Events this week help provide more support for my argument that the teacher unions are rapidly turning into the Tobacco Institute. The defeat (again) of the unions in Wisconsin and the article by Paul Peterson, William Howell, and Marty West showing the sharply declining popularity of teacher unions — even among teachers — support this post I wrote almost 3 years ago:
The unions don’t have to lie. The NEA didn’t have to falsely claim that the DC voucher program “yielded no evidence of positive impact on student achievement.” They could have said something about the effects not being large or that there are other harms to vouchers that are greater than the benefits. A pattern of lying fundamentally undermines the credibility of the teacher unions so that they will increasingly be shunned in policy discussions and lose in policy debates.
You may think that the unions are so powerful that they can just lie and get away with it, but you’d be wrong. Remember the fate of the tobacco industry. They created the Tobacco Institute, which produced “research” claiming to be unable to find links between smoking and cancer.
The tobacco companies didn’t have to do this. They could have just said that people should be free to choose whether they smoke or not regardless of health risks. They didn’t have to lie about health effects, they could have just said that it was none of the public’s business whether people chose to smoke or not.
At the time it was conventional political wisdom that the Tobacco Institute could get away with lying because the tobacco lobby was so powerful and rich that they could do almost anything. But eventually lying destroys one’s credibility in a way that no amount of money can restore. And the teacher unions may suffer the same fate as the Tobacco Institute. They may seem all-powerful right now, but over time it is hard to sustain dumb ideas, especially when lying.