The way Mr. Right sees it, the problem in Wisconsin and elsewhere isn't really with unions. It's with exactly the collective-bargaining principle that's currently at stake. In his view, collective bargaining in most cases only promotes mediocrity. Pressed, he clarified that he didn't mean mediocre individuals, but mediocre overall productivity. This sort of mediocrity results, apparently, when people are paid the same for equal work measured only by the hours put in. Employers should have more flexibility, Mr. Right thinks, to reward superior productivity, for starters. Such a system was already in place in at least one sector of the economy.
"Look at professional baseball," he said, "The players have a union and a collective bargaining agreement. But they don't pay all the players the same amount."
It was unusual for someone who has joined in the general complaint against public employees earning too much compared to private-sector workers to propose as an alternative compensation system exactly the one which results, as far as nearly everyone is concerned, in even more people being grotesquely overpaid. Mr. Right has complained about that system often in the past, to the extent that it favors certain employers over others, but it seems to have a saving virtue for him. Professional sports, in theory, is meritocratic, not egalitarian. The best players, ideally, make the most money, and each player has the right to negotiate his own terms. Whether such a system would ever have come to pass had professional athletes been public employees is a subject for skeptical speculation. As it is, fans subsidize superstar salaries by paying higher ticket prices, but being fans (short for fanatics) they seem less troubled by that expense than by their share of tax that pays a teacher's wage. They may be more disturbed by the thought that the next NFL season may be delayed or cancelled by a lockout should owners and players fail to reach a new deal this year. Should that happen, they'll most likely blame players' greed rather than owners' avarice, which brings us back to the Wisconsin model. Some people just have a habit of blaming employees rather than employers whenever disagreements escalate.
While professional sports isn't an egalitarian workplace, it was my impression that the unionized major leagues at least have very generous minimum salaries. I asked Mr. Right to confirm that, but the conversation seemed to trail off at that point.