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© 2007 Daniel J. McLaughlin

Why Do They Lie?

A union official recently related a story about his son.  The young man had his first experience with management negotiations and said “They lied.  How could they do that?”  He just couldn’t understand how a business manager could be so unethical as to lie during negotiations.

The experience is more understandable, however, if related to another situation, that of someone being accosted by an armed robber.  The victim relinquishes cash from his pocket, but not the $100 bill he had hidden because of prior bad experiences.  When the robber asks if that is all the money, he lies outright and tells him it is.

It raises the question of which is worse, the lie or the threat of violence by the thief?  It relates directly to the union negotiation the son was talking about.  The very foundation of every union, without exception, is violence and coercion, actual or threatened.  Which is worse, the lie or the threat of violence.

Many will say that their union has never been involved in violence.  It is true that, for a number of decades, there has actually been much less outright violence, especially among more professional types of unions.  A distinction must be made, however, between different types of violence.  They can be described as blue collar and white collar.

Blue collar violence is when the participants themselves take action, beating up and harassing replacement workers they call scabs, or coworkers who don’t support them, and/or destroying property.  Society in general doesn’t appreciate physical aggression, and blue collar violence is a difficult public relations issue for unions.

White collar violence is where participants have someone else do the dirty work.  Over the years, unions have learned that they can use government to do their violence.  Anti-market politicians have enacted many laws over the decades which allow the use of coercion by government.  Whenever an employer doesn’t relinquish his rights and refuses to negotiate with the union, the government steps in, threatening irresistible violence to any level of force necessary.  It seems so much nicer and more civilized to use government agents for coercion and intimidation rather than doing it yourself.

Fraud, coercion and aggression are never acceptable in a free society.  Mutual consent is the very foundation of any market based economy, and unless both sides agree, without fraud, coercion or aggression, there is no deal.  Employers cannot force employees to work for them.  Employees have the right to refuse to give up their time and skills if they can’t agree upon terms of employment.  If either the employer or employee doesn’t live up to expectations, the other party has a right to withdraw consent and leave the relationship.

If working conditions are not acceptable, every employee has the right to quit.  If all that unions did was show their solidarity and all walk off the job together, there is no issue with rights.  They are doing together what they can each do alone.  The only problems arise when they interfere with the employer’s rights or those of replacement workers. 

In any situation where replacements are willing to work, the glaring reality is that the market value for that skill is less than what the striking workers are asking for.  The quantity of workers supplied is greater than the quantity demanded at the price they want.  It is unfortunate for those particular workers, but it is, in fact, a market signal that they need to change locations, change careers or improve their skills if they want higher wages.  It is like an entrepreneur trying to sell pizza where there are too many pizza joints.  Overcrowding means lower income per participant unless supply or demand changes. 

I truly believe that people should be treated with dignity and respect, and it is always in an employer’s best interest to do so.  It is a grave error, however, to confuse market prices, of personal services or any other good, with respect or dignity or any other human quality.  Economic freedom occurs when employer and employee, consumer and producer, and everyone else in society, is free to choose, given his or her own situation.  Free markets have resulted in prosperity in countries that embrace them.  Misery and poverty haunt those societies that hold violence and coercion as acceptable means, whether by individuals, groups or the state. 

Lying is not ethical, but neither is extortion.  People should tell the truth, but even more so, people should be free to enter only those relationships base on mutual consent.

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Daniel Mclaughlin
Copyright © 2006 [Daniel McLaughlin]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 01/06/08

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