Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The limits of compromise

Sunday night I appeared on Bruce Dumont's "Beyond the Beltway" radio program which originated from WUWM. Other panelists included Rob Henken from the Public Policy Forum and Jack Norman from the Institute for Wisconsin's Future.

One of the more interesting topics of discussion was the role of "moderation" and "cooperation." One of the criticisms of Governor Walker's reforms is that he should have "compromised." I am not so sure that criticism works in light of the way in which the Democrats and public employee unions responded, but I want to address the issue more generally.

Compromise can be a necessary tactic. It is often better to get half of a loaf than no loaf and compromise is sometimes required to get a worthwhile thing done. Perfection ought not to be the enemy of the good and all that.

But that isn't what we're talking about here. The Republicans had the votes to do what they wanted. The argument for compromise was not that it was a necessity. The claim is that it would have been good, in and of itself, for the Walker administration to do less than what it was able to do and thought to be desireable. In this view, "compromise" is as much an end as a means. (A similar argument was made by Republicans concerning what became ObamaCare when the Democrats still had 60 votes in the Senate.)

I wouldn't dismiss this out of hand. There is something to be said for incremental change and for acting in  a way that minimizes public discord. When there are many issues and when political fortunes are bound to change, compromise can have a value beyond the issue on which compromise is reached.

But not always. You can't elevate compromise to a principle that trumps the desire for comprehensive reform whenever that reform is opposed by a vocal minority. To do so does not simply enable "things to get done." It ensures that certain kinds of things - fundamental changes - will never be done.

Sometimes existing arrangements need to be substantially altered. People with a vested interest in the status quo will not like it and a certain amount of civic pain may be a unavoidable cost of moving forward.

Getting back to the particular case of the Walker reforms, my own view is that restricting collective bargaining was such a case. Allowing government to jettison the inflexibility that results in public services costing more than they should and being less effective than they can be, e.g., seniority rules, lock step compensation, cumbersome work rules, tenure, etc.,  was a critical. This is particularly so in public education.

I understand that other well-intentioned and intelligent people differ. But appealing to compromise as principle won't resolve that difference.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin home page

1 comment:

Brew City Brawler said...

Hey Rick --
But Walker went beyond putting constraints on what public employee unions could bargain for, he pushed to break them all together. If this were a critical issue, why didn't he run on it. In fact, why did he say he would bargain with the unions? Would he have been elected if he had run on a platform of breaking public employee unions? After all, if this were just a "garden variety policy debate" he could have advanced that argument.
Surely you as an alleged Burkean conservative wouldn't endorse a candidate advancing a secret agenda of upsetting 50 years of settled law that had been endorsed by both parties (seem to recall Thompson was endorsed and worked with Afscme) in a state with a strong labor tradition?