“It doesn’t affect me,” said a proud member of the United Steelworkers as he participated in a rally in Columbus against SB5, a state bill that would end collective bargaining for public employees. He could not be more wrong. It most definitely does affect him, as it does all of us, because everything from entitlements to government spending to freedom is involved.
Let’s start with entitlements. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting more in life. Neither, for that matter, is there anything wrong with unions per se. Each is as beneficial and honorable, or as dangerous and corrupt, as the principles by which it and its members operate, under official sanction or not, just as with any other institution. The problem arises when force is used to extort that “more” from others rather than earning it yourself.
That is the great flaw of unionizing public workers. By allowing them to organize, government is put in into a relationship with them that invites corruption. With the very rare exception, politicians win elections by promising benefits to voters and then delivering on those promises. That’s why public employee wages and benefits typically outstrip those for comparable private sector positions, sometimes by quite significant proportions. It’s not to attract the best employees, it’s to buy their votes. The more lavish the handouts to these workers, the more votes the politicians get from them, and the more the rest of us, including our steelworker friend, are taxed to pay for them.
Which leads to government spending in general. At all levels, government has spent itself to, sometimes over, the brink of bankruptcy. Even as tax revenues plummeted due to the recession and the collapse of the housing market, spending increased radically. Now that Republicans are trying to impose some hints of restraint, those who benefit from uninhibited government spending are screaming bloody murder. Rather tolerating any reduction in what is redistributed to them by government force, they demand that even more wealth be seized from those who actually earn it. “More taxes on the rich” is a theme of the protests by government employees and paid activists against sane government finances in Wisconsin.
But even those who think they benefit from government spending ultimately do not. Irresponsible spending by the government harms you, just as if you were bankrupting yourself. The less responsible government is with taxpayer money, the greater a burden it becomes on the economy and, by extension, on liberty. Mr. Steelworker is affected by lavish public sector wages and benefits, because the more of his money that has to go to the government to pay for them, the less choice he has to do with it as he pleases. And there is the impact on freedom.
President Obama tells us that we must sacrifice, that we must “look after not only ourselves but each other,” to quote his November 2008 victory speech. So let’s talk sacrifice. To Obama and the other progressives, sacrifice means everyone else doing without to pay for their agenda. Since that speech, Obama’s “sacrifices” have included $100 a pound steaks, setting the White House thermostat to “tropics,” Broadway shows, 71-car motorcades, and myriad vacations at venues such as $3,500 per day island resorts. Okay, I get it that the presidency and big-time book sales come with perks; but telling us to sacrifice while flaunting them betrays a remarkable detachment from reality.
That reality is that Americans always have sacrificed, from lives and limbs given up for the nation’s defense to luxuries, even essentials, done without to benefit loved ones and charity. Liberty lets these sacrifices be voluntary whenever possible, and we don’t need to be lectured about it by someone who is better off than most of us but sacrificed only 5.9% of his 2009 income for charity.
But rather than our having the freedom to sacrifice as we choose, it’s clear from Obama’s spending record that the sacrifice he intends for us is mandatory through escalating taxes, a sacrifice that Vice-President Biden calls our “patriotic duty.” Given his solidarity with and support from the public sector unions, much of that sacrifice is to be for their benefit, so that they don’t have to sacrifice anything; in gratitude, they’ll vote for progressives who will keep their private gravy train and its cargo of unsustainable deficits rolling. And the rest of us, including you, me and our proud steelworker, are chained to the tracks in front of it by the government’s power to confiscate.
Thomas Berry, for the Children of Liberty, www.meetup.com/The-children-of-liberty/ .