Anti-americanism redux

Following the recent discussion here of critics of US foreign policy being labelled as anti-American, I saw a snippet in the Fin (subscription required) in which the Wall Street Journal (also subscription required) applied the same epithet to anyone critical of US labour market institutions and their outcomes, even extending this to former PM Bob Hawke, about as prominent a supporter of the US alliance as you could find, though, like many others, a critic of the Iraq war. The relevant quote

Even Labor leaders who have previously been strong supporters of the alliance have not hesitated to stir anti-US prejudices this time. Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke warned that making it easier for workers to negotiate wages directly either their employers would be “a move down the path to” horror of horrors “an Americanisation of labour relations

Unfortunately, my efforts to find the full piece have been unsuccessful – I assume it’s behind the paywall somewhere. I’d appreciate it it anyone could supply the full text.

I’d be interested to know, for example, whether the WSJ has extended its net to catch that notorious anti-American, John Howard, who has warned against taking the “American path” in relation to gun laws and tort litigation.

In the meantime, let me offer the hypothesis that lots of American workers share the “anti-American prejudice” that they would rather have a union on their side than enjoy the benefits of direct “negotiation” with employers. For example, this Gallup Poll reports that 38 per cent of Americans would like to see unions have more influence, as against 30 per cent who would prefer less. And I’ll guess that the WSJ itself would be happy enough to endorse Howard’s anti-Americanism, at least as far as tort law is concerned.

Update Thanks to several readers, the full column is over the fold

Australia’s Labor Reforms
November 22, 2005

From the death of that most cherished of Australian traditions — the weekend barbeque — to couples divorcing and a rise in the homicide rate, no scare story is too far-fetched for die-hard opponents of labor reform down under.

Trade unions brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets of major Australian cities last week in the biggest protests the country has seen in seven years. And their Labor Party backers were quick to warn of all manner of dire consequences if Prime Minister John Howard succeeds in reforming Australia’s outdated labor laws.

Never far below the surface, the anti-Americanism of Sydney’s left — still furious at Mr. Howard’s resolute support over Iraq — is back with a vengeance in this latest battle. Even Labor leaders who had previously been strong supporters of the alliance have not hesitated to stir anti-U.S. prejudices this time. Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke warned that making it easier for workers to negotiate wages directly with their employers would be a “move down the path to” — horror of horror — “an Americanization of labor relations.”

Such rhetoric belies the modest nature of the Howard government’s proposals. Even if its Work Choices Bill is enacted, all Australian workers will continue to enjoy generous labor protection — including an A$12.75 (US$9.30) minimum hourly wage, four weeks annual holiday, and a year’s unpaid leave for new parents.

What will change is a belated recognition that labor union protections, aside from infringing on human liberties, are obsolete in today’s Australia. Two decades of economic reform (much of it initiated under Mr. Hawke’s leadership) has produced a entrepreneurial economy where one in ten are self-employed and union membership has fallen to less than a quarter of the workforce.

You wouldn’t know that from Australia’s labor laws, which still ban employers from negotiating directly with their employees, unless they match the wages and conditions set by state-run arbitration bodies for workers in that industry across Australia as a whole. Remove that restriction, as the Howard government is finally proposing to do, and you remove one of the main reasons stopping union membership from plummeting even faster. Other reforms would further reduce union power by insisting that strike votes or other industrial action require secret ballots, and simplifying the maze of more than 100 laws currently governing industrial relations.

Hence the scare stories, and the ferocity of the counter-offensive by the union movement and its Labor allies. They represent an Australia of old battling for its political survival. Having already been dealt a blow by Mr. Howard’s reelection with an increased majority last year, and a swing in his favor among the blue-collar workers who were once Labor’s staunchest supporters, they know how much is at stake.

For all last week’s street protests, the chances are they will fail again. The Howard government’s parliamentary majority all but ensures the bill will be enacted. And modern Australia has shown through its voting habits, and changing employment patterns, an understanding of how true job security comes not through restrictive labor laws, but from a flexible labor market that helps fuel continued economic growth.

Devastating though it may prove to union membership, the bill is only a first step in this direction. As Mr. Howard said recently, “In a year’s time, people will look back and say why on earth did people try and exaggerate and scare us.”

228 thoughts on “Anti-americanism redux

  1. Avaroo, lots of economists disagree with Krugman and are taken seriously by people like me and Brad DeLong. Luskin isn’t taken seriously by any economist I know, on either side of these debates, because he clearly doesn’t know what he is talking about.

  2. DeLong appears to have a personal issue with Luskin, but whomever uses the term “idiot” first in a debate is usually the loser, and it looks like De Long has that sewn up. It’s hard to take anyone using name-calling as a tactic in a debate very seriously.

Comments are closed.