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Posts Tagged ‘Scott Walker’

Gov. Walker definitely has a budget to balance, but I believe his desire to end collective bargaining for unions has very little to do with this, despite his insistence to the contrary (Jon Chait and Kevin Drum just had a good back-and-forth on this). It may possibly be the case that getting rid of the unions would help Wisconsin’s long-term budget situation, though I think that’s debatable and there are obviously other avenues I would choose to pursue first. But it’s a pretty big stretch to say that ending collective bargaining would do anything to close the current year budget gap, since the point of doing so would be to extract the necessary immediate financial concessions — concessions that the unions have already agreed to. And I’m bothered by the fact that Walker has framed this entire debate in terms of the current year’s “crisis,” which I think is pretty clearly being done to purposely mislead.

After I made this point on Twitter, Josh Barro explained to me that while the unions have made the concessions on the state level, that’s not necessarily the case in every locality, where a lot of public employment is actually budgeted. So there might actually be some additional state savings if ending collective bargaining — right now — leads to further concessions on the local level — right now — which frees up some state money away from local aid (at least that’s how I think the logic goes). But can anyone saw with a straight face say that this is what is motivating Gov. Walker?

Perhaps more importantly, does it matter what is motivating him?

To me, I am so bothered by what I perceive as his blatant power play and his bad faith arguments that I am basically unwilling to dig deep on the policy issue — the thinking being that taking him seriously is a sign of respect, and it’s a respect that isn’t going both ways.

But maybe only policy outcomes are what matters? I remember being bothered by Reihan Salam and Will Wilkinson’s musings about the pros and cons of ending birthright citizenship, because although I believe they were being motivated to engage the issue because of their own stated rationales (roughly put, they were concerned that our current policy unfairly disadvantages low-income immigrants who happen to not be from Mexico, among other things), I was concerned that 99% of the conservatives who were pushing the issue were motivated by simple xenophobia. This was enough for me to be concerned about the discussing the policy on the merits at all, as I perceived the motivations behind putting birthright citizenship on the agenda in the first place were so odious.

But is this the correct way to think about this? As a thought experiment, what if Barack Obama had pushed the Affordable Care Act primarily out of a desire to get doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies to support his reelection? Sure, he has a secondary desire to achieve universal health care, as Gov. Walker cares about limiting the growth of public sector pay and benefits. But if we had a crystal ball and knew that Barack Obama had bad intentions and was supporting them with bad-faith arguments, would it or should it change our opinion of ObamaCare as policy?

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I’ve realized following the drama in Wisconsin that I have spent very little time thinking about the issue of unionization in general.  I was born two years after President Reagan fired the air traffic controllers and sparked a national debate on public sector unions, and the debate on EFCA never got off the ground when Democrats and the Obama administration basically tabled the issue without even pretending to want to pick a public fight. So I feel like people of a certain age have not been exposed to a robust national debate on the simple question of the pros and cons of both private and public sector unionization.

Because of this, I’m disappointed in progressive bloggers’ reluctance or unwillingness to discuss the stakes in Wisconsin with regards to the value of unions in and of themselves. Many have criticized Gov. Walker’s actions without explicitly making the case that public sector unionization is a good thing, which could be a result of cynical partisan politics. My hunch, though, is that center-left types are skeptical of public sector unions but think there’s something much more important at play; to wit, middle class interests have been so compromised that it’s appropriate to defend even inefficient policies that help the middle class. But if this is the case, the argument should be framed in those terms, as I think a side-step here does real harm to the debate.

Josh Marshall points out that since unions that are relatively more favorable to Republican candidates are exempted from Gov. Walker’s proposal, “It strains credulity to see this as anything but a political effort to destroy organizations that are critical foot soldiers for Democratic candidates at election time.” That certainly may be the case, but ignoring the clear power play, what’s Josh’s opinion of Walker’s proposal on the merits? Similarly, Paul Krugman argues that “You don’t have to love unions, you don’t have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy.” I wholeheartedly agree, and I think one of contemporary conservatism’s biggest failings is its unwillingness to mitigate record income inequality (or even admit that it’s a problem). But does Krugman love unions? Does he think their policy positions are right? You won’t find an answer in his column. Matt Yglesias has written a couple good posts on the subject, including one titled “Labor Unions and Me,” but I genuinely don’t know how he would answer this question: ignoring the valuable meta-role unions play as defenders of the middle class in an economic environment where the middle class desperately needs defending, if we were creating a state government from scratch in a vaccum, is it better for public sector workers to be unionized or not?

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