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Posts Tagged ‘Unions’

I’ve criticized union bosses for fighting school reform, and I’ve condemned the so-called civil rights establishment for opposing school choice.

And here’s a powerful video from Reason TV that combines those themes, noting the unholy alliance of teacher unions and the NAACP.

The spiritual leader of the teacher unions?

Fortunately, the statists seem to be losing this issue. Louisiana recently adopted school choice legislation that will give poor children an opportunity to escape failing government schools.

But the left isn’t losing gracefully. In a move that would make George Wallace proud, they are threatening schools that will participate in the new program.

Here’s some powerful criticism of their sleazy tactics from today’s Wall Street Journal.

In some parts of the antebellum South, it was illegal to teach blacks how to read. Are teachers unions in Louisiana trying to turn back the clock? Last week, lawyers for the Louisiana Association of Educators, one of the state’s two major teachers unions, threatened private and parochial schools with lawsuits if the schools accept students participating in a new school choice initiative that starts this year. Education reforms signed into law in April by Governor Bobby Jindal include a publicly funded voucher program that allows low-income families to send their children to private or parochial schools. …lawyers representing the unions faxed letters to about 100 of the 119 schools that are participating in the voucher program. “Our clients have directed us to take whatever means necessary,” the letter reads. Unless the school agrees to turn away voucher students, “we will have no alternative other than to institute litigation.” The letter demanded an answer in writing by the next day. Louisiana’s voucher program is adjusted for family income and is intended above all to give a shot at a decent education to underprivileged minorities, who are more likely to be relegated to the worst public schools. …Demand for vouchers has been overwhelming: There were 10,300 applications for 5,600 slots. Despite claims to the contrary by school-choice opponents, low-income parents can and do act rationally when it comes to the education of their children. State officials have rightly slammed the union’s tactics. A spokesman for the Governor said in a statement that union leaders are “stooping to new lows and trying to strong-arm schools to keep our kids from getting a quality education.” State Superintendent John White said it was “shameful” that the unions were “trying to prevent people from doing what’s right for their children.” The unions claim that vouchers don’t benefit students, but we know from school-choice programs in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere that voucher recipients attend safer schools and enjoy higher graduation rates than their peers in public schools.

As I note in this post (featuring a great column by Jeff Jacoby), I’ve always believed that the school choice issue exposes the dividing line between honest liberals and power-hungry liberals.

Regardless of ideology, any decent person will favor reforms that enable poor kids to escape horrible government schools. Lots of liberals are decent people. The ones who oppose school choice, by contrast, are…well, you can fill in the blank.

P.S. Here’s some wisdom on the issue of school choice from a former University of Georgia quarterback.

P.P.S. Not surprisingly, Thomas Sowell nails the issue, as does Walter Williams, with both criticizing the President for sacrificing the interests of minority children to protect the monopoly privileges of teacher unions.

P.P.P.S. Chile has reformed its education system with vouchers, as have Sweden and the Netherlands, and all those nations are getting good results.

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If there was a contest for the best political cartoon about what’s been happening in Wisconsin, I would pick either this “fake negotiation” cartoon by Ramirez or this “coach class” cartoon by Payne.

But here’s a new entry from Bok that also deserves some consideration.

If you like humor about the Wisconsin fight, check out this Hitler parody about the recall.

And if you enjoy humor about overpaid government employees, regardless of where they’re located, here’s a great top-10 list from Letterman and here’s a cartoon about the relationship of bureaucrats and taxpayers.

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Since I’m a policy wonk and not a political prognosticator, I’m not sure why people keep asking me what will happen in the November elections. But since I got lucky with my 2010 predictions, I may as well throw in my two cents.

The election is now exactly five months away, so here’s my first cut at what will happen.

At this point, I am predicting an Obama victory, albeit by a much narrower margin than in 2008.

Given the weak economy and unpopularity of Obamacare, one might think Romney should be the favorite. However, the establishment media is completely in the tank for Obama and Romney is not exactly the strongest candidate, and I think those factors will tip the scales in November.

That being said, Obama has dropped from being a 60 percent-plus favorite on Intrade to just a 52.3 percent favorite in recent weeks, so GOP partisans have reasons to be hopeful.

Since all I care about is policy, I confess I’m not sure whether to be happy about my prediction. It all boils down to whether the “Richard Nixon Disinfectant Rule” applies to Romney. As of right now, we don’t know the answer. Here’s what I told ABC News earlier this week.

“The negative spin is that he’s said all these things to basically get past a conservative-leaning Republican Party electorate and that he’s really the Massachusetts moderate that some of his opponents tried to make him out to be,” said Dan Mitchell, a Cato economist… The flip side, Mitchell said, is that if Romney does stick to his promises to conservatives, they’ll be pleased when he gives support to Paul Ryan’s budget, takes steps to lower the spending-to-GDP ratio significantly, and offers states flexibility on spending Medicaid money.

We’ll have plenty of time between today and November 6 to analyze the presidential election, so let’s leave the national stage and take a look at what happened yesterday in Wisconsin and California.

We’ll start with California, because there were two very important – but largely overlooked – votes in San Diego and San Jose about curtailing lavish pensions for bureaucrats. The results were shocking, particularly since California is a left-wing state. Here’s part of the AP report.

Voters in two major California cities overwhelmingly approved cuts to retirement benefits for city workers in what supporters said was a mandate that may lead to similar ballot initiatives in other states and cities that are struggling with mounting pension obligations. Supporters had a simple message to voters in San Diego and San Jose: Pensions for city workers are unaffordable and more generous than many private companies offer… In San Diego, 66 percent voted in favor of Proposition B, while 34 percent were opposed. Nearly 97 percent of precincts were tallied by early Wednesday. The landslide was even bigger in San Jose, the nation’s 10th-largest city. With all precincts counted, 70 percent were in favor of Measure B and 30 percent were opposed.

Since I’ve written repeatedly about excessive compensation for government employees, these results are encouraging. Perhaps the gravy train has finally been derailed

Yesterday’s big election, though, was in Wisconsin. Republicans took control of the state in 2010 and enacted laws to restrain the power of union bureaucracies, which led to a counterattack by the left. First, there was a recall effort against Republicans in the State Senate and that failed. Then there was a recall against one of the GOP judges on the state’s Supreme Court, and that failed.

The climactic battle yesterday was to recall Governor Scott Walker. So how did that turn out? Let’s enjoy these excerpts from the Washington Post.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker won a vote to keep his job on Tuesday, surviving a recall effort that turned the Republican into a conservative icon…That made Walker the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election; two others had failed. …the night provided a huge boost for Walker — as well as Republicans in Washington and state capitals who have embraced the same energetic, austere brand of fiscal conservatism as a solution for recession and debt. In a state known for a strong progressive tradition, Walker defended his policies against the full force of the labor movement and the modern left. And he won, again.

By the way, the final result in the Badger State was 53 percent-46 percent and I predicted 54 percent-46 percent, so I somewhat atoned for my awful guess on the Iowa caucuses.

P.S. This cartoon accurately shows what was at stake in Wisconsin.

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To be blunt, I’m not a big fan of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. But my animosity isn’t because OECD bureaucrats threatened to have me arrested and thrown in a Mexican jail.

Instead, I don’t like the Paris-based bureaucracy because it pushes a statist agenda of bigger government. This Center for Freedom and Prosperity study has all the gory details, revealing that OECD bureaucrats endorsed Obamacare, supported the failed stimulus, and are big advocates of a value-added tax for America.

And I am very upset that the OECD gets a giant $100 million-plus subsidy every year from American taxpayers. For all intents and purposes, we’re paying for a bunch of left-wing bureaucrats so they can recommend that the United States adopt that policies that have caused so much misery in Europe. And to add insult to injury, these socialist pencil pushers receive tax-free salaries.

And now, just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, the OECD has opened a new front in its battle against America. The bureaucrats from Paris have climbed into bed with the hard left at the AFL-CIO and are pushing a class-warfare agenda. Next Wednesday, the two organizations will be at the union’s headquarters for a panel on “Divided We Stand – Tackling Growing Inequality Now.”

Co-sponsoring a panel at the AFL-CIO’s offices, it should be noted, doesn’t necessarily make an organization guilty of left-wing activism and mis-use of American tax dollars. But when you look at other information on the OECD’s website, it quickly becomes apparent that the Paris-based bureaucracy has launched a new project to promote class-warfare.

For instance, the OECD’s corruption-tainted Secretary-General spoke at the release of a new report on inequality and was favorable not only to higher income tax rates, but also expressed support for punitive and destructive wealth taxes.

Over the last two decades, there was a move away from highly progressive income tax rates and net wealth taxes in many countries. As top earners now have a greater capacity to pay taxes than before, some governments are re-examining their tax systems to ensure that wealthier individuals contribute their fair share of the tax burden. This aim can be achieved in several different ways. They include not only the possibility of raising marginal tax rates on the rich but also…reassessing the role of taxes on all forms of property and wealth.

And here’s some of what the OECD stated in its press release on income differences.

The OECD underlines the need for governments to review their tax systems to ensure that wealthier individuals contribute their fair share of the tax burden. This can be achieved by raising marginal tax rates on the rich.

Like Obama, the folks at the OECD like to talk about “fair share.” These passages sounds like they could have been taken from one of Obama’s hate-and-envy speeches on class warfare.

But the fact that a bunch of Europeans support Obama’s efforts to Europeanize America is not a surprise. The point of this post is that the OECD shouldn’t be using American tax dollars to promote Obama’s class-warfare agenda.

Here’s a video showing some of the other assaults against free markets by the OECD. This is why I’ve written that the $100 million-plus that American taxpayers send to Paris may be – on a per dollar basis – the most destructively wasteful part of the entire federal budget.

One last point is that the video was produced more than one year ago, which was not only before this new class-warfare campaign, but also before the OECD began promoting a global tax organization designed to undermine national sovereignty and promote higher taxes and bigger government.

In other words, the OECD is far more destructive and pernicious than you think.

And remember, all this is happening thanks to your tax dollars being sent to Paris to subsidize these anti-capitalism statists.

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School choice doesn’t automatically mean every child will be an educational success, but evidence from other nations certainly suggests it means better overall performance. Sweden, Chile, and the Netherlands are just some of the countries that have seen good results after breaking up state-run education monopolies.

The same is true in the United States. When parents have some ability to select schools, this generates competitive pressure for better results. This is true even in sub-optimal instances where the choice is merely among different government-run schools. as illustrated by the abstract of a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

We study the impact of a public school choice lottery in Charlotte-Mecklenburg (CMS) on postsecondary attainment. We match CMS administrative records to the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), a nationwide database of college enrollment. Among applicants with low-quality neighborhood schools, lottery winners are more likely than lottery losers to graduate from high school, attend a four-year college, and earn a bachelor’s degree. They are twice as likely to earn a degree from an elite university. The results suggest that school choice can improve students’ longer-term life chances when they gain access to schools that are better on observed dimensions of quality.

But real competition should involve private schools. Here’s the video from last year about why comprehensive school choice is good news for education.

School choice is one of the few issues where I’m optimistic. If we’re beginning to make progress even in places such as California and New Orleans, we’re obviously winning. No wonder the teacher unions are sounding so shrill.

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Labor Day is a good opportunity to consider whether unions help or hurt ordinary workers in America.

The answer is yes and no, depending on circumstances, but that’s actually the wrong question. The real issue, at least from a public policy perspective, is whether government should be a neutral referee in labor matters.

The union bosses reject that approach. They want the government to tilt the playing field, which is why the Obama Administration is using the National Labor Relations Board to promote the interests of Big Labor.

In this short interview on Larry Kudlow’s CNBC show, I argue that government should not have a thumb on the scale.

To elaborate, here’s what I wrote last year about labor unions and the role of government.

In a free society, people obviously should be free to join unions and companies should be free to negotiate with unions. But that also means that companies should be free to resist union demands and hire non-union workers. There is no right or wrong in these battles, just as there is no right or wrong when McDonald’s decides to sell french fries for a particular price. The market will reward good decisions and penalize bad choices. The only appropriate role for policy in this area is to enforce contracts and protect public safety.

I then make what should be an obvious point about what happens if unions use the coercive power of government to push wages – when adjusted for productivity – above a competitive level.

…above-market wages (at least in the private sector) are not sustainable in the long run. Workers ultimately get paid on the basis of what they produce and if it costs $25 per hour to employ a worker and that worker produces $23 per hour of output, that ultimately is a recipe for unemployment. A good example is the American auto industry, which has declined in part because of a compensation system that is not matched by productivity. This does not necessarily mean that wages are too high. It could mean that productivity is too low. Some of that, to be sure, is the fault of government policies such as a corporate tax system that penalizes investment (thus making it more difficult for workers to boost productivity). But unions also have used their government-granted power to insist on absurd workforce practices.

The important point in that passage is that unions may be hurting workers, not with demands for unsustainable wages, but instead by imposing work rules that undermine productivity.

That’s an empirical issue, to be sure. But here’s the bottom line. Government favoritism may help workers in the short run by temporarily pushing wages higher, but may hurt them in the long run by making companies – or, as I mentioned in the Kudlow interview, entire industries – uncompetitive.

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My Cato colleague, Mark Calabria, recently explained how the minimum wage destroys jobs, and I’ve written on several occasions why government-mandated wages can create unemployment by making it unprofitable to hire people with low work skills and/or poor work histories. And I’ve attacked Republicans for going along with these job-killing policies, and also pointed out the racist impact of such intervention.

But this cartoon may be a more effective argument for getting government out of the business of interfering with market forces. It’s simple, direct, and gets the point across. I’m not sure that always happens with my writing.

My former intern, Orphe Divougny, also did a very good job in explaining why politicians shouldn’t interfere with the right of workers and employers to enter into labor contracts.

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The libertarian position is that government should be totally neutral whenever there is a conflict between labor and management.

Unfortunately, politicians usually tilt the playing field in favor of unions, largely in response to big campaign contributions.

This issue has been in the news because of the Obama Administration’s thuggish move to block Boeing from building a factory in South Carolina, so this is a good time to post this debate I had with one of the guys at the Brookings Institution.

The fight in Wisconsin was the starting point for the discussion, and if you’ve been following that debate, you’ll very much enjoy this cartoon.

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I’ve written several times about the major fight in Wisconsin to control excessive compensation for government bureaucrats. Governor Walker basically won the first battle in that important and necessary campaign, but Yogi Berra sagely explained that “the opera ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings.”

In this case, the proverbial fat lady is yesterday’s election for Wisconsin’s Supreme Court. Leftists control three of the seven seats on the Court and were hoping to use the fight over bureaucrat compensation as a trigger to pick up a critical fourth vote. Here’s how today’s Milwaukee Journal describes what was at stake.

Interest groups on both sides had portrayed the election as a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker’s agenda and particularly on the collective bargaining law. Conservatives backed Prosser, and liberals supported Kloppenburg, even though the candidates themselves insisted they were politically neutral.

The election is critical, not just in terms of whether the Wisconsin reforms could be blocked by an ideologically motivated state Supreme Court, but also because the election has been closely watched by political activists in other states.

Simply stated, the winning side will gain lots of momentum. Unions poured lots of money and muscle into the race. They want to send a signal to lawmakers around the nation that any effort to control compensation costs will result in a political backlash.

At this stage, you’re probably saying, “enough blather, Dan, tell us who won!” Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question. Here’s the screen capture of the latest results from the Milwaukee newspaper. As of this moment, the union-backed candidate is trailing by a very tiny margin.

We’ll find out later today (hopefully!) who won the race, but I feel much better than I did last night. When I went to sleep, Kloppenburg had a lead of 18,000 votes and it appeared things were trending in her direction.

P.S. This election comes very close to debunking my cranky post from last year saying that voting was theoretically a waste of time since no single vote would ever decide an election.

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A dedicated union official from the National Education Association was attending a convention in Las Vegas and decided to check out the local brothels.

When he got to the first one, he asked the Madam, “Is this a union house?”

“No,” she replied, “I’m sorry it isn’t.”

“Well, if I pay you $100, what cut do the girls get?”

“The house gets $80 and the girls get $20,” she answered.

Offended at such unfair dealings, the NEA man stomped off down the street in search of a more equitable, hopefully unionized shop.

His search continued until finally he reached a brothel where the Madam responded, “Why yes sir, this is a union house. We observe all union rules.”

The man asked, “And, if I pay you $100, what cut do the girls get?”

“The girls get $80 and the house gets $20.”

“That’s more like it!” the union man said.

He handed the Madam $100, looked around the room, and pointed to a stunningly attractive green-eyed blonde.

“I’d like her,” he said.

“I’m sure you would, sir,” said the Madam.  Then she gestured to a 92-year old woman in the corner, “but Ethel here has 67 years seniority and according to union rules, she’s next.”

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This great cartoon I saw at The Corner is a very good summary of what the public-sector “collective bargaining” issue is all about.

In private sector labor disputes, unions and management both have ample incentives to protect their respective interests.

With government labor negotiations, by contrast, that natural system of checks and balances doesn’t exist. There’s no strong incentive for politicians to be frugal stewards of taxpayer money – particularly when they negotiate very expensive fringe benefits that defer costs to future years.

Indeed, because government employee unions tend to be very politically active, often being huge contributors to political campaigns, politicians often have a strong incentive to be profligate with taxpayer money.

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Appearing on Bloomberg TV, I debate the role of unions in American society.

My first point, regarding labor issues in the productive sector of the economy, is that the government should not intervene on the side of either unions or management. Personally, I think unions are sometimes so inflexible and intransigent that they kill the geese (profits) that generate golden eggs (jobs). But I don’t want my thumb on the scale, just as I don’t want Barack Obama’s thumb on the scale.

My second point is the public sector unions are an entirely different issue, involving a special interest group that colludes with politicians to screw taxpayers.

As always, would welcome feedback on how I can improve. You’ll have to click through to watch the video on the youtube site (at least that’s how it works on my computer).

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Kudos to Governor Walker of Wisconsin. Republicans rarely have the intelligence or the fortitude to win battles that reduce the burden of government, but it appears that he is on the verge of prevailing in his effort to limit special privileges for government workers. Fugitive Democrats from the State Senate apparently are giving up on their plan to block the Governor’s reforms by hiding in Illinois.

I won’t fully believe it until they’re back in their chairs and casting votes, but at the very least Governor Walker is showing why it is important to stand up to greedy special interests. Let’s hope Republicans in Washington can display the same courage in their fight to trim a tiny amount of spending from this year’s spending – even if it means a government shutdown.

Here’s a report on the Wisconsin fight from today’s Wall Street Journal.

Playing a game of political chicken, Democratic senators who fled Wisconsin to stymie restrictions on public-employee unions said Sunday they planned to come back from exile soon, betting that even though their return will allow the bill to pass, the curbs are so unpopular they’ll taint the state’s Republican governor and legislators. …The Wisconsin standoff, which drew thousands of demonstrators to occupy the capitol in Madison for days at a time, has come to highlight efforts in other states to address budget problems in part by limiting the powers and benefits accorded public-sector unions. Sen. Mark Miller said he and his fellow Democrats intend to let the full Senate vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget-repair” bill, which includes the proposed limits on public unions’ collective-bargaining rights. The bill, which had been blocked because the missing Democrats were needed for the Senate to have enough members present to vote on it, is expected to pass the Republican-controlled chamber. He said he thinks recent polls showing voter discontent with Mr. Walker over limits on bargaining rights have been “disastrous” for the governor and Republicans and give Democrats more leverage to seek changes in a broader two-year budget bill Mr. Walker proposed Tuesday. …Mr. Walker’s bill would prohibit bargaining over health care and pensions for about 170,000 public employees in the state and would allow public employees to opt out of paying dues or belonging to a union. The bill also would end the automatic collection of dues by the state, and require that every public-employee union get recertified to represent workers through an annual election. …Mark Jefferson, head of the Wisconsin GOP, said…even after Mr. Walker’s plan is passed, the state’s public workers will still have more collective-bargaining rights than most federal workers, who can bargain over working conditions but not pay and benefits.

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This is one of those a-picture-says-a-thousand-words moments.

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The showdown in Wisconsin has generated competing claims about whether state and local government bureaucrats are paid too much or paid too little compared to their private sector counterparts.

The data on total compensation clearly show a big advantage for state and local bureaucrats, largely because of lavish benefits (which is the problem that  Governor Walker in Wisconsin is trying to fix). But the government unions argue that any advantage they receive disappears after the data is adjusted for factors such as education.

This is a fair point, so we need to find some objective measure that neutralizes all the possible differences. Fortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has a Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, and this “JOLTS” data includes a measure of how often workers voluntarily leave job, and we can examine this data for different parts of the workforce.

Every labor economist, right or left, will agree that higher “quit rates” are much more likely in sectors that are underpaid and lower levels are much more likely in sectors where compensation is generous.

Not surprisingly, this data shows state and local bureaucrats are living on Easy Street. As the chart illustrates, private sector workers are more than three times as likely to quit their jobs.

This helps explain why the unions are treating the Wisconsin debate as if it was Custer’s Last Stand. The bureaucrats know they have comfortable sinecures and they are fighting to preserve their unfair privileges.

The only bit of semi-good news for Wisconsin taxpayers is that state and local bureaucrats are not as lavishly over-compensated as federal bureaucrats.

This Center for Freedom and Prosperity video looks at all of the data and reveals a pecking order. Federal bureaucrats are at the kings and queens of compensation. State and local bureaucrats are like the nobility. And private sector taxpayers are the serfs that worker harder and earn less, but nonetheless finance the entire racket.

The video closes with a very important point that the right pay level for many bureaucrats is zero. This is because they work for programs, departments, and agencies that should not exist.

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After dozens of posts about overpaid government employees, I’m sick of writing about the topic. But what’s happening in Wisconsin is critically important in the fight for long-run fiscal sanity, so I’m reluctantly wading back into this fight. Simply stated, bureaucrats have figured out how to manipulate the system and they are bankrupting state and local governments.

Chris Christie is the first governor in a long time to stand up to these thugs and now the new chief executive of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, has joined the fight. But unlike Christie, who must deal with a hostile state legislature, Governor Walker has a GOP-controlled Assembly and Senate. As such, he has a chance to take much bigger steps in the right direction.

The unions realize that their special privileges may disappear and they are engaged in a vicious fight to block reform. Other groups that get money and/or political support from the unions also are joining the battle against Wisconsin’s taxpayers. John Fund of the Wall Street Journal provides the key details.

Mr. Walker’s proposals are hardly revolutionary. Facing a $137 million budget deficit, he has decided to try to avoid laying off 5,500 state workers by proposing that they contribute 5.8% of their income towards their pensions and 12.6% towards health insurance. That’s roughly the national average for public pension payments, and it is less than half the national average of what government workers contribute to health care. Mr. Walker also wants to limit the power of public-employee unions to negotiate contracts and work rules—something that 24 states already limit or ban. …Democratic reactions to these proposals have been over the top. In addition to the thousands of protesters who descended on the Capitol building on Thursday to intimidate legislators, so many teachers called in sick on Friday that school districts in Milwaukee, Madison and Janesville had to close. …Why are national liberal groups treating Wisconsin as if it were their last stand? Partly for reasons of symbolism. Historically, Wisconsin “embraced the organized labor movement more heartily than any other [state],” notes liberal activist Abe Sauer. …Labor historian Fred Siegel offers further reasons why unions are manning the barricades. Mr. Walker would require that public-employee unions be recertified annually by a majority vote of all their members, not merely by a majority of those that choose to cast ballots. In addition, he would end the government’s practice of automatically deducting union dues from employee paychecks. For Wisconsin teachers, union dues total between $700 and $1,000 a year. “Ending dues deductions breaks the political cycle in which government collects dues, gives them to the unions, who then use the dues to back their favorite candidates and also lobby for bigger government and more pay and benefits,” Mr. Siegel told me.

Just in case you’re wondering why unions are being so intransigent, Instpundit has a link to a website explaining that state bureaucrats get twice as much compensation as the tax-paying serfs in Wisconsin’s private sector. I can’t vouch for the specific numbers, but I’m sure the gap in the state is enormous, as is the case all across the nation. This video explains.

Let me close with a caveat. There surely are thousands of Wisconsin government employees who disagree with the thuggish tactics and absurd demands of the union bosses. My criticisms obviously don’t apply to those folks, but I would ask them to stand up and be counted. Write op-eds and letters-to-the-editor. Attend today’s Tea Party rally. The union bosses are using your money to do bad things, but you can use your time to do the right thing.

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This blog repeatedly has chronicled the huge discrepancy between the gold-plated compensation for government employees and the meager salaries and benefits of people in the productive sector of the economy, including a video conclusively demonstrating that bureaucrats are overpaid.

This message is now resonating all across the nation. Even the New York Times, as shown by the excerpt below, now realizes that taxpayers are sick and tired of paying exorbitant taxes to finance excessive pay for the bureaucracy.

But public awareness is only a small step in the right direction. What really matters is public policy. Will the bureaucracy be downsized? Will salaries be frozen for several years? Will absurd pension plans be replaced by 401(k) systems? And what will happen to unaffordable health plans for government workers?

We’re going to see some interesting battles at the state and local level. One of the many great things about federalism is we get an opportunity to see some governments do the right thing and some do the wrong thing. And as we watch states like California descend into bankruptcy, this teaches everyone about the policies that should be avoided.

But the long-overdue day of reckoning won’t happen if Obama and the other politicians figure out how to bail out reckless state and local governments. That’s already happened once, since funneling federal money to the states was one of main goals of Obama’s failed stimulus.

But sending more money to the states would be akin to providing an alcoholic with a case of booze. If House Republicans have any brains, they will make sure taxpayers in places like Texas don’t pay more to subsidize politicians and special interests in places such as Illinois.

Cross your fingers that they hold firm. In the meantime, let’s enjoy the change in the public mood. Here are a few passages from yesterday’s story in the New York Times.

Across the nation, a rising irritation with public employee unions is palpable, as a wounded economy has blown gaping holes in state, city and town budgets, and revealed that some public pension funds dangle perilously close to bankruptcy. In California, New York, Michigan and New Jersey, states where public unions wield much power and the culture historically tends to be pro-labor, even longtime liberal political leaders have demanded concessions — wage freezes, benefit cuts and tougher work rules. …a growing cadre of political leaders and municipal finance experts argue that much of the edifice of municipal and state finance is jury-rigged and, without new revenue, perhaps unsustainable. Too many political leaders, they argue, acted too irresponsibly, failing to either raise taxes or cut spending. A brutal reckoning awaits, they say. …Fred Siegel, a historian at the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute, has written of the “New Tammany Hall,” which he describes as the incestuous alliance between public officials and labor. “Public unions have had no natural adversary; they give politicians political support and get good contracts back,” Mr. Siegel said. “It’s uniquely dysfunctional.” …In California, pension costs now crowd out spending for parks, public schools and state universities; in Illinois, spiraling pension costs threaten the state with insolvency. And taxpayer resentment simmers.

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You wouldn’t expect any positive developments from California when it comes to schooling, but this video shows that parents now have the ability, for all intents and purposes, to fire the incumbent management of a government school.

I don’t think this is nearly as good as what’s being proposed in Douglas County, Colorado, but it’s a big step for a union-controlled state such as California.

And the parents of one failing school have pulled the trigger and are forcing good reforms.

2011 could be a very good year for school reform and improvement. That’s bad news for politicians and teacher unions, but great news for parents and kids.

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I generally focus on fiscal policy and I love low tax rates, so when I say that what happens on school choice in Douglas County, Colorado, may be more important to the future of the nation than what happens with Obama’s plan for higher tax rates next year, that should give you an idea of the critical importance of this education battle.

The union bosses at the National Education Association have been waging a vicious national campaign against competition and choice and have succeeded in limiting school choice to a handful of small systems (largely focused just on the poor) in places such as Milwaukee.

These are great success stories, but the government education monopoly won’t be broken until there is a big, highly visible, school choice success in a large, mostly white, jurisdiction. Douglas County is that example. Here’s an excerpt from a story in today’s Wall Street Journal.

The school board in a wealthy suburban county south of Denver is considering letting parents use public funds to send their children to private schools—or take classes with private teachers—in a bid to rethink public education. The proposals on the table in Douglas County constitute a bold step toward outsourcing a segment of public education…In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case involving a voucher program in Cleveland that public money could be used for private religious schools as long as parents were not steered to any one particular faith-based program and had a “genuine choice” on where to use their vouchers. About 160,000 children in the U.S., mostly low-income or with special needs, use vouchers or scholarships subsidized indirectly by the state to attend private schools, according to the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. …Douglas County School District board members are also considering letting students enrolled in public schools opt out of some classes in favor of district-approved alternatives offered at for-profit schools or by private-sector instructors. Students might skip high-school Spanish, for example, to take an advanced seminar in Chinese, or bypass physics to study with a rocket scientist, in person or online. …The school board is dominated by conservatives, including several who won election last fall on vows to expand educational choices. “These days, you can build a custom computer. You can get a custom latte at Starbucks,” said board member Meghann Silverthorn. “Parents expect the same out of their educational system.” …Douglas County, a swath of tidy cul-de-sacs and look-alike subdivisions, already boasts nine charter schools, two magnet schools and an online school as well as 65 traditional schools—all funded by tax dollars. Students receive high scores on standardized tests and a recent community survey found overwhelmingly positive views about the public schools. Fewer than 4,000 students in the district chose private or home schools last year, according to state statistics. “But we will not rest on our laurels,” board president John Carson said at a recent meeting. …The voucher plan…would give participants about $5,000, enough to cover 35% to 100% of tuition at local private schools.

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The President wants us to believe that the recent IPO for General Motors was a smashing success. And it was…if you believe that it’s a good idea to lose money (the direct cost of the bailout) and make the economy less efficient by misallocating resources (the indirect cost of the bailout). The always superb John Lott has a good explanation at Foxnews.com, and here is an excerpt.

Only the government would consider it a success to buy stock at $43.84 a share and sell it at $33. — But President Obama and those who supported his bailout of General Motors and Chrysler are claiming just that…  It simply doesn’t account for the over $50 billion in direct bailout funds and the tens of billions of dollars in other breaks President Obama gave the company and its unions. It also ignores that GM’s stockholders and particularly its bondholders had their wealth stolen from them when the government took over ownership of the company. Traditional property right protections were shredded by the Obama administration, making corporate investments in America riskier as a result.

By the way, Mickey Kaus is surprised that investors were willing to buy GM shares, but he hypothesizes that they were fools or that they expect GM to hollow out its American operations and build cars in China.

Either way, not a good way to squander the tax dollars of the American people. Another legacy of Bush-Obama statism. Way to go, guys!

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No CAP bedwetter to debate in this segment.

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In a free society, people obviously should be free to join unions and companies should be free to negotiate with unions. But that also means that companies should be free to resist union demands and hire non-union workers. There is no right or wrong in these battles, just as there is no right or wrong when McDonald’s decides to sell french fries for a particular price. The market will reward good decisions and penalize bad choices. The only appropriate role for policy in this area is to enforce contracts and protect public safety. The government should not attempt to tip the scales either in favor of unions or in favor of employers. Our friends on the left, however, want the rules rigged in favor of unions, in part because of a reflexive desire for coerced equality. E.J. Dionne waxes nostalgic in the Washington Post for the good ol’ days, when unions held significant power in the American economy.
Only 12.3 percent of American wage and salary workers belong to unions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, down from a peak of about one-third of the work force in 1955. A movement historically associated with the brawny workers in auto, steel, rubber, construction, rail and the ports now represents more employees in the public sector (7.9 million) than in the private sector (7.4 million). Even worse than the falling membership numbers is the extent to which the ethos animating organized labor is increasingly foreign to American culture. The union movement has always been attached to a set of values — solidarity being the most important, the sense that each should look out for the interests of all. This promoted other commitments: to mutual assistance, to a rough-and-ready sense of equality, to a disdain for elitism, to a belief that democracy and individual rights did not stop at the plant gate or the office reception room. You might accuse me of being a union romantic, and in some ways I am, having grown up in a union town, loved the great union songs, and imbibed such novels about labor’s struggles as John Steinbeck’s fine and underrated “In Dubious Battle.” 
There would be nothing wrong with Dionne’s love letter to big labor - but only if he also agreed that the government should not take sides. Unfortunately (and predictably), that’s not the case. Like other statists, he wants a thumb on the scales to help unions. He thinks he is being pro-worker, but his mistake is failing to understand that above-market wages (at least in the private sector) are not sustainable in the long run. Workers ultimately get paid on the basis of what they produce and if it costs $25 per hour to employ a worker and that worker produces $23 per hour of output, that ultimately is a recipe for unemployment. A good example is the American auto industry, which has declined in part because of a compensation system that is not matched by productivity. This does not necessarily mean that wages are too high. It could mean that productivity is too low. Some of that, to be sure, is the fault of government policies such as a corporate tax system that penalizes investment (thus making it more difficult for workers to boost productivity). But unions also have used their government-granted power to insist on absurd workforce practices. The picture below, taken from Mark Perry’s excellent blog, compares union contracts in 1941 and 2007. With all the bureaucracy that is buried in those pages, is it a surprise that American auto workers don’t produce as many cars per hours as their main foreign competitors?

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This video from Reason TV about school choice in New Orleans is a perfect example of something good resulting from a bad event. Lemonade out of lemons!

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My default assumption is that all politicians will do the wrong thing when they have to choose between defending freedom and appeasing special interests. Even the ones that spout good rhetoric often do the wrong thing, particularly after a couple of years in office (sort of like being assimilated by the Borg, for you Star Trek fans). So I did not hold out much hope that Chris Christie would have any positive impact on New Jersey. I’m glad to report that (at least so far) I was wrong. Here’s a excerpt from a National Review article about what he’s accomplished. The excerpt is long, but the details are important. And since I obviously had to summarize, you should read the entire article to more fully appreciate how Christie seems to be the real deal.
…on February 11, Christie addressed a special joint session of the state legislature, replacing the vague promises of the campaign trail with first principles, and elaborating the constraints under which he was determined to govern: “Our constitution requires a balanced budget. Our commitment requires us to begin the next fiscal year with a prudent opening balance. Our conscience and common sense require us to fix the problem in a way that does not raise taxes on the most overtaxed citizens in America. Our love for our children requires that we do not shove today’s problems under the rug only to be discovered again tomorrow. Our sense of decency must require that we stop using tricks that will make next year’s budget problem even worse.” And in an extraordinary move, he then declared a fiscal state of emergency, announcing that by executive order he would impound $2.2 billion in appropriations from a fiscal year that was already seven months gone. That figure represented virtually every dollar the state was not legally obligated to pay out for the remainder of the year. In Bagger’s words, it was “everything that wasn’t nailed down.” “By doing that so quickly and so dramatically, and by executive action, it really set the stage,” Bagger says. “It was just a very clear declaration that there’s a new reality.” There was much wailing and teeth-gnashing about the cuts among Democrats. Sweeney accused Christie of “pick[ing] someone else’s pocket,” and senate majority leader Barbara Buono went so far as to say the executive order had “declare[d] martial law” in New Jersey. This raised the stakes significantly for the FY 2011 budget battle, which was then only beginning. In the year to come, the state would face an $11 billion deficit that made the previous shortfall look like a gratuity. It was a big hole, and Christie needed Democratic votes to close it. But he had no intention of mollycoddling the other side. On March 16, the governor went back before a joint session of the legislature and introduced a $29.3 billion budget that doubled down on his most controversial measures, trimming fat — and muscle, and sinew — from virtually every department and every entitlement in the state. The budget did small things, like reducing overtime hours, shrinking the state’s fleet of official vehicles, replacing paper with digital filing, and consolidating government office space. It cut the pay and pension eligibility for members of a number of state boards and commissions, many of whose duties required them to do little more than attend once-monthly meetings. It saved $216 million by eliminating a number of wasteful programs, and another $50 million by privatizing others. But the budget did big things as well. It shrank the state’s major spending programs — including many that were, the governor admitted, not without merit — by reducing base appropriations and either scaling back or eliminating scheduled funding increases. It converted the state’s property-tax rebate system — long funded by borrowing, at interest, to cut checks to homeowners — with tax credits. It cut $466 million in local aid, against Trenton’s trend of corralling more and more municipal tax dollars for the purposes of redistribution, while pushing a constitutional amendment that would limit towns’ ability to raise property taxes in the future. And like Corzine before him, Christie deferred payments to the state’s pension program to secure $3.1 billion in savings, under the justification that it was imprudent to sink more money into a failing system. But unlike Corzine, Christie pushed through tough pension reforms that rolled back overgenerous payment increases, limited payouts for unused sick leave, and enrolled new workers into 401(k)s. He’d also signed a law requiring public employees to pay at least 1.5 percent of their salaries toward their health benefits, which would save the state and local governments hundreds of millions each year. But what caused the first and most strident wave of opposition to Christie’s agenda was his decision to slash funding for public education, by some $820 million. …A near-pristine version of Christie’s budget passed at 1:13 a.m. on June 29, less than 24 hours before the constitutional deadline. …But as significant as his early victories have been, Christie must now turn to pushing the structural reforms that will institutionalize his vision of leaner, meaner state government. …Even as he was fighting the budget battle, the governor was barnstorming the state to talk up perhaps the most significant of these reforms: his “Cap 2.5” initiative, which would constitutionally limit the ability of municipalities to raise property taxes. The cap is popular among residents, most of whom pay the preponderance of their non-federal tax liability in property taxes. …But Christie’s amendment is at the mercy of the Democratic legislature, whose assent is required for a popular referendum on it. …Christie has vowed not to give up the fight. Other battles loom wherein the governor’s chances for success are highly uncertain. He has promised yet more pension and compensation reforms, moves that could break his tenuous alliance with the reformist elements in the Democratic party and push his openly hostile relationship with labor beyond Thunderdome. …Senator Kean, who hopes to move from minority to majority leader, has confidence that Christie will continue to stick to his guns. “The governor has an internally strong constitution — that’s who Chris is — and he has an externally strong constitution in the constitution of the State of New Jersey,” Kean says. “I think he is absolutely the genuine article. That’s why we won’t ever go back to the status quo, at least not under Chris Christie’s governorship.”

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I may as well confess that I have a man-crush on Governor Christie. It’s not nearly as bad as Andrew Sullivan’s fixation on Obama (and it certainly hasn’t involved me changing my views), but this video and the excerpt below are two examples of a politician actually doing the right thing and giving intelligent and coherent explanations to justify his actions. The video shows him taking on the teacher unions and the story is about his veto of a class-warfare tax bill.

Christie may wind up “growing in office” and becoming a squish, but so far he is the nation’s most impressive Republican politician. That’s normally damning with faint praise, but not in this case.

It took about two minutes from the time Senate President Steve Sweeney certified the passage of the millionaires tax package for Gov. Chris Christie to veto the bills at his desk. “While I have little doubt that the sponsors and supporters of this bill sincerely believe that the state can tax its way out of this financial crisis, I believe that this bill does nothing more than repeat the failed, irresponsible and unsustainable fiscal policies of the past,” wrote Christie in his veto statement. “Now is not the time for more of the same. Ultimately, another tax increase will punish the state’s struggling small businesses and set our economy further back from recovery.”

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Regular readers of this blog know about our “Taxpayers vs. Bureaucrats” series. Well, now we have the video version.

There are three things in the video that deserve special emphasis. First, bureaucrats are vastly overpaid. The government data cited in the video show that total compensation for the federal civil service is twice as high, on average, as it is for workers in the productive sector of the economy. There are some bureaucrats who deserve above-average pay, such as scientists dealing with nuclear weapons, but it is outrageous that the average drone in the federal bureaucracy is getting twice as much compensation as the taxpayers (serfs) who pay their salaries.

Second, this mini-documentary debunks the silly argument (put forth by government employee unions, of course) that bureaucrats are underpaid compared to the private sector. The Department of Labor has data looking at voluntary departure rates by profession. If government workers were being underpaid, you would expect them to be more likely to leave their jobs in order to take new positions in the (supposedly higher paid) private sector. Instead, the video reveals that people in the private sector are six times more likely to switch jobs than federal bureaucrats.

Third, the video concludes with the essential point that most federal bureaucrats should be paid nothing because they work for departments and agencies that should not exist.

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Ever wonder why unions care so much about the minimum wage when almost all union members get paid above that level? The answer is simply, but sleazy. As Walter Williams explains, they want to protect their high-pay status by increasing the cost of lower-skilled workers. For all intents and purposes, they are pricing poor people out of the job market:

Labor unions are the major supporters of increases in the minimum wage. Even though the overwhelming majority of their members earn multiples of the minimum wage, they spend millions upon millions lobbying for minimum wage increases. They do it because higher minimum wages protect their members from competition with low-skill, low-wage workers. Most other minimum wage supporters are decent people with a concern for low-wage workers, but their actions suffer from a misguided vision of how the world operates.

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There are a handful of issues that expose hypocrites on both sides of the philosophical spectrum. Republicans and conservatives love to talk about free markets, for instance, but you often find them voting for completely sleazy and corrupt forms of corporate welfare such as the ethanol subsidy for big agri-business. For Democrats and leftists, a powerful example is education. They claim to want to help the poor, especially minorities, yet all too often they cast aside those people and instead side with the teacher unions by opposing school choice. So kudos to the Philadelphia branch of the ADL, as well as a local Democratic politician, for doing the right thing and putting kids before special interests. Jeff Jacoby explains in his Boston Globe column:

Three months ago, the executive committee of ADL’s Philadelphia chapter voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution endorsing vouchers. Now it is urging the entire organization to follow suit.”We believe school choice to be an urgent civil rights issue,’’ the committee argued in a brief being circulated among ADL’s 30 regional offices. Despite decades of increased spending on K-12 education, “the evidence that our public education system is failing to educate our children is staggering.’’ ADL should reverse its longtime position “as a moral imperative,’’ the Philadelphia leadership urges, and “issue a resolution in favor of school choice.’’As it happens, the ADL regional board isn’t the only liberal voice in Philadelphia calling for expanded school choice. State Senator Anthony Williams, a black Democrat and a candidate in Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial primary this week, is the founder of a charter school, a champion of vouchers, and an ardent believer in the power of competition to improve the quality of education. His position puts him sharply at odds with the state’s largest teachers’ union, which opposes choice and has endorsed his main opponent. But Williams — like the local ADL leadership — sees school choice as the great civil rights battle of the day.”Anybody who was for Brown v. Board of Education — it baffles me that they would be against vouchers,’’ he told me last week.

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On a more serious level, this isn’t funny, but definitely a well-done cartoon. When I do a post on the article that accompanied this cartoon, there definitely won’t be anything to laugh about.

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Here’s a great video, put together by my Cato colleagues, exposing the real cost of government-run school systems.

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