What Is a Card-Carrying Progressive To Do?
To to be recognized as a card-carrying progressive (called “liberal” in America), one sine-qua-non condition is a near-unconditional support for trade unions and the power that the state has outsourced to them—such as to force employers to negotiate or employees to pay dues. With that usually comes a deep reverence for the “Nordic model,” “Swedish model,” or “German model” in which powerful unions regiment most workers. This “corporatist model” is named as such and celebrated in the recent book of Daron and Acemoglu and Simon Johnson, Power and Progress—which is somewhat surprising as they seem to ignore the history of corporatism, including in Mussolini’s fascism. (I review Acemoglu and Johnson’s book in the forthcoming Winter issue of Regulation.)
Another sine qua non for a progressive is to worship “the environment,” which of course includes promoting EVs (at any cost to the taxpayer).
As Vladimir Lenin could have said, what is to be done when these legalized beliefs clash? When idealized trade unions want to grab money from capitalists producing glorified EVs? The Financial Times, itself philosophically closer to progressives than to classical liberals, reports on such a developing case (“Telsa Strikes in Sweden Are ‘Insame’, Says Elon Musk,” November 23, 2023) :
Dockworkers and car dealers have since refused to work with the brand, in sympathy strikes that threaten to harm the company’s business in Sweden and potentially further afield. The latest strike by postal workers means Tesla cars will not have their licence plates delivered to customers. …
Unions in Norway, one of Europe’s biggest markets for electric vehicle sales, said they will stop Teslas destined for Sweden being unloaded in the neighbouring Scandinavian country. …
“It could snowball into different countries and be replicated elsewhere,” warned [independent auto analyst Matthias] Schmidt. “The biggest risk is obviously Germany. We expected something similar to happen in Germany when they opened their plant there, with the unions being so strong.”
Yesterday and again today, the Financial Times provided more information on how the conflict is evolving (“Tesla Wins Interim Decision Against Swedish State Over Car Number Plates,” November 27, 2023):
Swedish unions argue that Tesla needs to sign a collective agreement as almost all businesses in the country do, meaning that wages and working conditions are set jointly in negotiations between unions and employer organisations.
Postal workers who deliver spare parts and registration plates, cleaners who clean Tesla’s dealerships, and dockworkers unloading their cars have all since refused to work with the US brand.
On impersonal markets with contractual freedom, it is difficult to imagine such conflicts, just as no inherent conflict opposes consumers who want cars and suppliers who make them available to whoever is willing to pay the market price. All parties to a voluntary exchange benefit; anyone who does not expect to will decline to participate. The more the state coercively intervenes, the more life becomes conflictual as we can now observe in so many areas.
All that is a matter of degree, at least up to a point, and Nordic countries are more “capitalist” than what many of our progressives usually like to believe. But they have also gone a long way on what Friedrich Hayek called the road to serfdom.