A la James Taranto, of WSJ:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703529004576160273318213558.htmlThe Means of CoercionThe privileged are revolting in Wisconsin.By JAMES TARANTO
To make sense of what's going on in Wisconsin, it helps to understand that the left in America lives in an ideological fantasy world. The dispute between the state government and the unions representing its employees is "about power," Paul Krugman of the New York Times observes accurately, before going off the rails:
What [Gov. Scott] Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin--and eventually, America--less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. And that's why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators' side.
Kevin Drum of Mother Jones elaborates:
Unions are . . . the only large-scale movement left in America that persistently acts as a countervailing power against corporate power. They're the only large-scale movement left that persistently acts in the economic interests of the middle class. . . .
The decline of unions over the past few decades has left corporations and the rich with essentially no powerful opposition. No matter what doubts you might have about unions and their role in the economy, never forget that destroying them destroys the only real organized check on the power of the business community in America. If the last 30 years haven't made that clear, I don't know what will.
There are several problems with this line of thinking. First, to talk of America in terms of "class" is to speak a foreign language. Outside of university faculties and Marxist fringe groups (but we repeat our self), Americans do not divide ourselves up by class; rather, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . ."
When Americans describe themselves as "middle class," the term is a synonym for "ordinary" or "respectable," not part of a taxonomy of division. Actual middle-class Americans don't feel put upon by "corporate power" or "the business community," because by and large, they own the means of production: They run businesses; they hold shares in corporations through their investment and retirement accounts. Some belong to unions, but the vast majority do not: "In 2010, the union membership rate--the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union--was 11.9 percent, down from 12.3 percent a year earlier," according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
n any case, it seems to have escaped Krugman's and Drum's notice that the Wisconsin dispute has nothing to do with corporations. The unions' antagonist is the state government. "Industrial unions are organized against the might and greed of ownership," writes Time's Joe Klein, a liberal who understands the crucial distinction. "Public employees unions are organized against the might and greed . . . of the public?"
The "labor movement" in America has increasingly come to consist of people who work for government, not private companies. As the BLS notes, the union-participation rate for public-sector workers in 2010 was 36.2%, vs. just 6.9% for private-sector workers.
There is a fundamental difference between private- and public-sector workers. A private-sector labor dispute is a clear clash of competing interests, with management representing shareholders and unions representing workers. In the public sector, as George Will notes, taxpayers--whose position is analogous to that of shareholders--are usually denied a seat at the table:
Such unions are government organized as an interest group to lobby itself to do what it always wants to do anyway - grow. These unions use dues extracted from members to elect their members' employers. And governments, not disciplined by the need to make a profit, extract government employees' salaries from taxpayers. Government sits on both sides of the table in cozy "negotiations" with unions.
Collective bargaining in the public sector thus is less a negotiation than a conspiracy to steal money from taxpayers. The notion that this is "in the economic interests of the middle class" for government employees in Wisconsin and elsewhere to get above-market wages and extremely lavish benefits is just laughable. Sure, government employees are "middle class," but so are the vast majority of taxpayers who don't enjoy the special privileges that come from owning the means of coercion.
Commentary's Jennifer Dyer argues that the Wisconsin dispute--likely the first of many, as states and localities face up to the unsustainable costs they have imposed on taxpayers via such collusion with unions--reflects a "crisis of progressivism":
..more @ link, above.