I’ve seen several interviews with Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin, about his efforts to ‘balance the budget’. I put that in scare quotes because there’s a good case to be made that his agenda is different or at least well beyond that.
He’s very articulate about his position, and quite convincing. None of the interviewers had anything to add to the debate other than, “gee aren’t you union busting?” and “gee, how come isn’t it good enough that the unions have agreed to the financial concessions?” And the Governor has very good answers to each of the obvious questions.
Along comes David Brooks, as of now, my favorite op-ed columnist in the New York Times (sorry Tom Friedman, you’ve been repeating yourself for a while now, and it gets tiresome to see you constantly try to launch your own memes — you’ve been replaced.)
David Brooks adds something very interesting and new to the debate. Basically his point is that not all unions are alike, and in fact, there’s a crucial and never discussed difference between public sector unions and private sector unions:
“[…snip…] public sector unions and private sector unions are very different creatures. Private sector unions push against the interests of shareholders and management; public sector unions push against the interests of taxpayers. Private sector union members know that their employers could go out of business, so they have an incentive to mitigate their demands; public sector union members work for state monopolies and have no such interest.
Private sector unions confront managers who have an incentive to push back against their demands. Public sector unions face managers who have an incentive to give into them for the sake of their own survival. Most important, public sector unions help choose those they negotiate with. Through gigantic campaign contributions and overall clout, they have enormous influence over who gets elected to bargain with them, especially in state and local races.
As a result of these imbalanced incentive structures, states with public sector unions tend to run into fiscal crises. They tend to have workplaces where personnel decisions are made on the basis of seniority, not merit. There is little relationship between excellence and reward, which leads to resentment among taxpayers who don’t have that luxury.[…snip…]” (from Make Everybody Hurt, New York Times)
If this is interesting to you, read Make Everybody Hurt in The New York Times.