntarily leave their jobs. BLS data show that the quit rate in the federal government is just one-quarter the quit rate in the private sector. Federal workers know that they have a lucrative combination of compensation and job security, and so they stay much longer than in other industries.”

  14. Avatar
    Smooth Moderation Douglas says:


    AH seen it on the web!!!

    “Everybody knows” federal employees make more than the private sector:

    “Still Club Fed. A CBO report says that on average the compensation paid to federal workers is nearly 50% higher than in the private sector.”
    STEPHEN MOORE Feb. 5, 2012


    It ain’t so:

    “Wall Street Journal Total Fail: Stephen Moore Takes a Weighted Average of 2% and 48% and Gets 50%”

    Why oh why can’t we have a better press corps? We will see if anybody at the Wall Street Journal is honorable enough to run a retraction and a correction.
    And, if 50% is wrong, how wrong is this?

    “Federal Workers Earn 78% More Than Private Sector Employees, Study Shows”

    Breitbart, Oct. 8, 2015 (And many others. This was misinformation gone amok.)

    But, but, Ah seen it on the web!!!

    Andrew Biggs, “If I were a federal employee, I would push back hard on the 78% headline pay difference number.” (He had an emphasis on “hard”.)

    The actual CBO report said that on average, for employees at all education levels, wages were 2 percent higher for workers in the federal government than for similar private sector jobs. And benefits for federal workers cost 48 percent more per hour worked, on average, than benefits for private-sector workers with similar observable attributes.

    “Thus, total compensation was about 16 percent higher, on average, for federal workers than for similar private-sector workers,”

    1) 16 percent higher. Not 50. Not 78.

    2) “Average” 16 percent. As with state and local workers, some federal workers have total compensation lower than equivalent private sector employees, and some have higher compensation. This is a recurring theme in every legitimate study. The only disagreement is where the “average” line is drawn.

    3) The studies do seem to show, as a general rule, that federal workers earn more than similar state and local workers. Biggs and Richwine calculated the average federal compensation advantage as 37%. Again, average.

    4) All these studies are at least four years old, based on data up to eight years old.

    5) So, the question is: Given federal employees have a lower “quit rate” than the private sector; why would ….a n y o n e…. quit a job that pays 78% more? Or 50% more? Or 37% ? Or even 17% more?

    6) Answer: it’s just a job. Marginally better than some and worse than others.

    Moderation: It’s not just a name. It’s a way of life.

  15. Avatar
    Rex the Wonder Dog! says:

    Again, my pension is not massive; and it is not relevant to the size of anybody’s SS amount.

    Do NOT believe her TL, her pension is 4-5 TIMES the average SS pension….so it is MASSIVE, at least compared to SS…

  16. Avatar
    Smooth Moderation Douglas says:

    I forgot, Union watch doesn’t like links.

    If you want to talk quit rates or turnover rates you shouldn’t fall into to “average” trap, as in comparing public and private compensation.

    Within the private sector turnover rates vary dramatically depending on the size of firm, type of industry, and on demographics.

    Turnover rates in larger firms are much lower than in smaller firms.
    Turnover rates in some industry (fast food, for example) are much higher than average.
    Turnover rates for older workers and married workers are lower than average.
    It’s a mare’s nest of data and interpretation. You can go there if you want. I’m not interested.

    I can’t find the quit rate data right now, but there was an interesting correlation the last time I looked.

    Most people are reminded annually (because Breitbart and their ilk always publish the misleading data) that, overall, according to the BLS Employer Cost of Employee Compensation, average public sector workers make about forty plus percent more than the private sector.


    “Total employer compensation costs for private industry workers averaged $31.53 per hour worked in September 2015.”

    “State and local government employers spent an average of $44.66 per hour worked for employee compensation in September 2015.”

    41.6% higher.

    But, $31.53 is the average for …all… private sector workers.

    For “Private industry workers, in establishments with 500 workers or more” compensation totaled $46.37 per hour. (3.8% higher than public workers)

    If you want a valid comparison of turnover in the public sector, they should be compared to private sector firms of 500 or more, and similar industries. (Don’t compare the quit rates of engineers to the quit rates of fast food workers.)

    Let us know what you come up with.

  17. Avatar
    Tough Love says:

    SMD, Tisk tisk, still trying to act like a “Rhodes” scholar, when you were just a “roads” scholar.

  18. Avatar
    Smooth Moderation Douglas says:

    Don’t be a ‘ scared Love. It took the dog with two names over four years to finally figure out that SB400 was actually …not… a “fifty percent increase in pensions”.*

    You san understand this if you concentrate really hard.

    “BLS data show that the quit rate in the federal government is just one-quarter the quit rate in the private sector.”

    Is the classic apples to oranges comparison. You are comparing the quit rate of a middle aged engineer with wife and kids to that of a twenty something hipster.
    *Now if we could educate the supposed “experts”.

    In the Feb. 23 San Diego Union Tribune editorial:

    “One historic example: In 1999, the agency persuaded the Legislature to approve a retroactive 50 percent pension boost for state workers ……”

    I didn’t see the dog in their comment section trying to correct their error. I guess that’s why you will always need….


    It’s not just a name, it’s a way of life.

  19. Avatar
    Smooth Moderation Douglas says:

    Ed Quixote, still tilting at the public union windmill.

    “Powerful Public Employee Unions” is an oxymoron.

    They are playing defense. And not very successfully.

    Public workers are about fifteen percent of the workforce, and only about a third of those are union members. You really think five percent of the workforce is “the Establishment” ?

    Voting bloc? Not so much. More heavily Democratic, to be sure. But hardly a “bloc”. ( See “Democrats Lead Ranks of Both Union and State Workers” Gallup, Mar. 24, 2011). Of those five percent of workers who are public union members, fewer than half identify as Democrats.

    The “Establishment” is getting smaller and smaller.

    What’s the real difference between public and private unions?
    It’s not that “free market” thing Ed likes to bring out. The real difference is that private sector unions have already been eviscerated. One down, one to go. With the advantage that you can now use “divide and conquer”. Is that sarcastic or sardonic?

    Or ironic?

  20. Avatar
    Tough Love says:

    The primary difference between Private and Public Sector Unions can be summarized as follows:

    PRIVATE Sector Unions know that their employer(s) must be profitable to remain in business and continue to provide jobs to Union members. That self-limits Union demand and greed.

    No such controls exist for PUBLIC Sector Unions….and they exploit that to the extreme. Rarely do towns or Cities cease to exist, and instead of generating revenue and profits from the sale of goods and services, cities and towns generate revenue via taxation of it’s residents and/or property owners. Believing that Cities & towns will not go-out-of business, and looking upon the ability to tax as being without bounds, there is little to control the grossly excessive demands and greed rampant among Public Sector Unions.

    Public Sector Unions are a CANCER inflicted upon civilized society.

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