That's Where the Money Is.

First Published: 2004-01-28

Some of you older folks may remember the exploits of Willy Sutton, an infamous thief during the 1930’s. A reporter asked him one day why he robbed banks. Sutton’s reply: “Because that’s where the money is, stupid.”

Of course, the reporter was attempting to ask if he had a moral justification, which makes the reply somewhat amusing. However, the reply accurately reveals Sutton’s true mindset, that moral justifications and the rights of others are irrelevant. The only thing relevant was that banks have money so why not grab some of it.

Similarly, the Union leaders target the largest and most successful companies such as Atlantis, because that’s where the money is. They do not consider it relevant that a company may be entitled to its profit because it’s theirs. They do not consider it relevant that an employee and employer have the right to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment. They do not consider it relevant that the Bahamian economy could become more competitive and prosperous without union intimidation and threats of violence. They do not consider it relevant that there are workers who would be glad to work for Atlantis under mutually agreeable terms and conditions negotiated individually.

No, the only thing they consider relevant is that to get money and power they must first intimidate government to be granted special laws (power) that they can then use to intimidate employers to get the money. Nobody else’s rights are considered relevant, least of all the rights of the workers.

Of course, all workers have a right to join a group (unionize), the same as anyone has the right to join a Political Action Committee, a Bible study group, a Rotary group or the Chamber of Commerce. However, over the years unions have been given special legal authority to violate the rights of others. This is the crux of the matter. For example, by law unions can force an employee to join the union group and pay fees to the leaders against his/her wishes; unions can routinely violate civil laws while intimidating and demonstrating against an employer without risk of prosecution; and unions can prevent an employer from negotiating with and hiring a worker according to mutually agreeable terms and conditions. No other group in civil society is given the legal authorization to violate individual rights as are unions. This is where unions have gone “over the top”, and the negative economic consequences are very serious, aside from the fact that there is no moral justification for their actions.

And that’s the key point. Whenever the unions want to achieve a goal to get more money or power, it doesn’t ask about morality or rights. It merely asks where the money is. Are some having trouble paying for health care? Let’s get the government to take money from those who can pay and give it to those who can’t. Do some workers feel they need more money? Let’s get the government to jack up the minimum wage. After all, employers have plenty of money, so why not grab some of it. It’s become morally acceptable to wield a club to get what you want.

This thinking is driven by a theory—a theory that turns otherwise respectable, law-abiding people into the equivalent of a thief. It is the theory of the “public good”. According to this theory, the “public good” is the only moral justification one needs. It is the only moral standard in all political matters. Individual rights and property rights are dispensable.

However, the truth is that society is made up of individuals–there is no entity labelled “the public”. It is impossible to determine who constitutes “the public”. Is the wealthy part of “the public”, or are they special interests who can be sacrificed? How about Atlantis or the labour unions? Which are “the public” and which are its victims?

What we see is Willy Sutton’s disregard for morality and rights being practiced every day. If someone has money and someone else can argue that “the public” needs it, then taking it is justified according to this theory. The behaviour of the unions, more than any other group, demonstrates that they are disciples of Willy Sutton—that they consistently follow his thinking.

The solution is to resurrect the principle embodied in the Constitution—the principle of individual rights and property rights. Laws must be changed—and enforced—to require unions to respect this principle. This is the only way to develop a competitive economy, a competitive tourism industry, and a civil society.
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