Wisconsin’s Bigger Picture

Discussion of the Week
The battle in Wisconsin pitting Republican lawmakers and Governor Scott Walker against Democrats over the future of organized labor is about — well, that depends on who you ask. Republicans say it’s about fiscal reality and the need to tighten belts in this lengthy recession. Democrats say it’s about political giveaways today and campaign financing tomorrow.

The GOP says America is broke, must reduce spending, and is targeting social programs and organized labor. Democrats counter that if the nation is broke, it’s because banks blew up the economy and were then bailed out by taxpayers in the blink of an eye. The rich were taken care of — no questions asked — but nobody is willing to help the non-rich. In Wisconsin specifically, they point out, Governor Walker and the Republican legislature gave away tax breaks to corporate cronies that cost the state more than enough to cover the budget shortfall that they now want to bridge by busting public employee unions.

Conservatives respond that people should stop the dramatic sob stories and focus on the majority of cases that weren’t made for heart-wrenching television. Government labor is rife with waste: “Have you ever noticed that it’s always cops, firemen and teachers who get mentioned for cuts? Maybe in the winter, the guys who drive snow plows get mentioned. No one ever says we will have to lay off affirmative action officers, tax assessors, and school district bureaucrats if you don’t pass this tax increase.”

Perhaps what’s at stake is actually much bigger and more central to where American society is heading than either side is willing to publicly admit. Demographics are changing in America. Wealthy voters, those who tend to back the GOP, face a rising minority percentage of the population that overwhelmingly supports social programs that require redistributing wealth from successful people to less successful. If such a group takes political power in America, that group will destroy the capitalist spirit that made the nation great, indeed that made so many people want to immigrate to America both legally and illegally.

How to defeat larger numbers? By defunding the group. Public employee unions are one of the largest backers of the Democratic party, and they collect dues automatically from government paychecks creating what the GOP calls an unfair advantage. If the GOP can succeed in busting the unions, it will eliminate the only top-ten political fundraising groups in America that back Democrats instead of Republicans.

Unions are known for their get-out-the-vote programs that energize minority voters with single issues, such as a higher minimum wage because it’s important to many minority workers, and then use the mobilized voting bloc to elect Democratic leaders. Unions bring both money and votes to Democrats. That’s why Republicans want to cripple them and, while they’re at it, get more voter ID laws passed to prevent what they call rampant voter fraud. Democrats note the focus on IDing mostly minority voters in Democratic districts.

GOP supporters call the plan to bust unions and restrict the political influence of minorities brilliant, a smart use of the budget crisis to achieve a political aim necessary to preserve America’s tradition of self reliance. Protesters in Wisconsin and other progressives call the plan an evil ploy to strengthen the plutocracy that has already helped America’s rich get much, much richer.

The issue extends beyond Wisconsin to the entire nation. According to yesterday’s Washington Post: “More than half the children in California are Latinos, according to new census statistics that show the nation’s most populous state rapidly approaching the day when Hispanics overtake whites as the largest minority.”

The following excerpts from John Derbyshire’s We Are Doomed underscore the demographic tensions ahead:

The recent history of modern public-education reform in this country is very nearly a history of the determination on the part of white and East Asian parents that their children not attend schools with too many black and Hispanic students. …

What is the fundamental reason for all this segregation? Why don’t [whites and East Asian parents] want their kids going to school with [black and Hispanic] kids? As briefly as the question can be answered: because [black and Hispanic] kids are, in the broad generality, unacademic and unruly. …

The [white/East Asian versus black/Hispanic] wealth gap in the United States is quite breathtaking. The Pew Hispanic Center trawled through census data in 2004 to get the following figures for median household net worth as of 2002: Hispanic $7,932; non-Hispanic black $5,988; non-Hispanic white $88,651. Now that’s a gap. (Pew does not break out a figure for Asians. For purposes of highlighting minority distress, the Asian minority, which does rather well, is inconvenient. …

The highly default-prone subprime mortgages were disproportionately issued to non-Asian minorities. In 2006, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, “twenty-six percent of mortgages for home purchases by whites were subprime … for Hispanics, it was 47 percent and for African Americans, 53 percent.” We also know that the states with the biggest increase in home-foreclosure rates are California, Nevada, Florida, and Arizona. If you rank all 50 states by the percentage of the state population that declared itself Hispanic in the 2000 census, those four are ranked 2, 5, 7, and 4 respectively.

This may be a battle to save the soul of America, but who’s doing the saving? Are Republicans saving it by defending the spirit of self-reliant capitalism against a less ambitious but growing population of minorities demanding handouts? Or, are Democrats saving it by defending the unalienable human rights championed in the Declaration of Independence for a growing class of non-wealthy Americans crushed under the boot of America’s richest citizens?

Sound off, citizen! Click the comment link below to join the discussion.

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  1. Posted March 14, 2011 at 2:07 am | Permalink

    Dear Jason, In my general reading and studying, I have come across lots of references to pay inequality, the gap between rich and poor, so-and-so makes too much money… or too little. Certainly some sanity must be invoked when pay is comming from Government via the tax dollar. But often in the private sector, with entreprenuers, or gifted athletes, or other talented business people, I am not sure how much money or other wealth someone has is really important. If Tiger Woods makes $20 million dollars that does not reduce my well being… even though it opens up the gap between rich (Woods) and poor (me). I guess the stats of who is rich and who is poor are somewhat arbitrary and somewhat meaningless.

    The world in all its recorded and unrecorded history has always had rich and poor, and let us be honest with each other… the world will always have a range of wealth from top to bottom. You may as well rail against the wind and tides, as to try and make everyone equal. What a foolish goal. In America, we have determined that all shall have the opportunity to succeed, but we all have different definitions of success. Some folks like to watch TV for hours and eat junk food. God bless them. Others want to be out of doors doing recreation. Some like to be at work 80 or 90 hours a week. There is a place for everyone to fit in in America, we are free to do as we choose. And we must also be responsible for the results. As a general rule, the harder you work the luckier you get. If you want more, go earn it…. if you are happy with less that is OK too. We need to focus on ourselves and be less critical of others. The grass is not always greener over the hill, and we need to pay attention to ourselves and our families, and worry little about Tom, Dick or Harry.

    Posted March 12, 2011 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    On the subject of unions in Madison, Wisconsin. The highest paid public worker is a city bus driver bringing in $150k/year thanks to the union contract.


  3. TT
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    I’ll try this Wisconsin issue once more. Let’s say I own a hardware store and need employees. I project revenue for 5 years and hire 2 employees. As revenues and profits go up, I give raises and hire more employees. I even put in a 401K plan. Now project a County hiring a teacher. They look at revenue from property taxes and some kickback from the State. They buy teachers a million dollar annuity at age 55 so they can retire and the annuity pays the teacher $50000- $60000 a year. To pay for it they must raise the property taxes on the workers at the hardware store. The worker keeps working until age 66 and then collects Social Security. Why didn’t the Hardware store owner buy a million dollar annuity for his workers? Shouldn’t the teachers feel guilty and kick in some money to the Hardware store owner to buy that annuity? Think about it.

  4. TT
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Jason, In light of the quake, we send you our best and hope you and your friends are safe. John

  5. Posted March 11, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    In response to this discussion, I’ve received many emails accusing John Derbyshire of being racist and, by extension, me of being racist for having included an excerpt from his writing in my article. In response, I offer the following public reply from Derbyshire, written to address similar accusations made against his book, We Are Doomed:

    I have not the slightest interest in what is, or is not, “racist.” What interests me is whether something is true. If you want to point to something in my book and say, “That’s racist!”, I’m afraid I will just shrug and say: “Whatever.  Is it true?”

    My standard is the one in the law of libel: truth is a complete and dispositive defense. If I have said something in my book that is not true, by all means point it out to me. You might be right; I’m not infallible; possibly there’s some evidence I’ve missed, that swings the argument your way. That’s the way reasonable people settle things. Shrieking “racist” is the way crybaby liberal bedwetters think they can settle things. Well, the hell with them.

    To find out whether something is true, you go to the data, the best data you can find. The question here is:  Is diversity a good thing or a bad thing for society? Prof. Putnam demonstrated that it is a bad thing, reducing our social capital.

    You may not like Prof. Putnam’s results. He didn’t like them himself, being a liberal. That’s why he waited six years before publishing them, and buried them in all the fluff about “challenges” that I make fun of.

    If you say, “Well, I think Putnam’s wrong,” your words have no weight. To give them weight, you need to point to a study equiponderant with Putnam’s. That is to say, you have to point me to an award-winning study by a highly-respected social scientist, taking in tens of thousands of people in dozens of locations, proving that diversity increases social capital, or at least does not decrease it. To precisely counterbalance Putnam’s, your study should be done by a conservative who is so disturbed by his findings, he waits six years before publishing them.

    Can you point me to such a study? If not, you have nothing to say. Data talks, bullshit walks.

    — From the We Are Doomed blog

  6. Michael Nettrour
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    America is still the land of opportunity. We all have had our obstacles to overcome.
    I believe regardless of race, sexual orientation, or political persuasion, the following statements are true:

    • We can’t spend more than we earn, and expect to provide the social safety nets, education, national defense, or whatever else we as a people deem necessary. If you can’t spend more than you earn with your family finances without going bankrupt, how can our government?
    • Huge government and more regulation burdens the economy and consumes money instead of creating it.
    • We seem to think that all politicians are crooks, except the ones stealing for our district.
    • The public school educational standards in America are a national shame. I have a theory that if you attended a standards-based high school in the late 60’s early 70’s you acquired the equivalent of a 2011 general studies college education today. We were not rocket scientists, but we were taught to write, read and could handle algebra and geometry.
    • Decency, respect for authority, and tolerance is on the decline.

    The solutions seem simple, but it is going to take a search for middle ground and a national consensus of what we as a people want. We must:

    • Balance the budget. Enforce and set new sundown laws on government agencies.
    • Get back to the basics in education. Reading, writing, and mathematics is the core to a good education. Spend our educational money on creating citizens that our businesses want to employ. Teach to a common standard: you don’t get promoted to the next grade until you master your current level. As one poster said above, grade promotions based on achievement and mastery — not age. For the amount of money spent per student we should be producing much better educated students than we are.
    • Know that America is an idea, not just a place. We must as a people define the ideas we want to promote, then elect people who represent those ideas. We seem to run extremes going between far right and far left governance. The see sawing is ripping the country apart.

    Lastly, a little wisdom from my dad:

    • If you can work and won’t, you don’t eat.
    • We are all pink on the inside and bleed red.
    • People who have children and won’t care for them are the same as animals.
    • If you don’t have anything that you feel is worth dying for, then you have nothing.
    • Right and wrong are still absolutes; we come wired to know that.

    We should post based on mutual respect. We don’t have to share a poster’s viewpoint to respect his right to post it. If you can’t couch your opinion of another’s values without attacking him as a person, show your wisdom by remaining silent.

    Jason, as always, thoughtful insights. Keep up the good work.

    • Posted March 11, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      Will do, Michael, and thank you for the thoughtful comment!

    • June T.
      Posted March 12, 2011 at 8:21 am | Permalink


      We need more folks who think like your Dad….and obviously you are one of them! Thank you for sharing his wisdom with the rest of us.

  7. TT
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 2:17 am | Permalink

    Kent: Your comment above is about the most intelligent comment so far on this board. You didn’t get into politics but just presented the facts about our great country.

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