There’s a movement afoot in my home state of Vermont to allow preschool and daycare providers to unionize. Howard Dean claims that the proposed bill “makes for common sense public policy“. According to an article on the proposal, “supporters say the effort will allow them to negotiate better pay and benefits and, at the same time, have a greater say in establishing workforce standards and programs to boost professional development.”

I don’t know enough about this to be justified in having a strong opinion. That said, the idea of having a union of independent childcare providers seems weird to me. The point of unions is to give workers more bargaining power so that gains from firms’ profits are split more fairly. Without unions, the thinking goes, individual workers are unable to get a fair cut of the surplus that corporations in capitalist economies produce.  But in the case of the proposed childcare providers union, as I understand it, it would be a bunch of independent business owners banding together.  This sounds like a monopoly. According to the article I quoted above, “The childcare educators hope to increase pay and benefits for their workforce and have a greater say in rules and regulations that are enacted to govern their profession.”

Unions resemble monopolies in the sense that they allow independent economic actors to band together and set prices for their services above what they would be otherwise. If there’s a good story about bargaining power disparities, then this might make sense, but I don’t see how that’s the case for childcare providers. It’s hard to read the previous quote without taking it to mean that they hope to set artificially high prices for their services and set up barriers to entry to stifle competition.

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So I just had lunch with Howard Dean. Ok, maybe it’s not that exciting for most people, even people reading this blog. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Carson, in his glorious Vermont heritage, was Dean’s godson or something like that. Anyways, it was quite an event, especially in a town where nothing much really happens of this magnitude.

There wasn’t too much of a formal Q&A, but I was able to ask the ex-Governor a question along the lines of “What are your thoughts on how Obama has handled the economy, specifically the auto bailouts and the appointments of Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers?” His response was somewhat predictable but also much less politician-y than I’ve heard figures in similar positions answer with. He said that he believed the auto bailouts were a necessary evil. Fine. Whatever. The auto bailouts to me are one of the ore reprehensible acts economically the American government has taken part in in the last few decades. He said the bank bailouts were also a necessary evil, and that unemployment would be three times higher today if they had not occurred. Fine. Probably true. Maybe the bank bailouts weren’t that bad (from only a consequentialist perspective).

Where I felt he was straightforward and honest was his analysis of Obama’s general choices for his economic team. Obama, Dean observed, campaigned hard on having fresh outsiders in his cabinet and change (remember that word?) -ing the political landscape for the better. Well, Larry Summers was a lot more of the same. His credentials aren’t to be questioned, in terms of political track record or as an academic economist. But he spent years on the inside of Washington and is a relative moderate compared to economists like Krugman or Stiglitz.

Other observations:

  • Just like when I met Dave Gilmour, I was shocked by how short famous people can be.
  • I regret not asking him his favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor.
  • He joins the ranks of Democrats who believe Obamacare was too tame.
  • He thinks the Tea Party is not the “beginning” of a new movement but the last spark of a branch of the right wing that prides itself on motivating a base that cares almost entirely about knee-jerk issues and idiocy populism.
  • Similar to that point, he said that my generation is actually more fiscally conservative than his and that Republicans actually have a great chance (that they probably won’t take) to embrace socially moderate views with fiscal conservatism. Pretty much a statement of optimism for libertarians.
  • His niece goes to University of St Andrews (probably the only reason he considered coming).
  • Grilled chicken breast wrapped in bacon is surprisingly good but a little heavy in retrospect.
  • I admire his expression of discontent with Obama in regards to social issues; Dean was a leader on the national stage for gay rights, getting civil unions in Vermont when he was Governor.
  • He is good friends with Nick Clegg, apparently.
  • He supports net neutrality.
  • My name tag said “Will Compernelle.”
  • He sees his generation as one of conflict but ours as one of people trying to compromise and work together. This was interesting, as I had never thought about it before. Still, I’m not sure what to make of it.