Unintended Consequences

Posted In: Politics, National, Opinion,   From Issue 762   By: Matt deHeus

10th January, 2013     0

I believe in science.  Actually, I believe in scientists.  It's just an approach.  For instance, Isaac Newton was clearly a bright dude.  Check out his Wikipedia bio.  The guy had some serious hobbies.  I teach technology and it is amazing how many things he not only identified, but also the way he was able to simplify these things into rules that we could remember and apply as we made our way in this complex world.
 
For instance, take his Third Law - “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  This simple rule explains so many things.  For instance, it gives us a basic understanding of why you can fling paper wads so far with a rubber band.  
 
But everyone who has ever gone with Newton and pulled back a rubber band in anger realizes that sometimes things don't go quite as planned.  For instance, the paper projectile sails past your buddy's head, hitting the cute girl in the third row in the forehead and ending your chances of a prom date.  Or, less dramatically, having the rubber band give, snapping back and hitting you square in the eye. 
 
Neither of these are unforeseeable outcomes if the activity was given thorough advance scrutiny.  But in the moment, with compromises to physics inherent to the design, they happen.  These are collateral damage.  They are unintended consequences in a world where stakes are increasingly high and mulligans are becoming increasingly rare.
 
Some Questions Are Better Left Unasked
 
Michigan is a Union State.  It was built on the back of the automobile and the UAW made those cars that we drove.  While its home was in the Michigan auto industry, the union did a lot of heavy lifting for the American worker.  While the previous generation of labor leaders won battles like child labor, living wages and the duration of the workweek, UAW pioneers like Walter Reuther shaped the way collective bargaining worked for American workers. 
 
During a period in which the American auto industry was the most productive and profitable in the world, autoworkers set new standards for benefits, fairness in the workplace and worker safety.  Love or hate the UAW, they set a high bar when people described what it meant to have a “good job.”  Everybody was making money - the company, the workers, the shareholders.   It seemed like a reasonable deal, if not an ideal marriage between labor and industry.
 
The problem for States like Michigan arose when low wage, low skill States decided to take advantage of some of the more cannibalistic forms of interstate commerce and then decided to try and entice some of these jobs to their States.  Tax incentives were often the key incentive in the beginning, which led to waivers on property or payroll taxes, and so forth, all down the line.
 
Then some of the more ingenious States came up with a new strategy - one they called “Right to Work.”  With it they offered to diminish the influence of the unions in their State.  You can find plenty of detailed explanations what RTW means, but in Newton's spirit of simplicity, just assume they traded $2-3 an hour and a week of annual vacation per employee to get the jobs to move to their poverty stricken States. 
 
Forget NAFTA, for Michigan, Ross Perot's “great sucking sound” started with Right to Work and states like Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina agreeing their workers were worth less and consequently, there went the market for blue collar labor.
 
No one ever thought Michigan would become a Right to Work State.  There was no real public sentiment towards it.  There was still a large unionized contingent of voters who saw Right to Work for what it was - a dip into their pocketbooks and a continued erosion of working class political power.  While there were rumblings early in his term, Rick Snyder had privately come out indicating the he didn't think this was the right time for Right to Work.  And this is where physics took over.
 
Union activists looked at the current political landscape and public opinion and decided to try and encode it on the Constitution.  Proposal 2 was placed on the November ballot in an attempt to make collective bargaining a basic worker right.  It was not a huge stretch to think the measure might make it, given the general mood of the voters toward Snyder and the current State government.
 
But the problem is, like many experiments, Proposal 2 did not happen in a vacuum.  It was one of six mind-numbing ballot initiatives, supported with gaudy, misleading and infuriating advertising campaigns.   And a funny thing happened on the way to the ballot box.  The voters decided to reject pretty much everything.  They didn't like this method of rulemaking and, instead of a permanent spot in the rules, the issue of collective bargaining snapped like a rubber band, springing back and hitting us in the collective eye.
 
Reinvigorated by the persuasions of the Republican National Committee, enough PAC money to turn a billionaire's head, a lame duck majority and a “mandate” from the voters, Rick Snyder saturated downtown Lansing with State Policemen and - in the face of jeering crowds and a somewhat stunned electorate - he signed Right to Work into law.  Not as permanent as an amendment but more effective because it is now the law.  Bad timing.  Bad deal for the average worker.  The right to work for less.  Exposing yourself to a right hand to the head when you are ahead in the fight. 
 
II.  “A well regulated militia…”
 
I hate the TV news.  You know what I hate worse?  Turning on the TV news and seeing scenes of dead children, families in the throes of a tragedy, the worst moments of the human condition.  I am not alone in this, as everyone is sick in their stomach when they see another maniac has allowed his problems to spill over into acts of violence that would be unimaginable if not for the fact that live reports were telling us it was actually happening.
 
One of the first things you learn when you move to the United Kingdom is that they don't have a Constitution.  While they clearly have a pretty durable social contract, it is still operationally a monarchy and rights are granted, rather than assumed.
 
In 1996, there was a similar school shooting tragedy in Scotland.  A lone gunman went into Dublane Elementary and killed 16 elementary students and himself. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunblane_school_massacre)  As a result, private ownership of handguns was banned in the UK in 1997 and, by the time I moved there in 1999, gun controls were firmly in place.

 
There are a few things worth mentioning about the five-year period I lived in the UK.  First, twice during this time, lunatics entered elementary schools and attacked students and teachers - one with a machete and one with a samurai sword.  No guns, just more tragedy.  Crazy is as crazy does.
 
As tragic as these incidents were, the fact is the weapons ban had a much broader effect on society in the United Kingdom.  First, handgun crime actually rose over 800% in the five-year period after the ban was imposed.  Like the say, if they outlaw guns, only outlaws have guns.
 
More worrying, at least in my neighborhood, was the statistic that nearly 80% of all home invasion crimes took place while the occupant was home.  It was not unusual to hear how an intruder greeted a neighbor's wife in the kitchen and that she surrendered car keys, jewelry or whatever material goods they demanded.   The place I live now is not nearly as nice as the place I lived there, but I don't ever hear of anything like that happening here.  Could it be that more than a few of my neighbors own guns?  Looking up and down the block, I am thinking that it would be a heck of a difficult decision to figure out which one was the “easy” target.
 
 
In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, it is pretty clear that we are going to get some new firearms legislation.  Let's just assume that it will be knee jerk and, likely, bad.  If they fool around with the cosmetics of guns that is exactly what they have enacted - a virtual lipstick on a pig solution.  
 
There are a lot of reasons why we need to be careful here.  First, I don't even have to guess what happens when you create prohibitions - the UK firearms ban is a perfect model with a predictable result.  While I don't really consider myself “pro-gun,” given what I have seen firsthand, I am less enthused with the idea of being generally outgunned by the criminal class.
 
And that is the real rub.  Nothing in the Second Amendment mentions home defense or even sport shooting, but it is definitely about being out-armed.  The Second Amendment is about the right to shoot back at a tyrannical government, should one develop.  It was built around the idea that we didn't really want a standing Army but, if we did have one, the people should be on somewhat equal footing.  I don't own an assault rifle, but part of me looks at what the military is carrying and I am not completely against some of my responsible neighbors holding a few.
 
Put this development into context - for instance, merging policing agencies into larger, regional forces, armed somewhat like the military.  Take guns out of the average citizen's hands.  Put cops or ex Marines in schools, in airports, on street corners.  I want you to think about that place.  Equal and opposite reaction?  My guess is we don't go quietly.   Be careful of those intended consequences.
 
Chicago Style Hustle
 
If you think you are tired of the term “Fiscal Cliff,” wait until you get a load of how often you are going to hear “Obamacare” over the next two years.  The overhaul of the medical insurance industry enacted in President Obama's first term largely survived a Constitutional challenge.  While the main parts of the act do not take effect until 2014, much of the workplace accounting that will impact its rollout starts with the beginning of 2013.
 
The key provisions of act is that full time workers must be offered health insurance or the employer must pay a $2000 per employee penalty and the workers will be allowed / required to buy health insurance, probably through state run health insurance exchanges.  How these exchanges will operate is unclear, but we know for sure they will exist within the next 12 months.
 
The devil is in the details of the Obamacare act.  It basically affects companies that employ the equivalent of 50 full time workers.  While currently part time work is defined as less than 40 hours, that number will shift to 30 under the new law. 
 
Discussing the rule with several medium sized business owners and the operator of a temporary labor agency, there are several pretty obvious and immediate effects.
 
First, wherever possible, part time employees are going to see their hours cut to below the 30-hour threshold.  Given the high possibility that many part-time workers would prefer an increase in hours, this does not bode well for their spending power in the New Year.  What it probably means, for many is a second part time job.
 
Growing companies will face an equally difficult equation.  Imagine for a moment that you are running a successful start-up company that just happens to employ 48 or 49 employees.  It is going to be a very difficult decision to hire #50.   The solution?  Part time workers.  Temps.  More “productivity” from existing workers. 
 
It does not sound pro-business to me, nor particularly pro worker.  Every educated guess is that this legislation will put a damper on hiring over the next few years.  So, if you work, you will get health care.  It will just be hard to get work, or at least something that qualifies as “work,” because, under Obamacare, holding two or three part-time jobs to make ends meet just won't meet the standard. 
 
Hustling or hustled?  What's the difference between friends, huh?  Unintended consequences - that's the difference. 
 
Be careful what you wish for, America.
 

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