Thursday, May 17, 2012

In which I reaffirm caring about the sanctity of contract rights for poor people

A reader of Andrew Sullivan's blog writes him re: a new Obama campaign ad about Mitt Romney's time at Bain:

A  note on the recent Obama campaign ad. As I see it, the real problem is not that Bain ultimately shut down GST. Absent those lucky duckies on the wingnut welfare circuit, no one’s guaranteed permanent employment.  The problem is that, in doing so, they reneged on a series of financial promises made to GST’s then-employees and retirees: their pensions and health care benefits.  These pensions and benefits were part of the employees’ compensation - earned over many years on the job.  Romney, in order to maximize Bain’s short-term profit on the deal, broke those promises.  That is a fundamental breach of the social contract between employer and worker.  Moreover, it is simply a loathsome way to do business.   
You know, it’s interesting, as an attorney, I spend a lot of time reading the libertarians over at the Volokh Conspiracy.  To a man, they purport to believe in the sanctity of contract rights.  During the auto bailout, they raged and gnashed their teeth when various bondholders were forced to take losses by the big unions and their lackeys in the administration.  Remarkably, they never have anything to say when a worker gets screwed out of earned pension benefits or health care coverage.  It’s as if the contract rights of labor are somehow illegitimate or second-class compared to the inviolate rights of the One Percent.
I can't purport to speak for all libertarians everywhere on this, or even all Volokh bloggers (I still have never actually met Dale Carpenter or Ken Anderson, even though the latter frequently likes the puppy pictures I post to Facebook.) But I, for one, do care about affirming the contract rights of blue-collar workers, and I suspect that at least some of the Volokh bloggers do as well. And I most emphatically don't think that the contract rights of labor are in any way illegitimate or second-class compared to the rights of the one percent. If anything, like many libertarians, I support small government in large part because it is altogether too easy for large corporations to use big government to trample on the contract rights of employees.

I don't know all of the facts about what happened when Romney shut down GST. I'm therefore not comfortable stating that anyone's contractual rights were violated or not. I imagine other libertarian bloggers are in the same boat simply because this particular story hasn't gotten much press, and that that may be why they have said less about this story than about the much more widely publicized auto bailouts.  But, if Bain breached contracts betweeen GST and its former employees, then I am all in favor of GST workers vindicating those legal rights in court. Period.

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