The U.S. Supreme Court, in ruling in favor of Mark Janus’ free speech rights to withhold a $45 monthly payment to the union at his Illinois government workplace, struck a blow for free labor markets.
In doing so, it also advanced the cause of free riders.
“Free riders” is an economists’ term for a particular kind of market failure. In economic terms, free riders take advantage of a public good but refuse to contribute to it.
People who game the property tax system and don’t pay their fair share are free riders. So are people who picnic in a public park but don’t clean up after themselves, knowing city workers will do so. The economists have a dramatic term for such behavior: “the tragedy of the commons.”
Economists see “free rider” as a neutral description of rational, self-interested market behavior, but it’s usually taken as an insult. No one wants to be called a free rider. That’s because the rest of the people — those who contribute money, time or effort to the public good — tend to resent the ones who refuse to pitch in.
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David Greising is the president and chief executive of the Better Government Association, joining the BGA in 2018. For nearly a century, the BGA has fought for honest and effective government through investigative journalism and policy advocacy.
Greising’s career started at the City News Bureau of Chicago, with stops at the Chicago Sun-Times, Business Week magazine, the Chicago Tribune and Reuters. He was a co-founder of the Chicago News Cooperative and worked briefly as a consultant to World Business Chicago. Today, Greising writes on government issues in regular columns for the Tribune and Crain’s Chicago Business.
Under Greising’s leadership, the BGA has played a key role in uncovering public corruption amidst the wide-ranging federal probe, starting with an in-depth report about Ald. Ed Burke’s conflicts of interest before the federal charges against Burke. The BGA also has exposed waste and fraud at O’Hare and the proliferation of corruption and poverty into Dolton, Lyons and other Chicago suburbs. The BGA’s policy team has led calls for ethics reform in Chicago’s City Council and in state government.
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