Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mixed Wisconsin Feelings...

I either do not have the insight to take a definitive position or perhaps the Wisconsin political situation is complex.  ;-)

Here are three conflicting impressions I've had:

1. The collective bargaining power of unions is a mixed blessing.  On the one hand, it arose in a context where business was running over the individual little man.  I also think that in a different period, unions have made it difficult for some businesses to be competitive by unreasonable demands.  I don't know what the solution is.

2. Who would want to be a public school teacher in America today?  The kids are atrocious because the parents are atrocious.  Local teachers and administrators waste half their time filling out paperwork for the government.  They aren't empowered to do what needs to be done locally.  They're not even allowed to physically remove disruptive students from the classroom.  The drop out rate for teachers in the first 5 years is enormous.  They are the play thing of political debate and subject to ever changing expectations.

And now they're getting a massive pay cut in Wisconsin by cutting pension and health care from their existing salary.  I heard a commentator on Fox News this morning repeat the governor's rhetoric in his own words--they're being paid too much and given too much vacation.  Right.  Actually, let's just put some unemployed janitors in as teachers.  How hard can it be to teach someone to read, right?

3. The entire amount of the current Wisconsin budget shortfall would be covered four times over with tax cuts that have been made in the state over the last 10 years.  This is a debate America needs to have.  What is the "sweet spot" on taxes?  Taxes fund the government.  The government provides services to provide for a common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.  But taxes reduce individual spending, which diminishes profitability in the free market, which gives individuals less money to spend--which yields less taxes.

Both sides need to get their head straight, I believe.  For the one side, high taxes presumably do not lead to a thriving economy or society.  The impulse to keep as much money in the hands of the people that spend it (which is not necessarily the wealthy) seems to be a good impulse.

For the other side, there is no divine right against taxes.  Paul said to pay taxes.  Jesus said to pay taxes.  I cannot even imagine how to make an informed biblical, Christian, or moral argument against taxes along the lines of the current debates.

My main hope is more local.  I have a mixture of people who read this blog from time to time, people on both sides of these issues.  Perhaps we can carve out just a small island of mutual understanding and of Christian clarity.  As I've said before, we should be able to agree on our broad Christian values, even if working out the details is complicated.

7 comments:

Nathaniel said...

I have two major frustrations with the teacher's union:

1. They have made it impossible to fire bad teachers. This means that while your good teachers aren't paid enough, your bad ones sit on plush salaries with great benefits. Further, any discourse about teachers seems to lack this basic distinction.

2. Today, the unions end up working against the teachers and their ability to educate. I know a teacher who was punished for teaching too well because it made the other teachers look bad in comparison. The whole thing is a den of mediocrity.

I'm not sure how to fix it and indeed most teachers just fight it until retirement.

Brian Small said...

I am amazed by how both sides can spin the issues for their own political purposes. While the issue is different, are the rallies in Wisconsin any different from the tea party rallies? And yet conservatives who supported the tea party rallies have condemned these rallies as illegal work stoppages, while liberals who condemned the tea party rallies have wholeheartedly endorsed these rallies because they are standing up for their "rights" for collective bargaining.

John Mark said...

I come from a family of public school teachers. They were generally anti-union, and didn't make much money: when my mother retired two of her sons were doing better in blue-collar jobs than she was. Her retirement pay was pathetic. Yet strikes disgusted my mother: she chose to become a teacher, knowing what the pay was, and felt many of the younger teachers weren't particularly dedicated. If men and women wanted to teach, don't complain about the pay was her attitude. Well, she was of the WWII generation, a Depression survivor...

I am a former union man (Teamster) and I personally think unions are a very mixed bag; no longer needed for the reasons they once were; but they do help people to make, in some cases, a living wage.
I think, though, that WI teachers are giving themselves a bad name, no matter whether their grievances have merit or not. I tend to believe, and what I see on the news bolsters this, that unions have become way too political, and this doesn't help their cause either.
It is a complicated situation. No one wants to see retired teachers 'suffer' but I think there has to be a better way to solve this situation.

JohnM said...

I'm not in business nor in a union, but it appears to me in the private sector unions and businesses are about equally unreasonable toward one another. You might say they deserve each other, but the rest of us don't deserve the results. I think the whole question of public sector unions is qualitatively different. Or not. I'm not quite sure how I feel about the very idea.

The irony is in a better economy the simple solution for teachers would be to go do something else if they don't like the deal they've got. If compensation is cut enough maybe some will feel forced to try just that, weak economy or not. If enough do voters will eventually have to decide whether they want public education or other things more. I wouldn't guarantee what the answer would be anymore.

I agree Ken, for the Christian the starting point on taxes is: pay them.

How much? That seems to me to be a fairly pragmatic issue. How much do we want government to do? If less, fine. Save your money. If more, well then, people need to stop defining the rich as everybody-who-makes-a-nickle-more-than-me-no-matter-how-much-I-make, and just be ready to help pay for the services you demand. Whoever reads this, if anyone's actually still reading at this point, ;) - this means you too.

Is limited government a Christian value? I'd like to think so. I like to think God is the only one to whom I can never rightfully say "That's none of your business". That sentiment, rather than any objection to paying taxes, is the reason for such libertarian sympathies as I have.

FrGregACCA said...

A brief response:

First, collective bargaining is simply analogous to checks-and-balances in our governmental structures and to the right to due process in court. Would any care to argue that defense attorneys are no longer necessary? I hope not.

Beyond that, I would refer everyone to the following book, "Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?" It concerns how the economy is structured in Germany. We Americans would all do well to investigate this further.

http://www.amazon.com/Were-You-Born-Wrong-Continent/dp/159558403X

JRS said...

It is simply troubling and fraught with difficulties when public sector employees form unions and engage in collective bargaining. Public servants are just that; servants of the public. It’s just not a healthy situation when public employees join together against their neighbors. And with our representative government that is essentially what happens.

Sure there might be disadvantages for the workers, but anytime someone accepts employment they accept the benefits as well as the limitations.

For me the Wisconsin situation illustrates the troubling difficulties of public sector unions.

Wesley 'Whitey Lawful' Mcgranor said...

Unions like gambling, drugs and prostitution are a component of orginized crime. They are further theft and extortion. Here is some 'food for thought': leave they collective bargaining to the Calvinist. I think Wesley's Methodism is not supportive of such.