Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wisconsin radicalism

Conservatives have long been skeptical about the right to full collective bargaining by public servants, especially the right to strike. It’s not that public servants are too headstrong or radical.  Rather, the problem is that the interests of the other side of the table—management—are so poorly represented.
The citizen—the shareholder—can be harmed seriously by a strike or lockout but will feel nothing for years if their representatives simply agree to overly generous wage and benefit settlements to avoid work stoppages. This so-called asymmetry has led to excessive pensions and benefits and, recently, to measures to redress the imbalance at the bargaining table. However, Republican legislators in Wisconsin have gone further: their actions would weaken both unions and good public sector management.
Along with constraining the ability of unions to collect union dues and thereby build up financial resources to assert themselves, the government of Wisconsin has also sharply limited what workers can bargain for and what public managers can offer their workers. Specifically, workers can only negotiate for wage increases and management can only grant wage increases up to the cost of living.
If the government believes that, in fact, they should raise wages in real terms they must secure public support in a state-wide plebiscite. In other words: the most important positive tool available to reward productive workers and attract the best is removed from public managers and assigned to the taxpayer. Not trusting themselves to say “no” or “yes" they’re turned to the people to do it for them.
This isn’t an austerity measure. This is the politics of impoverishment.
Making it more difficult to operate an attractive innovative public sector will only make it less likely that Wisconsin will succeed in attracting new industries and high wage jobs. Excellent private firms can find low tax rates all over the continent. However, they won’t go to a low tax jurisdiction that hasn’t the competence and public support to operate first rate social services and infrastructure.
A superior social environment doesn’t exist in this world without strong government. Only nihilists and dreamers would imagine otherwise.
Historically, Conservatives don’t play dice with good government. They usually wait out revolutions—and counter-revolutions—rather than try to lead them. Unlike Tea Party wordsmiths, they don’t imagine wiping away the political and social fabric of the 20th century and dragging America back to its birth.


  1. You quote Michael Oakeshott the great English philosopher and political theorist, one of the most important conservative/liberal thinkers of our time, at the head of your columns.

    Thought you might like to know that In my search for another Oakeshott gem I could find no record of the word "then" at the beginning of the quote.

    You might be interested in the Oakeshott quote I was seeking:

    "To be to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.”

    Seems reasonably appropriate to our present government although I would be tempted to add:

    “…the thuggish to the honourable."

  2. Furthermore, I doubt whether Oakeshott, who was a most elegant writer, would ever have written"then", preceded and followed by commas.