Governor Mitch Daniels went out on the Sunday talk show circuit and floated an idea which, predictably, has some of the usual suspects up in arms. He posed the question of whether or not public sector unions really have a place at the table in the American free market system.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) criticized public-sector unions on Sunday, saying they should be eliminated entirely.

“There’s, I think, a fundamental problem with government becoming its own special interest group,” he told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” “Ultimately, there is not really bargaining in those situations because government sits on both sides of the table.”

Wallace then asked whether Daniels would like to see public-sector unions disappear entirely.

“I think government works better without them, I really do,” Daniels replied.

The easy way out of this is to simply say that Governor Daniels was simply tossing some red meat out to the base during an election year. But there’s really a lot more to this question than politics and it got me to thinking.

The entire purpose of unions is, ostensibly, to protect the workers from abuse, unfair treatment and outright danger from capitalist bosses. When profit is your motive, every dime spent on wages comes out of your bottom line. Ensuring worker safety, providing essential benefits and stimulating offers of other enticements are costly items on the balance sheet which need to be minimized wherever possible.

So who do the workers go to when they face such inequities? The government, of course. Government at all levels is responsible for making sure that the Big Boss doesn’t abuse the workers to the point of endangering them, discriminating against them or otherwise taking advantage. But what if you work for the government? If your employer is the entity which is supposedly responsible for looking out for your welfare, what is the rationale for having a union?

If we say that even public sector workers need protection from their employer we would seem to be making a rather uncomfortable admission that the government isn’t terribly good at their job of protecting workers in the first place. And if they are good at that job, then the unions might find themselves with large amounts of free time and cash to get up to all sorts of mischief. Like… say… influencing elections. Or something.