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Who considers this outrageous?

Here is a test case. Please tell me if you consider the investigation of the good people who donated a sign and their labor to a local school outrageous. If you do, please say why you think it is outrageous. Please also say what you think should be changed in the legal and/or bureaucratic situation so that volunteerism, altruism, and self-reliance are not stifled in this fashion. (Note that as things stand now all the other schools in the region where this is happening simply do not accept volunteer labor so that they don't run afoul of the "prevailing wage" regulation in question.)

Please assure me that this is a case of government intervention which we can all agree to condemn, in the name of the American spirit.

HT: W4 reader Jeff Singer

Comments (61)

Sounds like an outrage to me.

I would offer the judgment "outrage," but there may licensed outrage artists that are out of a job as a consequence of my offer. So, I will not offer that judgment. :-)

Does this mean we can ditch the prevailing wage law? Yes? Yes? (Jumping up and down with eagerness.)

The abuse of a thing does not prove the illegitimacy of a thing. For one thing, it is obvious that union members are not performing their jobs voluntarily, in the sense that they expect no compensation, whereas the townsfolk in this instance plainly were. Perhaps the law is written too broadly; perhaps it is being misapplied; but, as voluntarily erecting a sign hardly constitutes a public works program, this is more a category error than a demonstration that Unions Are Bad. Putting up a sign is not building a road.

Although, conservatives are welcome to take up the cudgel against unionism, killing off what remains of the Reagan Democrats who have voted with the GOP, inasmuch as, in many of the post-industrial wastes of the Midwest, the only middle-class jobs remaining in many communities are public-sector jobs with the DOT and suchlike.

It looks to me like this application of the law is not beyond bounds of the stated language, at least as given in the article Kimball cites. I can't help wondering what reaction we'd get from union leaders in the state if a proposal were made to change the law so that this kind of thing didn't happen anymore. I note that there were a couple of paid workers on the job: They worked for the sign company which had, in turn, been hired by the booster club. Now the owner of the sign company is being given this big runaround because he doesn't, as it happens, pay "prevailing wage" to his workers. He thought it was okay as he was contracting with the booster club, not the school district. Dumb him. Yes, even that should be no issue whatsoever. The whole thing needs to be rehauled.

Unionists have shot themselves in the feet throughout recent history, so I'd not be surprised to see them defend this absurdity, though, if the language of the statute does permit this application, it must be reformed.

While laws like the Prevailing Wage Act are economically pernicious, and were often originally motivated by racism, I'm not sure that incidents like this would justify abandoning the law if one thought it to be otherwise beneficial. To take a parallel case: if a person were to perform an emergency tracheotomy at a roadside accident and were charged with practicing medicine without a license this would no doubt be an outrage. But would it be an argument against medical licensing? I think not.

Calling a thing an "abuse" because it strikes you as one doesn't get you off the hook for the logical (if unintended) consequences of a given policy. If a man cannot agree to work for $1.00/hour, then he cannot agree to work for free. It is not an abusive application of an otherwise sensible law, but merely an example of why such laws are irrational and oppressive in the first place.

The analogy is interesting, Blackadder, but I think it could fairly be argued that the legitimate desire of ordinary people to donate their labor and even to pay for things for their local schools is likely to be a lot more common (and should be) than the emergency situation you cite. It used to be that local schools of the sort we call "public" were really run by and paid for by the community, and the combination of volunteer labor and cut-rates and such for things "our school" needs would be the rule rather than the exception. I'm no fan of public schools, but I have to admit that this sort of localism and small-town spirit is very much what our country needs more of. And if they did repairs to the town hall in the same way, I would say the same. So it seems to me that the defender of the Prevailing Wage laws who looks at this isn't in the situation of someone who should just see a need for some sort of "exception for rare emergencies" but rather a systemic problem that is affecting all of these local public schools, where everything is managed by bureaucrats and ordinary people can't raise money by selling stuff and then pay the sign company to put up the sign. The story gives several example of things that have been done at other schools in the area (lights on the football field and such) where it might have been possible to do some arrangement like the sign arrangement but where the schools point out how careful they were to hire a contractor at "Prevailing Wage."

My own opinion is that it's going to be difficult merely to reform or clarify the Prevailing Wage laws so as to leave them basically in place but avoid this sort of thing. One might have to make a blanket exception for schools, or perhaps (another potential bureaucratic nightmare) for jobs worth less than such-and-such many dollars.

Of course, I myself hold no brief for the Prevailing Wage acts at all and would like to see them thrown out wholesale. But I'd like to make contact with Maximos's common sense and that of others in his camp by pointing to this example.

If a man cannot agree to work for $1.00/hour, then he cannot agree to work for free.

I'm not terribly interested in pursuing any policy proposals to their logical termini, but rather in making prudential judgments as to the merits of various points along a spectrum of options, of points along a gradient. In my estimation, the obsession we have in America with taking things to the uttermost extremity, of following a policy trajectory out to the very margins, is a hallmark of ideological thought, and ought to be eschewed. For instance, the judgment that certain pro-union statutes have resulted in excessive wage scales, as they manifestly have, is taken to mean that their ought to exist no regulation upon wages whatsoever, no wage floors, which, in an era of concentrated, globalized capitalism, amounts to the pretense that a worker with one or two marketable skills has options when confronted with corporations capable of commanding the world. In fact, this notion never really reflected economic reality, even during the historical periods when capitalism was emerging; workers undergoing coercive transitions from peasant life to industrial life didn't "negotiate contracts", but took what was on offer or starved.

Logical consistency, across the complexities and contradictions of social reality, is ideological.

As regards unintended consequences, while this argument is frequently and justly deployed against policies thought to "interfere" with the functioning of markets, it is, in actuality a feature of the created order generally, and a function of human frailty, finitude, and partiality; it is, therefore, no more an argument against policies which benefit labour, or are said to emanate from the "left", than it is against policies which benefit capital, and are said to emanate from the "right". No political faction possesses a monopoly upon being. If there are unintended consequences to what the right likes to stigmatize as "socialism", there are unintended consequences to what some of us condemn as capitalism, globalization, and so forth. There is no road map, only the imperative of prudential judgment in shifting circumstances, hopefully guided by a consciousness of a natural law, itself not the partisan instrument some on the right try to make it.

Here's another idea: Explicitly endorse in statute the principle under which the sign company was operating here--namely, that if a private entity like a donor or a booster company engages the contractor, if the contractor is contractually working for that entity rather than for any public entity, "prevailing wage" doesn't have to be paid. I can just imagine the howls that would go up over that from the unions, but it seems quite sensible. And while it could in theory apply to large projects like building roads as well as to putting up a sign at a school, it's going to be unlikely that you will find a private donor or booster club that raises enough money to build roads, even if the contractor they hire doesn't pay union scale!

Lydia, that's more or less exactly my point. The unions will howl, but they are wrong on this sign business, and should be made to howl.

Maximos,

Have you read any of John Kekes's stuff? He has a new book out that I think you would like (his big theme is that ideology is bad).

Anyway, this little historical "fact" of yours caught my eye:

"workers undergoing coercive transitions from peasant life to industrial life didn't "negotiate contracts", but took what was on offer or starved."

We've gone back and forth on this before, but it is important that folks understand that pre-industrial world peasants regularly starved anyway because subsistence agriculture is a tough life -- period, full stop. I won't romantically cling to the notion that every "factory belching filth into the air" (to quote the eminent historian Sting) was an unmitigated good, but you need to stop clinging romantically to the notion that before capitalism life for the average peasant farming the "commons" (which was really land owned by a noble) was just peachy and somehow those peasants had to be driven to the factory at gunpoint (or should I say musket-point) otherwise they would never have left their idyllic life in the countryside.

Believe me, Jeff, knowing the history of my own ancestors, I have no illusions about peasant life; my argument is simply that the coercive transition of peasants into industry was iniquitous, and cannot be justified by reference to its distant consequences. We cannot perform specific evils that general goods may result, somewhere down the line.

I enjoyed Kekes' Against Liberalism, and will check out his latest, as opportunity permits.

Okay - did anyone else notice that the locals should bow down to (an) IDOL (Illinois Department Of Labor)?

(Sorry Lydia - couldn't help myself!)


Incidentally, not all commons were owned outright by the nobility, at least not until the enclosures. :(

Chris, I noticed that. There's a medical board in the UK now called the NICE, too, just like in Lewis's novel That Hideous Strength. I take these acronyms to be evidence that bureaucrats have no sense of humor or irony.

Please assure me that this is a case of government intervention which we can all agree to condemn, in the name of the American spirit.

For many of the people employed in low-wage, dead-end jobs like unionized neon-sign installation, the American spirit is a cruel turn of phrase, or means the temporary escape from ennui that occurs when the Chicago Bears are playing. Agricultural work and the factory have shrunk, moved or vanished, and careers as corporate lawyers, hedge-fund managers and professorships teaching economics at the University of Chicago are out of reach.

Yes, the spirit of voluntarism is corrupted by episodes like this, but it flows from the fatalism that sets over an uprooted people who feel their lives and social ecology are dictated by blind-economic forces and distant, faceless decision-makers reigning in the public and private sectors. Those anxious to identify the culprits in the killing off of the American spirit should not start their search with that part of the population who have few choices and no real power. It comes off as exceptionally perverse when attempted by a bow-tied bully typing from his well-appointed setting in Manhattan.

Excuse me, Kevin, but I consider the bullies in this case to be bureacrats working for the state, whether they wear bow-ties or not. If the "working man" has been duped into cheering on this kind of legislation, so much the worse for him, but ultimately, the legislators didn't have to pass it, and it sounds like there has even been some variation in how the bureacrats interpret and apply it. I certainly will begin discussing the killing of the American spirit with egregious examples of petty bureaucracy bullying and squelching voluntarism, civic spirit, altruism, and Tocquevillian association and can-do-ism. And so should you.

Shall I take it that your desire to head off even the appearance of "evil," e.g., of criticizing (gasp) unions and their desired policies overrides your willingness to speak out loudly against this particular outrage, Kevin?

I guess that's evidence that you are _not_ Maximos. (Not that I had any doubts on the subject, of course.) Nor do the two of you agree on everything. He drew a line here.

Kevin,

You say "Those anxious to identify the culprits in the killing off of the American spirit should not start their search with that part of the population who have few choices and no real power. It comes off as exceptionally perverse when attempted by a bow-tied bully typing from his well-appointed setting in Manhattan."

First of all, slandering Kimball simply won't do...if you don't like his arguments explain why. Kimball has devoted a not inconsiderable portion of his writing to exposing the real life bullies that exist in academia and other left-wing institutions (whose bullying actually has real life consequences...see recently e.g. Larry Summers, James Watson, Mormon Sacremento theater director, etc.) To call him a bully is to abuse the plain meaning of the word.

Secondly, it seems strange to me to point to the union movement and other legislative attempts to impose equality on the labor force as somehow embodying the "American spirit". Whether you like it or not, I always thought of the American spirit as Franklin's ingenuity, Wilder's "Little House on the Prairie", Carnegie's rags to riches story, etc. It seems to me you make common cause with those on the Left who do not share in an appreciation for this spirit, which I would be so bold to call liberty.

I'm outraged, alright, but primarily at ideologues who see their fellows simply as deracinated consumers in a vast, global shopping mall, or pawns on a geopolitical chessboard. Voluntarism stands little chance when local community life withers from the ravages left after impersonal, abstract economic theory, lacking in any spiritual foundation eviscerate an entire way of life. Voluntarism is predicated on choice and a post-agricultural and manufacturing people have tragically lost their independence, self-esteem, and control over their communal destinies. They are isolated individuals clawing for some material protection
while they inhabit an alien and hostile landscape.

You want to direct your ire at unions? Fine, they happen to be an intermediary institution of little regard to a new kind of conservative. But, know this, the episode in Strasbourg is the consequence, not the cause of some of the most destructive, mindless policies ever unleashed upon a people by their own leadership class.
I understand Kimball's need to deflect the blame. I just don't understand why you feel likewise.

a post-agricultural and manufacturing people have tragically lost their independence, self-esteem, and control over their communal destinies.

Rubbish. The very existence of the booster club in this story and the work that it did is a standing counterexample to that claim. According to you, Kevin, we're supposed to weep and wail at the supposed "fact" that people in America have lost their independence, self-esteem, and control over their communal destinies as an alternative to noting and condemning places where government is stamping a jack-booted foot on independence and the attempt to control communal destiny. Talk about denial of reality. That way, we can keep on blaming "globalism" and other favorite whipping boys rather than acknowledging what is staring us in the face: Americans continue to _try_ to engage in voluntary association for purposes of helping their local communities, and government stifles these attempts. And more often than not, the government rules that are used for this purposes were promoted by the left, not by the right, and for reasons beloved of the left, not the right, so this means we have to place a significant part of the blame for the on-going stifling of localism on someone _other_ than the nasty money-makers.

Too bad. Face some facts.

Jeff,
Let Kimball fight his worthwhile battles in academia, not in the former farming fields or manufacturing towns of the Midwest. He may, or may not know a handful of neighbors in his apartment building, but understanding the requirements needed to sustain and nurture local community life? Please. Intellectuals are interested in theory, not flesh and blood reality and are notoriously oblivious to the human costs left by their little revolutions.

Voluntarism stands little chance when local community life withers from the ravages left after impersonal, abstract economic theory, lacking in any spiritual foundation eviscerate an entire way of life. Voluntarism is predicated on choice and a post-agricultural and manufacturing people have tragically lost their independence, self-esteem, and control over their communal destinies. They are isolated individuals clawing for some material protection while they inhabit an alien and hostile landscape.

You sound like a typical inhabitant of a major city. None of this has stopped churches like mine, McLean Bible Church in Fairfax, VA, from engaging in large scale volunteerism. It also hasn't stopped many small town churches and ministries from doing charity work. Quite frankly your comment sounds like a college rant about the "absurdity and pointless of modern life."

"The very existence of the booster club in this story and the work that it did is a standing counterexample to that claim."

I was referring to the union members, who previously would have worked in industries that are no longer available to them.

Let the booster club channel the funds to new desks, sports uniforms, teacher-awards, field trips, or scholarships. But occasionally come up for air, widen your range of vision and direct your anger not only at the "jack-booted foot" of the government, but also the tassle-loafered authors of trade agreements. Whatever shoes their wearing, they probably are not made here.

Intellectuals are interested in theory, not flesh and blood reality and are notoriously oblivious to the human costs left by their little revolutions.

That's amazing, Kevin. That sounds to me like a perfect description of a) the people who authored and are enforcing this law, who care nothing for the sign-shop owner, the schools who won't get stuff for which people would otherwise donate labor and money, and the disappointment of the good, ordinary people who tried to donate the sign, and b) your own ideological reaction to the entire situation. Kimball understands the flesh and blood reality here a lot better than you do. You can't bring yourself even to go as far as Maximos, to say, "There's a problem with the Prevailing Wage law and/or with this application of it, and it needs to be fixed. This is an outrage." No, you have to go off into little essays on the evils of the moneyed classes and how somehow, somehow, they are to blame for all the death of independence in America, in defiance of any evidence (like this story) to the contrary. That's all you want to talk about. A perfect example of the triumph ideology over reality.

Let the booster club channel the funds to new desks, sports uniforms, teacher-awards, field trips, or scholarships.

Oh, gee. So does this mean (please correct me if I'm misunderstanding) that they mustn't channel their funds to anything that requires labor? Does that mean that you agree with the application of prevailing wage laws to situations like this? Well, okay, I've found one real hard-liner among my readership. Thank goodness not everybody, even of the more crunchy stripe, is like this.

Intellectuals are interested in theory, not flesh and blood reality and are notoriously oblivious to the human costs left by their little revolutions.

And populists are unswayed by any evidence that runs contrary to their folksy wisdom. They are two sides of the same coin and made for one another.

You say that unions are not a real and dangerous source of economic mischief, but consider the predicament of the big 3. They're forced to support the wage of 4 workers thanks to their retirements package, for every 1 worker on the assembly line. The unions are shocked--SHOCKED--that they're now very uncompetitive with the Japanese on this front and getting steadily defeated in the market.

By all rights, unions ought to be smashed into the ground by the Department of Justice on the same ground as corporate monopolies.

Kevin,

Again I will defend Kimball by noting that it was he who turned me on to Paul Johnson's wonderful "Intellectuals", a book that agrees completely with your contention that many intellectuals "are interested in theory, not flesh and blood reality and are notoriously oblivious to the human costs left by their little revolutions."

Sadly, as Lydia eloquently pointed out, the intellectuals that seem to have done the most damage over the past couple of centuries were those we would all consider to be part of "the Left" (Rousseau, Hegel, Marx, Lenin, and these days Zizek). They are the ones who seem to want more and more government (and in some cases revolutionary government) at whatever cost to private property, initiative, and even human life. When folks in the modern world put the the ideas of Smith, Ricardo, Friedman, et. al. to work, prosperity and liberty were the PRACTICAL results.

Americans continue to _try_ to engage in voluntary association for purposes of helping their local communities, and government stifles these attempts.
You sound like a typical inhabitant of a major city. None of this has stopped churches like mine, McLean Bible Church in Fairfax, VA, from engaging in large scale volunteerism.

Uh, Mike T. try to follow along. Kimball, lives in New York, not Lydia and she would resent being called "typical."

Uh, Mike T. try to follow along. Kimball, lives in New York, not Lydia and she would resent being called "typical."

I'm following along. Apparently you have lost track of your own comments, as you apparently don't even recognize that that comment I quoted was one of yours. Instead of being an arrogant, condescending ass, do try to follow along, eh?

Jeff,
I met Paul Johnson when he spoke at a Chesterton event. Quite a guy, looks like a cross between an Old Testament prophet and a pugnacious
Irish tavern-owner and is very witty and charming.

As for your pantheon of Smith, Ricardo, Friedman, I'm going to pass from genuflecting or deriding - for now.

A great Thanksgiving to you, Lydia and everyone else. We'll pick this up again. God willing.

I notice how Lydia rather eagerly moves from wanting to condemn this particular case to condemning all prevailing wage laws. The misapplication of a law is not a mark against the law, only those who misapplied it. Granted that these laws should have flexibility to exempt donated labor.

However, I am not convinced it was misapplied even under a more flexible standard. Kimball updates the post to say that some of the worker were paid, in other words this was not a case of pure altruism, so there is at least a reason for which it deserved investigation.

Kimball updates the post to say that some of the worker were paid, in other words this was not a case of pure altruism, so there is at least a reason for which it deserved investigation.

But we don't know agreement they had. For all we know, this could have been a simple case of an employer trying to offer some side cash to an employee that wants to take on the work. If that be the case, then it's still offensive since the employees were getting paid on the side, on their own time.

Lydia, I'm getting mashed sweet potatoes all over the keyboards and enjoying the rum, so I'll be quick.

You can make unions the bogeyman of your nightmares all you want, but I'm going to count their existence as one of this country's blessings. So too PTA's, Booster Clubs, local charities and all the other institutions that keep us human.

The more the State extends its influence, the more voluntarism erodes, we know that. But you have bought into a false dichotomy that prevents you from seeing the root causes for the States growth. A society that places such primacy in economic growth that it crushes the local, the small, the particular and the "inefficient" in pursuit of profits and shareholder value can only only produce pathologies and conditions ripe for further empowerment of the State. It is quite amazing how you remain unaware of this dynamic. The last time I looked, it is States that negotiate trade treaties and it is the abusive power wielded by transnational corporations and banks that will capture more of your concern in the days ahead it will.

You have officially been tagged by MandM :-)

Mike T,

Being paid "off the clock" is still getting paid. In any case, my point was that this case does not fit neatly into the good volunteers/bad bureaucrats narrative Lydia has presented.

Kimball updates the post to say that some of the worker were paid, in other words this was not a case of pure altruism, so there is at least a reason for which it deserved investigation.

I've certainly made that clear in the comments thread. The person chiefly being "investigated" is the sign company owner. The booster club hired the sign company to install the donated sign, and a couple of his workers were paid for one day of labor to put up the sign. He doesn't happen to pay his workers union scale normally and didn't on that day, either, but their employer was the booster club, which had raised money for the project, not the school district. I certainly don't agree that it "deserves investigation." The law shouldn't be written in such a way as to cover such situations. They can amend it in a variety of ways even while leaving in place some sort of Prevailing Wage set-up for large public works projects where the laborers are hired by public entities. I've mentioned several possible changes in this comment thread. That wouldn't be my preferred way to go, but some reform is better than nothing.

And yes, Step2, it does fit into that "narrative." For one thing, please note in the story that other schools were interviewed who *do not accept volunteer labor* because of this very regulation and the way that it has been applied for the last couple of years. For another thing, as the booster club woman said in the article, this discourages the very volunteerism of the booster club workers in raising the money to pay for equipment when they cannot make arrangements for installation of the things they buy, and for which they are paying (including the labor), unless the labor is paid at union scale.

Since no one really knows what sex is anymore, couldn't the participants just assert at their act of signage was an act of intimacy and that the government should stay out of the bedroom? After all, what's a little sign-love between consenting adults? :-)

I find it interesting that the defenders of subsidiary institutions and critics of the commodification of civil society--with both of which I sympathize--should be on the side of a legal arrangement that penalizes acts of charity and community involvement. It is the Good Samaritan, not the Equitable Samaritan.

Frank, bingo. Exactly. If localism is what we're all about, then it shouldn't matter to our Crunchy brethren that a particular example was brought up by a demmed neo-con like Kimball and fits into the "narrative" of bad regulation vs. ordinary folk. The story and the surrounding regulatory situation speaks for itself, and conservatives should be of one mind on it. And here I do give Maximos credit for saying what he has.

I find it interesting that the defenders of subsidiary institutions and critics of the commodification of civil society--with both of which I sympathize--should be on the side of a legal arrangement that penalizes acts of charity...

Come on, Frank provide the quote so I can pummel the brute.

I'm trying to penetrate beneath the surface of this affair and point out the reasons why those left behind by "expanding markets" would fly to the shelter of unions, and irony of ironies, to the very government that has destroyed their former ways of life. In many ways this thread sounds like folks complaining about the higher insurance premiums that followed the arson that destroyed the their village. The farmland and rust belt have been burned down and the backdraft will rage for a long time. My interest is in quelling the fire and erecting something safer, not blaming the burn victims for running to dubious sources for relief. A conservatism unable to undertake such a project will find itself consigned to the ashes.

"A conservatism unable to undertake such a project will find itself consigned to the ashes."

And I have no doubt that the ashes will be equitably distributed by English-only non-immigrant workers making $50.00 an hour while the federal government bales out the ash-heep industry.

Lydia,
The way I read it, the law was that all paid labor at these job sites should be at union scale. I've already agreed that the law should be amended to allow for donated labor, where I draw a line is for paid labor. If the booster club cannot afford or simply refuses to pay union scale, they can donate the equipment and let the public entity do the installation. If that is all it takes to discourage their enthusiasm I would have some questions about their motivation.

Kevin, I'd be willing to bet that that prevailing wage law has been in place for quite some time. Perhaps you regard _all_ bad laws advocated by unions and passed by legislatures as somehow the fault of greedy capitalists and globalists, because people would not have "fled to" the unions (and hence the unions wouldn't have had political clout) in the first place were it not for the Evil Capitalists who Forced Them To Do It. Perhaps you are willing to go back however many decades it takes to the first passage of such laws and back further through the entire history of unionism in order to find some way or other to lay the blame for the bad laws unions and legislatures put through at the feet of employers. But that seems to me to be pushing a particular version of history ridiculously far. We ought to be able to condemn a bad law and advocate its reform and/or repeal without uttering ritual curses on management as the ultimate "source" of the bad law via this incredibly circuitous route.

"Perhaps you are willing to go back however many decades it takes to the first passage of such laws and back further through the entire history of unionism..."

I already said I am grateful for the role unions have played in the my country's economic and social development. Imbalanced power relations are an invitation to injustice and exploitation. Did the pendulum once swing too far in the direction of organized labor? Sure, but they're much weaker now, with their strength largely confined to public sector employees. And they will have to grapple with badly depleted pension funds at a time when many municipalities will be filing for bankruptcy.

This law that has incited you so, must be placed in proper context. This is an especially treacherous time for the low-skilled worker. The economic milieu that provided for his father and grandfather is gone. He sees the middle and upper-middle getting squeezed and knows the safety net below him is coming undone. His natural impulse towards charity and everyday common sense are crashing against a fear that tells him he's in a zero sum game and on his own. The union member is as much a victim as anyone else in a tragic state of affairs where neighbors see each other as competitors or ill-defined threats.

In past threads we've all offered many reasons for our arriving at such a broken state. Abstraction, a despiritualized view of the human person and work, as well as a preference for mastery over conditions and events, rather than intimacy with those close by. The whole self-cannibalization of the consumerist ethos has disfigured all of us to such an extent than clear thought becomes a challenge. Check out the comments about smashing unions to the ground, or the parody about a well-paid, homogeneous workforce to observe the toll living in an ideological prison-house takes.

We will continue to differ over the root causes, remedies and the correct set of priorities, as we embark on a long, involuntary re-ordering of our financial architecture and living arrangements. Let us hope we emerge better and wiser at journey's end.

Which is, being interpreted, "I'm not going to come out and say clearly that we should even reform this law, because God forbid I should seem to speak against any policy advanced by unions, because my sympathies are all with unionized workers, and I see any outspoken criticism of this policy as a criticism of them. I only want to talk about what I want to talk about, and what I want to talk about doesn't include villains who pass and enforce this union-favored policy."

I get it.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, Kevin.

Unions are historically the strongest supporters of minimum wage laws, not because their members work at that price (they almost never do), but because unions want to drive up the price of their non-union competitors in order to make them less attractive to potential employers. It's meant to put non-union workers out of job. It works.

One must remember that only acts of government carry the weight of virtue, be they through regulations or expenditures/subsidies. The sympathetic or empathetic nature of man has been transferred in word and deed to the political domain, if nothing else it offers the benefit of a surrender of effort and personal expense on the part of counterfeit moral but highly verbose and critical sluggards.

The reduction of emphasis on personal and private acts of goodness and support lead to this sort pf politicized interference, union or otherwise. Forgotten is Aristotle's injunction that for an act to be virtuous it must be voluntary. The new secular apostles hardly recognize the word unless it's a correct political contribution, or a voter turn out effort that raises the dead.

"...because God forbid I should seem to speak against any policy advanced by unions, because my sympathies are all with unionized workers,...

Well Lydia, full disclosure; I was once a Teamster while working at a major transportation company my senior year in college. The union members of the local were very conservative in contrast to most of New England. Prior to that, I worked as garbage man during summer and semester breaks, and if I have a bias, it is this; the guys I met in these occupations, were more rooted, humble and less dangerous than their well-educated, affluent "betters" at Ivy League institutions. Yale, not the union hall, was where ideas that have wrought so much cultural and economic ruin were first hatched.

If Kimball wants to expand his critique beyond academia's Tenured Radicals, instead of aiming downward on the socio-economic ladder at public works employees, he should look at the radicals who sit in well-upholstered boardrooms, think-tanks and in Washington's halls of power. It might mean bruising the egos of some friends and reexamining some long-held ideological presuppositions, but his study would render a more truthful verdict if it began with the actual people and policies that damaged the American spirit. If he's looking for a working-title, maybe From Woodstock to Wall Street - How They Set Out To Change the World and Lost A Country Instead, might be apt.

Wouldja stop already saying that this is a critique aimed downward on the social ladder and all that nonsense, Kevin? I mean, seriously. It's a criticism of a _law_, a _policy_. It is the barest, most intransigent ideology to refuse to criticize or propose reforms for a particular law or regulation on the grounds that it is supported by unions and that this is therefore somehow picking on the "little guy" who is the individual union member. I mean, that's just plain silly. Is every economic piece of policy supported by the unions now out of bounds for criticism? It certainly shouldn't be. It ought to be possible to look at these things in themselves and ask ourselves if they are good ideas or bad ideas, if they need to be changed, and so forth, instead of talking about "aiming a critique downwards on the socioeconomic ladder" and other sorts of subject-changing class-warfare blarny.

Lydia,
The zealous application of Prevailing Wage Laws pale in comparison to the series of cataclysmic policy blunders and insane cultural assumptions that have brought about the biggest financial meltdown since the Great Depression. In the days ahead it will be important to keep a cool perspective and not let the historical record be altered or erased by ideologues diverting us with their preferred hobby horses.

It is the barest, most intransigent ideology to refuse to criticize
Agreed. Robert Rubin created an unregulated market while at Treasury and then returned to the private sector to reap the profits. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/23/business/23citi.html?_r=1

Now, 3 of his closest acolytes will be rewarded and asked to return and guide our nation's economic policy. National Review offers mostly accolades like; "centrist", "pragmatic", "pro-growth", "proponents of open markets" and of course; "brilliant". Maybe Kimball can weigh in after the sign in Strasbourg is installed. http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=MmMzOTIxZWZhZjQyY2VhODk0Yjk4ZDcyMzMxMmZkYTc=

I see, Kevin. So you've been just blatantly trying to hijack the thread. I wouldn't quite have thought that of you.

Let the record show that the discussion was really about the subject of the main post.

I'm not even sure the threadjacking was a conscious act, so much as an inability to see the tree for the forest.

There's a medical board in the UK now called the NICE, too, just like in Lewis's novel That Hideous Strength. I take these acronyms to be evidence that bureaucrats have no sense of humor or irony.

...and that they read all the wrong books, and none of the right ones. I learned about the actual NICE myself about a year ago, and had to have a little chuckle to myself, followed by a chilling shiver shooting down my back.

I fail to see the problem. The law is good, or bad, on other grounds than this one incident, because this one incident is purely a misapplication of the law altogether.

The law refers to employment. Volunteers working on their own time are NOT employees, in any shape, manner, or form. Maybe state laws could create some fudge room here, but federal laws about employees could never be extended to such volunteers. To the extent the people doing the "work" (if you want to call it work) were volunteers, this fair wage law probably had no application to them at all.

As far as volunteers, Tony, it appears possible that the issue is one of interpretation. You probably know that laws are often written vaguely, and sometimes regulations are actually written by bureaucrats rather than by lawmakers. The article expressly says that in the last two years the application of this law has been "stricter" and that has led in more than just this one incident to schools' being under the impression that they must not allow volunteers to install things or do other work for them. If there is an ambiguity at that point, then we could say that the fault on that point is in the application and interpretation on the part of the bureaucrats. Nonetheless, the fact remains that evidently this interpretation _has_ been encouraged by the bureaucrats and that the schools are therefore restricted in this way. It isn't just one incident.

Moreover, as this thread shows, there were two people who worked for the sign company for money for one day installing the sign. They were not paid union wage but rather their normal wages for the sign company. The sign company was under contract to the booster club, not the school, but now the sign company is being harassed on the grounds that that wasn't good enough, that the work had to be paid at union scale. I think that, too, is ridiculous. And that is much harder to pass off as a misapplication, whether isolated or otherwise.

I'm not even sure the threadjacking was a conscious act, so much as an inability to see the tree for the forest.

You’re right, there’s a forest fire and it is hard to see the stump shooting off the Prevailing Wage sparks in the midst of a raging inferno.

The law refers to employment. Volunteers working on their own time are NOT employees, in any shape, manner, or form.

One man’s charitable act may be another man’s loss of income. Example; state budget cuts force the closing of a nearby state park during the week. A Boy Scout troop and the Village Green Preservation Society offer to take over the weekly duties free of wages. However, the Forest Rangers lobby against the proposal since it may lead to the permanent outsourcing of their positions. The inexorable logic of market efficiency and the low-wage regime of the global marketplace should make one sympathetic to their concerns.

It isn't just one incident.
Come on, 42 states have Prevailing Wage Laws and while they probably drive-up the cost of public works projects, they are not a major reason for why we’re “Bowling Alone”. The erosion of the voluntary spirit and the failure to cultivate our own gardens owes more to the commercialized mass culture of flickering TV screens, hyper-mobility, vague loyalties, incessant novelty, and its “all against all” ethos of relentless competition and chronic insecurity.

The inexorable logic of market efficiency and the low-wage regime of the global marketplace should make one sympathetic to their concerns.

Meaning, exactly? That it's bad for the local Boy Scout troop to be allowed to do the work for free, because the government has a moral obligation to keep hiring the Forest Rangers for those same hours? (Could it be that we're going to get an actual policy preference statement on the subject of the post?)

Meaning, exactly? That it's bad for the local Boy Scout troop to be allowed to do the work for free, because the government has a moral obligation to keep hiring the Forest Rangers for those same hours?

It is a close call, since the social cost of displacing the Rangers may outweigh the financial savings gained by an all-volunteer staff of Park personnel. A healthy skepticism towards the claims of efficiency are long overdue and the question; "What are People For?" - should always be asked. After seeing the libertarian fangs and claws bared on another thread, I'd hope you'd be able to place the Strausberg incident in its proper perspective; the kind of folly that is as understandable, as it is regrettable. No abstractions. Place yourself in the position of not only the parent volunteers, but also the insecure workers who are of little value to the market and perhaps even to themselves. If you think this was heavy-handed protectionism, wait until the smoke clears from the bonfire of vanities that is our economy.

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