Monday, December 30, 2013

An Analysis of the "Are You All Right?" Movement - Part 5: Choosing Sides

On the one hand, we have the near-fascistic government that thinks that it can bully a segment of the population into cowering submission, which wants the public to think that it represents law and order.

On the other hand, we have a manipulative public sector union that wants to protect its members’ iron rice bowls all the while wanting the public to think that it is the champion of the working class.

Once again, and lamentably so, economics has been trumped by politics.


For its part, the government does not appear to wish to work with unions to solve labor issues or to restructure the economy into a “creative economy,” whatever that means. For all intents and purposes, the government appears to want to dictate terms and for the union to simply follow orders.

As for the unions, they do not appear to wish to work with the government either. They have little desire for reforms out of fear of losing their protected jobs and (relatively) cushy wages and benefits. Additionally, we have a growing number of university students who seem to think that siding with the unions is somehow in their own self-interest. Never mind the fact that one of the functions of unions is to protect existing members from having to compete with younger workers.

For good or for ill, this is now a battle that each side feels that it must win. However, all of the combatants have very similar goals that only differ in extent and intent.

The same goal

As much as the government may want to establish a KORAIL subsidiary, it does not, in fact, have any desire or incentive to privatize KORAIL. Even if there are genuine free market capitalists (or at least fiscal hawks) within the government, all incumbents have one desire and one desire only – to be reelected (unless constitutionally prohibited). As aloof as Saenuri lawmakers may appear to be, they have very little incentive to stand for principles when standing for principles will get them booted from their seats of power.

The business executives of KORAIL do not wish to see their business privatized either. What they want is to establish a KORAIL subsidiary to run high-speed train services so that they and their shareholders can pocket the profits that they might earn through the subsidiary all the while still being subsidized by the government in order to keep its main business kept afloat by the taxpayers. They want to have their cake and eat it, too.

The union members of KORAIL are the most dead set against privatization for the most obvious reasons. Whenever a publicly-run business becomes privatized, in order to boost profitability and efficiency, labor, being the easiest cost to cut, becomes the first to be sent to the chopping block. The university students are in agreement with the unions.

I am an advocate of laissez-faire capitalism. I haven’t a dog in this fight. As far as I am concerned, they are all wrong.

As unpleasant as choosing the lesser of two evils is, however, sometimes a choice has to be made. As unpleasant as it may be to choose between two evils, if that objection were to be accepted literally, people would have no choice whatsoever but to become pacifists – a moral position that can only encourage evil, rather than punish it.


One way or another, the public has to make a choice; and the public ought to side with the unions over the government.

I did not choose to support the unions because of some kind of sympathy I might have for them. I have very little patience for many of the unions’ causes. However, I have chosen to support the unions, and encourage others to do so as well, for two reasons.

Firstly, it is because the government is far more powerful than the unions. The government has more journalists, intellectuals, pundits, corporate leaders, and (most importantly) guns than the unions. Secondly, it is because the government can (and has) cause much more harm to the economy, as well as to human rights, than the unions ever could.

However, that does not mean that a victory for the unions will translate to anything good for the people. As already mentioned in my previous post, the unions’ interests is not, in fact, the same as that of the public’s. I am supporting the unions only because I want the unions and the government to expend every bit of political capital (as well as actual capital) each side might possess in order to fight each other long enough until both sides are exposed to the public for what they really are – entrenched political organizations that are fighting over the public’s money.

The fact is that the public sector unions are the Little Brother to the government’s Big Brother. However, right now, there has been a falling out between the thugs and they have chosen to engage in combat.

As for the government, despite its insistence, it is not fighting to improve economic liberties or market efficiency. The government’s battle with the public sector unions should be a fight over fiscal responsibility. It is not. It is merely a battle over who gets to control the loot that we call tax revenues.

There are other (supposed) capitalists in the mainstream media who are anti-union but their anti-union stance is translated to being pro-government. That is either a mistake on the part of genuine capitalists who have not thought their positions through thoroughly or they are, in fact, nothing more than government mouthpieces.

The AYAR students, for their part, fall into one of several different categories.
  • They feel that the “system” that they were preparing to become a part of their whole lives has abandoned them, and are now fighting with the unions to preserve the status quo, all the while knowing that the status quo has been broken for decades.
  • They genuinely, and naively, believe that their self-interests and the unions’ interests are one and the same. If so, their teachers and professors are to blame for having crippled their minds with such debilitating nonsense.
  • They are angry and anxious about the future but because they are unsure of what is actually wrong, they have laid the blame on the most convenient targets – the government and the corporations. Though governments and corporations certainly do share a lot of the blame, there is more of it to go around, but it is much easier to damn others and the “scourge of capitalism” than it is to question one’s own ethics, morality, and culture.
  • They might genuinely know not what they do. Despite their claims otherwise, they might not possess all the information that they need to make an educated decision. If this is the case, it would appear that, without intending to or even seeming to fully understand the consequences or even the reasons behind their actions, the students have made the best choice possible under the circumstances by throwing their weight behind the unions.
If their siding with the union was the result of dumb luck, for their sake, I hope that the students learn more about economics and economic realities before wading into economic discussions in the future. Barring that, I hope that dumb luck continues to favor them that they may continue to make sound decisions.

However, the AYAR Movement, despite its seemingly educated background, is nothing more than just another mob. And all mobs are passionately unthinking and full of obnoxious self-righteousness regardless of whose side they are on. As such, I will not place too much hope on them. Doing so will lead to one disappointment after another.

So, though I have decided to throw my support behind the unions, and, again, I encourage others to do so as well, I do so with great disgust.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, may there be a plague on both their houses.


UPDATE: The unions just agreed to end their strike after the ruling and opposition parties promised to form a parliamentary subcommittee aimed at ensuring no privatization of rail services.

So, never mind.  Government - 1, Unions and Students - 0, The Public - -1.  Oh, joy.


  1. How did you think it would end? Let me ask you a question. Do you have a problem with government serving the people? Do you have a problem like so many other Free Marketeers with certain industries being not for profit but part of the "commons"? You see I'm all for capitalism and all the good things it can bring. I am certainly a proponent of you earned it you keep it. However, I do think government should do more than make laws and defend the nation. I believe government has the responsibility to maintain and provide for the common good. This can mean affordable access to clean water, safe food, and a healthy environment. It can also mean access to affordable education, safe reliable transportation, health care, workplace standards and protections. Why not? Why else do we form governments and civilized societies if not for the good of the people? Oh that's right I forgot. History tells us that many societies were formed for the good of only the few. These few at the top, however they get there, are free to live their lives in comfort and security while others are ground into dust by brutal systems of caste, economic policies and benign neglect. Is this what we wanted for ourselves as human beings? Did we really want to build our future on the bones of people sacrificed to war, bigotry and economic instability? Didn't we decide at some point that we were better than other members of the animal kingdom? Didn't we decide that all life has a right to enjoy a certain dignity?
    Here's what I think. Some things should belong to the people. They shouldn't be for profit. They should be maintained for the common good. Democratic government should be established to work for the people, not control them. You don't need government to control people, just brute strength and resources. A democratic government is designed to be inclusive and serve it's citizens. It isn't about profit it's about service. Yes someone has to pay but you find people don't mind paying if they think they are getting their money's worth.

    1. “How did you think it would end?”

      That the government was going to win was obvious. It has more money, guns, and capital than the unions. Though I have little sympathy for the unions, I had hoped that they would both fight for long enough for the public to see that they were both corrupt.

      “Do you have a problem with government serving the people?”

      This question is disingenuous because you have made the assumption that people in the Free Market does not believe in any government service. That is incorrect. The government serves a very important role of setting up laws and ensuring contracts, and to make sure that people’s rights are not violated. If people’s rights are violated, then the government serves as the final arbiter of the retaliatory use of force.

      “I believe government has the responsibility to maintain and provide for the common good. This can mean affordable access to clean water, safe food, and a healthy environment.”

      You gave examples of what you think a common good is but what exactly is an actual common good? The common good implies that something is good for the whole society. But what is society if not a collection of individuals? Can every single person in the world ever agree on what the common good is? It is impossible. What the common good in practice comes down to is that some people’s idea of what is good takes precedence over that of others. In other words, it comes down to the good of the majority as against the minority or the individual. This is why demagogues always talk about the “common good.” Its meaning is malleable and people often think of it means what they think it means due to the phenomenon known as “false consensus.” Politicians use this psychological weakness in order to put a ribbon on top of whatever their agendas are.

      “Some things should belong to the people.”

      Such as what? And good luck with that.

      “They shouldn't be for profit.”

      Then what they should be based on? Continual loss?

      “They should be maintained for the common good.”

      See above.

      “Democratic government should be established to work for the people, not control them.”

      The irony is that the controls that the people are against are the same controls that people always clamor for. There isn’t a single governmental control that people despise which wasn’t the (predicted) unintended consequence of government policies that people have been clamoring for in the first place.

      “It isn't about profit it's about service.”

      What is a profit? It’s more than just an accounting game of earning more than what one spends. It is an indicator of what people want. If a business sees that it earns higher profits for one thing than for another, the business will increase production of the the thing that people want and reduce the production of the thing that people do not want. That is why businesses, at least smart ones, are efficient. Government has no such indicator. All it sees are votes, which are influenced by public spending, and voters love public spending, which is the spending of other people’s money on other people’s expenditures. That is why, by definition, governments are not efficient and always losing money. That is what is called “government service.”

      PS. I cannot answer rhetorical questions. If you are seeking an answer from me, I would like to request non-rhetorical questions.

  2. John you aren't a computer you are human being. So don't tell me you can't address a rhetorical question you write about them everyday, 90% of the things you discuss here are rhetorical. They aren't facts they are your opinion. Even your opinions on capitalism and the free market are just that, opinions, they aren't fact. Economics have differing schools of thought, you just happen to embrace one kind or several, there are so many.

    Here is what the common good is, it is whatever the governed deem it to be. It doesn't matter if everyone agrees or if everyone benefits directly. It also doesn't mean that it can't change. This subject is a very good example. If the Korean public decides that it is not in their best interest right now to privatize the their rail system then it isn't. Now I know you will argue that the public doesn't always know what is best for them, fair enough. But then we aren't talking about a democracy anymore are we, then we're talking about something else.

    You claim "Government has no such indicator. All it sees are votes, which are influenced by public spending, and voters love public spending, which is the spending of other people’s money on other people’s expenditures." How cynical of you to suggest that "government" is some entity other than the will of the governed. You suggest that government has no indicator like profit. Oh but it does profit and often the goals can be measured. Even so called "social costs" can more often than not be assigned actual monetary value. Head Start is a good example. The program is now more than 45 years old. For some it has been a success for others it is deemed a failure. We've been spending about 7b a year on it. Originally it was designed to give "at risk" kids, read: low income, children a start on learning. Later it was determined that it did indeed raise IQ levels that later began to fall by 2nd or 3rd grade. It was called Head Start Fade. This was attributed to the fact that most Head Start children attend sub standard schools anyway so the initial gains from the program are lost. The data also shows that race has an effect on the outcome with white children more inclined to graduate high school in greater numbers. However, black children whether they graduate or not experience lower levels of incarceration. These are all measurable outcomes. Do they equate to monetary measurable outcomes, of course they do. Then the question is do these measurable outcomes warrant the cost. Even if they don't, is it something the public is willing to continue until a better method is developed to achieve a better outcome.

    You claim profit is about what people want, not just an accounting game. Then you reduce everything to an accounting game. Just like with Head Start, if the goal is to get more kids to graduate from high school and reduce incarceration rates then the goal has been met. Did we save money elsewhere by investing here, surely if your goal is to get people working and off government assistance, or out of jail and back into productive society, then yes you may have actually saved more than 7b elsewhere.

    Government services are not about taking your money and giving it to someone else. It's about benefits to everyone. Everyone benefits when crime rates go down, everyone benefits when people are educated enough to earn their own money. Just because you've never been mugged doesn't mean you don't.

    1. It is precisely because I am not a robot that I cannot answed one rhetorical question after another.

      If the common good is whatever the governed deem it to be, then it is not moral but simply anumbers gam. For example, seeing how the majority of he governed are opposed to gay marriage, then keeping gay marriage illegal is the common good, no?

      There is no such thing as morals or right or wrong. It changes all the time. It's gays today but tomorrow it will be someone else!

      I never said that the government does not resemble the so-called will of the governed. That is the damned problem - people wanting to subjugate others and spending other people's money for their own interests.

      If the government does profit, explain the debts and deficits.

      Headstart benefited everyone? Prove it. It reduced crime? Prove it.