A major union is rallying its supporters to battle the latest job-stealing enemy: goats.But, mirabile dictu, Hunter is an educated journalist. She has historical perspective, which turns this from a snarky jab at unions to a richer essay. Kudos.
The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the University of Michigan have had a well-established working relationship with each other for years. But this is largely because the labor union holds a contract with the school, barring it from hiring non-AFSCME members for various positions. Landscaping is among the many career fields supported by the union and is actually at the center of this latest controversy.
While the university has traditionally employed AFSCME landscapers to tend to the school’s outdoor grass-trimming needs during the summer, the school has —albeit on accident— gone a different route this season and union members are anything but pleased.
Tasked with clearing poisonous brush and overgrown vegetation that is both extremely difficult for humans to remove and all the more plentiful in the summer months, the university decided to utilize goats to get the job done. Renting a team of 20 goats from local residents, the livestock were expected to complete the 15-acre clearing job before students returned to campus in the fall.
But the goats exceeded all expectations and instead of completing the job by the end of the summer, they fulfilled their task in a matter of weeks. Since the goats had been rented for the season and were still in the care of the university, they were allowed to graze on campus property after they had finished clearing the overgrowth. While this was not the campus’ original intent, this grazing allowed the goats to feed themselves while the university received a cost-effective lawn mowing service on campus. But not all parties saw this cheap labor as a win/win for the campus community.
In Frederic Bastiat’s brilliant satirical essay, “Candlestick Makers’ Petition," he uses hyperbole to highlight the absurdity of the claims espoused by the AFSCME, well over a century before Michigan’s “goatgate” even began.Hunter managed to work in Bastiat's satire. Now if she could only have included Douglas Adams' enormous mutant star goat.
Written in 1845 as an open letter to French Parliament, Bastiat penned the essay on behalf of the “Manufacturers of Candles, Tapers, Lanterns, sticks, Street Lamps, Snuffers, and Extinguishers, and from Producers of Tallow, Oil, Resin, Alcohol, and Generally of Everything Connected with Lighting.” The grievances contained in his essay were aimed at the enemy of all those in the “light business”: the sun.
“We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price,” Bastiat writes. He then calls upon Parliament to remedy this unfair competition by asking for the following:
“We ask you to be so good as to pass a law requiring the closing of all windows, dormers, skylights, inside and outside shutters, curtains, casements, bull's-eyes, deadlights, and blinds — in short, all openings, holes, chinks, and fissures through which the light of the sun is wont to enter houses, to the detriment of the fair industries with which, we are proud to say, we have endowed the country, a country that cannot, without betraying ingratitude, abandon us today to so unequal a combat.”In a not-so-subtle jab aimed at members of French Parliament who often pretended to support consumers by instituting monopolies for their “own well-being” Bastiat says:
“You no longer have the right to invoke the interests of the consumer. You have sacrificed him whenever you have found his interests opposed to those of the producer. You have done so in order to encourage industry and to increase employment. For the same reason, you ought to do so this time toBastiat’s “Candlemaker’s Petition” was a satirical exaggeration to make a point: imagining producers asking the government for protection against competition offered by a part of nature. Yet today, we have a union earnestly doing exactly that in real life.