The Trump NLRB Will Smash the Google Guy

The Google Guy who wrote the memo about Google’s diversity efforts has provided great fodder for the take-makers. Was he doing free speech? Was Google doing political correctness? Can a non-government actor hurt free speech? These and other profound questions about the nature of liberalism are all at stake.

Curiously enough, nearly every person’s opinion about the correct application of underlying speech principles in this case can be predicted by their substantive political orientation rather than their views on liberalism per se. The same of course was true in the Kaepernick case before this one, or the Duck Dynasty case before that, or the Dixie Chicks case before that. If you were inclined towards cynicism, you might even conclude that nobody actually cares at all about abstract procedural liberalism, that society is simply an unending power game, and that nobody is actually motivated by the arguments they write for publication.

Thankfully, we don’t even have to consider any of that here because this post is not about that. It is about the Google Guy’s chances at the NLRB, a topic I have been urged to write about by multiple people.

I said on Twitter and still believe that, under current NLRB law, the Google Guy has a good chance of being reinstated for the following reasons:

  1. The Google Guy complained about working conditions to other employees, which is generally protected activity under Section 7 of the NLRA.
  2. Although the Google Guy used corporate email to communicate with other employees, the NLRB ruled in Purple Communications that you can do that.
  3. Although the Google Guy’s comments were offensive to many, they probably are not so offensive that they lose protection of the NRLA under the NLRB’s Atlantic Steel test. For example, this statement from Pier Sixty, LLC is not so offensive as to lose protection: “Bob is such a NASTY MOTHER FUCKER don’t know how to talk to people!!!!!! Fuck his mother and his entire fucking family!!!! What a LOSER!!!! Vote YES for the UNION!!!!!!!”
  4. Although the NLRB has never directly confronted the issue of what to do where the way someone has engaged in protected activity could also be a violation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Administrative Law Judge in Arthur Young & Co. dismissed an employer’s attempt to use Title VII to defend its termination. The judge rejected the defense in a short footnote, saying the employer’s assertion that there may have been a Title VII violation was implausible. My best guess is that the claim this email represents a Title VII violation is similarly flimsy and thus a defense that said “we had to fire him because we needed to protect ourselves from a Title VII lawsuit” would be similarly rejected by the current members of the NLRB.

But this analysis will all change once Trump’s appointees to the NLRB come in:

  1. The Trump NLRB will want to overturn Purple Communications, which was decided in 2014 and reversed prior NLRB precedent on the question of the use of corporate email. The pre-2014 rule favored by conservatives says that corporate email systems are company property and so employees have no right to use them in ways not sanctioned by the boss.
  2. The Trump NLRB will also want to give employers as much latitude as possible in firing someone for offensive remarks, and so may even be willing to interpret Atlantic Steel to permit termination in this case. By lowering the bar for what counts as too offensive to be protected, they will make it easier for employers to find ways to get rid of union activists.
  3. Since the Title VII argument has not been directly confronted by the NLRB before, it is also conceivable that the Trump NLRB would rule that employers have the right to terminate employees engaged in protected activity where there is any colorable Title VII claim resulting from the way that activity was conducted.

In basically all cases, a conservative NLRB will want to reduce the ways workers can coordinate with one another, and increase employer discretion to terminate employees. When I raised this point on Twitter, someone said that this might be different under Trump because wouldn’t such a ruling feed into the political correctness and whatnot that he hates. And to that I can only laugh: at the end of the day, what conservatives want to do is shift power to bosses over workers, and they are really good at keeping their eyes on the prize.

Some Opponents of UBI Necessarily Believe the Racial Wealth Gap Is Good

A universal basic income (UBI) is a program where everyone receives an equal cash benefit each month in addition to the income they receive from the market. So, for example, you could imagine a situation where the government directly deposited $1,000 each month into each person’s bank account. That would be a UBI.

Some argue that the UBI is bad because it would discourage work. The argument is that getting income without having to work for it would make people work less or, in some cases, not work at all. This non-work would then cause all sorts of problems for the individuals, their families, and the society more generally.

But there is another way to get income without having to work for it. It is called capital income and people receive it because they own wealth (real estate, bonds, and stocks). Owners of wealth receive rents from the real estate they own, interest from the bonds they own, and dividends from the stock they own. The amount of money received from these non-work income sources was $4.8 trillion in 2015.

If getting income without having to work for it is bad, and wealth allows you to get income without having to work for it, then that means wealth is also bad. Or, more precisely, it means that wealth has a negative consequence, which is that it delivers its owners non-work income, which then causes all sorts of problems for the individuals, their families, and the society more generally.

If wealth is bad in this particular way, then that means having less wealth is better than having more wealth. This is because having less wealth means you receive less non-work income and are therefore less vulnerable to the toxic effects of receiving non-work income.

The racial wealth gap refers to a situation in the United States where Blacks and Latinos have far less wealth than Whites. Normally this is seen as bad for Blacks and Latinos. But if the argument above is correct, then that means the racial wealth gap is actually good for Blacks and Latinos because it ensures that they receive far less non-work income.

To summarize:

  1. UBI is bad because getting income without having to work for it reduces work activity.
  2. Ownership of wealth allows you to get income without having to work for it.
  3. It follows from (1) and (2) that wealth ownership is bad and owning less wealth is better than owning more wealth.
  4. The racial wealth gap ensures that Blacks and Latinos own less wealth than Whites.
  5. It follows from (3) and (4) that the racial wealth gap is good for Blacks and Latinos.

To be clear, I do not believe the conclusion of this argument. But this is because I reject the premise that getting income without having to work for it is bad. My point is only to say that if you believe Premise One above, then you necessarily believe the racial wealth gap is good. If you do not believe the racial wealth gap is good, then you should not believe Premise One.

Education Is Just Another Issue

In his piece about DC’s failed school voucher program, David Leonhardt had this to say:

[E]ducation isn’t just another issue. It is the most powerful force for accelerating economic growth, reducing poverty and lifting middle-class living standards. Well-educated adults earn much more, live longer and are happier than poorly educated adults. When researchers try to tease out whether education does much to cause these benefits, the answer appears to be yes.

Two things here.

First, the poverty part I’ve bolded is just wildly untrue. The most powerful force for reducing poverty in a rich country like the US is distributive policy. I’ve written on this dozens of times before, so I won’t belabor the point here. But let me give one example.

We could, in an instant, eliminate extreme child poverty, cut deep child poverty by 50 percent, and cut overall child poverty by 40 percent by implementing a $250/month universal child benefit program that would have a fiscal cost of less than 0.5 percent of GDP. How long do you think it would take higher overall educational attainment to accomplish that? Would it ever?

Second, Leonhardt’s proof that education delivers the goods does not actually show that at all. He links to a prior write up he did of a study that compared individuals who barely got into college to those who barely failed to get into college. The study showed that the individuals who barely got in did substantially better in life than the ones who barely failed to get in. Leonhardt quickly concludes from this both that it is the college education that is responsible for the gain and, implicitly, that this effect is universalizable such that you could push more and more people through college and the result would just be more and more people getting more and more good jobs.

But the study does not support these conclusions.

An alternative explanation for why those who barely get into college do so much better than those who barely fail to get into college is that education credentials are used to filter individuals for later job placement. If this is true, it is not that the education caused new good jobs to come into existence that the college-attenders then occupied. Rather, it is that the college-attender’s credentials made them out-compete the non-attender for the scarce number of good jobs that exist. That is to say, the education of the attenders gave them positional gains that allowed them to enter the labor market at a higher spot than the non-attenders.

And, no, this is not a fanciful alternative explanation. It is one of the most prominent arguments made by those who criticize education optimists like Leonhardt. And it is obviously true, at least in some cases. For instance, people who get law degrees have much higher incomes than those without them. But even Leonhardt would certainly admit that giving everyone a legal education would not usher in a country whose labor market purely consisted of highly-paid people suing one another for stuff. Yet that is precisely the reasoning Leonhardt works off of when talking about college education as a whole.

Despite what folks like Leonhardt tell you, education is not the centerpiece of all that is good in the world. It is not the universal salve for all that ails society. This is a bizarre rhetorical strategy education reformers have adopted to inflate the importance of their political project. But it’s bogus. Education is just another issue.