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Archive for March 12th, 2011

Having just done a blog post where I explained that government should stay neutral in fights between labor and management in the private sector, let’s look at a real-world example to understand why.

The millionaire owners and millionaire players from the National Football League are locked in a labor dispute. This is somewhat understandable since there are ten of millions of dollars of profit available and both sides obviously have an interest in getting the biggest slice of that income.

I don’t care who wins, but government has no role in this squabble (or in discussions about college football championships).

In a free society, people have the right to sign contracts. But freedom also means they have a right to not sign contracts. Indeed, these principle of self-ownership and control over property are key defining characteristic of liberty.

That’s why it is disappointing that the players are trying to get the government to tilt the playing field in their direction. Led by big-name stars (for PR value), the players are going to court in hopes of getting the government to use misguided and coercive antitrust laws to hamstring the negotiating position of owners.

The market should determine the outcome of this dispute, however, not the sordid world of government and politics. The players do not have a right to jobs with NFL teams, just as NFL teams do not have a right to force people into playing football.

Yes, it is a “restraint on trade” for NFL owners to not sign contracts, but it is also a “restraint of trade” for top athletes to choose not to play. But this simply illustrates why antitrust laws are so foolish and so inconsistent with the freedom of contract.

Here’s a blurb from the Associated Press report.

…quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees were among 10 players who sued the NFL in federal court Friday, accusing the league of conspiracy and anticompetitive practices that date back years. Their lawsuit asked the court to prevent a lockout. …They filed a request for an injunction that would keep the NFL and the teams from engaging in a lockout. Invoking the Sherman Act, a federal antitrust statute from 1890 that limits monopolies and restrictions on commerce, the players said they were entitled to triple the amount of any damages they’ve incurred. …The players accused the 32 NFL teams of conspiring to deny their ability to market their services “through a patently unlawful group boycott and price-fixing arrangement or, in the alternative, a unilaterally imposed set of anticompetitive restrictions on player movement, free agency and competitive market freedom.” The collective bargaining agreement with the league was expiring Friday.

One caveat. The title of this post says there is no role for government, but that’s not completely true. The courts have a role as neutral arbiters if there is a dispute about whether one side or the other has failed to live up to the terms of a voluntary contract. Though I suppose my caveat has a caveat since the two sides also could pick a private arbitration service to be the neutral judge of any dispute.

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Appearing on Bloomberg TV, I debate the role of unions in American society.

My first point, regarding labor issues in the productive sector of the economy, is that the government should not intervene on the side of either unions or management. Personally, I think unions are sometimes so inflexible and intransigent that they kill the geese (profits) that generate golden eggs (jobs). But I don’t want my thumb on the scale, just as I don’t want Barack Obama’s thumb on the scale.

My second point is the public sector unions are an entirely different issue, involving a special interest group that colludes with politicians to screw taxpayers.

As always, would welcome feedback on how I can improve. You’ll have to click through to watch the video on the youtube site (at least that’s how it works on my computer).

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