In the comments on the main page about teachers unions, DensityDuck asks “why teachers—who are most surely highly-educated persons with prized skills—need to be in a union at all,” to which Burt Likko responds “[b]ecause, for the most part, they are selling their labor in a monopsony market, which tends to drive the price of the commodity in question (here, the labor of teachers) down dramatically.” I asked Burt this question in follow-up, but I’m curious if anyone else has a good answer:
Here’s something I’ve struggled to understand about that argument. We put the government in charge of building schools. Why? Because it is a matter of public policy entrusted to government. We put the government in charge of designing curricula. Why? Public policy, entrusted to government. We put the government in charge of designing school districts and administering school facilities, etc. Why? Policy, government. All other issues concerning public education are all set by government, all for the same reason: Government just is the body we’ve established to make public policy decisions of this sort.
So why, just when it comes to questions of teachers’ pay and benefits, do we decide government has suddenly become lousy and can’t be trusted to set public policy, and that special interests are the only way to fairly serve the public? The way I see it, if you’re going to make the argument that as to teachers, government is a monopsony and thus can’t be trusted to set good policy for educators, then you’d also have to make the argument with equal force that as to parents and children, government is a monopoly and thus can’t be trusted to set good policy for students.
I’ve made this point before, and the best argument I’ve heard in response is that smaller governments are less likely to be seen as reliably reflecting “public policy,” and are instead in competition with other local governments, thereby driving up the value of getting cheap services and driving down the value of setting good policy. Even if this were the case, is there any other response to the question in the case of unions that negotiate directly with the state rather than with local governments? I ask because I plan to reprise the above argument in my forthcoming piece on the California prison guards union.