Cheapness and Unions
In order to reduce the price of an item, it is necessary to cut the cost of producing the item. Traditionally, the easiet way to cut production costs is to cut the cost of labor. Replace the people with machines. Replace the people with people who are paid less. Replace the people with not only people who are paid less, but with people who cannot complain about the unsafe conditions in which they work (making the conditions safer would, of course, cost money and thus raise the price of the item).
Unions exist to insure that people make what they view is a reasonable wage and to insure that they work in safe working conditions. In the Middle Ages, craftsmen's guilds existed. These guilds trained their employees to industry standards through a master/apprentice relationship. They provided some assistence to elderly craftsmen and their widows and children. A master craftsman produced work of a certain quality although not necessarily at a low price. These guilds evolved into labor unions.
Unions can beviewed as a double-edged sword. If you are a union employee, you are guaranteed a certain protection from being fired (although not from being laid off), safe working conditions, usually a decent health plan, and a pension. On the other hand, all of this drives up production costs, which is why companies have begun outsourcing and union-busting. While this trend means cheaper items, it does come at a price. To quote Shell:
Wages and benefits were sinking, and job security a happy memory. A focus on deregulation and unfettered free markets had made unions and their protectors almost a thing of the past, particularly in the private sector. Global markets, in which goods were produced far away from the eyes and sensibilities of those who purchased them, made it difficult or even impossible to enforce environmental precautions, worker protections, or health and safety regulations. Few of us knew where our food was being grown and processed. But this ignorance was not so much a matter of not knowing where to look as of our simply averting our eyes." (p. 184).
However, Shell goes on to point out (also on p. 184) that while we are not subsidizing people through their union benefits, we are subsidizing giant agrobusinesses . These agrobusinesses are passing on the subsidies to consumers through lower food prices. However, their workers are not well-paid, and there have been numerous example of environmental harm from agrobusiness farming techniques.
Some questions to consider:
Can subsidizing agrobusinesses be viewed as the good of the many (cheap food) outweighing the good of the few (the employees, the environment).
Is the lack of job security and the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs actually good for the American economy? Is it forcing us to become a more creative, technologically-driven culture?
Is there anything really wrong with buying cheap stuff? It does let us save money.
Let the comments begin!