Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Fireside Chat for the Twenty-First Century

The "fireside chat" is associated with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Scott Walker, who gave his own version last night, may share some things in common with FDR. For those of you in Dane County, stay with me.

It's not that FDR was "really" a conservative. I dislike Presidential revisionism and FDR was a conservative as much as Reagan was a liberal, i.e., not at all. FDRs was quite clearly - in American terms - a man of the left - someone whose views would probably render him unelectable today.

It's not simply that he was FDR of collective bargaining in the public sector. He wasn't but that point has been made and Walker's opponents are determined to ignore it and the reasons behind it.

No, it's that Walker - like FDR and Reagan - appears to believe that he was elected to do something other than secure another term. That's rare in a politician. (Incidentally, I give Obama credit for the same quality even as I disagree with what he wants to do.) Walker has diagnosed a problem and proposed a solution that creates the structural reform that his diagnosis calls for.

Unions are an effort to grant labor near-monopoly power and move the supply curve up. The result - in almost every case - is as follows. First, unemployment happens. Employers will hire fewer people if they must pay more. Second, for those lucky enough to keep their jobs, compensation will be higher. If you regard the world as a Dickensian place made up of greedy and powerful employers exploiting defenseless workers, this might be a good thing. If employers are earning greater than competitive profits, the job loss may be small and the wage gain may be high.

I would argue that this dark satanic world is no longer the one we live in. But it is almost certainly not the world in which public employees live. Management is unlikely to play Scrooge to WEAC's Cratchits because WEAC members pool their resources and exert a disproportionate influence on whether Scrooge stays in charge of the counting house.

Collective bargaining in the public sector simply isn't adversarial in the same way that it is in the private sector. This is why Democrats - who are elected to represent the government's "management" - support collective bargaining. You will find almost no manager in the private sector who wants anything to do with unions. Yet Democrats seem to want to pay state employers more of the taxpayer's money.

The reason is simple. There is no special interest that is more important to keeping Democrats in business. In supporting public employee unions, they are simply doing the honorable thing. Having been "bought," they are staying "bought," i.e., they are supporting the folks who put them where they are. The problem is that when you combine this with collective bargaining protection - essentially the right of employees to try to fix the price of labor, you run the risk of collusion.

Of course, these collusive results are not popular with the rest of us so they tend to be made opaque - hidden in the form of work rules, fringes and promises to retirees. Walker understands this and knows that closing the immediate budget gap is only the beginning of the fiscal challenge that Wisconsin is facing. In limiting the nature of collective bargaining agreements that states and local units of government can agree to, he is attacking the structural problem. He is actually doing something that might, for better or worse, make a difference.


Anonymous said...

Unusal gov tactics will not keep the truth from being revealed.

John Foust said...

Slightly more interesting than a fireside Teleprompted chat, how about a chat between David Koch and Walker?

Unknown said...

Walker has diagnosed a problem and proposed a solution that creates the structural reform that his diagnosis calls for.

This is ridiculous, Rick. What Walker is doing is using a budget repair bill to further a partisan goal of weakening a large base of support for Democratic politics in the state.

If Walker wanted to make "structural reform" that involves completely altering the basis of state and local public employment in the state, he should do three things: 1) propose it in a bill that's not about addressing current fiscal year shortfalls, 2) tied to that, not claim his proposal is about addressing current fiscal year or even 11-13 biennial deficits (tying threats of thousands employee layoffs to its passage), and 3) he should've campaigned on it -- and I'm talking about eliminating CB rights for public employees, not benefit concessions.

To emphasize point #2, Walker said in the address last night: "You see, despite a lot of the rhetoric we've heard over the past 11 days the bill I put forward isn't aimed at state workers, and it certainly isn't a battle with unions. If it was, we would have eliminated collective bargaining entirely or we would have gone after the private-sector unions."

How do you reconcile that with your post that justifies what Walker is doing by explaining why public sector unions are both unnecessary and harmful? Walker either wants to eliminate public unions or he doesn't. I think we both know which one it is, and it's about time Walker is honest about that.

And Walker isn't campaigning to stay in office with these moves, he's lobbying for a higher office -- just like he did for years with the county.

Anonymous said...

Dems should stay in Illinois until it is safe for tnem to come back.

Dad29 said...

It's not merely "Democrats", Rick.

School Boards, School Administrators, and WEAC locals all have exactly one goal: to maintain and/or enhance the schools' position.

Whether that's simple 'maintenance'--keep what exists--or 'enhancement'--new programs, new buildings, (etc.)--they share that goal.

So "hard bargaining" is not necessarily in the interests of any of those parties. Now and then it MAY be, but in the preponderance of circumstances, it's a "so what?" situation. A little more salary, a little more benefits?

No big.

Anonymous said...

In thee 20th Century, Fireside chats had actual fires.

Anonymous said...

TLDR: Walker is a visionary statesman for attempting to outlaw a Democratic-leaning interest group. Democrats are narrow-minded hacks for attempting to prevent this.

Anonymous said...

Yeah you tell it Rick. Screw those union employees. Those teachers and janitors and snow plow operators are getting way too rich off the system. I say take away collective bargaining and fix their pay raises to CPI-U (which was changed under Reagan to more accurately reflect real inflation...everyone knows energy and food are not subject to inflation) Let's make sure teachers and nurses have to fight for a dignified and assured retirement just like everyone else. You keep up the good fight. By the way, how is your Mercedes Benz performing?