Taken at surface value, there ought to be minimal identity of interests between these three special interests. But if you follow the money and power instead of the rhetoric and stereotypes, you will find this unhealthy alliance is alive and thriving. For example, unions use “greenmail,” the threat of a lawsuit on environmentalist grounds, to block developments until the businesses involved concede to union demands. Once they back down, the environmental problem magically disappears.
California’s much vaunted high-speed rail and delta tunnel proposals are also examples of the unhealthy rapprochement between unions (public and private) and environmentalists. Because the construction unions, God bless ‘em, want thousands of good new construction jobs, and the only big projects that are environmentally correct are these monstrosities. The unions have a choice – fight the environmentalists in order to lobby for public works that actually yield economic benefits to society, or enjoy their considerable support for a couple of misguided mega-projects.
Beyond obvious examples, how unions, environmentalists, and America’s overbuilt financial sector collude – often unwittingly, does not lend itself to emotionally resonant, simple narrative. It can’t be expressed in a few declarative sentences. But because this web of collusion is stunting the economic growth of America and systematically destroying its middle class, it is a story that must be told. Here are some points that all exemplify the chain of cause and effect, linking the interests of public sector unions, environmentalists, and Wall Street.
- Public sector unions demand, and get, over-market compensation and benefit packages. This causes budget deficits which, in turn (1) enables environmentalists to more easily fight and defeat infrastructure investments, and (2) creates hundreds of billions in business for Wall Street bond underwriters who finance budget deficits.
- Politicians controlled by public sector unions declare new infrastructure – freeways, utility upgrades, improved water infrastructure, upgraded grid, investment in airports and seaports, etc., to be environmentally unsound. The real reason, however, is they want the tax revenue to go to increasing pay and benefits for public employees.
- Wall Street investment firms work with pension funds to convince public sector unions that it is financially feasible and reasonable to enhance pension benefits – or not reduce them, as is more recently the case. As hundreds of billions each year of taxpayers money pours into these funds, investment firms make huge profits. If they don’t earn enough, they raise taxes.
- Environmentalists come up with a “market-based” way to curb dangerous greenhouse gasses, an “emissions auction” plan, which in turn (1) enables Wall Street trading firms to collect a fee on literally every BTU of fossil fuel consumed in America, and (2) empowers public sector agencies to redefine their jobs (mass transit workers, firefighters, code inspectors, teachers – even police since crime increases during hot weather) as coping with, educating about, or mitigating the effects of global warming, allowing these government agencies to collect the proceeds of the emissions auctions.
- Without an endlessly appreciating asset bubble, every public employee pension fund in the United States would go broke. To pump up this asset bubble, environmentalist restrictions artificially accelerate price appreciation for land, housing, gasoline, electricity, and other basic needs. And of course, financial institutions reap spectacular profits during periods of rapid asset appreciation.
It is reasonable at this point to wonder – what about business? What is their role in this? That is simple – big business benefits, by being able to afford to comply with excessive regulations and by being able to afford a unionized workforce. In general, smaller companies, innovators, emerging competitors, are crushed by the power of unions and environmentalists, just like the middle class.
There are consequences of an unexamined, unchallenged yet powerful de-facto alliance between public sector unions, environmentalists, and the financial sector that ought to animate anyone claiming to care about America’s working middle class – whether they adhere to the ideology of the Occupy movement, or the Tea Party movement. Because the consequences are a higher cost of living with minimal economic growth and new opportunities. The consequences are an increasingly monopolized, anti-competitive private sector, a perennially swollen financial sector, and an increasingly authoritarian, self-interested government. Public sector unions and Wall Street use the environmental movement for cover. This factor should temper any assessment of environmentally inspired policies.
Unions in the private sector, were they to adhere to their ideals and even their most cherished pragmatic goals, would use their considerable influence to rein in the unchecked power of environmentalists. Only then will their desire for more and better jobs, building tangible assets that are actually beneficial to society, be best realized. Public sector unions, on the other hand, whose entire reason for existence is inherently in conflict with society at large, should be illegal.
* * *
Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.
Public Pension Solvency Requires Asset Bubbles, April 29, 2014
Forming a Bipartisan Consensus for Public Sector Union Reform, January 28, 2014
Avoiding the Oversimplifications of ‘Right Wing’ vs. ‘Left Wing’, December 16, 2013
How Unions and Bankers Work Together to Protect Unsustainable Pensions, November 26, 2013
Bipartisan Solutions for California, October 27, 2013
The Prosperity Agenda, April 2, 2013
The Ideology of Public Sector Unions vs. Private Sector Unions, February 20, 2012
America’s Atlas Generation – The Forgotten 33%, January 9, 2012
Why Government Unions are Collection Agents for Wall Street, August 12, 2011
The Differences Between Public and Private Sector Unions, May 13, 2011