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No Fun: Bernie Sanders Calls for Unionization of Video Game Industry

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Bernie Sanders’s ignorance of economics and history seem to know no bounds. The latest? On June 18, the font of wet-lipped wisdom decided to continue his stellar track record of pushing for the opposite of what markets and economic growth need by Tweeting:

The video game industry made $43 billion in revenue last year. The workers responsible for that profit deserve to collectively bargain as part of a union. I'm glad to see unions like @IATSE and the broader @GameWorkers movement organizing such workers.

And that, my friends, offers us a chance to stockpile some intellectual ammunition, this time, about the gaming industry, and, perhaps more important, about the mythology promulgated by Sanders and others: that “unions helped American workers, gave ‘us’ the 40-hour work week, and brought about better working conditions for all.”

This is not a random or flip remark from the “Independent” VT Senator. As he has for Soviet collectivism, Cuban collectivism, and Venezuelan collectivism (all of which wrought widespread deprivation, terror, mass murder, and suppression of dissent), Bernie has been a big booster of the Unites States federal government tilting the US economy away from free contract and towards collective bargaining. And while he wagged his tongue to shower himself with praise for not supporting the 2008-2009 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bank bailouts, he had no problem showering other peoples’ money on the auto bailouts of GM and Chrysler at the time. After all, they employ massive trade unions – people who’ve brought lots of political support back to Bernie through the years.

Now, he wants to shower praise on the idea of collective bargaining in the gaming industry, evidently after reading a single “Time” piece on the subject, and deciding he had the intellectual and moral “clout to spout.”

See, if you’re a superficial observer of gaming, like, evidently, Bernie is, you hear stories from “Time” about how these big game corporations drive their slave-like employees to madness, “forcing” them to work 100 hours a week to create popular video games that allow the corporate execs to make those $43 billion rain from the sky.

Well, Bernie you and the feds showered $17.4 billion on you auto-maker pals; that's unearned, taken from not only current taxpayers, but from future generations. So, who, exactly, are the slave-like folks in the US?

Heck, if only the gaming industry were unionized, perhaps it, too, could get Bernie to redistribute money to it.

And, as most people familiar with “gaming” know, the workers for video game companies are well compensated. As Payscale.com reports, the average salary for a video game designer is $63,346, nowhere near Bernie Sanders’ tax-funded and self-selected salary of $174,000 per year, but very respectable.

And, as salaried employees, when they face deadlines, they get swamped with work. It’s what’s called “Crunch Time”, when a team of game developers are up against the clock, finalizing, testing, revising, all to prep for the big, promised debut. This happens for many salaried employees working on large projects. In the gaming field, if the videogame misses its debut, it’s a reputational no-no that spreads like wildfire around gamer culture.

And so do the reputations of game corporations. If employees don’t like how they are being treated, they are not only free to leave, the gaming industry is so competitive, designers and writers can find work easily, and even enter the field on their own by raising funds through indie campaigns.

And what will happen if Bernie pushes for legislation to favor unions within gaming?

As the great Jeremy Hambly, pro-freedom host of “The Quartering”, a gamer news channel on YouTube explained in an excellent presentation on the topic, game design is such a moveable feast, added expenses beyond value for the work could easily trigger outsourcing. Business is like water, and that means that any political influence to tilt the legal balance towards collective bargaining is a ticket to ride to another country.

Perhaps most important are the ethical and historical points. If Bernie Sanders doesn’t like how a video game company is treating its employees, he has no ethical place to tell someone how to run the business. He has plenty of cash to start his own.

And what of history? Are the collectivists’ claims correct? Were unions responsible for bringing about a shorter work week and great benefits to otherwise hapless and overworked Americans?

No.

As legal scholar and professor Richard Epstein notes, the first US law that tilted the balance towards unions was the 1926 Railway Labor Act, and it was a disaster.

What they did in effect is to say that workers have a vested right. They’re not allowed to go out on strike but if you wish to make any changes in work rules, you have to get the consent of the workers.

Then, under FDR, came the Wagner Act, which as Professor Hans Sennholz noted:

(R)evolutionized American labor relations. It took labor disputes out of the courts of law and brought them under a newly created Federal agency, the National Labor Relations Board, which became prosecutor, judge, and jury, all in one.

And American work hours and conditions were improving before the unions got involved, long before the federal laws.

As Julian Adorney notes:

Economist Robert Whaples notes that the average workweek has been decreasing since the 1830s… By 1938, when President Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) mandating a 40-hour workweek, such a law was virtually unnecessary. Over the previous century, market forces had driven the average manufacturing workweek from almost 70 hours to just over 50. Other industries were even lower. In 1930, for instance, railroad workers worked an average of 42.9 hours per week. Coal miners worked an average of only 27 hours.

He adds:

Henry Ford implemented a 40-hour workweek in 1926 because he believed that consumers with more free time would buy more products. Other large companies followed suit; just one year later, 262 large companies had adopted five-day workweeks. For the first time, people experienced work-free weekends.

As Thomas DiLorenzo aptly notes:

The shorter work week is entirely a capitalist invention. As capital investment caused the marginal productivity of labor to increase over time, less labor was required to produce the same levels of output. As competition became more intense, many employers competed for the best employees by offering both better pay and shorter hours. Those who did not offer shorter work weeks were compelled by the forces of competition to offer higher compensating wages or become uncompetitive in the labor market. 

These are lessons Bernie never learned, or, if he has, he would like others to overlook, even as he makes reckless statements about an industry about which he clearly knows nothing.

How about he stop playing games with our lives and leave us alone?

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