Monday, February 28, 2011

Public Unions & the Socialist Utopia

From Robert Tracinski at RealClearPolitics:

The Democratic lawmakers who have gone on the lam in Wisconsin and Indiana-and who knows where else next-are exhibiting a literal fight-or-flight response, the reaction of an animal facing a threat to its very existence.
Why? Because it is a threat to their existence. The battle of Wisconsin is about the viability of the Democratic Party, and more: it is about the viability of the basic social ideal of the left.

It is a matter of survival for Democrats in an immediate, practical sense. As Michael Barone explains, the government employees' unions are a mechanism for siphoning taxpayer dollars into the campaigns of Democratic politicians.
But there is something deeper here than just favor-selling and vote-buying. There is something that almost amounts to a twisted idealism in the Democrats' crusade. They are fighting, not just to preserve their special privileges, but to preserve a social ideal. Or rather, they are fighting to maintain the illusion that their ideal system is benevolent and sustainable.
Unionized public-sector employment is the distilled essence of the left's moral ideal. No one has to worry about making a profit. Generous health-care and retirement benefits are provided to everyone by the government. Comfortable pay is mandated by legislative fiat. The work rules are militantly egalitarian: pay, promotion, and job security are almost totally independent of actual job performance. And because everyone works for the government, they never have to worry that their employer will go out of business.
In short, public employment is an idealized socialist economy in miniature, including its political aspect: the grateful recipients of government largesse provide money and organizational support to re-elect the politicians who shower them with all of these benefits.
Put it all together, and you have the Democrats' version of utopia. In the larger American culture of Tea Parties, bond vigilantes, and rugged individualists, Democrats feel they are constantly on the defensive. But within the little subculture of unionized government employees, all is right with the world, and everything seems to work the way it is supposed to.
This cozy little world has been described as a system that grants special privileges to a few, which is particularly rankling in the current stagnant economy, when private sector workers acutely feel the difference. But I think this misses the point. The point is that this is how the left thinks everyone should live and work. It is their version of a model society.
Every political movement needs models. It needs a real-world example to demonstrate how its ideal works and that it works.
And there's the rub. The left is running low on utopias.
The failure of Communism-and the spectacular success of capitalism, particularly in bringing wealth to what used to be called the "Third World"-deprived the left of one utopia. So they fell back on the European welfare state, smugly assuring Americans that we would be so much better off if we were more like our cousins across the Atlantic. But the Great Recession has triggered a sovereign debt crisis across Europe. It turned out that the continent's welfare states were borrowing money to paper over the fact that they have committed themselves to benefits more generous than they can ever hope to pay for.
In America, the ideological crisis of the left is taking a slightly different form. Here, the left has set up its utopias by carving out, within a wider capitalist culture, little islands where its ideals hold sway. Old age is one of those islands, where everyone has been promised the socialist dreams of a guaranteed income and unlimited free health care. Public employment is another.
Now the left is panicking as these experiments in American socialism implode.
On the national level, it has become clear that the old-age welfare state of Social Security and Medicare is driving the federal government into permanent trillion-dollar deficits and a ruinous debt load. Even President Obama acknowledged, in his State of the Union address, that these programs are the real drivers of runaway debt-just before he refused to consider any changes to them. You see how hard it is for the Democrats to give up on their utopias.
On the state level, public employment promises the full socialist ideal to a small minority-paid for with tax money looted from a larger, productive private economy. But the socialist utopia of public employment has crossed the Thatcher Line: the point at which, as the Iron Lady used to warn, you run out of other people's money.
The current crisis exposes more than just the financial unsustainability of these programs. It exposes their moral unsustainability. It exposes the fact that the generosity of these welfare-state enclaves can only be sustained by forcing everyone else to perform forced labor to pay for the benefits of a privileged few.
This is why the left is treating any attempt to fundamentally reform the public workers' paradise as an existential crisis. This is why they are reacting with the most extreme measures short of outright insurrection. When Democratic lawmakers flee the state in order to deprive their legislatures of the quorum necessary to vote, they are declaring that they would ratherhave no legislature than allow voting on any bill that would break the power of the unions.
National Review's Jim Geraghty describes these legislative walk-outs as "small-scale, temporary secessions." The analogy is exact. One hundred and fifty years ago, Southern slaveholders realized that the political balance of the nation had tipped against them, that they could no longer hope to win the political argument for their system. Faced with a federal government in which they were out-voted, they decided that they would rather have no federal government at all. The Democrats' current cause may not be as repugnant-holding human beings as chattel is a unique evil-but it has something of the same character of irrational, belligerent denial. More than two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the left is still trying to pretend that socialism is plausible as an economic system.
The Democrats are fleeing from a lot more than their jobs as state legislators. They are fleeing from the cold, hard reality of the financial and moral unsustainability of their ideal.
Robert Tracinski writes daily commentary at He is the editor of The Intellectual Activist and

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Governor Who Cut His State Down to Size

From Neil King, Jr at The Wall Street Journal:

[DANIELS_A1]Associated Press
Indiana's Mitch Daniels espouses radical cuts to Social Security; would Americans go along for the ride?
CULVER, Indiana—Pundits say he's too short, at 5-foot-7, and lacks the requisite pizzazz to be elected president.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels believes he faces a taller challenge as he ponders a White House run: Could voters warm to his message that the country is doomed unless it slashes its debt and radically revamps the popular Social Security and Medicare programs?
In any other year, a campaign platform that gloomy would render a politician toxic. Today, with concerns over the nation's fiscal health on the rise, the Indiana Republican's wonkish bravado is making some think he is a good fit for the moment.
Gov. Mitch Daniels is tireless on the stump. But like many of his potential opponents, he's keeping coy on whether he'll make a run for the White House in 2012. WSJ's Neil King reports.
If the time is indeed right for Mr. Daniels's get-tough message, the angry budget standoffs in states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and New Jersey are also shining a new light on his credentials as a messenger. Mr. Daniels rescinded collective-bargaining rights for state employees six years ago—long before Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker caused a firestorm by putting the same issue on the table.
Mr. Daniels also cut spending, trimmed the state work force to its smallest in decades, and turned a yawning deficit into a surplus, with only scattered outbursts of popular anger along the way.
He has emerged from all this with high marks from voters, and a profile that sets him apart from the other Republicans mulling a possible 2012 run. An array of conservatives, including former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, would like to see him enter the 2012 race.
He's the only potential candidate "who sees the stark perils and will offer real detailed proposals," Mr. Bush said last week in praising Mr. Daniels before a Florida business group. Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey on Thursday heaped almost identical praise on his Indiana counterpart.
Other potential 2012 hopefuls, along with both parties in Washington, are dancing gingerly around the question of ballooning federal entitlements, concerned that voters might rebel at the idea of benefit cuts. Mr. Daniels shows no such restraint. Social Security? Jack up the retirement age and end it altogether for wealthier Americans, he says. Medicare? Turn it into a voucher system and let people buy their own health insurance.
Mr. Daniels has even waded into one of the most fear-inspiring subjects in politics—health-care rationing—by suggesting the government put limits on end-of-life care.
Associated Press
Gov. Daniels was congratulated after his State of the State address in January; a possible presidential contender, he focuses the U.S. debt problem.
The 61-year-old former adviser to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush says he is still pondering whether "to jump off the highest cliff in politics" and make a run for the White House. He is a dark horse, tied for seventh among possible Republican candidates in a recent Gallup poll. If others "step out boldly" with plans to revamp the entitlement programs, he says, "I will probably be for them."
So far, he says, none has.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty favors inching up the retirement age for Social Security and limiting inflation-based benefit increases for the affluent. Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, offers various ways to fix Social Security and Medicare in his book "No Apology," but has shown no sign he intends to make them the center of any campaign. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has floated reams of ideas, but his advisers say a Gingrich campaign would focus on a different subject, reviving the economy and creating jobs.
The presumed Democratic candidate, President Barack Obama, has avoided tackling the cost of entitlements, saying both parties should move ahead in unison.
Mr. Daniels's brashness was on display in Washington recently at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC. While other possible 2012 candidates lashed President Obama for his proposed budget or interventions in the economy, Mr. Daniels took a different path. He spoke of an impending debt crisis as "the new Red Menace" and said it was time to bid "an affectionate thank-you to the major social-welfare programs of the last century."
Could he build a national campaign on an issue long regarded as the touch-it-and-you-die third rail of American politics?
Harping on deficits and changes to entitlements, Mr. Daniels concedes, isn't usually a winning strategy. "It's hard to name anyone who has won on that theme," he says.
The Pew Research Center found this month that even at a time of rising concern over deficit spending, only 12% of Americans, and just a fifth of Republicans, favored cutting Social Security or Medicare.
None of that has kept Mr. Daniels from dealing up his own solutions.
Digging into a plate of fried perch on a recent two-day tour of northwestern Indiana, Mr. Daniels said the time had come "to grab every third rail there is, all the things that people say, 'Well, you just can't do that politically.'"
He then merrily laid out his ideas for drastically changing the current social safety net, while insisting he is "wide open" to all other ideas. "If it takes the second or third or fourth best approach, I'm for that, too," he said. "We just need to so something, now."
Mr. Daniels lobbed other grenades during his recent swing through Washington. He told health-care reporters the government must find ways to control the spiraling costs of end-of-life care. The U.S. can't afford "absolutely everything that modern technology makes possible for absolutely everyone till absolutely the very last day," he said.
Some fiscal and social conservatives blast the Indiana governor as too quick to brush aside social issues like abortion or gays in the military in his quest to fix budgets. Several groups protested when CPAC picked him to deliver the gathering's Ronald Reagan address.
Mr. Daniels got his start in politics as an intern in Indianapolis to then-Mayor Richard Lugar, whom he followed as an aide when Mr. Lugar won a Senate seat in 1976.
A lawyer by training, Mr. Daniels was a political adviser to President Reagan, ran the conservative Hudson Institute think tank, became an executive at drug company Eli Lilly & Co. and returned to government in 2001 as White House director of management and budget under President Bush.
His decision to run for governor of Indiana in 2004 surprised friends who saw him as more the consummate aide and policy wonk than glad-handing politician. What one friend calls his "stature gap"—he is short, slight and balding—didn't help.
He turned out to be a spirited campaigner, crisscrossing the state in an RV emblazed "My Man Mitch." To save money, he slept in strangers' houses, a practice of "mooching," as he calls it, that he has stuck with ever since. On his recent trip, his driver dropped him off at a farmer's house miles from the nearest town; Mr. Daniels arrived well after dinner and left at dawn.
Elected governor, he created a new budget office on his first day in office, and moved to decertify the state-employee unions the next day, a step that made it possible to trim the state's work force and reward workers for performance instead of seniority. Unlike the current furor in the more heavily unionized Wisconsin, it caused only limited friction.
What did provoke ire were two moves the governor thought would be more anodyne. He pushed through uniform adoption of Daylight Savings Time, in place of a county-by-county patchwork, and he leased the Indiana Turnpike to a Spanish-Australian consortium for 75 years.
After two years in office, he had an approval rating of just 37%, tied with President Bush. In 2006, his party lost control of the Indiana House.
"It was humbling," Mr. Daniels says. "But I tell you this, we never took a poll to determine what we were for."
His efforts to trim government ended up boosting his image. He sold thousands of state-owned cars and cut the state work force to levels not seen since the 1970s. In a region awash in government red ink, he turned an inherited $600 million deficit into a $370 million surplus the next year. He has rebuilt the state's reserve funds, which now top $800 million.
He revamped a sluggish Bureau of Motor Vehicles so people could get new plates or driver's licenses in a matter of minutes, still one of his most popular moves. When he dropped by a BMV office in Lafayette recently, a woman pushing a baby carriage rushed to embrace him.
"Hello, Mitch," she gushed, telling him "I got everything I needed in 10 minutes."
In 2008, when Mr. Obama became the first Democratic presidential contender since Lyndon Johnson to carry Indiana, Mr. Daniels was easily re-elected, taking all but 13 of 92 counties.
Term limits mean he can't run again in 2012. Now in the thick of his last major two-year budgetary session, he has a reputation in Indiana as an iconoclastic and sometimes contrary conservative—winning praise even from some on the left and taking occasional shots at the tea-party movement. "The whole thing needs to evolve," he says, criticizing the tea-party groups for "an inability to get specific."
Greg Fettig, co-founder of one such group, the Hoosier Patriots, thinks it's the governor who needs to evolve. "I don't think he understands at all what we are doing," he says. "We can get specific on anything he wants."
Nor does Mr. Daniels hesitate to lavish praise, when he feels like it, on the Democratic administration. "What I want in education is almost completely aligned with what President Obama wants," Mr. Daniels says, noting the administration's support for charter schools and merit-based pay for teachers.
He talks more often with Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan, he says, "than with any cabinet secretary during my entire time in the Bush White House."
Mr. Daniels seeks to replace the state's existing teacher tenure system with one based on performance standards. Effective teachers would earn more, while ineffective ones could lose their jobs. Low-income families could use taxpayer money to send their kids to private schools—a voucher system that education experts say would be the most sweeping of its kind. Indiana Democrats and the state's teachers union vow to fight the legislation, but with Republicans controlling the legislature, some version of it is expected to pass.
Mr. Daniels's political foes criticize him for being stubborn and impervious to outside opinion. "He needs to be reminded sometimes that Indiana isn't just a laboratory where he can toy with his fabulous ideas," says State Senate Democratic Leader Vi Simpson.
Some conservatives say his reputation as a ferocious deficit fighter is only half the story. Mr. Daniels was, after all, George W. Bush's budget director when the government saw a surplus turn into years of deficit spending and when Mr. Bush launched his Medicare Part D drug subsidy plan, which now costs more than $60 billion a year. It was the largest expansion of entitlements for the elderly in decades.
Other conservatives ding him for boosting the state cigarette tax and sales tax and for proposing a one-year income-tax increase on the wealthy. As part of a larger overhaul, he pushed down property taxes, reducing people's overall tax burden. "Mitch's challenge is he's being overshadowed by newer governors like Chris Christie who are willing to slash spending without touching taxes," said Grover Norquist, a budget hawk who runs Americans for Tax Reform.
More recently, Mr. Daniels took flak for not supporting a contentious "right to work" bill forbidding labor contracts that require all workers to be union members or pay dues. It died this week in the Indiana legislature.
During his swing through the state, Mr. Daniels touted his education efforts as he visited small-town newspapers and dropped by diners and schools. But just as often, he cited another development. Over the past decade, Michigan lost residents and Illinois and Ohio barely kept even, while Indiana's population rose 6.6%, according to the 2010 census.
"We grew faster than any state between Iowa and Maine," Mr. Daniels told the editorial board of the Lafayette Journal & Courier, a factoid he repeated at a number of other stops.
Unemployment in Indiana, at 9.5%, runs above the national average of 9%. But there are signs of a turnaround. Private-sector job growth last year was nearly twice the national average, and 10th best in the country.
When asked about a presidential run, Mr. Daniels often laughs and brushes the query aside. He is focused on Indiana and the current legislative session, he says. Or, he says, it's a question his wife and four daughters will help decide. (His wife, he says, isn't at all supportive of another campaign.)
Mr. Daniels is convinced that as president, he would know how to fix the country's debt and swelling entitlements. He's less sure he has the stomach for pursuing the job.
"A friend of mine said to me, 'Mitch, you have a fatal flaw as a candidate.' And I said, 'I have a lot of them. Which one did you have in mind?' And he said, 'You can live without it.'"
Write to Neil King Jr. at

Friday, February 25, 2011

On Teachers and Others

 In judging teachers’ claims, we might compare their lives with the lives of, say, farmers or welders or interstate truckers.

Victor Davis Hanson at NRO:

So far the angry teachers of Wisconsin have not yet won over the public. They have not convinced the majority that, in an age of staggering budget deficits, they — or, indeed, public employees in general — must as a veritable birthright enjoy salary, benefits, and pensions on average far more generous than those of their private-sector counterparts, who make up the majority of taxpayers.

Teachers are right that the crisis transcends compensation. Yet why, others might ask, would teachers’ unions oppose merit pay? Why should someone who did not join the union still have to pay its dues? Why should the state have to collect the dues from employee paychecks on behalf of the union? Moreover, when these questions are posed amid a landscape of teachers skipping classes to protest, urging students to join them, and soliciting fraudulent doctors’ notes to cover their cancellations of classes — while their supporters in the legislature hide out to prevent a quorum and thereby subvert the democratic process reaffirmed last November — the public becomes further estranged from their cause.

All of this evoked my own memories of a teaching life juxtaposed with farming in the private sector. After receiving a Ph.D. in 1980 I returned home to work the trees and vines for five years in hopes of helping to restore a run-down farm. I then was employed first as a part-time teacher and then as a professor at California State University, Fresno, for 21 years (1984–2004). Some of that time I continued to farm on weekends and in the summers.

The experience was schizophrenic. In farming, almost everyone I met was constantly hustling — welders, independent truckers, contractors. There was no guaranteed income, no pension other than Social Security, and no health benefits of any kind. I bought a Farm Bureau–sponsored private health plan with a $1,000 deductible — catastrophic coverage that I never found occasion to use — and paid cash for doctor’s office visits. My first two children’s deliveries maxed out my Visa card.

There was no sick leave for the self-employed. A day with the flu meant the amount of work to do the next day doubled. Weekly compensation was not compensation at all, but rather an advance on an operating loan from the bank: If the crop came in and sold, and if at the end of the year such income exceeded expenses (I remember my first year, in 1980, we borrowed at 17 percent, and prices for everything from sulfur to fertilizer went up 10 to 15 percent in mere months), then one earned something for the year’s aggregate labor. If not (as in 1983, when, without explanation, the price of raisins crashed from $1,200 to $450 a ton), then one not merely earned nothing, but in effect paid for the privilege of working — a common, humiliating fate for the strapped pizza-parlor owner, the independent window-cleaner, or the car dealer. I figured that the 1983–84 operating losses meant that I owed the bank about $12 an hour for each hour I had driven the tractor, pruned, or irrigated, the entire time unknowingly paying for the privilege of hard physical labor. Again, all that is too familiar for legions of realtors, insurance salesmen, contractors, and the variously self-employed.

Teaching was the antithesis of everything brutal in the private sector. In my first full year, I used to write down in amazement — after prorating my annual salary on a per-diem basis — what I made on Saturdays, on the day after Christmas, on the Fourth of July, and on all the other days when I was not working. Yes, there were hours spent in the evenings correcting papers, staying long after class to advise students, endless committee work, class planning well beyond the eight-to-five grind, and research over the summer. Angry parents, administrators, and students could all at times be abusive. A pile of blue-books, totaling some 2,000 pages of poorly written essays, was no fun to go through on weekends. My colleagues sometimes bought books for their students, and often purchased their own materials. For a decade I shared a cramped office in a trailer with acoustical tiles falling on us like bombs from the ceiling.

But all that said, there were benefits, lots of them: guaranteed retirement with a defined pension; generous medical, dental, and vision coverage; and most importantly time off from the classroom. We taught about 16 weeks a semester, counting finals and introductory orientation, or 32 of 52 weeks a year. The other 20 weeks were ours to spend for “prep.” Some did, some did not, especially those who had been teaching the same classes for five or six years. Research was supposed to matter a great deal; but often it strangely did not for purposes of tenure and retention. If you achieved tenure, your job security was mostly assured. Tenure hearings and post-tenure review were both peer-directed, and the process reflected either accepted ennui or teacher solidarity rather than disinterested critique.

Merit pay was agreed to, and then ended, by the union. Dues were once required only of union members — and then suddenly they were deducted from the paychecks of everyone, members or (the vast majority) not. It became almost impossible to be fired. Retention, promotion, and tenure operated as Byzantine legal matters, since those few who were rejected inevitably enlisted the union’s help in grieving the decisions. Yet to state any of that would incur public furor from your fellow professors in direct proportion to their often cynical caricatures, in private, of the regulations and protocols.

The market seemed to prove the truth of the above. It was hard in the Eighties to find any youth who wanted to take over a farm or start out farming on his own. By 1990 most small farmers were broke or were working, at far better compensation, for corporations; in contrast, at the university we were swamped with hundreds of applications from Ph.D.s who so desperately wanted what we so often complained about. Oddly, full professors were both the highest paid and the most grumpy; exploited part-time teachers were the least well compensated, and the most stoic.

So what I remember most was our constant rationalization of our lot. In self-righteous fashion we reminded everyone that we were paid only for nine months’ work and that teaching was an art, a noble profession, not a mere job.

We talked of stress and the wear and tear of trying to teach those who not merely were not prepared, but seemed almost deliberately to resist instruction. Yet, again, teaching had different hazards from the ones encountered on the farm, where turning on an electrical pump if you had a foot in a watered furrow could spell electrocution, or catching a leg between a tractor fender and a tire tread meant it was lost.

Out in the fields, wear and tear did not result from rude deans and abusive colleagues, but arose from rather provocative characters who were willing to resort to fists, knives, or guns if one complained about how poorly they had tied down a load of fruit pallets, or how they had botched pruning a peach tree, or wired a pump wrongly. At school I had to navigate away from a vengeful colleague who tried to sabotage my classics program; on the farm I was once almost run over by the speeding Buick of a drug-soaked and armed disgruntled worker whom I had caught stealing tools from the barn. The one arena was stressful, the other life-threatening.

My purpose in relating the divide is not to suggest that the brutality of farming bears much resemblance to the private-sector office or that a university professorship is at all comparable to the much more arduous duties of an inner-city middle- or high-school teacher. But all that said, I think that we forget how fortunate teachers are in the 21st century, in terms of compensation, hours spent at work, and the general absence of physical danger, at least in comparison to the lineman, the garbage collector, or the interstate trucker. I have met hundreds of teachers who have had only one steady job: teaching. I have seldom met a land-leveler, company field man, or tractor mechanic who had not worked at a half-dozen jobs over his career — and rarely by choice.

There is a reason why our state capitols are not usually flooded by cash-strapped farmers on tractors ditching their work when the price of wheat crashes. During a power outage, electric-company linemen do not often call in sick. Those who walk nimbly between IEDs in the Hindu Kush or who braved RPGs in Fallujah did not in mediis rebus pause to suggest that they had gotten a raw deal on their far too frequent deployments. Very few corporals and privates ask medics to write false medical excuses.

So, yes, teaching is a noble profession upon which the future of our youth rests. It is not easy, and it is not as lucrative as the law or medicine. No doubt day-traders and the architects of hedge funds can make more in an hour than a sixth-grade social-studies teacher earns in a year, without either the caring or the commensurate work. Yet in comparison to most workers in the private sector, teachers are, in terms of working conditions and compensation, blessed — which is why we are told of Wisconsin that the problem is not really one of renegotiating wages, benefits, and pensions.

In these lean times, amid the furor and name-calling, we forget that teachers are not the wretched of the earth. They are often noble sorts, and that is reflected by what they make, how long they work, and the conditions under which they toil. If you doubt that, ask the almond farmer, roofer, or welder whose taxes pay their salaries.

 NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institutionthe editor ofMakers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.

The Rubicon of Wisconsin Recklessly principled Republicans are tackling our fiscal crisis.

From Charles Krauthammer at NRO:

The magnificent turmoil now gripping statehouses in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and others marks an epic political moment. The nation faces a fiscal crisis of historic proportions and, remarkably, our muddled, gridlocked, allegedly broken politics has yielded a singular clarity.

At the federal level, President Obama’s budget makes clear that Democrats are determined to do nothing about the debt crisis, while House Republicans have announced that beyond their proposed cuts in discretionary spending, their April budget will actually propose real entitlement reform. Simultaneously, in Wisconsin and other states, Republican governors are taking on unsustainable, fiscally ruinous pension and health-care obligations, while Democrats are full-throated in support of the public-employee unions’ crying, “Hell no.”

A choice, not an echo: Democrats desperately defending the status quo; Republicans charging the barricades.

Wisconsin is the epicenter. It began with economic issues. When Gov. Scott Walker proposed that state workers contribute more to their pension and health-care benefits, he started a revolution. Teachers called in sick. Schools closed. Demonstrators massed at the capitol. Democratic senators fled the state to paralyze the legislature.

Unfortunately for them, that telegenic faux-Cairo scene drew national attention to the dispute — and to the sweetheart deals the public-sector unions had negotiated for themselves for years. They were contributing a fifth of a penny on a dollar of wages to their pensions and one-fourth what private-sector workers pay for health insurance.

The unions quickly understood that the more than 85 percent of Wisconsin not part of this privileged special-interest group would not take kindly to “public servants” resisting adjustments that still leave them paying less for benefits than private-sector workers. They immediately capitulated and claimed they were only protesting the other part of the bill, the part about collective-bargaining rights.

Indeed. Walker understands that a one-time giveback means little. The state’s financial straits — a $3.6 billion budget shortfall over the next two years — did not come out of nowhere. They came largely from a half-century power imbalance between the unions and the politicians with whom they collectively bargain.

In the private sector, the capitalist knows that when he negotiates with the union, if he gives away the store, he loses his shirt. In the public sector, the politicians who approve any deal have none of their own money at stake. On the contrary, the more favorably they dispose of union demands, the more likely they are to be the beneficiary of union largesse in the next election. It’s the perfect cozy setup.

To redress these perverse incentives that benefit both negotiating parties at the expense of the taxpayer, Walker’s bill would restrict future government-union negotiations to wages only. Excluded from negotiations would be benefits, the more easily hidden sweeteners that come due long after the politicians who negotiated them have left. The bill would also require that unions be recertified every year and that dues be voluntary.

Recognizing this threat to union power, the Democratic party is pouring money and fury into the fight. Private unions have shrunk to less than 7 percent of the working population. The Democrats’ strength lies in government workers, who now constitute a majority of union members and provide massive support to the party. For them, Wisconsin represents a dangerous contagion.

Hence the import of the current moment — its blinding clarity. Here stand the Democrats, avatars of reactionary liberalism, desperately trying to hang onto the gains of their glory years — from unsustainable federal entitlements for the elderly enacted when life expectancy was 62 to the massive promissory notes issued to government unions when state coffers were full and no one was looking.

Obama’s Democrats have become the party of no. Real cuts to the federal budget? No. Entitlement reform? No. Tax reform? No. Breaking the corrupt and fiscally unsustainable symbiosis between public-sector unions and state governments? Hell no.

We have heard everyone — from Obama’s own debt commission to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — call the looming debt a mortal threat to the nation. We have watched Greece self-immolate. We can see the future. The only question has been: When will the country finally rouse itself?

Amazingly, the answer is now. Led by famously progressive Wisconsin — Scott Walker at the state level and Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan at the congressional level — a new generation of Republicans has looked at the debt and is crossing the Rubicon. Recklessly principled, they are putting the question to the nation: Are we a serious people?

— Charles Krauthammer is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2011 the Washington Post Writers Group.

The real reason Indiana’s Democrats fled

From Richard M. Reinsch II at The Daily Caller:

In what is becoming a signature move of a defeated political coalition, Democratic members of the Indiana state legislature followed their Wisconsin counterparts and fled Hoosierland this week. Ostensibly done to avoid voting on legislation that would make Indiana a “right-to-work” jurisdiction, the real devil for Indiana Democrats may not be this “union-busting” legislation. After all, private-sector unionization — the bill’s key target — is now the sick old man within labor’s empire. Rather, the real fear of fly-by-night Democrats is recently introduced legislation that would establish path-breaking statewide tuition scholarships enabling students from low and middle income families to choose their own school. By running, these politicians are signaling blanket opposition to the education reform proposals of a conservative coalition led by Governor Mitch Daniels.
We may never know when the decision of Indiana Democrats to “just move on” may have been hatched, but surely Mitch Daniels’s January 2011 State of the State Address led them to inquire with Illinois’s resorts about room availability. Featured at the address were parents and children assembled in the gallery who were on waiting lists for charter schools, hoping to escape the doom of an underwhelming and forced education experience. Under Daniels’s school choice plan, these families will not be waiting for Superman much longer. Also paying attention to this speech, apart from parents and students, were teachers and the politicians who depend on the latter’s compelled union dues for their electoral power. Putting choice in the hands of parents and students, while not destroying this arrangement, certainly throws it into question.
A consistent advocate of education reform, Gov. Daniels is fighting on several fronts. Daniels aims to increase charter schools and ease chartering requirements, establish an easy method for parents to reclaim their failing schools through a voting process, and renegotiate collective bargaining agreements with teachers’ unions, among other things. However, Daniels has moved beyond just charter schools, mandates, and testing requirements and is now contesting the government school bureaucracy on its own ground.
The enduring power of Indiana’s education reform is that it would minimize the forced combination of teacher-union entrenchment and parental limitation. Slice this Gordian knot and the opportunity for a lasting revolution in education is obvious. In the State of the State, Daniels sounded the families’ plights perfectly: “They are children, and parents of children, who are waiting for a spot in a charter or private school. They believe their futures will be brighter if they can make that choice. Look at those faces. Will you be the one to tell the parents “tough luck“? Are you prepared to say to them “We know better than you do“?” School choice reform, Daniels creatively argued, is a civil right. Families in a compulsory system have a right for their children to be educated instead of being cognitively abused by the current system.
Many thought that making significant progress in tuition scholarships or vouchers had stalled across the country. Proposals for statewide vouchers have been defeated, soundly in many cases. Even conservative Utah sneezed on its statewide attempt for vouchers, 62 percent to 38 percent. In response, leaders within the education reform movement called for renewed focus on instruction, content, and defeating the intellectual hegemony of the education colleges. All of this is true, so far as it goes; but, given the power of the status quo, defeating “the soft bigotry of low expectations” requires a crushing blow to the teachers’ union’s monopoly power.
The fatal flaw in the No Child Left Behind Act was it’s belief that an innovative federal response could circumvent union control of almost every primary and secondary education market in the country. The Act’s testing, mandates, and centrally controlled accountability mechanisms cannot surmount the rubble that remains of America’s once-great K-12 school system. The battle — victory or defeat — must be joined by the parents, neighborhoods, and civic groups that are planted in communities from coast to coast. Giving them the freedom to choose, thus making local rule effective, is the only promising reform.
Passage of Indiana’s school-choice reform would be a decisive step in the decades-long attempt by cities and states across the nation to restore public education in America to what it does best: build the futures of children from difficult circumstances. Other venues to explore this policy have chiefly been cities and they have been hemmed in by more powerful and hostile forces seeking to roll back reform. The elimination of Washington, D.C.’s choice program in 2009 by the Democratic Congress and President Obama is a cruel example. Moreover, we finally will be able to measure and evaluate in a large jurisdiction not only the performance of students receiving scholarships but the adjustments union-organized schools make in response to their competitors. After all, innovation ultimately comes from the discovery process of competition. Trial, error, and bold experimentation will help school reformers discover learning methods that actually fill young Americans’ minds with the knowledge and skills they need to prosper on an increasingly competitive and demanding planet.
To be sure, the reform could fail to pass one or both houses. Republicans consistently are able to pull the cloud out of every silver lining. However, the X factor that should leave reform proponents feeling confident of victory is a rising Governor Daniels and a conservative movement that may have found a leader who succeeds by direct and bold moral argumentation for political principle. Ultimately, the choice option works because it touches the core competency of public education. It is not rocket science, but the alignment of the separate but intertwined incentives of students and parents and teachers to achieve their goals. Getting to this crucial educational moment is the key. Unfortunately, we have suppressed students and parents with the current East Berlin structure of education delivery. Tear down this wall and be prepared for a new spontaneous order in education.
Richard M. Reinsch II is an Indianapolis-based writer and the author of Whittaker Chambers: The Spirit of a Counterrevolutionary (ISI Books, July 2010).

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