Wisconsin: “Like Pre-Nazi Germany”

The Heritage Foundation has put together a short video of interviews with a handful of people in Wisconsin who are protesting Governor Walker’s proposed “budget repair bill.” The video opens with a person saying, “What did Hitler do first? He busted the unions. First you take away the unions, and then you take away the Jews.” Near the end of the video, another person says that the current state of Wisconsin is “like pre-Nazi Germany.” Well.

The final person in the video says that she does not want Walt Disney and Wal-Mart teaching our kids, which is what she apparently thinks will happen if the Wisconsin governor succeeds in reducing Wisconsin teachers’ legal rights to bargain collectively. It is hard not to wonder whether even the rather ahistorical Walt Disney corporation would do any worse, but that is by the by.

In the circumstances, I have a recommendation to make to Wisconsin’s Governor Walker, and by implication to other governors and state legislatures around the country who are or will be facing similar budget deficits and debts and are or will have to figure out ways to address them: Go for the jugular now.

The proposed budget in Wisconsin would increase public employees’ contribution to their own pensions to approximately 6% and their contribution toward their own health care benefits to approximately 12%—both numbers still well below state and national averages for the private sector.

Their reason for protesting is, they say, not the money, but the fact that the governor wants to “bust the unions.” According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Under the bill, the unions could not bargain over anything but wages, would have to hold annual elections to keep their organizations intact and would lose the ability to have union dues deducted from state paychecks. Employees would no longer have to automatically pay union dues, but could choose whether they want to do so.”

That is not quite “busting the unions.” Under Walker’s proposed legislation, union members would still be able to exist and would still be able to bargain collectively about wages. But they would have to hold annual elections, and they couldn’t have their union dues automatically drafted from their paychecks—hardly objectionable, it would seem, let alone worthy of such aggressive protest. They would lose their ability to bargain collectively about their pensions and health benefits, yet even here it is not as drastic as it initially sounds: police, firefighters, and state troopers would all be exempt and thus allowed to continue bargaining collectively about everything.

But the union members and their allies are nevertheless willing to employ the reductio ad hitlerum, even for such a relatively small fiscal change. The right-leaning Media Research Center has a story (with pictures and a link to video) about the climate of hate that protesters are creating with references to Hitler, the Nazis, Mussolini, and Mubarek, as well as pictures of the governor in crosshairs and other eliminationist rhetoric.

I don’t think public-sector employees should be allowed to collectively bargain or unionize at all, because the people paying their salaries and benefits have no place at the bargaining table and because conflicts of interest are everywhere. (For example, the former governor of New Jersey used to date a former state union boss.) But when public-sector employees average better pay, better retirement plans, better health, sickness, leave, and vacation plans, and better job security than their counterparts in the private sector, then they have lost the moral high ground and have become instead mere special pleaders for their special privileges.

In circumstances like these, one does not begin the negotiations with them with such small requests. As long as you’re going to be called a Hitler anyway, then why not begin the negotiations with something rather more real-world-like? Why not start with proposing to outlaw altogether unionizing and collective bargaining among public workers, and requiring them to pay 50% of their pensions and benefits?

For too long many of them have been living in an economic fairytale land, where more money comes from “demanding” it, not from inceasing marginal productivity and wealth. If we had all the money in the world, I would still say it is not healthy for so many people not to understand the necessities of wealth production (not distribution), and the realities of what people in the private sector face. But we don’t have all the money in the world.

So I say to Governor Walker, do not merely wait them out; proceed all the more boldly against them. If they are already calling you a Hitler, and thus already dealing with you in bad faith, what more do you have to fear?

13 thoughts on “Wisconsin: “Like Pre-Nazi Germany”

  1. Granted: Most Hitler, Stalin, … comparisons are rubbish. But so is your post. How comes our libertarian friends are so eager to abandon any of their sacred principles once the matter of debate are unions and in particular public sector unions?

    The elementary rights of free association, free assembly, and control over one’s own bargaining power are absolutely, non-negotiable first principle American, civil, and human rights. Even more disturbing the issue of pensions involves essential property rights. A pension represents fairly negotiated, previously earned compensation. It is not a bonus, an extra, or a gift. It is obtained through the fair, just, and mutually agreed bargaining of the employee and the employer. Those who defend property rights have an obligation to defend pensions.

    PS: But I shouldn’t be too harsh on James Otteson on this subject. He’s a Charles G. Koch Senior Fellow and by sheer chance Mr. Walker is the sole beneficiary of Charles G. Koch campaign contributions. Thus these two lucky guys are brothers in arms. No mystery here.

    PPS: And please stop handing out the myth that public sector unions are in anyway connected to the budget problem. Only an analphabet will come up with this argument anymore. This problem is in the world due to the stupid decisions of Mr. Walker. More on that you can read here.

  2. Wait: How do the people paying salaries and benefits of public sector employees not have a place at the bargaining table? With whom to the unions bargain, if not some representative of the elected government?

  3. So workers in the heavily unionized public sector get paid more than workers in the much less (and decreasingly) unionized private sector, and the solution is to attack public sector unions? It’s always good to see naked class warfare.

  4. Alabama recently outlawed union dues deduction for most public sector workers in a special session called by Governor Riley before he left office this January. The rhetoric used by both sides in that debate, if I remember correctly, is largely similar to the back-and-forth used here. Might be worthing further examination.

    Of the proposed reforms, I think the deduction ban is critically important for this reason: I do not believe that any government resources should be used to collect and disburse funds to political organizations. (And, yes, I do think that unions are political organizations.)

  5. I agree. Walker is playing patsie cake with people who are going for his jugular. For every week that the Democrats stay away, he should write a more and more stringent bill restricting union activities. Make it clear that Democrats had better settle for something, because nothing is what comes next.

  6. Stephan, your tone suggests that you want simply to condescend rather than to converse, but in case that is not true: I certainly agree that freedom to contract and associate is an important, even fundamental, aspect of a free society. As I have pointed out elsewhere in response to one of your comments, however, the case of public-sector unions is fundamentally different from those of private-sector unions. The difference is this: the taxpayers, who fund the contracts, are not parties to the negotiation. It is politicians who negotiate with the public-sector unions, and they are not risking their own money (and they are often involved in conflicts of interest as well).

    Sorry, but public-sector unions are very much a part of the budget problem, and not only in Wisconsin. Their pensions and benefits, not to mention their generous salaries, sick leave policies, etc., are threatening to bankrupt several states.

    Penelope, your thought is initially plausible. But then one must consider just how remote any particular activity of a politician is from the knowledge, let alone the authority, of any taxpayer. Elections come regularly but only relatively far apart, during which time politicians do any number of things. Moreover, politicians and public-sector unions alike typically work very hard to make sure that no one really knows what the details of their contracts are, how they’ll be paid for, or who will pay them. (If you don’t believe me, try having a go at finding out exactly how much money your school district spends—the total amount, including all the “off book” expenditures. I wish you luck.)

    The truth is that politicians seek power, status, and re-election, with people’s welfare tending to trail somewhere behind. One strategy for getting what they desire is to make a deal with unions to pay them more from taxpayer funds if the unions lobby and campaign for them, and another way is to get more and more people to become part of the unions. This simple dynamic explains a lot of the actual behavior of politicians and public-sector unions, and it has precious little do with any taxpayer involvement—other than, of course, that the taxpayers are required to pay for it.

    Finally, Bill, I assume you’re teasing. It reminds me of the football coach who says that because his tailback is averaging 5.0 yards per carry they should therefore have him carry every down. They’ll get down the field in no time!

  7. Hmmm … how comes you folks are frequently resorting to the argument “your tone suggests …” Is this a blog or one of your virtual pro-seminars? I’m not exactly calling you names? I mostly don’t subscribe to your ideological drivel. So are you. What’s the problem? I think in blog discussions it is worthwhile to formulate differences controversially. Otherwise what is the point of the exercise? You and me don’t need the mutual confirmation that we are brilliant and totally political correct.

  8. Jason,

    What you say about the lack of direct taxpayer involvement is certainly true, but no more the case here than in hundreds (probably thousands) of other cases where taxpayer money funds some government agency appointed by an administration elected only periodically within our representative system. That’s simply how our gov’t works all the way down and on both state and federal levels. Seems like you are being rather selective if you single out public unions in this way.

    Though I imagine, as a libertarian, you would have no problem with eliminating any number of federal agencies and public programs. 😉

    1. That was actually James, not me, but I largely agree with this argument over public sector collective bargaining. I would also say that if one believes that the voter is an effective check on unionized government workers, then it’s hard to see how one could object to Wisconsin elected representatives’ doing what they campaigned on in this case.

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