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Extremism and Moderation: Happy Management Day

I like to think of myself as a moderate.  On the other hand, I have strong opinions on many things.  I try to keep an open mind with people with whom I disagree, but like Mark Crislip on Quackcast, I do have standards.  Lately, I have tried to be fair and keep an open mind, but extremists have certainly made it difficult.

I’m reminded of Barry Goldwater, who said:  “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.  And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”   I will confess not knowing that Marcus Tullius Cicero said something nearly identical 2000 years earlier.  Has it stood the test of time?

I used to believe that Goldwater and Cicero were correct, but now I am not so sure.  I guess it is all a matter of how you define “liberty” and “justice.”  Liberty, in my mind, means that the government stays out of your life as much as possible.  If that definition is true, then extremism is called for to stop the government from spying on me, telling me how big my soft drinks can be, and messing with my health insurance.  Many people, however, are comfortable – in fact thrilled – that the government is interfering with their liberties to make them “safer,” “healthier,” and better insured.  Their definition of liberty is clearly different from mine.

Defining justice is even more difficult.  What constitutes justice for one person often means injustice for another.  Are you more of an “eye for an eye” person or a “turn the other cheek” kind of guy?  The Constitution proscribes “cruel and unusual punishment,” but one person’s cruel and unusual is another person’s idea of leniency.  In the minds of many, justice and fairness mean the same thing – they don’t.  Many fanatics in the Middle East would argue that killing of innocents is just, especially if the victim is of a different religious group.

Extremism is one of the reasons why the President is paralyzed to do anything in Syria, choosing instead to pass that hot potato along to Congress.  [A good idea, but you know he would not have done so if the polls overwhelming favored intervention.  I digress.]  It may be impossible to decide what the correct decision is with respect to attacking Syria, and it may be just as difficult to determine what the “best” measured decision is.  People argue that appeasing the Germans caused World War II, as people argue today that allowing Syria to use chemical weapons will embolden the other crazies in the region – like Iran – to act with similar impunity.  That may be true.  Moreover, it is very likely that the crazies we remove will be replaced by crazies who, like their predecessors, will be just as extreme.

Today is my 35th Labor Day as a management labor lawyer.  The past few years, I’ve been getting a kick out of calling it Management Day.  Not everyone catches on immediately, but I like thinking that management plays a large part in the ability of employees to celebrate this three-day weekend.  [Truth be told, all the stockholders of my law firm are employees, including yours truly.]

Management and labor seem farther apart than at any time in those 35 years.  The National Labor Relations Board is stacked with anti-employer zealots; the Department of Labor treats employers like criminals (especially in the area of safety and health); and unions are angrier (but smaller) than ever.  Antidiscrimination laws appear to be out of control; employees “protected” by these laws practically dare their employers to fire them.

Management and labor will rarely agree on what a correct decision looks like, but they can almost always agree on what the best decision is under the circumstances.  Moderation, until we can agree on definitions of liberty, justice, and fairness, is the only way that management can continue to provide jobs and labor can continue to provide motivated people to fill them.

Management and labor cannot become the Sunni and Shia of the American workplace.  Yes, there will be extremists in the management camp who are only interested in profit and extremists in the labor camp who were only interested in how much time off they get.  The majority in both camps, however, are moderates interested in keeping the business going, being paid a fair wage, making a decent profit, and keeping the peace.  To those moderates:  Happy Labor and Management Day.

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