23 February 2011

Wisconsin 2: Some Follow-Up

I got a good comment on my initial Wisconsin post from faithful reader Jim, and I want to respond since I don't think I expressed myself well, out of crankiness and haste. I'll take his points out of order.

We start with:
You don't like Teachers and other public sector unions; I feel fairly agnostic on them, but people in those unions are very much in favor of them. So much in favor of them that people unaffected by the wage and pension cuts are out in support of those that are because of the principle of the thing.
Well, sure. There are going to be people out in support of any concentrated-benefits-and-diffuse-costs policy. Some of them aren't going to have a personal stake in the outcome but feel strongly anyway, partially from (admirable) idealism, and partially as a result of the seen vs. the unseen.
Discounting the opinions of ~20k folks and telling them to go home, while saying of them that they are undemocratic because they are delaying (not stopping) a vote has its own irony. Public demonstration is a stock event in democracies. Public outcries are how The People make their opinion heard when their reps (who you routinely mention you despise) aren't doing their jobs correctly.
I don't think the public employees are being particularly wicked in advocating for their own cause. (Except the teachers who've come down with their own version of the "Blue Flu" — that's shameful behavior, especially from a group who as a rule misses no opportunity to remind everyone how selflessly dedicated they are to children and high ideals.) I merely think they're behaving like any other interest group, and are driven by the same mix of ideology and rapaciousness as all the rest.

It's wrapping themselves in the banners — literally! — of freedom fighters and revolutionaries that is galling to me, not their goals themselves. I'm not contending they're especially anti-democratic, but they sure aren't saints or freedom fighters either. They aren't overthrowing a dictator here, they're just playing the same old down-in-the-mud sausage making games.  I don't want to entirely discount their opinions.  I just want them to stop pretending this is anything other than them angling for a bigger slice of the pie.

(A bigger slice, I'll add, that comes at the expense of taxpayers and also at the expense of other recipients of  Wisconsin programs.  Further, that latter group consists largely of people much poorer and worse off than the trade unionists.)
Now, the fleeing Dem officials? Eh. Shrug...that's just showboating, trying to goad Walker into saying something else they can publicly refute. It's a spectacle. Glad it isn't my elected reps, but probably wouldn't care much if it was. They'll be back, the vote will happen and Walker and his team of Republicans will either consider the importance of these protestors or they won't. But, I know something of Wisconsin and there's more than a handful of Republicans in that crowd.
More than anything I find legislators fleeing the state to be outrageously funny. It's something I would expect to hear about the College of Cardinals doing in the 12th century.

But despite being delightfully colorful, I also find it a bit of dereliction. Principled abstentionism is one thing. (A thing I'm actually quite fond of.) But that's a whole different story. This is refusing to hold a vote you know you're going to lose. Democracies are predicated on the losing side doing so gracefully. Taking your ball and going home is not how these things operate.*

(* I'm a little hesitant to write that, since I'm sure there are issues in which I'd be willing to look the other way if my side was about to lose and threw a massive legislative hissy fit.  Something like the Patriot Act reauthorization.  Nonetheless, that's not how democracy is supposed to work.  Which I suppose is the major downside of voting: 51% of the people gets to tell the other 49% what to do, and the 49% are just expected to shut up and take it. (At least until can convince enough people to make them no longer the minority.)  That's a long way of coming around to the conclusion that we'd be better off with fewer things dependent on government, and thus on voting.  We wouldn't need to be having national such conniptions about the status of public employees if they weren't 17.4% of the US workforce.)

I also find the delaying/stopping of a vote to be a distinction without much difference. If I heard a president say "We're going to delay this election," I wouldn't be very comforted even if he followed up with "but we promise we don't want to cancel it!" That's a Hugo Chavez move. The interstitial of "this is just a delay not a cancelation" is "we're delaying this until we think we can get what we want." And sure, that's depressingly common enough, but it's also putting the cart before the horse, because you're predetermining what the outcome is supposed to be, and then maneuvering around until you can use voting to justify it.
Now, I know this kind of thing grinds your gears but the more important line from the article you linked to is this one:

"Mr. Walker's very modest proposal would take away the ability of most government employees to collectively bargain for benefits."

Ending collective bargaining rights is not a "modest proposal." It is quite obviously the beginning of a none-too-subtle slippery slope that will end the Teachers Union there.
To me this isn't a slippery slope at all, because it's a movement in exactly the right direction. I don't expect Jim or any of the protestors to be comforted by that, but I do think that if that's a goal that many people would consciously like to see happen (including, as a mentioned, the ghost of Hero-to-the-Working-Man FDR) then I don't think "slippery slope" is quite the right way to put it.

(I hope to have an outline of why I dislike public sector unions later today.  Perhaps that will be at least marginally convincing.)

Regardless of that though, collective bargaining is not allowed for employees of half of US states. (26? I don't feel like checking.) I can see not wanting Wisconsin to make it 27 states. But what I don't care for the the apocalyptic way Wisconsin employees are treating this. Not to repeat myself, but it's the tone of these protests that rub me wrong. They want me to believe this is just as big a moral battle as overthrowing a lifelong Middle Eastern dictator, when really the stakes are ... getting treated just like public workers in half of the US.  If people want to aggitate against that outcome, they're more than welcome to. I just don't like them expecting me to treat this like Brutus making a stand against Tarquin.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for getting this up. I'll (ahem) delay comments until I get through the rest of your Wisconsin posts as I see there are a couple more.