Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Herbert and Krugman on Taxes and Wisconsin

Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert have, together, done a pair of excellent pieces on the forces that have led up to the crisis in Winsconsin.

Of course, Krugman already discussed Wisconsin more directly a little while ago, by turning to (surprisingly) Naomi Klein and her "shock doctrine" theory. But this latest piece, primarily about how low-tax, low-spending environments really hurt marginal children, also contains a key money quote:

By the way, given the current efforts to blame public-sector unions for state fiscal problems, it’s worth noting that the mess in Texas was achieved with an overwhelmingly nonunion work force.
Very MUCH worth noting. There's been a lot of blather about how bad public sector unions are, including from good ol' NYT Token Con David Brooks. But Texas is living proof that unions don't necessarily have anything to do with it: you can ruin your state just fine with nary a union in sight, simply by presuming that government programs spring forth from faerie dust and that ogres eat your tax dollars.

(All things considered, it's surprising that conservatives aren't more into high fantasy.)

Herbert really brings it home, though, by focusing on how important organization really is:

When you talk to the workers who are hurting most in this epic downturn, they are overwhelmingly out there on their own. No one has their back. The corporate community and the politicians who do their bidding know better than anyone else that workers who are not organized are most often helpless. They have no leverage. They cannot demand raises or health and retirement benefits or paid vacations or sick leave. They cannot negotiate shorter hours or better working conditions. It’s the boss’s way or the highway.

It’s not just pocketbook issues but the dignity of American workers that is at stake in the confrontations in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere. These confrontations are about so much more than the right of public employees to bargain collectively, as important as that is. This most recent assault on labor is part of an anti-worker movement that has been on the march for decades. Jobs have been shipped overseas. Workers have been denied their rightful share of productivity gains. Wages have been depressed and benefits in many, many instances have disappeared.

It’s true that states are facing serious fiscal problems, crises in some cases, but a much bigger threat to America as we’ve known it is the increasing inability of hard-working men and women to earn enough to maintain a middle class standard of living, even as the corporate sector is thriving. The economic lives of the poor and an ever-widening portion of the middle class have become maddeningly insecure as the wealth of the society has been funneled, increasingly and unconscionably, to those at the top.
This is the most important economic issue of our time. No other even comes close. We are watching the middle class bleed out at the same time as the wealthiest 0.1% become near-omnipotent Robber Barons, and the closest thing we thought we had to an FDR turned out to be more of an admirer of Reagan than Roosevelt. It isn't a white collar thing or a blue collar thing; both good office jobs and good blue-collar jobs are disappearing at the same clip. I wonder whether there will be a middle class worthy of the name in a decade or so.

And while it could be said that it's enriching workers in other countries, the basic facts of international trade dictate that somebody on the North American side must be benefiting as well. America wouldn't trade if nobody benefited from it. Middle class blue- and white-collar workers aren't benefiting: any benefit to consumption they might get is overwhelmed by their devastated income. That much is absolutely, abundantly, and trivially clear at this point.

No, it's the ultra-wealthy that are benefiting, and they are reshaping America—and the western world—to suit their needs. Deluging voters during campaign season with nonsensical attack ads, overwhelming the popular discourse with plutocracy-friendly "scholarship", ripping apart public sector unions (the only unions really left in the country)...they're busily tearing down both government and any vestige of the fair markets that liberals advocate and are replacing them both with a convenient plutonomy.

All that despite the damning fact that it was that lot that plunged us into a near-depression two years ago.

It's enough to drive you to drink, except that the American people aren't buying it. From CNN:

Forty-two percent of the public sides with the public employee unions and 31 percent backs Gov. Scott Walker, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Tuesday. Nearly one in ten say they don't support either side, with 18 percent unsure.

The poll's release comes as protesters rally for the third-straight week outside the Wisconsin state capitol, upset with Walker's plan to limit collective bargaining rights for public-sector employees. The Republican governor, who was elected last November, says his plan is necessary to reduce his state's budget deficit, but pro-union groups say the governor is trying to curb long-held labor rights under a guise of fiscal responsibility.

A new CBS News/New York Times survey indicates that six in ten oppose the elimination of collective bargaining rights for the public sector union workers, with 56 percent opposed to the cutting of pay or benefits to reduce state budget deficits. The poll indicates a partisan divide, with Democrats and independents opposed to both moves while Republicans in favor of Walker's proposals.

A USA Today/Gallup survey released last Wednesday also indicated that 61 percent of the public would oppose a move in their state to pass a bill that would take away some of the collective bargaining rights of union government workers, with one in three saying they'd support such a move.

According to the Pew poll, two-thirds of Democrats side with the government employee unions, with Republicans favoring the governor by a 53-17 percent margin. Independents questioned in the survey are more divided, with 39 percent siding more with the unions and 34 supporting the governor.

The survey also indicates an income gap, with lower income people siding with the unions and more affluent people divided.
This is heartening news, at least. Sure, affluent Republicans are going to be anti-union. But it's nice to see that everybody else appears to be at least open to the idea that unions can look out for their interests against the Powers That Be.

I just hope that the inevitable crush of anti-union bullshit that's inevitably coming won't distract them from remembering that.

No comments:

Post a Comment