Along with Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, extravagant public service benefits offend the public and stress government finances. The reputations of a dozen governors will be determined this year on how they manage employee payrolls and pension liabilities.
Public sector unions will be challenged to restrain their wage demands and to pay more for their benefits. They won’t be able to argue that their employer has the funds or that they should receive more money and benefits than equivalent private sector workers. The governors of the two largest troubled states—California and New York—are nationally recognized Democrats. So, there’s a good chance both Democrats and Republicans are going to anger the union movement.
It needn’t become as divisive an issue as healthcare, and poison Washington. Nevertheless, the campaign of Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin to strip down state collective bargaining rights and effectively turn unions into hand-to-mouth charities is exciting national Republican and right-wing ideologues.
This phenomenon is neatly described in “Dixie Madison” by Ed Kilgore in The New Republic. Click on: www.tnr.com/article/politics/84170/republicans-wisconsin-labor-unions-south?page=0,0
Of course, standing with taxpayers who are not in unions sounds irresistible. With 10-to-1 odds in your favor in swing states, union bashers can bear some leakage. They should be able to survive the charge of demagoging a complex management problem!
There’s no way to conclude now that Washington Republicans won’t do it. However, conservatives and conservative business leaders—whose primary concerns are the deficit and ongoing support for open markets and less government—should be careful about making unionization itself an issue.
Fear is not a static condition. The recession radically alarmed middle class Americans about their financial security. One early response was to blame Wall Street and Washington negligence and corruption. Cadillac public service benefits fit well into this narrative.
However, fear doesn’t automatically turn you against big government and against neighbors with greater collective power than you. Fearful times ultimately favor protectionism and solidarity over rugged individualism. Indeed, there is something comically naive about wonky libertarians who see in mass unemployment and wage stagnation an opportunity to sell self-reliance and denigrate the social safety net.
Unions have demonstrated that, indeed, there is strength in unity. When you’re feeling weak, are you not tempted to value strength? Whether as organized labor or the resurgent state? Would you not at least be a little nervous about voting for pre–New Deal working conditions?
Big business and billionaires secured their riches under moderate governments. Moderate Democrats made tax cuts, deregulation and free trade possible. In a 50/50 America, do they want to paralyze Washington and drive the Democrats further to the left on entitlements, trade, corporate taxes and business regulation? That may work for Republican ideologues and political dramatists, but would it be good for business?