How the U.S. Ended Up Enthralled by Unions

Megan Mcardle:

Take a look at the cost schedule for American government services, and you are likely to walk away boggled. Who are all these people working for the government? Why are they getting paid so much? And why does it seem to take so many of them to get anything done?

Look, for example, at the recent construction of the Second Avenue subway line in New York City, recently highlighted by the New York Times as “the most expensive mile of subway track on earth.” The employees singled out in that article do not work for the city, but they might as well; it is a collection of consultants, contractors and union laborers who work largely on government infrastructure projects.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that my father used to be the head of the trade association for the contractors who do this sort of work in New York City; my views were formed by this perspective. The current head of that association is interviewed in the Times article.

I have a slightly different perspective on why everything costs so much, which is that in New York, there is a collision of all the things that conspire to drive up costs. Other places may have eminent domain trouble, or politically influential labor unions, or somewhat challenging geography, or laws that let community groups delay work, or multiple layers of government and government review that pile up costs, or high costs of living that drive wages through the roof, or dysfunctional government bidding processes. … New York has all of these things in something close to their terminal form. It’s actually sort of a miracle that anything ever gets built there, or that it costs less than “all the money in the world, plus 50 cents.”

The Long-run Effects of Teacher Collective Bargaining1 .

Another link.