In 150 words or less: Labor

August 18, 2009

Framing matters.  A lot.  Over time, as I practice articulating the things I believe, I’ve stumbled across frames that are more and less helpful in persuading others.  My (hopefully ever expanding!) collection of useful frames will get posted here over time in a series entitled “In 150 words or less.”

Just because they made it into the “more helpful” category doesn’t mean that they can’t be improved upon (comments/challenges welcome) nor does it mean that other frames aren’t also useful for discussing the same issue (additions welcome).

So.  Without further ado: Labor

At a conceptual level, capitalism’s profit motive makes worker exploitation, in the absence of contrary incentives, a rational decision.  Given this, we have two options to protect workers.  We can, via the legislative process, regulatory agencies and the court system, create rules that we then monitor, enforce and adapt as abuses happen or loopholes surface.  Or, we can empower people to protect themselves through tools like collective bargaining that gain power by aggregating individual worker voices.  Ultimately, those two (or a combination of them) are our options.  The first expands the role of government, is reactive, and will move at bureaucracy-pace; the second contracts the role of government, is nimble, is adaptive to unique local situations, and can be proactive.

Given who is traditionally pro-labor and who is traditionally anti-labor…interesting frame, no?



  1. I dig this frame. But, I’m not sure collective bargaining is worth a damn in the absence of strong labor law and a regulatory body that is meaningfully empowered (ie to an extent far beyond the current state of the NLRB). In the absence of a widespread labor shortage, an organized workforce needs the backing of the state, it’s not enough by itself.

    Caveat lector: I wrote all that without thinking extensively about it.

  2. “In the absence of a widespread labor shortage, an organized workforce needs the backing of the state, it’s not enough by itself.”
    True. Unless corporations really believe that every group of workers they get will be just as vocal and proactive and organized as the last.

    But to your larger point: you’re right, of course. Ultimately, both regulatory bodies and an organized workforce are needed. But I always find it easier to introduce nuance AFTER I’ve framed the discussion my way.

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