Goats and unions

Once upon a time, there were two neighbors, one with a goat.... 

Like many teachers, Philip Harvey, a professor of law and economics at Rutgers University, likes to use parables to illustrate a point -- and here's the preview -- the goat stands in for a good union job with what used to be standard benefits -- health insurance, pension, vacation time.  

Anyway, once upon a time, there were two neighbors, one with a goat, Harvey said. To reconcile the inequity, the goatless neighbor killed his neighbor's goat.

Now neither neighbor has a goat  -- or goat milk, or goat cheese. Instead of trying to figure out how to raise more goats, the goatless neighbor would rather see his neighbor with no goat. 

“I think it has to do with whether you can ever imagining yourself having a good union job in your grasp,” Harvey said.

“Since union jobs have  been declining for several decades, the chances of getting what  union workers get are receding,” he said. "The public doesn't even conceive that it is possible." That leads to resentment and yes, goaticide.

Because union density is so low, most can't imagine belonging to a union, except perhaps in the public sector, where unions are more prevalent, he said. (You can read my story about unions in Sunday's Inquirer.)

"Quite frankly, I am deathly afraid that we may be seeing the beginnings of the decline in public sector unionization that we have been seeing in the private sector," he said. "It was always reassuring to think that, yeah, the private sector union movement is in the toilet, but the public sector is 40 percent – and that was rock solid."

Because so few private sector workers are unionized, or for that matter, have family members who are union, they are less inclined to support workers in the public sector with union jobs (the goat).

"The public really isn’t strongly supportive of public sector unionized workers and so they (Republican legislators) can chip away at public sector union rights," Harvey said. "The practical effect will be to reduce the strength of public sector unions and then eventually the density as fewer  people see a need for unions."