February 1, 2016

Another clueless and dishonest “kindergarten” attack on right to work

Photo Credit: Reinis Traidas cc

Paul Gessing is the president of the Rio Grande Foundation, a libertarian non-profit based in New Mexico.

Tamara Kay and Gorden Lafer re-hashed many of their arguments against the Rio Grande Foundation and its work in support of “right to work” in New Mexico.

Rio Grande Foundation President Paul Gessing

Rio Grande Foundation President Paul Gessing

These two use a bunch of fancy rhetoric to attack our research as “unscientific,” but fail to embrace simple logic. As a sign of their alleged statistical prowess – with no relevance whatsoever to “right to work” — the “dynamic duo” claim that supporters of right to work are doing the equivalent of arguing that “because people with larger shoe sizes are more likely to have heart attacks, big shoes must cause heart attacks.”

I scoured the Internet for something, anything, to verify the statement that people with big feet are at greater risk for heart attacks. Interestingly, Kay and Lafer are flat-wrong even about this silly non-sequiter: according to a 2015 CBS News story, compared with a 6-foot-tall person, someone who is 5 feet tall could have a 60 percent higher risk for coronary heart disease. Since taller people have bigger feet than do shorter people, people with bigger feet actually have a lower, not higher incidence of heart attacks!

If you can’t trust these two on such easily-discovered information, how can you trust them when things get complicated? Kay and Lafer put a lot of faith in the statistical technique known as regression. It is indeed one of many useful techniques, but like everything in the field of economics, it has its limits. Assumptions, for example, must ultimately be made by imperfect humans.

If public policy were as simple as making series of regressions to determine the success or failure of a particular public policy, we wouldn’t have so many heated debates in Washington, D.C. and Santa Fe.

What we do know about “right to work” is that over the long-haul, states with “right to work” laws on the books have continued to dominate in all facets of job creation. For example, between 1990 and 2006, “right to work” states grew their private-sector work-forces by 39.7 percent while “forced-unionism” states grew by just 17.2 percent.

Look up virtually any data on job growth across the scope of the 25 current “right to work” states and the 25 “forced-unionism” states and you will get similar results. Kay and Lafer simply cannot refute this.

Kay and Lafer of course assert – without evidence – that those jobs come at the expense of wages and benefits. “Right to work for less” is their mantra. Again, however, they are muddying the waters and ignoring reality. By definition, unions raise the price of some labor. In heavily-unionized states, cost of living is supposed to be higher. It’s a feature, not a bug.

But when it comes to actual living standards, study after study shows that families in Right to Work states, on average, have greater after-tax income and purchasing power than do those families living in non-Right to Work states. Something Kay and Lafer fail to ask themselves if “If ‘right to work’ was so awful, why would people be fleeing “forced unionism” states and heading to “right to work” states?

Between April 1, 2010 and July 1, 2015, eight of the top 10 states in terms of percent population growth were “right to work” while only one “right to work” state (Mississippi) was in the bottom 10. Michigan which also appears in the bottom 10 became “right to work” on March 28, 2013.

Lastly, Kay and Lafer attempt to blame “inequality” on “right to work” laws without actually coming out and doing so. The fact is that there is absolutely no correlation (much less causation) of inequality and “right to work” as defined by Gini Coefficient.

There can be no doubt that New Mexico needs to change direction away from reliance on federal spending and volatile natural resource prices. “Right to work” is merely one of dozens of free market reforms that must be considered by the Legislature for New Mexico’s economy to turn around and for New Mexicans themselves to thrive.

We’d love to see some specific, research-based ideas from Kay and Lafer.

Paul Gessing is president of the Rio Grande Foundation, an independent, nonpartisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting liberty, opportunity, and prosperity for New Mexico.