A Philosopher's Blog

Tasting 45

Posted in Humor, Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on April 30, 2011
Birthday cake (three years)

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This week I hit the 45-49 age group (as a runner, I think in age groups). When I hit 40, it was no big deal. I didn’t feel old and it was kind of cool to now be considered a master in running. Not quite as cool as being a Jedi master, but still pretty good. At the very least it gave me yet another chance to win something at a race (overall, age group and the master’s award). However, the next level of master (grand master) does not arrive until 50. As such, 45 does not give me much-other than having survived another year despite a history of bad decision making involving ladders and roofs.

Having seen other men fall into middle aged stupidity, I was a bit worried that when I hit 45 I would suddenly be unable to prevent myself from doing one or more of the following:

  • Taking shirtless photos of myself using a cell phone and a mirror, then taking out a creepy Craig’s List ad.
  • Buying a red sports car.
  • Buying a huge SUV.
  • Getting a big, gold medallion and a white disco suit with a “big V chest vent.”
  • Stockpiling Viagra.
  • Letting my hair grow out to allow for a “comb over.”
  • Quitting my job to “find myself.”
  • Buying clothes at Abercrombie & Fitch to look “young and cool.”
  • Hitting on stewardesses.
  • Running around town naked, yelling about how death is chasing me.
  • Taking a nap.
Oddly enough, aside from a sharp pain at the exact moment I hit 45, nothing happened. I can only infer that my midlife is at least 50 years away, thanks to all that running (and preservatives).
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Birthers & Graders

Posted in Law, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on April 29, 2011

Obama recently released his long form birth certificate in the hopes that this would finally end the birther thing. Trump was quick to claim credit for this and to cast himself as doing something very important. While he no doubt hopes to be able to milk the birther thing a bit more, he realizes that crazy cow is just about dry. As such, he seems to have decided to switch his focus to the matter of Obama’s grades.

While the idea that Obama was hiding his grades was thrown out there quite some time ago, it did not seem to ever have quite the draw of the birther movement. However, Trump’s maneuver might create a “grader” movement which focuses on Obama’s college grades. Trump and others seem to be suggesting that there is some sort of controversy in regards to this matter.

On the face of it, this seems to be a complete non-issue. While the birther thing was absurd at least it had some tenuous link to relevance in that the president has to be the right sort of American citizen. There are, however, no educational requirements for president. As such, nothing in Obama’s academic records would seem to have any possible bearing on his legal qualifications for the office.

There could be, of course, some embarrassing or problematic things revealed by a person’s transcripts. For example, Obama might have some bad grades or it might be found that he missed some sort of requirement. However, it seems unlikely that his academic transcripts would reveal anything that would actually damage him.

Of course, the “graders” take the view that the fact that he has not released his transcripts shows that there must be something damaging or something he wants to hide in them.  However, the most reasonable explanation as to why he has not released his transcripts is because there is actually no requirement that he do so. While some jobs, such as mine, require a person to provide their transcripts to their employer, there is (as noted above) no such requirement for the president. In the case of my job, I do not have to reveal my finances to my employer and I do not. This is not because I have something to hide, it is simply because it is not something I am required to do nor does there seem to be any good reason for this. Likewise, there does not seem to be a compelling reason for Obama to release his transcripts.

The “graders” will, of course, raise the point that if he has nothing to hide, then he should release his transcripts to settle the controversy. Of course, what they seem to not get is that there really is no controversy outside of the one that they have created in their own minds.

If the “graders” start getting media attention on par with the birthers, then I suspect that Obama will decide to release his transcripts. After that, one can only imagine what people will start demanding that he reveal.

The Once Great White Male

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Race by Michael LaBossiere on April 28, 2011
John Quincy Adams Ward

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Newsweek recently ran an article about the plight of the formerly great white male. The article reveals that as of early 2011 600,000 college educated white males in the 35-64 age group were without jobs. This is a 5% unemployment rate. The gist of the article seems to be that the white male is in dire straits. However, this claim does not seem to be supported by the available evidence. This is not, however, to say that it would be incorrect to be concerned about the plight of people in that demographic.

While the 5% unemployment rate is twice what it was prior to the economic meltdown, it is still far better than other demographics. This is not to say that the men who are unemployed are not suffering-they surely are. However, this hardly seems to be a clear sign that educated white males do not have a “freaking prayer.” Rather, it shows that the economic mess hit very hard-hard enough to impact even those in the upper tiers.

That said, it would also be a mistake to simply dismiss concerns about this demographic as being groundless. After all, to dismiss the plight of the unemployed white men because they are white and male would be comparable to dismissing the plight of any group based on the gender or ethnicity of its members. As such, it seems right to be concerned about these people because they are, after all, people.

It might be argued that even if these white males are worse off than before, this should not be  matter of concern. After all, white males have been doing very well at the expense of others for quite some time. As such, they certainly deserve to pay for these past injustices.

While this does have a certain appeal, there is the obvious concern about what is actually just. If those individuals who oppressed minorities and women are now paying for their misdeeds, then that could be seen as just. However, it would hardly be just if all white men were treated as interchangeable, so that the men losing their jobs now are somehow justly paying for the actions of their predecessors based on an inheritable white guilt.

It might also be argued that the plight of the unemployed white men should not be a matter of concern because the wealthiest people are still white males. As such, the white male hardly deserves any sympathy.

While it is true that most of the very wealthy in America are white males, it is not true that most white males are very wealthy. If it was reasonable to claim that because some people of type X are wealthy, then we need not be concerned about people of type X being unemployed, then it would follow that we would not need to be concerned about anyone. For example, Oprah is very rich, yet it should not be inferred that we should not be concerned about black women. Likewise, the mere fact that Trump is white, male and rich (maybe) does not entail that we should not be concerned about the white men who are unemployed.

I, of course, am well aware that white, educated men are still very well off relative to everyone else. However, this does not entail that all white men  are well off or that it is foolish to be concerned about those people who are unemployed, but also happen to be white men. After all, the fact that most wealthy people in the US are white males is hardly a big help to the white guy who cannot find a job.

My point is, of course, not that special attention should be paid to the white male. Rather, my point is that the white males who are not doing well should not be ignored simply because some white males are still doing very well indeed.

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Women, Aggression & Philosophy

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on April 27, 2011
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While the majority of undergraduate students in America are women, philosophy departments are still predominantly composed of men. Not surprisingly, both male and female philosophers have addressed this matter and various explanations have been offered as to why this is the case. There have also been numerous learned treatises written about how to remedy this apparently problematic situation.

While the entire topic is well worth addressing, my goal in this essay is far more modest. I will address only the rather limited subject of women and aggression in philosophy.

If my memory serves, my first exposure to this matter was in my undergraduate days in a class on feminism. As a graduate student and in my professional career, this matter was (and is) brought to my attention fairly often, generally by female colleagues in the field.  This sort of aggression was, of course, cast as an evil of philosophy and a causal factor in pushing women away from philosophy. The general idea is as follows.

Certain practices in academic philosophy are rife with aggressive behavior. Since we are talking about philosophers, this behavior is generally not physical. Rather, the aggression tends to be social and intellectual. To use a commonly cited example, paper presentations are sometimes cast as struggles between the presenter and the audience. The presenter tries to come across as smart as possible, while members of the audience launch attacks calculated to bring the presenter down a peg and to lift themselves up in the intellectual hierarchy. While this might seem to be something of an exaggeration, it does match my own experience. It is also, of course, consistent with Hobbes discussion of how the learned behave in the presence of each other.

While not all men enjoy this sort of adversarial method, it is ofter claimed that men find it far more appealing than women. This seems to be correct and is consistent with the stock gender stereotypes. As far as the cause, one can present the usual suspects: socialization and genetics. Whatever the cause, there does seem to be a significant difference between how men and women react to such situations, at least in general terms.

Given that these sort of interactions are part of being a professional philosopher, it makes sense that women would the field less appealing and hence this is a plausible causal factor as to there being fewer women than men in philosophy.

This does not, however, automatically entail that this behavior should be changed so as to make philosophy more appealing to women.

To use an obvious analogy, combat oriented video games and aggressive sports are far less appealing to females than males. However, to assume that this is somehow a defect in the games or sports would be a rather hasty conclusion. It would also be rather hasty to infer that such games and sports should (in the moral sense of the term) be changed so as to appeal to females. After all, there are plenty of other games and sports that females can play. So, for example, if many women do not find Halo: Reach enjoyable, they can always play Portal 2 or (God forbid) Farmville. Likewise, if many women do not find the practice of philosophy appealing, they can seek alternatives.

An obvious, and correct, reply is that while combat games and contact sports are inherently aggressive, it is not obvious that philosophy must be aggressive. There is also the obvious point that while women can play a wealth of alternative sports and games, to simply tell women that they have to play philosophy the “male way” or hit the intellectual highway seems to be rather unwarranted.

That said, it could be argued that the  aggressive nature of this sort of philosophical behavior might be an important (or even essential) aspect of the philosophical method. If so, it would be unreasonable to expect the practice of philosophy to change so as to make it appeal to women. Going back to the games and sports analogy, it would seem unreasonable to demand that video games and sports be changed so that they will appeal to women and allow women to compete with men in all cases (such as in American football).

While it is tempting to see philosophy as requiring an aggressive clash of ideas, this does not seem to be essential to the practice of philosophy. To use the obvious example, while Socrates was quite willing to engage with the likes of Meletus and Ion, the Socratic method is more of a cooperative endeavor rather than an inherently acrimonious or hostile one. It is, of course, also possible to have a lively, spirited and even competitive exchange of ideas without it devolving into a situation that is needlessly aggressive.

This sort of approach would, I think, make the practice of professional philosophy more appealing-and not just to women.

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Myths of the Economy?

Posted in Business, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on April 26, 2011

For many Americans, the economy is still not doing very well. Unemployment is higher than it should be and people are still facing serious concerns regarding their pay, job security, and finances.

The Obama administration has been blamed for many of the woes. This is, of course, a great American tradition. Part of this blame is fair. After all, the actions of the President certainly have some impact on the economy. However, blame should only be placed where it is deserved. Interestingly, some of what Obama is being blamed for is not actually his fault. However, the blame is placed on the basis of what can be best described as myths.

The first myth is that Obama is to blame for the loss of oil related jobs. While this does seem plausible because of the ban imposed after the BP rig blew up, it does seem to be a myth. According to the White House, 2 out of three oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico are not being utilized. As such, it seems more reasonable to blame the companies who are electing not to exploit those leases. Also, there is the fact that the number of active oil rigs is now higher than during the Bush administration. If these claims are true, then it would seem that the idea that Obama is holding back big oil is not true.

The second myth is that Obama is somehow holding back hiring in some manner, perhaps by his assertion that he wants to let the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthy. However, the wealthy have enjoyed these benefits throughout the course of the economic mess and the impact on employment seems to be rather clear. There is also the fact that corporations are, in general, doing amazing well. However, while many of them are “rewarding” their top people with bonuses, they are (with the notable exception of McDonald’s) not very inclined to hire people. This clearly is not due to a lack of money (as noted above, it has been a good year for corporations and their top people) and seems best explained in terms of corporate strategy rather than as an act of Obama.

Of course, the impact of the deficit on the economy is no myth and Obama (and congress) have to bear some of the blame for this. Until they show the political will needed to do what must be done, the economy will continue to be impacted by the deficit. That said, one reason why they need to have the will is because we make it hard for them to cut entitlements. As such, they have to be willing to stand up to us to do what must be done.

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I’m With Karl Rove on this One

Posted in Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on April 25, 2011
Karl Rove Assistant to the President, Deputy C...

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The birther issue is like a zombie: though it should be dead and buried, it keeps shuffling along. Also like a zombie, it seems to be able to infect and transform people, such as Donald Trump.

Various states have been considering birther legislation, such as Louisiana. The bill being considered would require and  affidavit, a birth certificate and a sworn statement identifying a presidential candidate’s place of residence for the past 14 years. There are also comparable requirements for those running for congress. Similar bills have failed in Maine, Connecticut, Montana, and Arizona (by veto). These bills seem to be needless-after all, the constitution requires that the president be a natural citizen and there seems to be no rational reason for individual states to require this sort of proof for candidates. There is also the concern of the bureaucracy that would be needed to handle this paperwork.  In any case, these bills seem to be intended to make some sort of political statement against the president. They might also provide a means by which candidates could be kept off ballots. After all, paperwork can be “misplaced” in bureaucracy and other problems can arise proportional to the amount of paper required.

Some potential Republican candidates have taken up the birther cause, such as Donald Trump. Others, such as Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin, have stated that they take the president at his word. Karl Rove has claimed that this move has made Trump a “joke candidate” and Rove has consistently attempted to convince Republicans to avoid embracing the birther movement.  I’m with Karl on this one and will simply go along with his arguments here.

I do suspect, to a degree, that Trump “embraced” the birther movement to get more air time. After all, as a possible candidate he would get some coverage. However, by appearing to take up the birther cause, he boosts his media coverage significantly. This allows him to generate attention for himself and his TV show (which generates more attention). By being a “joke” candidate, he gives himself a vast amount of free advertising. If he is, in fact, doing this intentionally, then it is certainly clever showmanship. If he really believes what he is saying, then he is a joke.

Of course, there are a lot of people who believe that he is not joking and agree with Trump in this matter. While about 75% of Americans believe that Obama was (or probably was) born in America, 40% of Republicans believe that he was not. This does give some candidates a reason to embrace the birther movement. After all, they can use it to appeal to a fairly significant chunk of the population. However, this does come with an obvious risk. Many of those who are not birthers seem to regard embracing the birther movement as a negative thing. As such, a candidate that appeals to the birthers might do well with them, but fare poorly in a general election.

While the idea of birther embracing candidates is a matter of concern (at least to some folks), what is of greater concern is that fact that about 25% of Americans believe that the president was not born in America, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary and the fact that believing this also requires believing many other absurd things. To believe this, they would also presumably have to believe that people in power (including Republicans) are allowing him to stay in office. After all, if Obama really did not meet the citizenship requirement, then John McCain or Hillary Clinton would have been able to simply point this out and Obama would have been out of the running. Since they did not, the birthers must presumably believe that McCain and Clinton are “in on it” and would rather lose to Obama and preserve his secret than expose it. This seems like an absurd thing to believe.

That said, it is worth considering that some birthers say they have doubts about Obama’s place of birth because they do not like him, as opposed to actually believing that he was not born in Hawaii. Then again, it seems likely that many birthers really are true believers.

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Happy Easter!

Posted in Humor, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on April 24, 2011
Pink Marshmallow Peeps

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While I am not religious in the traditional sense, I am a big fan of Easter. This is because of my belief in Peeps and my position as a bishop in the Peepist faith. Each year I acquire Peeps for the masses (well, the masses in my Sunday gaming group) and dispense them with the ritual words “eat this, for it is air and sugar, plus some chemicals you probably don’t want to know about.” The Peeps are consumed, typically with beer, and the sugar rush begins. Just as God intended.

I have heard some rumors of a War on Easter, which I presume is being waged as a follow up to the War on Christmas. Since I am very much for Easter, I will endeavor to protect the holiday from those who would war on it. You can rest assured I am doing my part: I have stockpiled Peeps, jelly beans, chocolate and Cadbury Eggs and will be (as always) dispensing them to my friends for Easter. Anyone who refers to it as “Spring Festival” or anything other than “Easter” shall receive but one Peep, delivered into their left nostril. I’d go with two, but I don’t think that Jesus would approve of me whacking anyone with Peeps on his resurrection day.

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The Royal Wedding

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on April 23, 2011
This is a photograph of Margaret Forrest (1844...

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As the world knows, the royal wedding is fast approaching. As always, I am impressed with the level of  obsession generated in America. After all, it is somewhat ironic that we gave George the boot only to have the masses in a fine frenzy over royal weddings. But, at least we do not have to foot the bill for the show.

I have seen various estimates of the cost of the wedding. Some have estimated that the security for the event will cost £20 million and that the time off for the wedding will cost their economy billions. The wedding dress alone is supposed to cost $50,000. That is more than the average worker in  America makes in a year. The British economy is, of course, not in the best of shape. One might suspect that the money could be better spent on more substantial things rather than being dumped into a short public spectacle. There is also the obvious concern that it is the public who is largely footing the bill for this spectacle.  As Mary Wollstonecraft, said in her 1792 Rights of Women:

Taxes on the very necessaries of life, enable an endless tribe of idle princes and princesses to pass with stupid pomp before a gaping crowd, who almost worship the very parade which costs them so dear.

That certainly seems like an apt description of this event. After all, the royal family does not really do much and certainly does not do enough to warrant such extravagant expenditures. As such, it would seem to moral irresponsible to have such a lavish event largely at the taxpayers’ expense, especially in such troubled economic times.

Of course, there are some replies to this view.

One obvious reply is that the wedding might generate more money than it costs. After all, journalists and tourists will be flocking to the wedding, eagerly dumping their money into the economy by renting hotel rooms, eating meals, buying plane tickets, and buying memorabilia. If so, the burden to the citizens could be thus offset by the gain of those lucky enough to be the beneficiaries of that spending. However, it seems unlikely that this will be the case.

A second obvious reply is that the royal family is contributing to the event. After all, they are really rich and can contribute to the cost. Of course, there is still the question of how much they will contribute (which will certainly not be the entire cost of the shindig) and whether or not the public should be expected to contribute at all.

A third obvious reply is that the event is worth the cost in terms of the entertainment value. It will be a spectacular show for the “gaping crowd” and paying for it can be seen as being on par with paying the admission fee to a circus or concert. True, everyone else in the world gets to see the show for free on TV or Youtube while the Brits get to pay the bill. However, this can be seen as an act of generosity on their part-they are sharing their show with the world. While we do not have a useless class of royals in the states, we do have our entertainers (like Charlie Sheen) and we pay them very well to amuse us. We even provide security at their events. Of course, we do not support their lavish events directly with state money, which could be a very important relevant difference.

A fourth obvious reply is that the UK is a democracy and can decide how to spend public money. If they have decided to spend on a royal wedding, that is their choice and hence morally acceptable on those grounds. If they really don’t like it, they can always boot the royals or, at least, refuse to subsidize their lavish lifestyles. Since they are consenting to the expenditures, then it would seem to make it acceptable. Not wise, but at least acceptable in that the people are not being coerced into supporting the royals.

Overall, I think the wedding is a colossal waste of money and that those who gape at the event are naught but fools. But, it seems to mean a great deal to a great many people and if they want to pay for an event that will give them an illusion they can cherish, then so be it.

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Should Unions be Exterminated?

Posted in Business, Law, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on April 22, 2011
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While public unions have been making headlines because of the attacks being launched against them, most pundits seem to agree that unions (public and private) have been in decline for quite some time.

One of the main arguments against unions is that they are harmful to the economy. In the case of public sector unions, it has been argued that they enable public employees to grow fat on the taxpayers’ money as protected parasites. In the case of private sector unions, it is often alleged that they force companies to spend far too much on wages and benefits and this helps destroy American competitiveness. The American auto industry provides a perfect case study of this problem.  The solution that is often suggested is curbing or even getting rid of unions.

While casting unions as villains has a certain appeal and unions have clearly contributed to many problems, unions do seem to have a legitimate and important role that they should play. This role is, of course, to provide workers with protection from mistreatment and exploitation.

While it is tempting to say that the public sector employees need no protection from the public, this would be a mistake and would be on par with claiming that people in power should be free to do as they will with state employees. However, there clearly need to be checks on the power of those in power and unions do help to provide one such check. Or, at the very least, it provides employees with a more effective means of resisting the agendas of politicians and other vagaries of politics.

In the case of private sector unions, it could be argued that they are not needed. After all, there are plenty of laws to protect workers and unions actually are burden (via dues) and an impediment. As such, unions should be eliminated for the good of all.

This does have some appeal and there are aspects of unions that certainly do need reform. However, exterminating unions is actually a bad idea-at least from the standpoint of workers.

While unions are weaker than corporations, they do provide some degree of protection to employees. After all, being part of an organized group provides more safety than merely going it alone. In fact, many of the arguments used to justify and defend corporations can also be used to justify and defend unions. If it is good for the corporate people to organize into a corporation, then it would seem good for the employees to organize as well. In the same vein, many of the arguments against unions can also be directed against corporations. After all, if it is bad for people to organize for economic purposes, then this would seem to apply to corporations as well.

Of course, this might be countered by saying that while the corporate folks need to organize into corporations, employees do not need to do so. After all, it could be argued, they are protected by the government and they do not need the extra protection that a union is supposed to provide.

While there are laws protecting employees, these laws can be changed by the lawmakers. And, of course, many of these lawmakers are heavily influenced by the corporations that donate to their campaigns and lobby them. Without the modest counter offered by unions, corporations would be able to influence politicians without much (or any) organized opposition on the part of employees.

It might be claimed that this would not be a problem. After all, corporations would not use such nearly unchecked influence to do anything really unfair or harmful to employees. Or would they?

Since I am not a senseless hater of corporations, I accept that some corporate folks are principled and willingly treat employees well. However, since I am also familiar with history and what people are capable of, I am well aware that some corporations would attempt to act in ways that would be unfair, exploitive and even harmful.

Those who doubt this can take a look back of the history of business in the United States. Some highlights include slave labor, child labor, horribly dangerous working conditions, using the US military to break strikes, and so on. For more recent examples, the behavior of some American corporations in other countries shows just what these people are in fact capable of. Even in the United States, corporations still engage in questionable practices. As such, the idea that corporations can be trusted to act well without an organized body of employees to provide some counter is absurd.

This is not to say that unions are without fault. They also have their problems. For example, American unions have often been linked to organized crime. As another example, teachers’ unions often protect incompetent teachers from being fired.  As a third example, American auto workers were able to secure so many benefits that they actually impaired the ability of their companies to compete. As such, unions do need to work on improvements. However, this is quite a different matter from getting rid of them.

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Social Stability

Posted in Business, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on April 21, 2011
Protest March - Organised By The Unions

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One challenge that faces all societies is the maintenance of social  stability. In general, stability is desirable (although not at any price). To use an obvious metaphor, society is like a ship. If it becomes to unstable, it capsizes and this will tend to be

One aspect to maintaining social stability is ensuring that people are willing (or forced) to remain within the limits of the stability of the system in question. Naturally, there are important moral questions about the methods that should be used to maintain stability and about whether or not specific systems should be maintained. However, I will focus on a limited aspect of this topic. To be specific, I will address the current attacks on public employee unions, such as state unions and teacher unions.

Aided by the Tea Party and the corporations using the Tea Party organizations as fronts, some Republicans were elected as governors and then began to promptly start attacking public employee unions. While Wisconsin has been getting the headlines, Florida has also seen a sustained attack on public employees (with educators being a prime target). Obviously enough, these attacks are not aimed at balancing the budget or reducing taxes. After all, the folks in Wisconsin agreed to accepts cuts in order to offset the deficit created by the governor when he cut taxes for corporations. Rather, these attacks seem aimed at breaking up unions that have traditionally supported Democrats and also at breaking the ability of educators and state employees to resist the ideological agendas of those behind these “Tea Party” governors.

Unions have, of course, been demonized as part of the attack. The problems in education have been laid at the feet of the lazy, incompetent and overpaid educators as well as the union that is supposed to be devoted to protecting the worst teachers and presumably also to destroying education. Other public employees have also been cast as incompetent parasites who have grown fat upon tax dollars stolen from the people. These unions are also accused of having too much political clout and influence. It has also been claimed that allowing unions to participate in the political process means that unions might end up in negotiations with the very people they helped elect, thus giving them undue influence.

While unions do have their problems and these need to be addressed, the broad attack on public employees and unions does not seem to be justified. If they were justified, then these attacks could be seen as contributing to social stability by addressing undermining factors.

First, the idea that the unions are somehow the cause of states’ financial woes seems to be untrue. After all, the real cause of the woes seems to the economic crisis which was caused by corporations who just happen to be the darlings of the “Tea Party” governors. Second, the claim that state employees are overpaid relative to private sector workers is deceptive. While it is true that public employees make, on average, more than the average worker this is because most public employees have college degrees. When the salaries are adjusted in terms of education, public employees are underpaid relative to comparable private sector workers. So, bringing the public sector on par with the private sector would actually require raises for the public sector workers.

Second, the idea that teachers unions are the death of education seems to be mistaken. While unions do follow practices (such as protecting incompetent teachers) that are harmful to education, it is the practices rather than the unions that cause the problems. After all, Finland’s top-notch education system is unionized. However, I do agree that many of the practices in education do need to be reformed. However, this does not require destroying the unions or demonizing teachers.

Third, the charge that unions create  a conflict of interest is worth considering. However, a conflict of interest would seem to exist for any group that donates to a political campaign. For example, the Koch Brothers helped bankroll Scot Walker and in return received various favors. Also, corporations donate vastly more money than unions. As such, if this money flow is a threat, then corporations are the far greater threat. The flow of campaign cash that buys influence is a serious problem, whether that cash flows in relatively small amounts from the unions or in oceans of cash from the corporations. A reasonable case can be made, I think, that the almost unrestricted power of money is creating significant harms in the American political system. Naturally, the corporations want to exterminate their competition (the unions) even though they already outmatch them with their contributions.

Fourth, while people (including state employees) like to joke about the laziness and incompetence of state workers, the reality is that they are no worse than any other workers. Just as in the private sector, there are good and bad workers. There seems to be no reason to believe that public employees are grossly incompetent across the board and should thus be replaced by the allegedly far more virtuous private sector workers.

Fifth, while there are no doubt public positions that are unnecessary, most jobs do seem to actually be important and useful. In any case, the “bloat” of public employees is probably comparable to the bloat that occurs in any organization. Naturally, useless positions should be trimmed but it should not simply be assumed that most positions are useless.

In light of the above arguments, it would seem that public employees and the unions are not a threat to social stability.

However, those attacking them seem to present such a threat. While the power of unions has decline severely over the years, they do still present one of the few sources of organized resistance available to public employees. Naturally, those who wish to be rid of the unions claim that they are not needed to protect public employees. After all, no one wants to do anything bad to them…and if they did, the public employees would surely deserve it.

However, this is clearly not the case. After all, the “Tea Party” governors have engaged in a full scale attack against public employees (especially educators) and seem intent on cutting wages, benefits, job security, jobs and so on. In short, there is a clear and present danger against public employees.

While public employees have been cast as greedy and useless parasites, it is important to remember that these are the people who perform such “useless” tasks as putting out fires, protecting citizens from crime, teaching the children, and so on. In short, they are an essential part of society. They are also fellow citizens, friends, and neighbors. That is, they are part of the community.

Destroying the unions and savaging public employees will not solve the economic woes created by the corporations. It will not fully offset the lost revenues from giving corporations tax breaks. Rather, doing these things will mainly damage key aspects of society and create instability.

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