Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It's For Your Own Good

A productive worker is a happy worker!

Megan McArdle wants you to know that your American dream of a house, a job and a family is nothing but a fantasy.

I do not understand why the sight of government workers losing the ability to collectively bargain for benefits, or automatically deduct wages from paychecks, triggers all this stirring rhetoric about fighting on the streets of Wisconsin to preserve the last vestiges of a gauzily idealized world in which everyone had three squares, a split level, and a defined benefit pension.

Three meals a day? Pipe dream! A snug little home of your own? Smoke and mirrors! A pension? Pie in the sky!

To start with, there is really no such thing as "paid" vacation; your employer is paying you for the work you've done, not for spending a week on the beach in Cabo. You're just spreading a slightly higher average hourly wage over a longer period, so it seems like you're taking a lower wage in exchange for more days off. Moreover, these days off often have an additional cost to employers--there are efficiency losses because you're not around to coordinate with other employees, and they may have to hire a substitute, who is unlikely to be as productive as the worker that they are temporarily replacing.

Does nobody think of the powerless employers, who experience losses of productivity when workers take time off to rest? Why do employees need to have vacations anyway? What's more important, the kids' yearly visit to granny or increasing productivity and therefor profits for business? And don't get McArdle started on work rules!

Similarly, work rules that reduce productivity mean that more employees must be hired at extra cost. Grievance procedures require costly prophylactic administration (extensively documenting potential complaints), very costly mediation procedures, and often mean keeping workers on at full pay, while also paying a replacement, while the dispute is resolved. As Steven Brill has documented, in the case of teachers, this can be very lengthy and expensive. Making teachers hard to discipline or fire is emphatically not free.

Why should the workers have any say in their work conditions? Do you have any idea how much money corporations lose when workers go home instead of working 12-hour shifts? When children are forbidden from helping out their families by quitting school at 14? When safety rules are in place that slow down the productivity of factories and refineries?

We know this, of course, in our own lives. Imagine that your auto mechanic, handyman, or landscaper proposed to work for you under the same kind of elaborate rules as Wisconsin teachers. Would you assume that your costs for repairs and maintenance would remain the same after you signed onto the new system? Of course not. You'd have to take days off work to deal with the handyman every time there was a dispute about his hours, hire a substitute mechanic while also paying the Toyota dealership in cases of incompetence, and one imagines that productivity might suffer in at least some areas once your employees realized how hard it was to terminate their services--or do without them.

You have money, right? How would you like to have less money? That would be awful! How would you like your servants and tradesmen to have safety rules you have to follow? Just think about how much better your life is now, when you can cheat the maid or gardener by underpaying their hours and there's nothing they can do about it. And don't get McArdle started on Toyota's incompetence! They can't even fix a car correctly! We are not sure how removing any checks or balances on the power of the Toyota corporation will make their mechanics better instead of worse, but McArdle must have a point in there somewhere, and that point is that workers' rights cost corporations money!

Fortunately for corporations, McArdle is sure that people don't want any power. Just as she was sure that The People Have Spoken and Obama's giveaway to health insurance companies would never pass, McArdle is sure that The People reject anything that will prevent corporations from increasing productivity.

When I spoke to conservative and libertarian journalists during health care reform, they were at least a little worried as to how public opinion would land. But not this time. They're all unanimous, and very confident that the unions are going to lose: polls show that the public doesn't particularly like the unions, the doctors' notes are a huge black eye, and parents in Wisconsin are livid.

All of McArdle's friends agree that Wisconsin parents are livid. Even the union parents, no doubt. And if you want proof of this simple fact, just ask them next time they get together for drinks. They'll do a gut check, which is all the proof this country girl needs.

And taxes! Why are the unions fighting against eliminating taxes for corporations when corporate taxes are so low that they don't do any good anyway!

Clearly, Ezra and I look at the same situation and see two different things. In the most recent quarter for which the Census has data, corporate income taxes provided about $9.2 billion worth of revenue to all 50 states. This is less than 20% of New York State's Medicaid bill. It is also about 3% of the overall tax revenue collected by the states. This goes up to about 4.5% in the second quarter of the year, which includes April 15th, but overall, it is not a very significant source of revenue.

Speaking of health care, you know what will happen if we don't destroy unions? We'll destroy health care! If corporations pay their workers a good wage and benefits, they'll have less money to pay taxes (when they actually pay taxes). And who will have to pay for health care then? That's right, poor people!

Sales and gross receipts tax are much more significant--about $72 billion, or a quarter of the total tax take. But general gross receipts taxes are used in only a minority of states; most of that is sales tax revenue. And sales taxes are generally assumed to ultimately be borne by the consumers, not corporations.


If we neither cut reimbursements, nor services, then the fight is between unions and taxpayers, most of whom are not corporations, or even particularly rich. Obviously, Ezra and I have different distributional priorities. But I still don't see how public sector unions (or quasi-private-sector unions like 1199, whose bread-and-butter is reimbursed by Medicare and Medicaid) can be seen as acting as a check on corporate power. Like most other groups, most of their activity is simply directed at making themselves as well off as possible.

And so Megan McArdle has proven that if you give workers the power to get better pay and working conditions, you are actually harming workers, and the best thing to do in this instance--indeed, in all instances--is to let the corporations do whatever they want without any protest or attempt to stop them whatsoever.

By giving up your rights you are only helping yourself in the long run.

My god, don't these Democrats ever think through a problem???

Here is some testimony in an 1832 hearing on factory conditions.

Evidence Given Before the Sadler Committee
[Parliamentary Papers, 1831-1832, vol. XV. pp. 44, 95-97, 115, 195, 197, 339, 341-342.]
Joshua Drake, called in; and Examined.
You say you would prefer moderate labour and lower wages; are you pretty comfortable upon your present wages? --I have no wages, but two days a week at present; but when I am working at some jobs we can make a little, and at others we do very poorly.
When a child gets 3s. a week, does that go much towards its subsistence? --No, it will not keep it as it should do.

When they got 6s. or 7s. when they were pieceners, if they reduced the hours of labor, would they not get less? — They would get a halfpenny a day less, but I would rather have less wages and less work.

Do you receive any parish assistance? — No.

Why do you allow your children to go to work at those places where they are ill-treated or over-worked? — Necessity compels a man that has children to let them work.

Then you would not allow your children to go to those factories under the present system, if it was not from necessity? — No.

Supposing there was a law passed to limit the hours of labour to eight hours a day, or something of that sort, of course you are aware that a manufacturer could not afford to pay them the same wages? — No, I do not suppose that they would, but at the same time I would rather have it, and I believe that it would bring me into employ; and if I lost 5d. a day from my children's work, and I got half-a-crown myself, it would be better.

How would it get you into employ? — By finding more employment at the machines, and work being more regularly spread abroad, and divided amongst the people at large. One man is now regularly turned off into the street, whilst another man is running day and night.

You mean to say, that if the manufacturers were to limit the hours of labour, they would employ more people? — Yes.

Mr. Matthew Crabtree, called in; and Examined.
What age are you? — Twenty-two.
What is your occupation? — A blanket manufacturer.

Have you ever been employed in a factory? — Yes.

At what age did you first go to work in one? — Eight.

How long did you continue in that occupation? — Four years.

Will you state the hours of labour at the period when you first went to the factory, in ordinary times? — From 6 in the morning to 8 at night.

Fourteen hours? — Yes.

With what intervals for refreshment and rest? — An hour at noon.

When trade was brisk what were your hours? — From 5 in the morning to 9 in the evening.

Sixteen hours? — Yes.

With what intervals at dinner? — An hour.

How far did you live from the mill? — About two miles.

Was there any time allowed for you to get your breakfast in the mill? — No.

Did you take it before you left your home? — Generally.

During those long hours of labour could you be punctual; how did you awake? — I seldom did awake spontaneously; I was most generally awoke or lifted out of bed, sometimes asleep, by my parents.

Were you always in time? — No.

What was the consequence if you had been too late? — I was most commonly beaten.

Severely? — Very severely, I thought.

In those mills is chastisement towards the latter part of the day going on perpetually? — Perpetually.

So that you can hardly be in a mill without hearing constant crying? — Never an hour, I believe.

Do you think that if the overlooker were naturally a humane person it would still be found necessary for him to beat the children, in order to keep up their attention and vigilance at the termination of those extraordinary days of labour? — Yes; the machine turns off a regular quantity of cardings, and of course, they must keep as regularly to their work the whole of the day; they must keep with the machine, and therefore however humane the slubber may be, as he must keep up with the machine or be found fault with, he spurs the children to keep up also by various means but that which he commonly resorts to is to strap them when they become drowsy.

At the time when you were beaten for not keeping up with your work, were you anxious to have done it if you possibly could? — Yes; the dread of being beaten if we could not keep up with our work was a sufficient impulse to keep us to it if we could.

When you got home at night after this labour, did you feel much fatigued? — Very much so.

Had you any time to be with your parents, and to receive instruction from them? — No.

What did you do? — All that we did when we got home was to get the little bit of supper that was provided for us and go to bed immediately. If the supper had not been ready directly, we should have gone to sleep while it was preparing.

Did you not, as a child, feel it a very grievous hardship to be roused so soon in the morning? — I did.

Were the rest of the children similarly circumstanced? — Yes, all of them; but they were not all of them so far from their work as I was.

And if you had been too late you were under the apprehension of being cruelly beaten? — I generally was beaten when I happened to be too late; and when I got up in the morning the apprehension of that was so great, that I used to run, and cry all the way as I went to the mill.

Mr. John Hall, called in; and Examined.
Will you describe to the Committee the position in which the children stand to piece in a worsted mill, as it may serve to explain the number and severity of those cases of distortion which occur? — At the top to the spindle there is a fly goes across, and the child takes hold of the fly by the ball of his left hand, and he throws the left shoulder up and the right knee inward; he has the thread to get with the right hand, and he has to stoop his head down to see what he is doing; they throw the right knee inward in that way, and all the children I have seen, that bend in the right knee. I knew a family, the whole of whom were bent outwards as a family complaint, and one of those boys was sent to a worsted-mill, and first he became straight in his right knee, and then he became crooked in it the other way.
Elizabeth Bentley, called in; and Examined.
What age are you? — Twenty-three.
Where do you live? — At Leeds.

What time did you begin to work at a factory? — When I was six years old.

At whose factory did you work? — Mr. Busk's.

What kind of mill is it? — Flax-mill.

What was your business in that mill? — I was a little doffer.

What were your hours of labour in that mill? — From 5 in the morning till 9 at night, when they were thronged.

For how long a time together have you worked that excessive length of time? — For about half a year.

What were your usual hours when you were not so thronged? — From 6 in the morning till 7 at night.

What time was allowed for your meals? — Forty minutes at noon.

Had you any time to get your breakfast or drinking? — No, we got it as we could.

And when your work was bad, you had hardly any time to eat it at all? — No; we were obliged to leave it or take it home, and when we did not take it, the overlooker took it, and gave it to his pigs.

Do you consider doffing a laborious employment? — Yes.

Explain what it is you had to do? — When the frames are full, they have to stop the frames, and take the flyers off, and take the full bobbins off, and carry them to the roller; and then put empty ones on, and set the frame going again.

Does that keep you constantly on your feet? — Yes, there are so many frames, and they run so quick.

Your labour is very excessive? — Yes; you have not time for any thing.

Suppose you flagged a little, or were too late, what would they do? — Strap us.

Are they in the habit of strapping those who are last in doffing? — Yes.

Constantly? — Yes.

Girls as well as boys? — Yes.

Have you ever been strapped? — Yes.

Severely? — Yes.

Could you eat your food well in that factory? — No, indeed I had not much to eat, and the little I had I could not eat it, my appetite was so poor, and being covered with dust; and it was no use to take it home, I could not eat it, and the overlooker took it, and gave it to the pigs.

You are speaking of the breakfast? — Yes.

How far had you to go for dinner? — We could not go home to dinner.

Where did you dine? — In the mill.

Did you live far from the mill? — Yes, two miles.

Had you a clock? — No, we had not.

Supposing you had not been in time enough in the morning at these mills, what would have been the consequence? — We should have been quartered.

What do you mean by that? — If we were a quarter of an hour too late, they would take off half an hour; we only got a penny an hour, and they would take a halfpenny more.

The fine was much more considerable than the loss of time? — Yes.

Were you also beaten for being too late? — No, I was never beaten myself, I have seen the boys beaten for being too late.

Were you generally there in time? — Yes; my mother had been up at 4 o'clock in the morning, and at 2 o'clock in the morning; the colliers used to go to their work about 3 or 4 o'clock, and when she heard them stirring she has got up out of her warm bed, and gone out and asked them the time; and I have sometimes been at Hunslet Car at 2 o'clock in the morning, when it was streaming down with rain, and we have had to stay until the mill was opened.

Peter Smart, called in; and Examined.
You say you were locked up night and day? — Yes.

Do the children ever attempt to run away? — Very often.

Were they pusued and brought back again? — Yes, the overseer pursued them, and brought them back.

Did you ever attempt to run away? — Yes, I ran away twice.

And you were brought back? — Yes; and I was sent up to the master's loft, and thrashed with a whip for running away.

Were you bound to this man? — Yes, for six years.

By whom were you bound? — My mother got 15s. for the six years.

Do you know whether the children were, in point of fact, compelled to stop during the whole time for which they were engaged? — Yes, they were.

By law? — I cannot say by law; but they were compelled by the master; I never saw any law used there but the law of their own hands.

To what mill did you next go? — To Mr. Webster's, at Battus Den, within eleven miles of Dundee.

In what situation did you act there? — I acted as overseer.

At 17 years of age? — Yes.

Did you inflict the same punishment that you yourself had experienced? — I went as an overseer; not as a slave, but as a slave-driver.

What were the hours of labour in that mill? — My master told me that I had to produce a certain quantity of yarn; the hours were at that time fourteen; I said that I was not able to produce the quantity of yarn that was required; I told him if he took the timepiece out of the mill I would produce that quantity, and after that time I found no difficulty in producing the quantity.

How long have you worked per day in order to produce the quantity your master required? — I have wrought nineteen hours.

Was this a water-mill? — Yes, water and steam both.

To what time have you worked? — I have seen the mill going till it was past 12 o'clock on the Saturday night.

So that the mill was still working on the Sabbath morning? — Yes.

Were the workmen paid by the piece, or by the day? — No, all had stated wages.

Did not that almost compel you to use great severity to the hands then under you? — Yes; I was compelled often to beat them, in order to get them to attend to their work, from their being over-wrought.

Were not the children exceedingly fatigued at that time? — Yes, exceedingly fatigued.

Were the children bound in the same way in that mill? — No; they were bound from one year's end to another, for twelve months.

Did you keep the hands locked up in the same way in that mill? — Yes, we locked up the mill; but we did not lock the bothy.

Did you find that the children were unable to pursue their labour properly to that extent? — Yes; they have been brought to that condition, that I have gone and fetched up the doctor to them, to see what was the matter with them, and to know whether they were able to rise or not able to rise; they were not at all able to rise; we have had great difficulty in getting them up.

When that was the case, how long have they been in bed, generally speaking? — Perhaps not above four or five hours in their beds. William Cobbett (1763-1835), after a long career as a publicist, entered the Reformed Parliament in 1833 and at once took part in the debate on the bill Lord Althorpe had introduced as a result of the Sadler Committee's report. [my bold]


But Megan McArdle says that workers' rights decrease productivity and therefore profit for corporations, so we don't need unions, who are just greedy bastards who want to take the bread out of the mouth of starving corporations.

Please, won't someone think of the billionaires?


Emily said...

We know this, of course, in our own lives. Imagine that your auto mechanic, handyman, or landscaper proposed to work for you under the same kind of elaborate rules as Wisconsin teachers.

McArdle is planning to remodel her kitchen, isn't she? I can hardly wait for her posts about dealing with the contractor and all the subcontractors who probably won't be working for her under the same kind of elaborate rules as Wisconsin teachers. She's really in for an adventure.

Susan of Texas said...

The contractors who disappear for hours every day at lunch time. The contractors who just disappear. The plumbing surprises, the wiring surprises, the foundation surprises. Regulations, permits, inspectors. A constant stream expenses that are all twice what you budgeted.

I'm hoping she'll have it done in September because that's when I have my birthday.

Tom said...

I cancelled my Atlantic subscription this morning after subscribing for more than a decade. It's been coming for quite a while. I made sure to single out McMegan as the prime example of the decrease in quality of the publication.

Not that I think it will do any good. It's not like they make any money of subscriptions anyway.

A shame, really. I used to really enjoy that magazine. I'll just catch Fallows and Coates online ...

Barbara said...

"I'm hoping she'll have it done in September because that's when I have my birthday."

Thanks for a great laugh. I hope your birthday wish comes true!

fish said...

that was exactly my response to that paragraph. This woman has clearly been sheltered from having to really deal with life in an fashion whatsoever.

JP said...

My favorite bit was comparing Megan's breezy contempt for the little people who foolishly believe in the "gauzily idealized world" in which they might actually own a home, to her own whiney outrage when she encountered difficulties while shopping for one.

Lack of self-awareness, she haz it.

Bill in OH said...

I know two parents in Madison. They're livid all the governor. And according to one of these parents, pretty much everyone they know is pissed at Walker too. I know my anecdata isn't necessarily any better than McMegan's, but she's talking to conservatives and libertarians and I'm talking to people who actually live in the state of Wisconsin. I doubt this is enough for the unions to prevail, but the idea that *everyone* is against the state workers is balderdash.

Kathy said...

"...fighting on the streets of Wisconsin to preserve the last vestiges of a gauzily idealized world in which everyone had three squares, a split level, and a defined benefit pension.

She sums up perfectly what's been done to Americans and what Her Masters are still working hard to do to us. Destroy forever the "American Dream". Turn the country into a 3rd world Worker's Hell.

And she thinks its great. Wait till the Owners of the Atlantac get bored with her particular brand of stupidity and hire a feisty new "libertarian" in her place, and she has to find a job commensurate with her high-falutin' education, and ends up at Burger King.

I can't wait.

Anonymous said...


Brilliant post. Heart wrenching to read. Plus, I'm delighted to find that you, like me are a Virgo! I might have guessed.


Tom M said...

The ridiculous part of her second screed here is that she gets it (unions as offset to corporate political donations) but shows her true colors by asserting (as usual without evidence) that teacher benefits mean someone (the ubiquitous someone) else has to pay higher medical costs.

Kathy said...

Megan's Libertarian argument -based on their adolescent "ME FIRST because Everyone is Greedy and Selfish" philosophy- is "since the Teacher's Union agreed to the salary cut/higher payments to health & pension plan, they must be powerless!
Because,of course ARgleBArgle would never agree to having cuts in her pay or increased payments to health/pension unless She was "powerless". "Grab & keep everything you possibly can!" is her motto; the very idea of sacrificing a bit of what she has to help the common good? NEVER!

So, to Her its obvious that the teachers caved to the Governor's demands out of fear & weakness, and their union is powerless.

Based on that (really really) stupid and venal conclusion she deduces that "There is no reason for the Governor to destroy the Union, ergo: The Governor isn't trying to break the Union."

Another example of conservative Reasoning Processes.

blivet said...

KWillow, we can dream, but I'm afraid she's just going to fall up her whole life. It just makes my blood boil that she is on NPR.

Pete said...

Thank you. I won't say I enjoyed that, because it was dire, but I am grateful that you reminded me.

R. Porrofatto said...

The Sadler Committee testimony would only produce sugarplum visions in Megan's head of the wonderful way things used to be, which would make her all the more melancholy at the sad unlibertarian state of modern life. That's so unfair of you.

danps said...

You know Susan, for as much as I enjoy your work on the McMegan beat, I worry that continued heavy exposure to it will drive you to a gibbering, Lovecraftian madness. We don't know the tolerances of a normal brain for this stuff. Proceed with caution.

Batocchio said...

Thanks for including that testimony. Shocking that McMegan didn't know any of that. (Studying history. How does it work?) On a related note, I was recently reading The Man who Invented Christmas, about Dickens and A Christmas Carol. The portraits of working conditions are harrowing. A few other thoughts:

One, workers are more productive in the long run if they get vacations. There are studies on these things, but this is McMegan we're talking about.

Two, once again, "freedom" to Megan means that the powerful can abuse those beneath them without any checks.

Three, her level of consciousness is high enough she knowingly lies, but her particular breed of prattling, glib evil is astoundingly lacking in self-awareness. The narcissism crowds it out. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of Chenyism, at least it's an ethos.

Four, Megan's thesis sounded much better in the original German. (With apologies to both Molly Ivins and Mike Godwin.)

Kanzeon said...

I'm not sure what to make of your rant. One of us doesn't understand what McArdle is saying.

It appears to me she is making a distinction between public and private unions, and claiming that the battle in Wisconsin is between unions and taxpayers, not unions and corporations. So, she is putting the reader, presumably a taxpayer, in the position of management. She is also generally avoiding directly addressing the central point of the conflict, and discussing costs of benefits, not the question of restricting collective bargaining. She is also assuming, quite stupidly, that taxes are as high as taxpayers are willing to tolerate.

The easy answers are that the taxpayer isn't in the position of management (the 1 cent I pay towards union pensions isn't cutting into my profit margins and keeping me up at night, as sitting across the table from my contractor might), the limitation of collective bargaining rights have huge political implications, and many taxpayers, such as myself, consider current taxes a bargain, and would gladly pay more for the current level of services.

As bone stupid as this woman is, you seem to have missed the opportunity to actually engage her absurd arguments. She isn't arguing that three squares a day is a pipe dream - she is arguing that support of the public sector unions uniquely does not have any relationship to the function unions play in the private sector.

Susan of Texas said...

McArdle is arguing in bad faith for ulterior motives and to soberly and seriously engage her arguments would be a big mistake. Someone who lies about data will always win an argument because she can just make up anything to counter reasoned arguments and facts.

Anonymous said...

Someone upthread referred to the "Me First" attitude of Megan McCardle but I think her mindset is better characterized as "Me Only"

Anonymous said...

Dear Megan McArdle, how about your business lunch? Is your employer paying you to eat? or if you deduct it as a business expense- is Uncle Sam paying you to eat?

Esteev said...

There is nothing sexier than a woman who hates it when people are properly fed.