Small beer

by Henry on August 19, 2011

Matt Yglesias suggests after a Twitter debate that I and Tom Philpott are conceding a lot to neo-liberalism because we’re OK with microbrews. I’m not so sure.

Matt’s original claim was that craft brewers were somehow analogous to charter schools, giving us delicious individualist brews, rather than unionized mass-produced piss.

So here’s the thing. You may not like Miller or Bud Light, but Miller and Anheuser-Busch both run unionized breweries. And as Loomis notes, one consequence of the cartelization of the American beer brewing industry was to generate monopoly profits for the large breweries. This was good not just for “Miller executives” but for all the stakeholders in the enterprise. When a unionized firm is in a non-competitive marketplace, the union is in a strong position to force the firm to share some of the monopoly rents with the workforce. When the market becomes more competitive, not only does the unionized firm lose market share but the union in general loses leverage. The craft breweries are basically the charter schools (or foreign-built trains) of the beer world.

I think this first version of the claim was wrong, on any reasonable interpretation. If Matt was suggesting that good beer and good unions are somehow incompatible, all I can say is Sir, I refute you thus!. If he was arguing instead, as he seemed to be claiming on Twitter, that Big Microbrew threatens the bargaining power of unions in the American beer industry, then he was making a wildly implausible claim. Not only do microbrews only account for a small percentage of the market (about 7% as best as I can see) but they constitute a more or less entirely separate market from the market for Miller, Budweiser etc. There’s simply not that much substitution between the two – hence, not much in the way of market effects. Unlike e.g. steel minimills in the 1980s, microbrews pose no fundamental threat to the way the major industry is organized. He’s correct that charter schools (which I personally have no very strong inherent objections to, by the way) also only constitute a small percentage of the US education market – but beer, obviously, is not subject to the same political forces as is education. There is little likelihood that the appeal of microbrews will lead state, local or federal officials to impose or encourage mandatory hopping levels for Anheuser-Busch, or that US unions would object if they did. Unlike their Danish compatriots they have no skin in the game. Microbrews have no realistic chance of transforming the main marketplace in ways that would undermine unions.

Matt seems now to be making a somewhat different claim, which doesn’t really make much sense to me.

The Farrell/Philpott explanations of why this is okay in the case of domestic craft beer rely on the claim that empirically speaking the impact of the new entrant in question on the marketplace is going to be small. That may be true, but it’s in considerable tension with the impulse of Philpott (based on his original article) and Farrell (assuming “pissy” is not a compliment) to valorize the new entrants. … There seems to me to be a kind of special pleading at work here, where on the one hand a neoliberal approach to the beer market is justified on the grounds that it’s giving consumers superior options, but then it’s okay to be a neoliberal about beer because only a tiny minority of consumers will actually appreciate these new options. Neoliberalism for me but not for thee

This is a very peculiar argument. Matt has been quite good in the past at taking on libertarians and conservatives who claim that all liberals want is a bigger state. Now, he seems to be suggesting that all that people to his left want are bigger regulation and bigger unions, and that when it comes to craft ales and stuff that they really care for, they’re big old hypocrites who want deregulation all the way. This claim rests both on a caricature of the left and a fundamental misconception about the issues at stake, which concern personal likes and dislikes, not politics. I have particular tastes in beer, but I don’t feel that other people are missing out on very much if they don’t share those tastes, and instead drink beers that I myself dislike. Not only am I prepared to share a blog with such people, I’m even married to one of them. Nor, even if my tastes were like those of dsquared and my spouse, would I have any reason to oppose deregulation that did no apparent damage to the causes that I believe in. Where a policy change gives people more choices, and there are no discernible negative side-effects, I’m all in favor. I cannot on earth see why anyone would prefer to describe this stance as ‘special pleading,’ or a major concession to neo-liberalism rather than e.g. ‘common sense.’

Perhaps there is some Bierstalinismus Fraktion out there, which believes that the proletariat will never be fully realized as a class-in-itself until it learns to appreciate hoppy microbrews, but which has reached an accommodation with neo-liberalism in which these joys are reserved for the revolutionary vanguard. I’m not a member of it. Nor, I suspect, is anyone else whom Matt is disagreeing with. This is a rotten test-case for arguments about neo-liberalism, precisely because neo-liberals, left-liberals and social democrats have no reason to disagree with each other. In cases where there is a clash between (a) increasing individual choice, and (b) plausibly weakening political forces that help militate against inequality, there are real arguments to be had (and, depending on the specifics of the case, one might reasonably favor the one side or the other). But I’m not seeing any such clash here, and I’m rather confused as to why Matt thinks that there is, and that people to his left are engaging in special pleading so as to ignore it.

{ 90 comments }

1

Peter Frase 08.19.11 at 7:30 pm

Part of the problem here is that Matt seems to assume in places that you can’t have strong unions without a monopolistic cartel. Hence, if you support competition in the beer market, you must be objectively anti-union.

2

Washerdreyer 08.19.11 at 7:41 pm

Trying to charitably (and maybe incorrectly) interpret Yglesias’s point, I got something like this out of his posts: I, and a political tendency I allegedly represent, have been attacked for lacking a theory of politics, an argument which at times seems to mean that I and that tendency don’t understand that policy goals of ours require a strong labor movement for political support, and therefore we’re insufficiently critical of proposals that weaken labor power but otherwise have positive effects. Oh, look, here are simple praising beer deregulation, a proposal which weakened labor power* but otherwise had positive effects. I will note this tension.

*He seems to be wrong as an empirical matter about the weakening of labor power, both because of the size of the microbrew market, and more importantly, because of your point about market expansion as opposed to substitution.

3

Marc 08.19.11 at 7:49 pm

He’s always looking for bad analogies to support his hatred for teacher unions. When all you have is a hammer, and all that…

4

Patrick Lange 08.19.11 at 7:49 pm

I think Matt’s barking up the wrong tree on the “no producer surplus in a competitive beer market” angle. We’re transitioning from (effectively) a crappy beer cartel to a diverse selection of differentiated beers, so we’re moving towards monopolistic competition. Hence, there’s still a producer surplus, and therefore, by his model, a place for unions.

I have no idea what the unionization rate of regional cheap beer producers are (or in fact, if they’re even independent of the major conglomerates any more).

5

bianca steele 08.19.11 at 8:03 pm

What was amusing about Yglesias’s post to me was that he ignored the real, live issue (which I assume is what brought it to his attention): should Massachusetts repeal a law in a way that will have an adverse affect on small brewers in the state (including Sam Adams), but which is logical (the law isn’t being used the way it was intended)? Instead, he turned it around into the question whether it is logical for someone with left leaning political and economic opinions to prefer a world with lots of tasty beers over a world in which there’s only one (be it Miller, be it Coors), and he narrowed this even further into a question about unions. Gone are all the other issues: anything having to do with whether small competitors are logically to be preferred over big corporations, anything having to do with the pragmatic issues of supporting local food and local farmers and local brewers (or with the policy questions whether we should bother), anything having to do with the “cultural” issues of how and whether to support specialized tastes and/or the tastes of ordinary people. (In fact, the whole thing seems to boil down to “this is a only an unimportant cultural issue, trumped by the union issue,” and even the issue that this is the real argument is gone.)

6

Matthew Yglesias 08.19.11 at 8:03 pm

I endorse Washerdreyer’s interpretation of my argument.

If the reply to me is simply “it’s okay to run the risk of reducing labor’s power in this case because I don’t empirically believe that microbreweries will reduce the sales of Miller and Anheuser-Busch” then I’ll accept that, but it seems pretty ad hoc and contingent.

7

Matthew Yglesias 08.19.11 at 8:04 pm

“Matt seems to assume in places that you can’t have strong unions without a monopolistic cartel.”

I tried to pull away from this in the second post, because it’s contestable and not strictly relevant. I do think unions can do more for workers in markets with weak competition, but it’s not what’s at issue here.

8

Patrick 08.19.11 at 8:04 pm

And there’s an invidious bait and switch going on. Most microbrews are–for the people who buy them–better than the swill produced by the mega-brews. There is little or no evidence that charter schools produce a better product. (Yes, I think that “product” is already a bad way to think of education. Please bear with me.) The difference between charter schools and public schools, according to the available evidence, is about the same as the difference between Miller and Budweiser. Discussions of charter schools should be required to have at the top the latest data on achievement of students, controlled for parent involvement, student demographics, and other factors.

As an Irish-Canadian-American, I note that Labatt’s and Guinness are both unionized.

9

Matthew Yglesias 08.19.11 at 8:07 pm

“He’s always looking for bad analogies to support his hatred for teacher unions.”

See, this is what I’m talking about. If you think that parents should be allowed to send their kids to publicly funded charter schools, you will be said in many quarters to be driven by “hatred for teacher union.”

By that logic, are supporters of Carter-era regulatory changes that created new consumer options in the beer market driven by “hatred of brewery unions”?

Maybe they just think consumer choice is valuable?

10

Matthew Yglesias 08.19.11 at 8:08 pm

“There is little or no evidence that charter schools produce a better product.”

That’s quite true. As measured by test scores, the average charter school is basically identical to the average public school.

11

dictateursanguinaire 08.19.11 at 8:09 pm

This is based on a horrible strawman of the left – that they are for more regulation always and everywhere no matter what the regulation is. MY is caught up in his metaphysical/abstract universe while failing to see that the real nature of “the left” is generally an egalitarian impulse rather than a surface-level “love of regulation.” Does MY really think that, say, a Marxian economist would support, say, regulation designed by the barons of the regulated industry (as in the “captive regulators”?) In his conception of politics, it would appear so. Again, tremendous respect for the people who write here but I really think you take this guy too seriously. His is such a dumb and shallow misconception that I half believe that it’s in bad faith (certainly possible, given the well-documented excessive-combativeness that seems to strike moderate left folks when confronted with people they perceive to be ‘to their left’)

12

Matthew Yglesias 08.19.11 at 8:12 pm

One more thing on the empirics. The opening of this controversy was Tom Philpott’s article which appeared to be celebrating the imminent smashing of the big brewer cartel by microbrewers:

What all of this is telling me is that corporations control plenty, but they don’t control everything. Their dominance of US beer is a mile wide but paper thin. Grassroots energy and desire rescued beer from true corporate domination starting in 1980. The same can happen in other areas of the food system.

Henry’s view seems to be that Philpott is simply mistaken and there is no meaningful threat to the big brewers. Philpott, however, seems to think that they are threatened. Yet, some of these purveyors of “corporate domination” are union firms. If Philpott is correct, then labor is being undermined by this process he’s celebrating.

13

Steve LaBonne 08.19.11 at 8:13 pm

Maybe they just think consumer choice is valuable?

When it’s with your own money, sure, knock yourself out. When it’s with my tax dollars, taken out of the hide of the school where I (used to, she’s now in college) send my kid, you’d better damn well show me a real benefit, which doesn’t exist for charter schools.

14

Matthew Yglesias 08.19.11 at 8:15 pm

“This is based on a horrible strawman of the left – that they are for more regulation always and everywhere no matter what the regulation is.”

I don’t think that at all. I firmly consider myself to be on the left and I know lots of left-wing people who are often against many different kinds of regulation. It does seem to me to be the case that many (though clearly not all) people on the left are often in favor of regulations that bolster the position of unionized firms vis-a-vis new competitors.

15

paul 08.19.11 at 8:16 pm

I’d go further in contesting this whole line of argument. The claim seems ultimately to be that the total productivity of union workers in the beer industry is necessarily lower than the total productivity of non-union workers. And that’s just, uh, baloney.

Especially at relatively small breweries the quality of the final product is going to be critically dependent on the expertise and morale of the workforce. And (as Joss Whedon has noted in a different field but a functionally similar context) that’s what you get with unionized workers when you have respectful labor-management relations

The issue of whether smaller and microbreweries are currently unionized is another question; it’s quite possible that many of them would be doing better if they were.

16

Matthew Yglesias 08.19.11 at 8:19 pm

“The claim seems ultimately to be that the total productivity of union workers in the beer industry is necessarily lower than the total productivity of non-union workers. And that’s just, uh, baloney.”

Where did I make that claim? It neither sounds true, nor to be something that I said.

17

Henry 08.19.11 at 8:24 pm

Contingent, certainly – if by contingent you mean that my claim depends on the specifics of this particular industry. But hardly ad-hoc – I rather think that the ad-hoccery is on the other foot. Originally, you claimed that unions were necessarily hurt (and presumably in some significant way – or the argument would hardly be worth making) by the advent of microbrews, with the strong implication that microbrews were cutting into the market share of big beer. When I pointed out that microbrews constituted a small and isolated market, you suggested that charter schools too were a small percentage of the market, but that they were a threat. When I said that the mechanism through which charter schools were a possible threat (regulatory reform) couldn’t possibly apply to microbrews, you shifted to arguing that Tom Philpott and I were on a ‘neo-liberalism for me but not for thee’ kick. I’m getting the impression of an initial argument which was based on an inaccurate understanding of the market, and a series of ad-hoc replacements, none of which is particularly convincing. If you had some evidence that there microbrews _had_ a substantial impact on union bargaining strength in the mainstream American beer market, it would be a different story. But in the absence of such evidence, I really don’t think that I, or anyone else who disagrees with you on this, can be accused of ad-hoccery.

18

Henry 08.19.11 at 8:28 pm

Philpott has a lot of hope – but no evidence at all of shifts in market share. In fact quite the contrary.

19

L2P 08.19.11 at 8:34 pm

“It does seem to me to be the case that many (though clearly not all) people on the left are often in favor of regulations that bolster the position of unionized firms vis-a-vis new competitors.”

Assuming that’s true, let’s circle back around to the basic problems. Who’s going to provide the political support for the Matt Yglesian, deregulated, neoliberal, choice-loving, bike- and pedestrian – using, local-food growing, not-SUV-driving society you want to build when you (a) destroy all those unionized firms that (b) create the union jobs that (c) support the unions that (d) currently provide the vast majority of the support for anyone who has even the remotest interest in the agenda outside of freeing money up for billionaires?

As a guy who spends 90% of my time hanging out with the small business community, let me tell ya – they don’t got your back. Ever. They’re voting for lower taxes. If they aren’t voting for that, they’re voting for stuff to keep their SUV’s rolling in the burbs.

20

GU 08.19.11 at 8:37 pm

“There is little likelihood that the appeal of microbrews will lead state, local or federal officials to impose or encourage mandatory hopping levels on Anheuser-Busch, or that US unions would object if they did.”

Actually, some states have enacted maximum ABV laws for beer, which has the effect of banning many American microbrews (along with many Belgian, and some German beers). Some blame this on lobbying by Big Beer (which makes relatively low ABV beer).

21

jack lecou 08.19.11 at 8:39 pm

So much wrong here, I don’t know where to start.

One thing: The phrase “labor power” is imprecise. I think there’s some unhealthy conflation here of “labor [political] power” with “workers’ rights and a healthy middle class”.

It might be that the marginal market growth of small craft breweries has, marginally, encroached on the former (by reducing the percentage of unionized workforce overall, as well as reducing the size and political power of the unions in question).

But I’m even more skeptical of any claim that they have substantially harmed the second. My impression is that craft breweries are for the most part pretty decent places to work. The kinds of successful small(ish) businesses where workers and management already enjoy a pretty decent relationship. I would not be surprised if the wages were already relatively good, or if a few even managed to offer extravagances like health insurance.

In other words, I don’t think “liberals” would generally cite craft breweries as a particularly pressing example of what’s wrong with the economy, labor relations, wealth distribution, or politics. (It’s possible I/we am/are wrong about this – the call is out for examples of widespread poor labor conditions at craft breweries.)

So while it might be sorta nice if unionization in this country were more universal, and if even small businesses with good labor relations tended to be unionized as a matter of course — so that we could all reap the political benefits — this is really a vastly weaker point.

Note that when we talk about things like charter schools or teacher’s unions, the potential marginal threat to union political influence is not the first thing that liberals leap on. You don’t generally hear things like, “OMG, Michelle Rhee is going to make it slightly more difficult for AFT to support progressive candidates in political elections.” What you hear is talk about workers’ rights and management abuses. About the potential unfairness and perversity of linking employment to test results, say. It’s about workers, not politics. The latter is just a means to an end.

And I’m not getting a clear picture here of how microbreweries are a clear and present danger to workers’ rights or the middle class…

22

OCS 08.19.11 at 8:45 pm

I think Matt’s argument goes like this:

Unions can only exist in the presences of a monopoly extracting monopoly rents. In a truly competitive marketplace there’s no place for unions, since competition prevents the rents and there is no surplus profit to share with workers beyond the competitive wage each worker is able to negotiate. Therefore, pro-union leftists must necessarily support monopolies, since only they can have unionized workforces, and this support must take the form of buying only the products of those monopolies. (I suppose the logical conclusion is that progressives should push for the end of anti-trust legislation.)

But is there evidence that only monopolies can be profitably unionized? I don’t know the literature, but I’d love to hear from someone who does.

Or is it the case, as I suspect, that strong pro-union legislation would allow firms of all sizes the be profitably unionized — once you get enough firms in an industry segment unionized you’ve set a new floor for the cost of labor, and it becomes just another expense common to all firms, like the cost of gasoline or steel.

Someone please help — I don’t think I can go back to drinking Bud.

23

jack lecou 08.19.11 at 8:47 pm

(…With respect to charter schools, I should add that the concern also centers around the potential for undermining quality of education, equal access to education, or support for the institution of public education generally.)

24

Cranky Observer 08.19.11 at 8:52 pm

>> “Matt seems to assume in places that you can’t have strong
>> unions without a monopolistic cartel.”

> [person posting as] Matthew Yglesias
> I tried to pull away from this in the second post, because it’s
> contestable and not strictly relevant.

This habit of making an extreme, controversial, and (perhaps not coincidentally) click-inducing claim and then when called out on it state that you are “pulling away from this” where “this” is _your own argument_ is at best disingenuous. And since you generally go on to make claims about those contesting your point of view that are based on their response to the argument that you “pulled away from”, stronger words than disingenuous might be thought to apply as well.

Cranky

By the way, couple of questions: why have you stopped replying to comments at your own blog? And have you spent any time volunteering at your local DC public school yet?

25

jack lecou 08.19.11 at 8:53 pm

But is there evidence that only monopolies can be profitably unionized? I don’t know the literature, but I’d love to hear from someone who does.

I think the consensus is NO.

I mean, maybe in econ 101, where a theoretical firm in a perfectly competitive market has zero producer surplus to dole out, but that’s hardly world we live in. And I’m not even sure it’s true there.

26

Hogan 08.19.11 at 8:55 pm

Unions: why we can’t have nice things.

27

Cranky Observer 08.19.11 at 8:57 pm

> OCS
> I think Matt’s argument goes like this:
> [...]
> Unions can only exist in the presences of a monopoly extracting
> monopoly rents. In a truly competitive marketplace there’s no place
> for unions, since competition prevents the rents and there is no
> surplus profit to share with workers beyond the competitive wage
> each worker is able to negotiate.

Only someone who has never held any significant responsibility at, or participated in even the outermost of the inner decision-making circles in, a profit-making business could think that. There are thousands of businesses – some of them quite good-sized – that manage to maintain market share and decent profit margin and cash flow for long periods of time without being forced out by hordes of Micro 101-based “entrants”. How to do that is of course the trick, but it isn’t uncommon.

Cranky

28

shah8 08.19.11 at 9:00 pm

It’s generally expected that you school your child.

It’s not generally expected that you drink or appreciate beer.

Had a much longer post destroyed by hitting backspace (instead of shift-tab) when I’ve already tabbed onto Submit.

The core of the piece was:

1) Much inequality that results from honest neoliberalism comes from information rents. By and large, it’s a good way to have inequality. I would not say such for schools, though.

2) We think too much about unions in past contexts. Our labor problems are so large such that government is probably going to be more key than unions are, whether we strengthen them or not.

29

LizardBreath 08.19.11 at 9:04 pm

I tried to pull away from this in the second post, because it’s contestable and not strictly relevant. I do think unions can do more for workers in markets with weak competition, but it’s not what’s at issue here.

Isn’t this absolutely necessary for your argument to make any sense? If it’s not true, than there’s no reason to think that the expansion of craft brewing has anything to do with the fate of unionized brewery workers, and liking microbrews has nothing to do with neoliberalism. (And really, even if it is true but it’s not obvious or self-evident, which I think it clearly isn’t, that someone doesn’t oppose the entry of microbrews into the beer market doesn’t say anything about their opinions on neoliberalism, only on their beliefs about the lack of connection between microbrews and unions.)

30

jack lecou 08.19.11 at 9:05 pm

See, this is what I’m talking about. If you think that parents should be allowed to send their kids to publicly funded charter schools, you will be said in many quarters to be driven by “hatred for teacher union.”

By that logic, are supporters of Carter-era regulatory changes that created new consumer options in the beer market driven by “hatred of brewery unions”?

Maybe they just think consumer choice is valuable?

You really don’t see anything else different about these situations that might cause people to react differently?

31

Dan O'H 08.19.11 at 9:07 pm

Tony Judt is apparently a believer, if not in Bierstalinismus, then at least in Biermarxismus. From Postwar:

Britain’s remarkably successful Campaign for Real Ale is a representative instance [of single-issue campaigns]: founded in 1971 to reverse the trend to gaseous, homogenized ‘lager’ beer (and the similarly homogenized, ‘modernized’ pubs in which it was sold), this middle-class pressure group rested its case upon a neo-Marxist account of the take-over of artisanal beer manufacture by mass-producing monopolists who manipulated beer-drinkers for corporate profit – alienating consumers from their own taste buds by meretricious substitution.
In its rather effective mix of economic analysis, environmental concern, aesthetic discrimination and plain nostalgia, CAMRA foreshadowed many of the single-issue activist networks of years to come, as well as the coming fashion among well-heeled bourgeois-bohemians for the expensively ‘authentic’.

32

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.19.11 at 9:07 pm

The thing is, without unions there is no truly competitive marketplace. Because without unions all the ‘competition’ is about reducing the labor cost – instead of innovating, increasing productivity.

33

Cranky Observer 08.19.11 at 9:13 pm

> shah8
> 2) We think too much about unions in past contexts. Our labor
> problems are so large such that government is probably going to
> be more key than unions are, whether we strengthen them or not.

To put some numbers on that:

= = = = =
http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm

In 2010, the union membership rate–the percent of wage and salary workers who were
members of a union–was 11.9 percent, down from 12.3 percent a year earlier, the U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of wage and salary workers be-
longing to unions declined by 612,000 to 14.7 million. In 1983, the first year for
which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 per-
cent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.

The data on union membership were collected as part of the Current Population Sur-
vey (CPS), a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households that obtains informa-
tion on employment and unemployment among the nation’s civilian noninstitutional
population age 16 and over. For more information see the Technical Note.

Highlights from the 2010 data:

–The union membership rate for public sector workers (36.2 percent) was
substantially higher than the rate for private sector workers (6.9 percent).
(See table 3.)

–Workers in education, training, and library occupations had the highest
unionization rate at 37.1 percent. (See table 3.)
= = = = =

So even with education admittedly being heavily unionized it is only a bit more than 1/3 of the workforce. And the total unionized percent is now down to 11.9.

Cranky

34

dictateursanguinaire 08.19.11 at 9:46 pm

@Matt

Dunno man, a sizable chunk of your output seems directed at these sorts of issues where you yourself concede that few people are against you. Further, these issues also seem irrelevant, anyways, in the context of what’s going on in the world, except to score points for “neoliberalism” (or as Henry noted, to make unhelpful analogies with the actually-relevant issues.) It just seems like there might be better things to be thinking and blogging about, at least for someone with your readership and especially in these times. Just food for thought. Maybe you don’t think the way I said you do, but I’m not sure one would realize that just from reading you.

35

nick s 08.19.11 at 9:59 pm

My impression is that craft breweries are for the most part pretty decent places to work.

You can make a lot of beer with not many people. The Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) has a total of 780 employees, and it’s huge by craft standards, but that’s fewer than a single Budweiser plant. Dogfish Head has around 150; brewers can have a large regional footprint and still only employ 20-30 people. If your local brewer has a website with a picture of every employee, chances are that it’s not in desperate need of a union.

However, there’s an story from Portland (the initial story written from the union side) about how workplace relations at Rogue led to contact with the local Teamsters. Worth reading.

36

rethinkecon 08.19.11 at 10:54 pm

Matt, you might want to subscribe to Laborstart’s union news feed or get to know more labor folks. Some of the biggest US union successes in the last two decades have been in organizing folks who work in extremely competitive markets where there was lots of choice — janitors, home care workers, and child care workers. When I worked for SEIU, in Chicago alone there were contracts with thousands of tiny janitorial service companies (structured through a master contract). In fact, organizing home care workers and child care workers was so successful that unions ended up in brutal state by state fights over who got to represent them.

Is it easier for working folks to have more power on the job when their employers have a lock on the market? Sure — sometimes. But if you talk with progressive union folks, this wouldn’t make the top 20 issues they care about in building power for working families.

37

Satan Mayo 08.19.11 at 11:16 pm

I think the semi-intuitive idea that “giant oligopolistic company = unionized company” may not be the best theory here. Maybe it’s more that a corporation that existed before 1970 is more likely to be a unionized company than a company founded in our glorious globalized Thatcher/Reagan-transformed winner-take-all world. And these pre-1970 companies happen to be giant and oligopolistic.

38

john in california 08.19.11 at 11:28 pm

Was not Matt Y. an enthusiastic supporter of the invasion of Iraq? And wasn’t his excuse that all his buds were for it so he was, too? People can grow and people can change but too take such a childishly callus stance about something that can cause so much suffering will make any opinion such a person ever has, suspect.

39

P O'Neill 08.19.11 at 11:56 pm

OK everyone, telecom deregulation, for or against? Verizon fixed line workers seem adversely affected by it.

40

Cranky Observer 08.20.11 at 12:06 am

> OK everyone, telecom deregulation, for or against? Verizon
> fixed line workers seem adversely affected by it.

Excellent example. By “deregulation” do you mean:

1) Breaking up the AT&T monopoly and voiding many anticompetitive regulations (both the government’s and AT&T’s)? Probably a good thing on net, although it had many unanticipated consequences (severe degradation of voice call quality; loss of any long-term technical research in communications).

2) Abandonment of essentially all economic, quality of service, and customer service regulation by any governmental entity state or federal over telecommunications carriers, along with any form of oversight (not to mention civil or criminal prosecution)? Because this has been a disaster for the American citizen/consumer and will continue to be more of a disaster as our all the interconnections in our world are broken up into “monetizible” chunks and sold on a subscription basis.

Cranky

41

Tom Bach 08.20.11 at 12:15 am

According to the Dogfish Brewery guy, Carter’s deregulation of private brewing had little to do with the craft brewery explosion.[1] It was, rather, states changing prohibition era rules. Secondly, beer is a commodity and eduction isn’t. Thirdly, neoliberalism is wrong about everything.

[1]http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/11/24/081124fa_fact_bilger?currentPage=all
“As it turned out, there was a reason that Delaware had no breweries like Calagione’s. Prohibition had been over for sixty years, but it was still illegal for a pub to bottle and distribute its own beer. Calagione found this out not long after he’d signed the lease. Luckily, Delaware was also very small and very friendly to business. “I literally drove to Dover, asked which one is the House and which is the Senate, and started knocking on doors,” he remembers. “They said, ‘You want to do what, son? Well, write up a bill!’ ” Six months later, the governor signed the bill into law. The only hitch had come when Calagione was applying for his liquor license, and one of the commissioners brought up his recent arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol. Calagione admitted to the incident—a few weeks earlier, on his way home from a restaurant, he’d run into a parked car and dislocated his shoulder—but added a small correction. The actual infraction was a P.U.I., he said: pedalling under the influence. ‘Commissioner, I was on a bicycle.'”

42

bianca steele 08.20.11 at 12:29 am

Cranky,
The FCC still does regulate product offerings by phone companies. (You would think this would give them some leverage at the moment, but AFAICT they’re not being pushed to use it in part because progressives and the like are too much into “net neutrality.”)

43

Cranky Observer 08.20.11 at 12:45 am

Bianca @12:29,
As I do buy high-volume telecom and datacom services from time to time and deal with the telco’s contracts, tariffs, billing departments, and general high-handedness you will have to work fairly hard to convince me that there is any meaningful regulation of the telcos going on. But you will have to work _really_ hard to convince me that this is the result of progressives’ pressure on the FCC!

Cranky

44

BertCT 08.20.11 at 2:11 am

Look no further than Coors to see the utter inanity in this argument. the third largest brewer is virulently anti-union, and still produces one of the crappiest brews in the world (I’d drink Hoegaarden before Coors). And many of the “craft” brews are made by third-party, large-scale, UNION facilities.

These wasn’t just a bad argument, it was a truly ignorant one.

45

Gene O'Grady 08.20.11 at 2:28 am

I was working for a BOC (Bell Operating Company) at the time of divestiture. As far as I am concerned it was by and large a bad deal. Trying getting an obvious wrong charge taken off your bill nowadays.

Ten years or so ago I was working for a medical center where the facilities people where I worked were having a union organizing campaign, beaten narrowly by tactics that probably did more harm than the union would have done. I remember sitting in the office of one of the line supervisors who was a good friend while he agonized over whether he wanted the union to win or not — didn’t want to deal with some of the hassles, but really wanted his staff to have access to the union training programs, because in his field that was the only good training available. Matt, over to you on that issue.

46

Dragon-King Wangchuck 08.20.11 at 4:40 am

See, this is what I’m talking about. If you think that parents should be allowed to send their kids to publicly funded charter schools, you will be said in many quarters to be driven by “hatred for teacher union.”

See, this is what I’m talking about. I’m generally pretty pro-Yglesias but d00d has some shitty-ass analogies (apologies for teh language, but that’s as far as I can tone it down).

Maybe if everyone was legally mandated to consume some amount of beer. Maybe if beer consumption had a strong direct correlation with future income and career prospects. Maybe if industry demanded minimum beer consumptions requirements for employment. Or maybe beer and education have characteristics that make teh analogy less than enlightening.

Sure beer is an important part of a lot of people’s lives, but BM Matt is comparing beer to education. This is just plain dumb. But hey, for teh sake of teh arguings, let’s ignore teh screwed-up-ness of the fundamental premise.

It looks to me like what Yglesias is saying – hey look, if you support deregulation of teh brewing and selling of alcoholic beverages, a move that lead to brew pubs and microbreweries and quality craft beers – then to be consistent you have to support deregulating education and opening up competition in the education market.

Now we are granting Matt the massively huge gimme of equating beer and education (i.e. teh first two years of college all over again!). Meaning we are not going to say that teh A is B argument also means that we should therefore be deregulating highly unionized police forces and just having BlackWater and Paladin from Have Blog Will Travel compete for those contracts. Presumably on an individual to individual (i.e. not municipality or other collective group) basis. Just like Charter Schools! We are also not going to point out that having a crappy failure of a microbrewery leads to some people having bad experiences with their beverages while having a crappy failure for primary education has slightly larger costs. Hand wave all of that. We are only dealing with Yglesias’ fucked up rules here.

Well, the analogy still falls apart. Acknowledged throughout this discussion is the recognition that one of the advantages microbreweries have over Big Beer – from a quality of product perspective – is that they can suit regional preferences. Education already does that. The Big Teacher Union scam already has thousands upon thousands of local schools that cater very specifically to their communities. Often the local shool is considered a fundamental institution of the community – in a way that even the most successful brewpubs would envy. Despite NCLB, students are not agglomerated into 12 mega facilities nationwide (the number of Anheuser-Busch InBev breweries in teh US).

The other big advantage? Being able to do new products and experiment with offerings. With the much smaller scale, it’s way easier to try different approaches to things. Guess what? Current education delivery already offers that. Something that BM Matt who lives in Michelle Rhee’s former bailiwick might have understood. Also too (and while this is violating the beer-education parity rules I accepted earlier, it’s an irresistable dig) – as demonstrated by Michelle Rhee, new products with respect to education = not always beneficial.

BUT, in BM Matt’s defense, if you ignore the structural aspects of education and industrial beermaking except the unionization part (and also ignore all the handwave bits about this assessment not being valid for any other comparison and accepting the equivalence in importance to society of beer and schooling) then yes, he may have a point. He also might not, but I have contorted myself so far out of whack in order to try and see what he was getting at that I don’t know what I’m looking at anymore.

47

willf 08.20.11 at 4:49 am

Perhaps there is some Bierstalinismus Fraktion out there, which believes that the proletariat will never be fully realized as a class-in-itself until it learns to appreciate hoppy microbrews

The militant wing of the I.P.A.?

48

Harold 08.20.11 at 6:00 am

Matt seems to be angling for a job on Freakonomics.

49

Philip 08.20.11 at 8:51 am

I appreciate a choice in beer, but wouldn’t really appreciate the same for education. All I would want is to know wherever I lived in the country I could be confident of sending my kids to their local school and receiving a good quality education. Here in the UK politicians love rhetoric of market solutions bringing choice into education and healthcare, when privatisation hasn’t even worked for the railways.

50

anthony 08.20.11 at 11:02 am

“You can make a lot of beer with not many people.”

Very true. I did the tour of the Kirin Brewery in Yokohama and saw barely a handful of guys on the floor to keep an eye on the automated forklifts.

51

Barry 08.20.11 at 12:15 pm

(apologies for skipping to the end, in case this point was already made)

Cranky Observer:
“Only someone who has never held any significant responsibility at, or participated in even the outermost of the inner decision-making circles in, a profit-making business could think that. There are thousands of businesses – some of them quite good-sized – that manage to maintain market share and decent profit margin and cash flow for long periods of time without being forced out by hordes of Micro 101-based “entrants”. How to do that is of course the trick, but it isn’t uncommon.”

Matt is a neo-liberal, which is a discredited and dishonest doctrine which pretends to be liberal, but enjoys nothing more than screwing over the bottom 90% to benefit the top 10% – unless it’s screwing over the bottom 99% to benefit the top 1%. He was obviously trained by the Bush Administration hack Mankiw, and has not figured out that Econ 101 is not an accurate view of the world.

He’s also a gleeful hippy basher, and doesn’t understand that weakening those on his left strengthens those on his right – which is a telling point about his revealed political preferences.

I predict a long and successful media career for him. I’m actually surprised the ‘Even the Liberal’ New Republic hasn’t snatched him up.

52

Hidari 08.20.11 at 12:49 pm

Since the premises of this argument are self-evidently absurd, can we not just turn this into a discussion about beers we like? And then go to the pub and drink them?

53

Matt L 08.20.11 at 1:15 pm

Bierstalinismus… sounds deliciously authoritarian! sign me up! and where can I find a local cell?

54

Cranky Observer 08.20.11 at 1:31 pm

It is amusing to see MY show up early in these threads, exchange a few comments with name posters only, then disappear once his arguments start getting dissected by the riff raff.

Cranky

55

Jonathan H. Adler 08.20.11 at 1:38 pm

I have no opinion on the larger question, but pointing to unionized breweries in Europe is a non-sequitur. European labor law is quite different than U.S. labor law, and has quite different effects on the incentives and behavior of both labor and management.

JHA

56

Cranky Observer 08.20.11 at 3:56 pm

> I have no opinion on the larger question, but pointing to unionized breweries
> in Europe is a non-sequitur. European labor law is quite different than
> U.S. labor law, and has quite different effects on the incentives and
> behavior of both labor and management.

Respectfully I will have to disagree, since it is a key tenant of neoliberalism that it would be “impossible” to have a system of labor law and mutual respect for labor similar to, say, Germany’s in the United States. Whereas liberals believe that is a very open question, not an axiom.

Cranky

57

Eric Titus 08.20.11 at 3:59 pm

Craft beers seem like a strange point of comparison for schools–after all, it’s pretty clear that we could improve the educational system if we doubled or tripled the cost and made other improvements to the system, irregardless of unionization. A better point of comparison might be Coors, which also makes cheap beer, but has an active anti-union policy and gives money to the Heritage foundation. And its certainly possible to have unions when there are more choices–most of the major bourbon maker are unionized.

But the points Yglesias is making about the beer industry are by no means new. Fractured industries may generate more and better choices, but may also lead to worse compensation for workers. Large publishers, movie studios, and hotel chains often treat their employees better than their independent counterparts (though they also have a wider gap in pay between workers and executives). But it would be ridiculous to claim that self-respecting liberals should eschew independent films, and Yglesias should know better.

I’d recommend checking out the following pro-union post: http://talkingunion.wordpress.com/2010/07/03/drink-union-this-weekend-your-guide-to-union-made-beer/

58

Jeff 08.20.11 at 4:16 pm

Some small brewers are in the vanguard of the class struggle!
New Albanian: These machines kill fascists

59

William Timberman 08.20.11 at 4:20 pm

But it would be ridiculous to claim that self-respecting liberals should eschew independent films, and Yglesias should know better.

He does know better; he’s just doing his job as part of the neoliberal border police. Sometimes, when you’re way out on the edge of the leftist wilderness, living out of your saddlebags, and confronting all those suspicious holes in the barbed wire, you’ve really got no choice but to phone it in.

What he tells his friends, I have no idea, but his message to us: après nous, le Déluge, is unlikely to convice anyone not already on board.

60

Uncle Kvetch 08.20.11 at 4:37 pm

Maybe if everyone was legally mandated to consume some amount of beer. Maybe if beer consumption had a strong direct correlation with future income and career prospects. Maybe if industry demanded minimum beer consumptions requirements for employment. Or maybe beer and education have characteristics that make teh analogy less than enlightening.

Bingo. Students are not widgets. There’s really nothing else that needs to be said, is there?

Every once in awhile Yglesias pulls something like this that makes me think his most virulent detractors are absolutely right.

61

MPAVictoria 08.20.11 at 4:45 pm

“It is amusing to see MY show up early in these threads, exchange a few comments with name posters only, then disappear once his arguments start getting dissected by the riff raff.

Cranky”

Well to be fair Cranky it would be more than a full time job for him to reply to every comment. However, I would love to see him reply to some of yours. Always impressed with the point of view you bring to any discussion here.

62

Henry 08.20.11 at 5:16 pm

Jonathan – do you have some plausible evidence (or, at least, a decent theory) as to why it would be that European unions would be compatible with good beer, while US unionization was necessarily associated with crap beer? In the absence of some relevant causal mechanism such that the two types of union are incomparable on some directly relevant dimension, then your claim that this is a non-sequitur is itself a non sequitur (more precisely – there is a missing middle to your argument that you have not deigned to share with us).

63

Tom T. 08.20.11 at 5:50 pm

#60: “Bingo. Students are not widgets.”

Presumably MY would say that this is precisely his point, however.

64

Steve LaBonne 08.20.11 at 6:42 pm

Presumably MY would say that this is precisely his point, however.

He has a point? Other than his incessant automated “teacher’s unions bad, charter schools good, don’t confuse me with facts” refrain, that is.

65

Sebastian(1) 08.20.11 at 7:01 pm

On the larger issue, I think MY picked a very crappy analogy indeed. Telecom deregulation as pointed out above would have been more interesting:
Is an ATT/T-Mobile merger a good thing because the former is a union-shop and the latter is virulently anti union (in the US) or is it a bad thing because it reduces consumer choices and pushes the market towards an effective duopoly? I think that question is an actual dilemma based on an actual empirical realities.

@Henry (62)
I think you can very well make the case that the relevant difference btw. the US and Europe here is the nature of collective bargaining. Even where unionization rates are quite low, many firms will adhere to collectively bargained contracts, at times even when they don’t have any union workers (cue the role and nature of employer associations, collective bargaining laws, the ban on closed-shops etc.). As a result, you could argue that wage competition plays a smaller role in the market place, even where small firms are involved, and thus quality competition becomes more important.

That said, and I say that as a German, I think the quality of European beer is dramatically overstated. The quality and diversity of beer in the microbrew hubs of the US puts anything I’ve seen in Germany to shame.

66

christian_h 08.20.11 at 7:50 pm

Microbreweries are not founded in order to break a union. They are founded in order to produce and sell beer, and may or may not be unionised. The reason most are not is simply that they are fairly young and small companies, and the state of the US industrial (as opposed to service, or public employee) labour movement is such that holding on to work forces already unionised is pretty much all it can do.

Charter schools, on the other hand, are not in fact founded to offer “school choice” – that is just a slogan tapping into the common sense of consumerist capitalism most people have developed (“freedom = choice of what to consume”); they are promoted precisely to (a) open up yet another public service for private profit and (b) break unions. In fact most charter proponents are very open about this purpose, since they claim that public schools are bad because of the power of teachers’ unions.

So Matt isn’t even comparing apples and oranges. Or apples and widgets. He’s comparing a lemonade stand with highway robbery.

67

Jonathan H. Adler 08.20.11 at 10:04 pm

Henry –

There are many theories as to why unions in Europe have different effects on firm management and product quality than in the U.S. and why we may see a quality difference between union and non-union firms in the U.S. but not elsewhere.

Among other things, unionization rates are far higher in Europe (over 50% in Belgium) and there is less of a wage and benefit differential between union and non-union firms in most western European nations. Insofar as this is the result of imposing various requirements on firms, this can reduce the competitive advantage of non-unionized firms forcing greater competition in quality instead of price. Such requirements can also operate as a barrier to entry and therefore reduce range of producers in an industry. The lack of much wage and benefit differential between union and non-union firms may also encourage unions to offer benefits to members beyond collective bargaining (benefit programs, training, other forms of representation). which might have quality effects as might more “cooperative” approaches to workplace management (e.g. work councils, etc.). And so on. The point is that the legal and institutional differences are significant enough, and have sufficient economic effects, that one has to be very careful about making cross-national industry comparisons, particularly when the factor at issue (here, unionization) does not operate the same way in each country.

JHA

68

Cranky Observer 08.20.11 at 10:11 pm

> There are many theories as to why unions in Europe have different
> effects on firm management and product quality than in the U.S. and
> why we may see a quality difference between union and non-union
> firms in the U.S. but not elsewhere.

If you spend any time living in St. Louis you will eventually run into some brewmasters from Anheuser-Busch, and they will tell you (and demonstrate if they have any of their in-house work to bring home) that they can make beer as “good” – by the beer connoisseur’s definition of good – as anyone in the world. That just isn’t what sells in supertanker quantities to the US public, however, so that isn’t what they make in bulk. Why that is so would make a fascinating chicken/egg, marketing/taste discussion but I don’t think you can blame unionized workers one way or another.

Cranky

69

Understudy 08.21.11 at 12:56 am

As a new resident of Pennsylvania, I am living a better example than Matt’s. The state run liquor stores in PA are unionized and very active in state democratic political campaigns. I have heard multiple times from liberal/democratic friends that they oppose privatization b/c it will hurt a loyal Democratic union. Beer, wine and spirits have to be approved by the state LCB to be sold in the state, to the detriment of small brewery, vineyard, and especially single malt, lovers …

70

Myles 08.21.11 at 1:54 am

The state run liquor stores in PA are unionized and very active in state democratic political campaigns. I have heard multiple times from liberal/democratic friends that they oppose privatization b/c it will hurt a loyal Democratic union. Beer, wine and spirits have to be approved by the state LCB to be sold in the state, to the detriment of small brewery, vineyard, and especially single malt, lovers …

I think this could be summed thus: “As just about anyone who lives in North America knows, Pennsylvania is the literally and superlatively the shittiest jurisdiction, without any reservations whatsoever, on the entire continent in terms of sale of alcohol.”

Thus, it’s not a surprise that sale of alcohol in Pennsylvania is both a monopoly and a monopsony.

71

Harold 08.21.11 at 2:04 am

This Sunday’s NYT has a definitive book review:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/books/review/class-warfare-by-steven-brill-book-review.html?ref=booksarticle detailing the total failure of charter schools.

At one time a reputable movement, the charter schools are currently being funded by folks (some of them quite disreputable) with an undisguised agenda to privatize and hugely profit from education in the US when they can “run it like a business.” Sadly, some of these same bozos fund Think Progress, a so-called progressive site where one can look in vain for comparable honesty.

72

Harold 08.21.11 at 2:10 am

MY: “Reasonable people can differ, of course, about how to improve school quality. But beware apologists for the status quo bearing jargon about “corporate” reformers and the like.” http://thinkprogress.org/yglesias/2011/05/16/201003/corporate-education-reform/

Note: comments for the above no longer available.

73

Harold 08.21.11 at 2:19 am

74

ben w 08.21.11 at 2:57 am

Not only am I prepared to share a blog with such people, I’m even married to one of them.

Well I don’t know about your wife but some of the references to beer dsquared makes on twitter have given me a bit of a shock on occasion.

75

BertCT 08.21.11 at 5:05 pm

Theone obvious point missing from almost EVERY comment is that unions have NO IMPACT on the taste or quality of beer produced. That is controlled 100% by the corporation. If AB/InBev thought they could sell ten more bottles of Budweiser if it tasted exactly like Well’s Banana Bread, that is exactly how it would taste.

The taste of Beer from the major producers is controlled by what people buy. Period. And the “Quality” of the beer is actually better controlled and likely “higher” by most subjective measures than any microbrew could ever hope.

Confusing taste with quality is about as intelligent as saying all unions (or all right wingers) are evil.

76

piglet 08.21.11 at 5:40 pm

One of the depressing aspects of this debate is the narrow American horizon espoused by Yglesias. For example, Unibroue seems to be unionized: http://www.houblon.net/article.php3?id_article=4296

German brewery employees are represented by Nahrung-Genuss-Gaststätten (NGG), that includes afaik small breweries. I guess it’s a waste of time trying to refute Yglesias since he doesn’t care about facts.

77

piglet 08.21.11 at 5:44 pm

“By that logic, are supporters of Carter-era regulatory changes that created new consumer options in the beer market driven by “hatred of brewery unions”? Maybe they just think consumer choice is valuable?”

American alcohol regulation is in many ways bizarre and not comparable to any other Western country. What does this have to do with unions?

78

mitgrad 08.21.11 at 5:51 pm

Bert and Cranky are right re “quality” of production at the large corporate plants vs microbreweries. It’s not quite like McDonalds vs a french bistro, where at the McDonalds the low level of staff skill, limited equipment, and rapid production model means that even if you brought in a bunch of high quality ingredients you couldn’t duplicate haute cuisine.

In contrast, Budweiser has all of the expertise and equipment you would need to make truly awesome beer, you just need the right recipe(*). Indeed, Bud would probably do better at avoiding off flavors from various sorts of glitches. As an example of this, the now-defunct Henry Weinhard’s brewery in Portland OR made everything from Heidelburg, super-cheap swill for those who find Hamms too luxe, to brewing all of the Sam Adams beers for the West Coast. Same production line, same workers, different recipes. Beer brewing, wonder that it is, can be done in a home kitchen but scales up very nicely — you just have to want to make good beer.

(*) I know some will disagree, enjoying the quaintness of a brewpub where no two batches are the same. And Belgian styles with wild fermentation wouldn’t take so well. I guess I lean towards the German style of tasty beers made with very high quality ingredients, but with technical precision and consistency.

One caveat is

79

piglet 08.21.11 at 6:07 pm

“The state run liquor stores in PA are unionized and very active in state democratic political campaigns. I have heard multiple times from liberal/democratic friends that they oppose privatization b/c it will hurt a loyal Democratic union. Beer, wine and spirits have to be approved by the state LCB to be sold in the state, to the detriment of small brewery, vineyard, and especially single malt, lovers …”

Quebec also has state-run unionized liquor stores and all imports must be approved by the state but you can also buy a multitude of excellent craft alcohols at the Farmer’s Market.

Arkansas does not have state-run unionized liquor stores but nevertheless all imports have to be approved by the state. Moreover, you *can’t* buy alcohol at the Farmer’s Market. Again, if lack of diversity in PA is blamed on the unions, what do you blame it on in AR and many other states?

80

William Timberman 08.21.11 at 6:07 pm

Quality, pace BertCD, is one of those portmanteau words. It doesn’t quite mean anything you want it to mean, but in the context of beer it does mean something more than sanitary, or unadulterated. Budweiser and Coors Light exist because a denatured beer — a beer that non-beerdrinkers find palatable — can potentially find a bigger market than a traditionally-brewed beer, just as football as circus can fill a bigger stadium than football for aficionados of the game. Unions (and Matt Yglesias) have bugger-all to do with that, except, of course, that Matt neglects to mention that you rarely find industrial unions organizing mom-and-pop enterprises. Wonkish sophistry aside, scale is the problem here, as with democracy and power relations generally.

81

Steve LaBonne 08.21.11 at 6:38 pm

Beer, wine and spirits have to be approved by the state LCB to be sold in the state, to the detriment of small brewery, vineyard, and especially single malt, lovers …

And the problem is the corrupt relationship between the LCB (there and in other states that have such things) and the big distributors, and has absolutely fuck-all to do with unions.

82

Steve LaBonne 08.21.11 at 6:40 pm

American alcohol regulation America is in many ways bizarre and not comparable to any other Western country.

FTFY. ;)

83

Steve LaBonne 08.21.11 at 6:53 pm

By the way, just to provide another completely meaningless data point, I buy most of my beer from a unionized supermarket that has a very decent selection of Belgian imports and US (and Canadian, i.e. Unibroue) craft brews. Wally World, which of course is very much non-union, has a shitty beer selection. So there. ;)

84

bianca steele 08.21.11 at 6:56 pm

I’ve seen a lot of Pa. distributorships, and they sure look union to me.

85

P.D. 08.21.11 at 7:57 pm

“Quality, pace BertCD, is one of those portmanteau words. It doesn’t quite mean anything you want it to mean, but in the context of beer it does mean something more than sanitary, or unadulterated.”

Pedantic side point: You can’t make “portmanteau” mean anything you want it to mean. A portmanteau word is one which is two or more words said on top of one another. A canonical example is “frumious”.

What you are suggesting is that “quality” is ambiguous, or that it’s a weasel word.

86

Steve LaBonne 08.21.11 at 8:03 pm

You can’t make “portmanteau” mean anything you want it to mean.

Ironic that that Humpty Dumpty asserts that very right in the same chapter in which he compares “slithy” to a portmanteau…

87

William Timberman 08.21.11 at 9:49 pm

P.D. @ 85

No, I don’t suppose I could have expected to get away with what Humpty Dumpty got away with, but then what quality means is contextual — and BertCD was insisting that there was only one context, when clearly at least two were simultaneously at issue. Sometimes Humpty Dumpty is both right and wrong, no matter what he does. …May God us keep/from Single vision & Newtons sleep… Etc., etc.

88

Andrew 08.22.11 at 12:30 am

It’s always a waste of time to overanalyze an analogy.

89

Stuart Buck 08.22.11 at 2:38 am

Harold and Steve, it might be useful to look at some of the literature on charter schools. See http://stuartbuck.blogspot.com/2011/08/charter-school-research.html

90

Henry 08.22.11 at 5:09 pm

Jonathan – these are not unreasonable arguments – but I don’t think they do all that much explanatory owrk – and they certainly don’t do much to disprove what was a quite minimal claim on my part (that good beer and unions are compatible). At the most, what you have are some reasons why European unions might be somewhat more likely to be compatible with good beer making than US unions. I don’t think that you have the makings of an argument that US unions are necessarily damaging to beer quality in a way that European unions are not. More generally, I really don’t think that unionization has all that much to do with the quality of beer production (for better or worse) – the more plausible economic factors have to do with control of market, and in particular control of the means of distribution which can allow lazy monopolists to stay lazy. The arguments that you make mostly apply to markets where quality is objectively measurable – c.f. Wolfgang Streeck on German machine tools, where there really is competition on quality. They don’t explain beer production, where perceived quality depends on tastes that are themselves the product of a mixture of semi-arbitrary social factors, access to goods when tastes are being formed etc, as demonstrated by the very wide local variation in Germany, Belgium etc in beliefs about what constitutes a ‘good’ beer. “Quality” – as measured by consistency, likelihood that you’re going to get sick as a result of bacterial infection (as opposed to overly enthusiastic imbibement) etc, is pretty constant across the industry, and indeed across Europe and the US, I would think.

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