Monday, December 24, 2007

Yglesias vs. Krugman on Unions as Interest Groups

Responding in part to the Krug-man's latest unhinged attack on Obama, Matthew Yglesias makes a point that is heard all-too-rarely on the left with respect to labor unions:

I don't see any need for liberal pundits to get in the business of denying that labor unions are, in fact, "special interests." Indeed, it's impossible to understand the dynamics of American politics without acknowledging them to be special interests. They're special interests who sometimes take the "wrong" side of policy debates then what's "right" for the country is "wrong" for the sector in which they work. The CWA often takes bad positions on telecommunications issues because it wants to advance the interests of unionized telecom firm vis-a-vis the interests of non-union firms. Similarly, various unions have in the past clashed with environmental groups and will certainly do so again in the context of a serious push to curb carbon emissions. There's nothing wrong with that, and liberals should strongly resist the line of inference from "unions are sometimes wrong on public policy questions, therefore we should embrace policies designed to hasten the decline of union membership." But still, unions are groups that seek to advance the interests of their members. As such, they're a vital check on what would otherwise be corporate influence run amok. But sometimes the interests of a given union's members run against the general interests of the country and there's no sense in denying this.

(My emphasis).

It's good to see an A-lister like Yglesias acknowledge that, in essence, any group that seeks to advance the political interests of its members is a "special interest group" (or as I would say, just an interest group, period). Also, kudos to Yglesias for acknowledging that interest groups can and do act as important checks on each other.

The increasingly unhinged Krug-man, on the other hand, gets a solid "F" when it comes to understanding the Laws of Interest Group Politics, particularly with these quotes:

First, does it make sense, in the current political and economic environment, for Democrats to lump unions in with corporate groups as examples of the special interests we need to stand up to?


It may be partisan to say that a 527 run by labor unions supporting health care reform isn’t the same thing as a 527 run by insurance companies opposing it. But it’s also the simple truth.

In essence, Krugman is saying that labor unions are somehow different in an important way from other interest groups. While they may be important in Democratic Party politics, they are in no way different on a substantive level from any other interest group that is important within either party. What Krugman is advocating, then, is nothing less than an ethical double standard when it comes to "Progressive" interest groups- they should be able to behave in ways that Krugman would find appalling if done by right-of-center interest groups.