The unions in Wisconsin are busted. There is no return, and they know it. Liberals across the nation know it. They have played the legislative game long enough to understand that a legislative momentum is a hard thing to reverse. The momentum created by the Tea Party doesn’t seem to subside yet; if anything, it seems to be picking up speed, on both local, state, and federal level.
But contrary to what Wall Street Journal says, this is still not a victory for the taxpayers. It is a necessary step toward that victory, if the taxpayers keep the pressure on the politicians. But not a victory.
What makes me think so? Simple: Taxpayers were not a party in this fight. Not directly. A taxpayers’ victory would mean taxpayers refuse to pay, and they get to keep their own money and pay for what they want, not for what the government wants.
The standoff was between the state legislature and the unions. The state has a budget to balance. It’s the state budget, not the taxpayers’ personal budgets. Unions will lose their monopoly power, their privileges, and their ability to force taxpayers to pay more towards the state’s employees lavish retirement and benefits. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into more money kept in the taxpayers’ pockets. It doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be tax increases in the future. In fact, my argument in this article is that there’s nothing to prevent the tax burden from increasing, whether unions are busted or not, unless the legislators are ready to effect changes more fundamental and sweeping than simply abolishing collective bargaining.
Really? Yes, really.
Let’s not forget, this is not about unions in general. This is about public school teachers and their unions. The majority of those protesting there were public school teachers. Look at the data: Of 181,577 state and local government full-time employees in the state of Wisconsin, 108,365 are in education. (Police and fire are only 18,000; health and hospitals about 5,000.) Of those about 60,000 are teachers – almost as many as all the other branches of government combined. One of every three government employees is a teacher. Three of every five works for the school districts.
In short, this was not a union event. This was a public school teachers’ fight against the State of Wisconsin. The rest of the protesters were there just to give it a flavor.
These teachers work for school districts. And here is the problem for the taxpayers, whether unions are busted or not: School districts have the authority to tax. No matter how many battles the state wins against the unions, even if the state legislates the unions out of existence, the taxpayer is still screwed.
Let’s look at the numbers: The tax levies imposed by the school districts in Wisconsin for 2010-11 add up to almost $4.7 billion, or $9.76 per $1,000 value. Divided per capita, the average family of four pays close to $3,500 per year – not on increase, nor on profit, but on assessed value only, which is the very definition of rent, or of racket, applied to the private sector. Add to this the various local, state, and federal grants – paid for by your taxes again – and the total cost for public education in Wisconsin is $8.6 billion, all paid by the taxpayer. So the tax burden on the average family of four now gets to $6,500 a year – only to pay the government school districts. No other government institution has this exclusive right to tax the individual citizen to cover its own expenses.
Even worse: The taxpayer has no power whatsoever to decide how much those taxes will be. Neither has he the power to demand accountability from the school districts. No one has a veto on the spending frenzy of the school districts. And there is no opting out: If you live in a house, whether you own it or rent it, you pay. Even if your children go to a private school or are homeschooled. Even if you never used any of the facilities of the public schools.
In short, like Michael Moore said, there is a lot of cash out there, up for grabs: $8.6 billion every year, to be plundered by 108,000 teachers and school administrators in Wisconsin only. The state can win the fight against the unions; but that doesn’t mean that the $8.6 billion burden is off the back of the taxpayer. Property taxes and federal taxes make sure this doesn’t change. And teachers’ unions are predators: As long as there is an easy prey, the taxpayer, they will fight to have their piece of his flesh. The collective bargaining is only the visible part of the teachers’ unions, the tip of the iceberg. The real power of the public schools is the power to tax; and the teachers’ and the administrators’ power to do as they please with the money.
“The power to tax is a power to destroy.” When Daniel Webster said these words in 1819 he meant a legal power to destroy. No entity can tax unless it first has the power to impose sanctions for not paying taxes. But there is more to it: The legal power to tax and destroy, combined with the fallen human nature (and the predatory collectivist instincts of the committed socialists in the teachers’ unions), produces a psychological inclination to destruction. Every institution that lives on money extracted by brute force eventually turns into an institution of destruction. What it will destroy depends on its field of activity. The Fed is destroying the money system of America; FDA is destroying the food supply, ATF is on a quest to destroy all alcohol, tobacco, and firearms (private, of course), and TSA is on a quest to destroy all transportation security whatsoever.
And teachers have their own field: education. In case you wondered what is destroying learning and intelligence in America, it is the taxes that support the government schools. Try it with your teenage son: Never make him earn his money, always give him abundantly without asking for accountability, and let him have the car keys and the booze anytime he wants. How high is the probability that this will make him into a conscientious, productive, responsible adult? Same applies to government schools: they drink up the taxpayers’ money, and never have to give an account.
When a person has a secure stream of benefits and privileges backed up by the power of the state, they develop a “prison guard” mentality. “Prison guard,” that is, preserving the status quo. This was the problem the Soviet leaders had with the nomenklatura – the elite class of “managers” that controlled the levers of the economy, the education, the scientific projects, etc. of the Soviet empire. The nomenklatura had all the privileges, presumably to have the comfort to develop, innovate, lead the society to higher and higher achievements. But this security produced the opposite result: The nomenklatura was the least responsive, the least innovative, and the most reactionary class in the Soviet society. The guaranteed access to money and power didn’t produce initiative and productivity as was expected; it produced the opposite effect.
Government school teachers and administrators are our American, home-grown nomenklatura. Safe in their wielding of the power to extract money from the taxpayers, we can expect anything but willingness to innovate, discover, and build. They have developed the mentality of guardians of the status quo. The children, the parents, the state legislature and the Federal government: these are all viewed as tools for the teachers’ unions to perpetuate the unassailable position of the teachers. Since the taxpayers are those who pay the bill, it is of utmost importance to “train” the future taxpayers to not think but to pay their “dues” to the school districts without complaints. “The government invests in the education of our children” must become an axiom, an instinctive slogan that allows for no dissent and no scrutiny. And if the parents are still not “trained” enough to pay without grumbling, the teachers have their children, and they can mold the children’s minds to the teachers’ hearts’ desire. The less intelligent the public school graduates are, the lower the risk of having a major tax discontent and tax revolt in the future. The logic is simple; and it explains better than anything else the failures of the government schools – or, in fact, explains the success of the teachers’ unions. They have the power to destroy the intellect of the children, and they use it – and have used it for a generation now, very effectively.
Governor Walker and the Republican legislators of Wisconsin achieved a spectacular victory against the unions. But the taxpayers haven’t won yet – not as long as the school districts have the power to tax, and therefore the power to destroy the minds of the children. Another step is necessary:
Abolish property taxes. And then, get the government out of the education business entirely.
Make the schools compete. And make them compete not on the basis of the lame “voucher” system. Make them compete on a market basis – attract parents based on low prices, quality, innovation, relevance to the modern world, just like the thousands of private schools in this country do and survive and even thrive. Let Mom and Dad keep those average $6,500 a year to themselves, and let them decide what school they want to enroll their children in. Free the market so that newcomers enter and offer new possibilities, new systems, and new methods of teaching. Restore the sovereignty of the parents, and enact a separation of state and school – protecting the schools against the destruction of the taxing power of the state.
If legislators do that, we will see a new battle forming: teachers’ unions against school administrators. It won’t be the taxpayers that will pick up the tab for the teachers’ privileges anymore; it will be those that are economically and financially responsible for the schools. The teachers will have to yield, eventually, unless they want to see their schools bankrupt and closed. Or, unless they want to be fired, with others taking their place, more willing to work, and less willing to argue about benefits. And everyone will be better off.
Until legislators abolish property taxes, and abolish all government grants to school districts, the taxpayer is still the losing party. Wisconsin is not a victory, yet.