The Muscle of Public Employee Unions

Poor students are not served well by teachers' antivoucher campaigns.

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Megan McArdle at theatlantic.com has been blogging up a storm on teachers unions and school vouchers. Here is one pungent passage:

How many educated people who:

a) Oppose vouchers
b) Have children who do not attend inner city public schools would still oppose vouchers if they were the only way to get their child out of an inner city public school? How many of them would accept that their child had to be left in that school because the systemic effects of allowing their child to exit that repulsive school would be dreadful?

Respectfully, I believe the answer is "null set".

Opposing school vouchers is, for basically every single person who does so, a completely costless belief. You get the pleasure of "supporting public education"; someone else's kid, whom you will thankfully never meet, loses their future.

McArdle takes to task three young liberal bloggers—Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, and Kevin Drum—on their apologias for the teachers unions and opposition to vouchers. Klein, Yglesias, and Drum are often intellectually interesting and fair-minded, and it's disappointing—and revealing—that they would take positions that McArdle shows, to my satisfaction anyway, to be intellectually indefensible. McArdle is particularly scorching on young liberal voters who move to the suburbs so that their kids can go to decent public schools but who oppose the vouchers that would give poor inner-city parents the kind of choices that they've taken advantage of.

Klein, Yglesias, and Drum are playing team ball. The organization most highly represented on the floor of recent Democratic National Conventions has been the National Education Association; the American Federation of Teachers is also well represented there. So are other public employee unions, like the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which endorsed Hillary Clinton the day after her disastrous debate performance Tuesday. Nearly half of all union members in the nation are public-sector workers, and their unions are a huge source of money and volunteers for the Democrats.

The teachers and other public employee unions have a vested interest in getting higher pay and less accountability. Higher pay is bad for taxpayers. Less accountability is bad for the intended beneficiaries of public services. The best argument for liberals' lock-step support of public employee unions is that they are the only powerful constituency that supports increased public services, and to mobilize such a constituency you have to serve its institutional interests. Those making such an argument might go on to say that conservatives serve the institutional interests of some of their constituencies in ways that produce bad public policy.

That's a serious argument, I suppose, but it still leaves poor kids worse off. The teacher unions have been spending huge amounts of money to overturn Utah's statewide school voucher law in a referendum next Tuesday, as George Will reports. The teachers unions' "idea of progress is preservation of the status quo," Will writes. Let's hope they lose.