Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery. — Winston Churchill
In previous blogs I have written that I was raised in a family devoted to the Democrat Party. They believed in FDR and his progressive programs and all but my father belonged to unions. To my knowledge no one in the family ever voted for a Republican. The first vote I ever cast was for John Kennedy in 1960.
While they were Democrats they were also conservative. They were anti-communist, anti-big government and not in favor of higher taxes. When I look back I find it hard to understand why they were Democrats — perhaps it was a Depression syndrome. I think they also looked upon Republicans as “those rich people who lived in Shaker Heights. I can attest, however, that they voted for candidates endorsed by their unions, candidates that were always Democrats.
I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, a traditional “rust belt” union town. A few of the larger employers were: Republic Steel, General Motors, Lincoln Electric, and Union Carbide. These were all union shops and this is why the City and County were run by Democrats — they had the support of the unions. I can recall hearing time and time again that the problems in Ohio were caused by “those down-state Republicans” who controlled the state legislature.
At this time there were no unions for public sector workers in Ohio or Cleveland, but if you worked for the City or Cuyahoga County you were assessed 5% of your pay to support the reelection of the City or County officials. This is how the Democrat party maintained control of the city and county government.
With the advent of public sector unions in the late 1950s big city, county and state governments began taking advantage of this opportunity. In 1958, when New York City Mayor Robert Wagner signed an executive order allowing civil service workers to unionize. It was an obvious appeal to union voters. A Wagner aide suggested that city workers would be a large enough constituency to guarantee his re-election. He was right on the money. There have been rare instances when big cities elected Republican mayors — New York with Giuliani and Los Angele with Riordan. It was a bit different at the state level as more nonunion workers were thrown into the electorate. There are a few exceptions like California where there are about 1.5 million public sector unionized workers. The Democrat, Jerry Brown, was elected by a 1.3 million vote plurality over his Republican candidate Meg Whitman. With this enslaved public sector union support for the Democrat party it is doubtful California will ever be controlled by the Republicans. Some counties and districts will have Republican leadership, but the demographic power of the coastal counties will maintain the Democrat party.
Every big city that has been run by the Democrat party is a economic, cultural and social disaster. They have the highest crime rates, lowest education results, failing infrastructure, declining tax base and no money. The unemployment is high due to businesses fleeing the cities and moving to the more business friendly climes of the south or overseas to India or China. This symbiotic relationship between the Democrat party and the public sector unions is destroying the nation — at all levels of government. The real employer — the tax payer — has no voice in the negotiations with the unions.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics public sector union employees earn 45% more total compensation than their private sector counterparts. In the last election the three largest public sector unions (SEIU, AFSCME and the NEA) gave a combined $103* million dollars to national candidates — 95% to Democrats. Keep in mind, even though this is money collected from member’s dues its really tax payer money. Unlike a Teamster who works for a private company and has dues collected from his wages the public sector union member has their dues collected from wages paid by the tax payer. In essence the government is a collection agency for the unions that keep them in power. This is a graveyard spiral for our fiscal health.
What do we get from a public sector union member? Have you been to your local DMV office recently? Recently a friend of mine related a story concerning a public sector employee. He has business at the local courthouse on the day after Presidents Day and noticed a sign on the door stating that the courthouse would be closed on Presidents Day. When my friend suggested to the deputy, who was clearing him through security, that he should remove the sign the deputy replied that was not his job, it was the job of maintenance to remove the sign.
Measured from the end of the Korean War (1953) to the year before the financial crisis (2007), federal spending had actually declined as a share of GDP, from 20.4% to 19.6%. Since the 1960s, federal spending has exhibited no persistent upward or downward trend. Periods of rising federal expenditure have been followed by periods of declining outlays, measured relative to GDP. The federal government has grown substantially over the entire period, of course, but this growth has been roughly in line with that of the overall U.S. economy. By contrast, over the past 60 years, state and local government expenditures have doubled as a share of the economy, from 7.7% of GDP in 1950 to 15.5% in 2009. Since 1950, state and local spending has grown at an 8.1% annual rate, fast enough to double the size of state and local government every 8 or 9 years.
Perhaps this growth might not be so bad, depending on where those incremental expenditures are allocated. If the much higher spending were directed towards improved infrastructure, perhaps it could be considered money well spent. But that’s not the case. Data from the BEA shows that gross state and local investment — spending on things like roads, hospitals, prisons, highways, ports, and transit systems — has virtually flat-lined as a share of GDP since 1950 while the rest of the state and local spending has increased by 130% since then — mostly for the increased cost of government salaries, benefits and unfunded guaranteed pension plans.
According to BLS, 7.9 million public sector workers belong to unions, more than the 7.4 million private sector unionized workers. Of these 7.9 million unionized public employees, less than 2.75 million are federal workers. The remaining 5.1 million — nearly two-thirds of the total — are state and local employees. As a consequence, if escalating compensation costs are a main driver of government spending, one would anticipate seeing larger increases at the state and local level. This is what is killing the economies of the states and causing increases in taxes and fees. This immoral and perhaps illegal alliance between the Democrat party and the public sector unions is ruining the country.
This alliance is driven by greed and selfishness. Just look at the goings on in Madison, Wisconsin. Public sector union members (mainly school teachers) acting like spoiled and selfish children. Beating and banging on pots and pan, out shouting any one in opposition to their point of view, mostly ignorant of the issues or history of public sector unions and demanding their collective barging rights. I have news for them collective bargaining for public sector unions is not a right. They say it’s not about the money. Well we are adult enough to know that when someone claims it’s not about the money it usually is.
We have Democrat politicians running away from their responsibilities as elected officials because they cannot have their way. What if all Republicans had left Congress and hidden away in Bimini during the health care debates. They knew they did not have the votes to stop the bill, but they stayed and fought for the people who elected them — and with Tea Party support have begun to win their position. These Democrat legislators who are hiding in Illinois are saying we don’t care about elections. If we can’t have our way — a way we have had for the past 40 years — we will not play in your game. We are used to power and we can’t stand it when the people challenge it.
What is the free market value of a public union school teacher? We don’t really know because there is no free market in education. If results matter then their value is pretty low. What if teachers were compensated based on the success of their students in the real world? As a former consultant and seminar trainer I was evaluated on the value I brought to the client or program. After each seminar I was evaluated on my performance and contribution to the value of the organization. If my evaluations were not good I surely would not be invited back — in essence in, the words of Donald Trump, I would be fired. Why can’t we have the same policies for public union teachers? Teachers in the private schools certainly are accountable for the success of their students.
As Bill McGurn points out in a recent Wall Street Journal column, “public sector unions don’t just have to worry about a taxpayer revolt. They also must be concerned about a mutiny among private sector unions. Private sector unions with insight into corporate balance sheets and market competition recognize that $1 million pensions are unrealistic burdens to place on employers. Attempts to change the subject and blame “corporate greed” simply do not resonate. Put simply, it is difficult to conceive a way to address the current – and projected – state fiscal crisis without dramatic reductions in state and local employee benefits” – and numbers.”
If Gov. Walker is successful in his attempts to end collective bargaining for public sector workers in Wisconsin we may be as Winston Churchill stated; “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
* Correction. This figure is for a 30 year period and represents only the three unions listed. Other public service unions and state and local contributions are not included.